Interview w/ Hawking Frontman Tom Vanderkam
Photo Credit: Abby Williamson
Proud to present to you today an interview with Tom Vanderkam, frontman for the Vancouver based indie/math rock outfit Hawking. They delivered an absolutely supreme set that really blew the doors off the hinges at TT's a few weeks back with its massive wall of sound that spurned a chain reaction of emotion throughout the audience gathered in attendance that evening, and made a whole bunch of fans in the process as well. Tom was nice enough to chat over the phone as his band gets ready to finish up their tour of the U.S. and Canada later next week, and we caught up on the band's early beginnings, plus his thoughts on being on the road and the connection he strives to draw between his band's music and its audience. Here is the transcript from our chat:
Give your name and role in the band?
My name is Tom Vanderkam and I'm the lead vocalist and guitarist for the band Hawking.
How did the name Hawking originate and how did you meet the other members?
Well the name was sort of a thing where it was completely arbitrary and it clicked for us immediately. Our drummer threw out the name 'Hawking' and we thought "Maybe" it might be difficult to do because of Stephen Hawking. And I realized there's gotta be a reason why we keep coming back to this name and why it's sticking in our brains, so we kind of went with it. As far as the formation of the band, I met my other guitar player Benji in college in a calculus class, and we started talking and we realized we had a simiar taste in music so we started jamming and writing a bit together and things picked up from there. We found Chartwell via Craig's List and we got Chris our bass player at a rival high school near Vancouver near where I live. He was in a jazz program and I was doing a solo musician thing locally, so we just never really had a reason to talk to one another cause we were playing very different genres of music, so once Hawking started taking shape and we were doing a math rock influence, he was a really good fit cause of his jazz education and it ended up clicking really well and here we are three tours later.
If you had to describe your sound to those who weren't familair with you, what would you tell them?
The label that sort of stuck with us was 'indie rock/math pop', it's exactly what it sounds like. Sort of a pop version of indie rock and indie pop meets the musical complexities of math rock. As far as comparable artists, one magazine described us as "Vampire Weekend meets a Minus The Bear concert". That's kind of the tagline we've been going with lately, I personally don't really listen to Vampire Weekend and I don't know if we sound like them, but we've had too many people say we sound like Vampire Weekend for us not to sound like Vampire Weekend.
What were some of your earliest musical influences and how have they helped shape the sound of the band?
I sort of got into playing guitar when I was in 6th grade, and that's when no one really had a taste in music yet, they just kind of listen to it. Green Day was the first band I really got into, as far as bands that influenced my playing I got into a lot of punk and hardcore stuff in high school, it would've be more deathcore type stuff like Job For A Cowboy, Blood Runs Black, White Chapel, bands that were a lot heavier and their guitar stuff really influenced the way that I write and once I graduated high school, I got into more progressive music bands like Shaun, This Town Needs Guns, easily my favorite band, Battles, Meet Me In St. Louis, Giraffes Giraffes, bands like that with really complex guitar work and what not, that mixed in with the energy that I had picked up from listening to so much heavy music and that mixed in with the pop sensibility that everybody sort of inately loves, as a songwriter I'm a huge fan of something that gets stuck in your head that you can sing aong to. Those three things all blended together to form my own personal style and mixed in with everything else that the bands members' bring to the table formed Hawking, and I think it's really cool we have so many influences being channeled into one musical project that ends up being indie rock, math pop, and if you see us live hardcore espeically and we play really hard, we sweat, and we work hard.
What is your favorite element of a live show?
I think just everything, live shows are so important to us a band. Making records is one thing, but there are so many senses engaged when it comes to a context of a live show. The young generation are shaping what the music scene is, everyone is very apathetic, no one wants to go out to shows, everybody sits at home and downloads music illegally on their laptops and watches live streams, not that streaming is a bad thing, I think it's the future of recorded music but as far as live shows, I think that's a really important thing we need to preserve culturally and that's why we put so much importance on it, we don't want to be a band that you can go and see and that's one more reason that you're like, "Why did I spend 5 bucks at this show, I could of just listened to the record at home." We want you to come to a show and be like "Oh my god, I get it, that's why bands play live, that's so much more amazing than listening to a record."
What is your favorite venue or city you've played so far on this tour?
