First of a Two-Part Series: Heroes. Drunken genius. Twitter. The Lee Miles Gang collaborations. Down the Line and Fort Wayne-rockers-as-saviors. These are just a few of the elements we focused on last week as we learned the first half of the whole “Adopted Son Josh Hall Gets Signed” story. This week, in our second and final installation, we learn about Hall’s colossal Canadian friend/drummer, his record deal, his South by Southwest plans and, of course, what all he has planned for his much anticipated show at the Brass Rail on January 16. But first, let’s rewind:
Back before Hall hooked up with the above-mentioned Miles Gang he came across Vandolah frontman Mark Hutchins, easily the most like-minded musician to Hall in town. “The thing I remember most about seeing Thunderhawk for the first time was standing side stage and watching that Canadian giant (drummer Doug Market) just beat the living crap out of his drums. That was impressive,” remembers Hutchins. “And it was just song after song and hook after hook of great stuff. We became fast friends then and there. It was so great to see them find an instant audience here, and Josh looked right at home. Eventually Josh played a couple of New Pale Swimmers gigs with me last year, and I’ve never seen such a quick study. Dude picked up on the stuff instantly. He lives and breathes music.”
“I think it was a greater power’s cruel joke to put Josh and I together in the first place,” explained Hall’s longest – and dearest – collaborator, the aforementioned “Canadian giant,” drummer Doug Market (6’9”, if you‘re wondering). “If we didn’t meet he probably would have released Black Label Summer in 2001 and been on the cover of Magnet soon after. But instead we meet each other in 1998 at a compliance meeting mandatory for all Ball State athletes. Josh was wearing a Ween shirt and I thought, ‘Finally, a cool teammate. I hope he knows how to drink!’ Turns out he knew how to drink and play guitar. After a year or so I went out and bought a P.A., my girlfriend bought me a drum set and we taped a mic to a tennis racket, taped that to a light fixture and became Thunderhawk.”
Market, who worked with Hall to record what many consider to be the band’s best work, Thunderhawk IV, still plays with the band when he can. “The last two years for Thunderhawk have been interesting, and interesting is usually a good thing,” he said. “This is a very unique situation because Thunderhawk on tape is one person, yet Thunderhawk on stage is now a mix of many different people, so it’s really two different monsters. I struggle with this concept, but without question it has allowed Josh to explore new areas and that is something that is exciting to see. The advantages can be heard particularly in the last two years.”
In the spring of 2009, now with a built-in fan base, Hall’s freedom as an album maker hit a new high. He’d spent the last year recording five albums under five different band names. He then compiled his favorite tracks from those five records and assembled what would become the original version of Thunderhawk VI. “The original version was this crazy mix of songs that were intentionally all over the place style-wise,” Hall said. “The album had no cohesion; it literally sounded like a bad mix tape somebody put together, which was the idea. It was supposed to be this epic box set, but things got derailed by the Standard deal and I didn’t have enough money to put out all five albums by myself.”
Hall did, however, release two of the records: Black Label Summer’s Dirty All-Star Band and Thunderhawk’s VI, both of which went out of print within weeks. He also self-released two more albums as free, Internet-only releases. But, again, more on that later.
“The new version of VI makes much more sense and sounds more like an album,” said Hall. “I didn’t re-record any of the songs, but Standard rejected my initial mastering job. There were some frequency issues with it, which I sort of liked. I don’t want it to be perfect sounding, so I went back and remixed most of it and remastered it. I just don’t have very good equipment, and I can only make stuff sound so good doing it in my bedroom. I spend about five percent of my time writing the songs, five percent of my time recording and the rest of the time hunched over my computer trying to fix it so it sounds good.”
The new version of the record, which features a bulletproof new tracklist and hits shelves March 23, will be released as an LP with CD package.
“I’m excited about touring and playing more shows,” said Hall. “I got laid off on Christmas Eve, so I almost need to play more shows now. And, according to my record contract, I’m supposed to play 80-100 shows in 2010, which is fine by me if they keep throwing us bigger shows like SXSW and the Mid Point Music Festival in Cincinnati and the Broad Ripple Music Fest.”
