I’m not sure where Brother Hawk fits in the scheme of things around here. Their music contains no detached hipster irony to beguile you, no neo-hippie psychedelia to confound you, no sludgy swamp riffs to bang your head to. The Atlanta four-piece, consisting of guitarist-vocalist J.B Brisendine, bassist James Fedigan, keyboardist/organist Nick Johns and drummer Champ Hammett, plays big, bluesy, soulful rock that feels classic (in the Allman Brothers/Lynyrd Skynyrd-ian sense of the word) while still leaving plenty of room for some modern alt-rock grooves (think My Morning Jacket or Band of Horses) that help set the band on contemporary ground. Through a combination of hard work and old-fashioned showmanship, the group has established themselves as an up-and-coming player in the local scene, one that has been able to strike a unifying chord with a diverse group of music listeners. As the band prepares to celebrate the release of their sophomore EP, Affairs of Plain Living, tomorrow, I took the opportunity to speak to them about the making of their new record, as well as some of the things they enjoy most about our shared city.
Can you give us some background into how Brother Hawk got started? How did you come up with the band name?
J.B. Brisendine: James and I had been jamming for several years trying to make something happen, and I had been bothering Nick about playing with us the whole time. Once we brought him in we decided to start fresh and see what we came up with. After about a year of jamming and different drummers, we finally started to find our sound and wrote Love Songs within a few short months. I actually got the name from my parents. They’re more in tune with nature than most and refer to animals as “brother” or “sister,” so “Brother Hawk” is something I’ve heard most of my life.
Your songs seem very structured, but there are moments when you cut loose into more jam-oriented territory. Talk to me about your songwriting process. Is it a collaborative thing or more individual than that?
Nick Johns: We always have these fragmented riffs laying around. They are all riffs that make us want to solo over them and jam on it for a long time. That’s how we know they are keepers—when they make us really excited. J.B. does a good job at piecing these different fragments together and writing lyrics and vocals for them. As a band we sometimes try different things out as far as transitions go. We can all tell when a song is ready, and that usually happens pretty fast.
Where did you cut Affairs of Plain Living? Who worked on it with you? How did the sessions go?
NJ: The whole album, with the exception of my backup vocals, was recorded at Blindfold Productions in Avondale Estates. It was engineered, mixed and mastered by (Stallone bassist) C.J. Ridings, who also did Love Songs. It was nice being in the studio, after having done Love Songs in my old basement. It took us hours to get everything set up and ready to go, but once we did we banged the album out in two days. It was fast, but we like how it all turned out. I’m not going to lie, we really love playing these songs. They fire us up, so laying them down and hearing them out of those studio monitors was fun.
What’s the biggest difference between this record and Love Songs?
JB: On Love Songs we were figuring everything out as we went along—our process, our sound. I don’t think any of us realized we had an EP on our hands until we demoed those songs. On Affairs there was actually a feeling of “Okay, we’re Brother Hawk and this is what we do,” so we just went to work doing it until we had 36 minutes of music. I think that shows most in the structure of the songs. They’re more complex and more to the point all at once, not just “here’s this riff, I’ll sing a few bars then we’ll jam.” I think we found the right balance.
How do you plan to support the record? What can we expect from Brother Hawk in the near future?
JB: Our main goal is to start getting out of town. Athens, Macon, Birmingham, Nashville, etc. We’ve built a pretty solid following in Atlanta and now we want to start spreading that across the Southeast. We’ve got shows in the works for Asheville and Jacksonville, with more soon to come, especially after the new year. If you book outside of Atlanta, holler at us!
What’s your favorite ATL venue to see a show? How about play a show?
James Fedigan: I’d say that the Earl is one of my favorites. With regard to how well the sound is, I feel like it’s always consistent there. Some of the best “sounding” shows I’ve been to have been there. As of late, I think everyone is really liking the Basement. We’ve played there a couple of times and each time was great. It has good sound—not too big, not too small. The stage is just right. And you don’t have to carry heavy equipment up and down numerous deadly stairs, which is always a plus.
What’s the best place to grab a drink in Atlanta?
JF: I’m the only drinker in the band, and I’m more apt to hang at my house sipping Glen Livet with a book in hand. But when I do venture out it’s usually the Midway or the Local.
What’s the one local place/store/restaurant/pub/venue/whatever that you can’t live without?
JF: Criminal Records. I’m glad they’re still here.
If you could collaborate with one local artist, who would it be and why?
JF: Andre 3000 maybe? Mainly because I just think it would be fun.
What’s the best and worst thing about the Atlanta music scene?
NJ: I’ve traveled a bit, and I have to say that I admire the music scene we have going on here. There are so many concerts going on all over the place all the time, and all different genres. We have some great venues, and a lot of great musicians in this city. But, sometimes the best thing about it is also the worst thing—the fact that there are so many venues and so many bands. Sometimes it can be overwhelming when you’re trying to book shows or just gain a fan base. It’s sometimes a struggle to get new audience members with so many other things going on around town.
Brother Hawk will celebrate the release of Affairs of Plain Living tomorrow night at the Basement. Supporting them will be Nigredo and Thom Chapman. Doors open at 9pm. Admission is $8.