As far as favorite cities, Chicago is our favorite city in terms of the layout and people, we had to park a tour bus, how good of a time can you have as a tour seeing in a city for a few hours? Show wise, Montreal blew us out of the water. It was only our second time playing there, and we rolled in there not expecting much, and when we get to the show all of these people know the lyrics and are shouting them back at us, And buying CD's and shirts and asking to sign them like we're some celebrity, we're just a small indie band, we didnt expect anything like that. And the people in Montreal had been patiently waiting for us to come back so that they could see us again.
Do you have any memorable fan experiences from meeting fans after shows while out on tour?
Honestly, almost every single one of them is memorable, the experience of rolling into a city you've never been to and having people come up to you after and saying that after 30 minutes of watching you play, they're a fan and are willing to spend their hard earned money on your music or that you impacted them emotionally in some way, that itself is the most special thing in the world to us and it's really great to be able to do that every day.
What are some of your favorite songs to play live that fans really gravitate towards?
Right now, we've got 2 singles off the new record that have become live favorites. "Safe and Sound" which is the 2nd most recent one, that's been the one we have the most momentum from which has benn really great. We have another single "Books on Tape" the reaction to it has been absolutely amazing. The amount of dancing has been amazing, going absolutely ham for "Books on Tape" it's been really nice to see, it's been a big step up from our last tour when we played, we were a iitle more math rock side it was a lot harder for people to find the beat basically and get into it, it's nice to have scaled that back a bit and keep the musical complexities for the new songs where the people just can dance, mosh, and crowd surf all sorts of stuff going on now, it's really amazing to see that progress from our last record and last tour.
Besides music, what are some kinds of activities you like to do in your spare time in between shows?
A lot of skateboarding, anytime I find a nice black top or a spot it can be skated, I shall skate it. It's a really great way to keep fit and exercise. I was a skateboarder before I became a musician, I was never too serious about it say for maybe 1 year when I was 14. The more I got into music, the less time I put into skateboarding and the more terrified I was of breaking my hands or something. I don't do it too much anymore, it's a really nice break to get all the music related songs out of my brain and go shred. The rest of the guys are not as physically active, everyone else just hangs out and relaxes, we all just put in our earbuds in and zone out, some of the guys have handheld video games and whatnot, sometimes if you're in a city you can just go for a walk and go on an adventure, it's nice to take your mind off the inevitable stress that a tour does put on you.
What is the music scene like in your hometown of Vancouver, what genres seem to be the most popular?
As far as what's really popular with general listeners mainstreamwise, I think indie rock to a lesser extent the whole folk movement. It's poppy arena rock basically reinventing 80's music and branding it as indie rock. As far as the underground scene, hardcore punk is thriving and I'm fortunate to be well connected with that scene in Vancouver and I've been to a bunch of hardcore shows before I left, and every single ome of them is packed and no matter what band is playing, they know its a hardcore show and these guys go just to see 4 local bands and touring bands, it's really cool to see.
After tour wraps up, what are your future plans, are you planning to record any new music or are you taking a break?
After tour wraps up, we have a couple of one off shows and festivals and stuff that we'll be playing more locally and regionally. We have a big homecoming show in early August in Vancouiver, that's going to be really fun. After that, Chart out drummer has to get surgery on his hip from that crash we had a couple of years back. We have some downtime to write more music and get another record for next year and start booking next year's tour and repeat the cycle and keep hitting all the same markets really hard and to make an impact.
How can people find more information about you online?
Hawkingband.com is the best way to get a hold of us. All of our social medias are hawkingofficial, Facebook and Twitter. We're very active on social media, Facebook and Twitter especially if people want to get in touch, we answer most of our messages within 10-15 mins we're very active, if people want to get a hold of us it's really us, we try to be super open and accessible.
What is the one thing you love the most about being in this band?
I think just being able to spend my early 20's basically living out what so many people dream of doing, and with my 3 best friends to boot to be traveling around North America and playing music, and having people actually love the music you're playing, and being able to share that experience with your 3 best friends is a really amazing thing. While we're young and while we're able to do this, there's really no better way to spend your youth honestly.
Thanks again to Tom for being so gracious in taking some time out to do this interview! It's great to hear in-depth experiences from bands from the other side of the map, and to feel their sincerity and graciousness emanating so strongly from them, I myself have developed a huge appreciation and band crush of sorts for these guys and everything that they bring to the table. Please check out Hawking's music and their social media links at the aforementioned links above.