Upon learning that he was soon to lose his job, Hall sent me a text message: “I’m going to lose my job soon. Time to make the best Thunderhawk album ever.”
Nice attitude. But I couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. “I am serious about making the best Thunderhawk album ever,” he told me. “I just figured I’ll have more time to work on songs since I won’t be at work all day. If I sit down with a guitar for 20 minutes I’ll have a song written. Usually it’s hard to find time to even sit down for half an hour.”
Such is Hall’s reputation. During his 18 or so months as an adopted Fort Wayne musician Hall was commuting an hour each way to work daily, putting in 50 hours of desk work a week, driving up to Fort Wayne often to play shows and writing and recording five albums. Drinking, too.
“If he were just prolific, it’d be one thing,” laughed Hutchins. “If he put out great stuff every so often, it’d be awesome. But the guy churns out quality songs so often that it makes my head spin. His musicianship is outstanding, his studio skills are impeccable and, best of all, he never panders to the bottom line. I’m so glad people are finally picking up on the fact that folks like this don’t come along every day.”
Some 12 years later, sure, but people are finally coming around. So much so that, as mentioned above, Hall is slated to play at SXSW this year. “Standard recently informed me they have confirmed dates for us at SXSW at the end of March,” said Hall. “My real plan is to do a brew pub tour from Indianapolis to Austin. I’ve had it mapped for weeks now; we’re gonna drive down there and hit as many local brewpubs along the way as we can. There are 29 right along the path through Missouri, Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, etc. We’ll worry about the shows after we get down there. That’s all secondary to the brew pub tour.”
Originally slated for a January release, VI has been pushed back. Bummer, considering Hall had already set up an album release show at the Brass Rail for January 16. “The official national release date is March 23, but we’re looking at doing a special Fort Wayne release on March 12 or 13 before I head down to SXSW,” he said. “We’ll actually have the vinyl copies at that time. So for the January 16 show we’ll be exclusively previewing stuff from the new album and even some newer Stun Guzzler and Killer Robots From Space stuff.”
Stun Guzzler and KRFS stuff, you say? Even better!
KRFS and Stun Guzzler, two of Hall’s many recording monikers, are actually the two latest chapters in the Thunderhawk book. Sure, VI will be the new album come March 23, but most hardcore fans heard all those songs back before the initial pressings went out of print over half a year ago. The KRFS and Stun Guzzler albums, on the other hand, are new.
The KRFS album, Powerlifting, hit the Internet as a free download-only release in September. It’s already become a fan favorite, many even calling it his best work to date.
And then we have the garage rock of Stun Guzzler’s Simple Twist of Hate, pretty much the newest record on the planet. “I somewhat recently decided to bring back Stun Guzzler, which was my band in high school,” said Hall. “We got last place in my high school battle of the bands, and I’m 30 now so I’m having this mid-life crisis. Time to bring it back. I want to enter a high school battle of the bands and rock the hell out of it. I think we’d win it this time, or at least not get last place.
“So I released the Stun Guzzler album on the Internet on December 31, 2009. It’s just sort of a way to end out the decade and the year. I think it sounds a little bit like the Rolling Stones, maybe. I want to be in the Rolling Stones someday because those guys will never die, and I mean that in the abstract and literal sense.”
Head over to http://sites.google.com/site/thunderhawkkills now and download the Stun Guzzler and Killer Robots From Space albums for free. (Oh, and as this is going to press, Hall was threatening to post another new album online!) But before you do that, mark your calendars, both for the March 23 album release and the January 16 Guzzler/Robots/VI Preview show at the Brass Rail. Or, if you just can’t wait for VI, head over to www.standardrecording.com now where you can pre-order the new record. Doing so will score you a free download of the revamped Black Label Summer record, which features three brand new, excellent songs.
Not sold? How about some closing words from local musician Matt Kelley: “Thunderhawk’s performances have been some of my all-time favorite nights. Followed by some of my all-time least favorite mornings.”