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Youngblood Hawke: Pop Under Pressure

Youngblood Hawke Catie Laffoon/Red Bull Media House

Youngblood Hawke was born out of the “late night creative musings” of Simon Katz and Sam Martin, a duo that was formerly part of the new-wave project Iglu & Hartly. After their previous band dismantled due to creative differences, the longtime friends began pursuing a new musical direction, eventually looping in Tasso Smith, Nik Hughes, and Katz’s wife, Alice, to form Youngblood Hawke.

Things have taken off fast for the Los Angeles-based indie rockers, who recently signed with Universal Republic. With a mere 15 shows under their belt, they have been busy in the studio finishing up their debut album, which is due out early next year. They are gearing up to release an EP on August 14, on which they collaborated with producer Tim Anderson (Ima Robot).

Youngblood Hawke recently stopped by Red Bull Studio L.A., where they spent two days working on tracks for their forthcoming album and where we talked to them about the odd name, their “weird pop” sound and the pressure of being called the best band in America.

nullCatie Laffoon/Red Bull Media House

Your bio says that Youngblood Hawke captures the sound of five friends in mid journey. Can you elaborate on that?

Sam: Simon and I used to play in a band called Iglu & Hartly. We did that for a few years and that dissolved and we were left picking up the pieces of that. We started writing songs and we joined with the other guys and I think the journey is just us learning to be a band together.

Simon: I feel like everybody was on their own individual path doing something different, but nobody was really set in what they were doing. We came together and we all had the same vision in the end. We dragged Tasso out of Texas. Alice and I are married, and we’d be working on tracks on the studio in my house, and we’d be like, “Alice, come sing this harmony part.” She’s singing throughout the initial first recordings and we’d be like, “Shit. We need to make this a band.”

Sam: We were fighting really hard to find a way for each of us to play music together and create one thing because we’re really close friends. We’ve always played music in different bands and projects.

nullCatie Laffoon/Red Bull Media House

Rumor has it the band was named after a Herman Wouk novel. What was so special about this book?

Sam: It’s just a really good book about a writer -- a Kentucky mountain boy who moved to New York. He’s searching for literary success, and it’s his story. It was my uncle’s favorite book and I read it one day and I was just blown away. It was super inspiring. This was during the time when we started writing all the songs. I called Simon one day and was like, “Dude, I have our band name.” He was like, “What band?” We had just started writing songs, and I was like, “Dude, that’s the best name. It’s the best book.”

Simon: I said, “Well we have to have a band now. We have a name.”

So you had the name before the band?

Simon: Basically, yeah. I mean, we knew who we wanted to be in the band. We knew we wanted Tasso to come out and play guitar with us. I knew Alice was going to be in the band and sing and play percussion. We had our friend Nick who is an incredible drummer, who we all love and we all get along very well so it was very easy. It was like, “Oh we have a band. I know who is going to be in it.”

nullCatie Laffoon/Red Bull Media House

Sam: It was just a matter of putting it together.

Simon: And convincing everybody to quit their jobs.

Several outlets have called you the best new band in the U.S. Do you feel a sense of added pressure to live up to that?

Tasso: Absolutely!

Simon: We’ve been through this experience before, and we know the hype and the buzz and what it does for you and how it can work against you. We try to really underplay everything that we do and not try to build this fake buzz around us -- just to come out with the best songs we possibly can and write the best songs we possibly can; I think that everything else will carry along after that.

Alice: We just focus on the task at hand and just enjoy each other.

Tasso: The pressure was put on ourselves before any of that came about.

Simon: Lots of people say one thing, and then six months later it’s like, “Who the hell are these guys?”

Sam: I’ve learned to tune all that out. You just gotta believe in yourself and your songs. 

nullCatie Laffoon/Red Bull Media House 

What mainstream bands do you get compared to?

Simon: Nobody’s really been like, “They sound like this or they sound like that.” We’ve kind of purposely tried to stay away from that. Whenever we hear a sound start sounding too much like one thing -- too rock or too pop -- we’ll isolate the element that is doing that and take that out and go another direction so we’re never really being pushed too far in one direction. We can bring all these different elements in and make it our own.

How would you describe the band to somebody that’s never heard you before?

Sam: That’s the hardest question. It’s like describing a color. It’s a mixture of different elements.

Simon: I would say big, driving songs, big choruses, pop foundation but weird pop.

Sam: I think that would be a good classification. Let’s go with that. “Weird pop.”

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