The Chapel Hill-based group has released its debut effort, "Fool's Paradise," (Yep Roc) featuring a soulfully rocking batch of songs filled with teardrops and twang.
With songs about "pretty voices that turn cold as they can be" and trying "a few roads I don't think I've ever tried," in an effort to let go, you've got the perfect soundtrack to your back road pity party.
And for Hawks, who says he was exposed only to country music as a youngster, that party will always have a heavy twang to it.
"Every time I ever wrote songs or picked up the acoustic guitar, I gravitated towards roots music," he explains. "I was able to speak in that sort of style in another way. I told someone the other day I could go back home again when I play country songs. When I sing, it just comes out in a country vein. It's the most comfortable way for me to express myself."
Hawks, 38, was born in Mount Airy, N.C., the basis for native son Andy Griffth's Mayberry. His family later moved to Charlotte, where he started playing in bands in the early 1980's, first as a drummer before switching to guitar. He moved to Chapel Hill in 1994, when he first formed the Tremblers, with current guitarist Mike Krause, bassist Ellen Gray and drummer John Howie. He also played with Howie in Chapel Hill's Two Dollar Pistols for about a year (Gray would also later become a Pistol).
But he left both bands and Carolina in 1995, to "follow love to West Virginia," according to the press release for "Fool's Paradise."
The relationship didn't work out, and Hawks was back in Chapel Hill by 1996, doing solo shows and hoping to record new songs he was developing. A mutual friend introduced him to bassist Danny Kurtz (ex-Backsliders, Phil Lee), who listened to the songs Hawks had recorded on four-track and provided him with his ideas for arranging the songs. Kurtz was able to give the songs "a new life," Hawks says.
"We like a whole lot of the same music and have a lot of the same ideas," Hawks says. "We both love traditional country. We like country rock stuff like the Flying Burrito Brothers and rootsy pop music like Nick Lowe. He (Kurtz) is a person who has being doing this a really long time. He knew what to do with what was already thereŠHe's kind of seen and heard it all. He completed understood from the get-go what these songs needed in terms of backing vocals and bass. And he has a really good ear for arrangements."
Krause rejoined the Tremblers to play lead guitar and Nate Stalfia was added on drums. The band fine-tuned the songs at live shows around the Chapel Hill-area for about a year, finally deciding in August 1999 they were ready to start recording songs for the album. Chapel Hill-native Chris Stamey (Sneakers, dB's) was enlisted to mix "Fool's Paradise" and help Kurtz and Hawks with production.
"He has a really great ear for things," Hawks says. "He has a really brilliant perspective on songs and what songs need as far sonic frequency and stuff like that. Chris brought a lot of good ideas as far as mixing."
Hawks and the Tremblers do a top-notch cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Tougher Than The Rest," on the album. Hawks says he has a "deep admiration" for "Tunnel of Love," the album on which "Tougher..." appears.
"It's been a record that I regularly listen to," he explains. "When I was doing these songs, I was going through a period when that record was speaking to me on a very profound level."
One afternoon while listening to the record and singing along, Hawks decided to record his take on the "Tougher" on four-track. He liked what he heard and included that in the original demos he sent Kurtz.
"That song has been a part of our set since the first show," Hawks says. "It always went over really well with the crowds. We knew going in that we wanted to record that song."
"Fool's Paradise" was released in February. For Hawks, who has been involved in music for nearly 20 years, it was a long time coming.
"It feels better than I can really express in words," he says. "Just finally getting somewhere, after slowing pulling towards it for a really long time."
Director Victor Salva ("Powder") is planning to include "Where I'm Not" from the album in his upcoming teen-slasher flick "Jeepers Creepers." That's cool for Hawks, an admitted "horror movie freak" in the '80's.
"Country music is not something you normally think of in the context," he says. "Whatever."
For now, Hawk's busy promoting "Fool's Paradise," setting up gigs and being a father to his 4-year-old son Henry, who he dedicated the album to. There are plans to record another album for Yep Roc.
But mainly, Hawks says he just wants to keep playing music. "Hopefully, this album provides the foundation for a career that goes a long time," he says. "I'm just miserable when I'm not playing and writing. It's a thing I feel like I have to do. If I can put out more records fine, but there are always other things I can do in music, even if it's just playing around with friends. I hope the record gets out there and gets play and support. I'd like to have something like a career."