Hawks Feel More Naked than Ever, and With Their Shirts On

Michael Keenan Jr. walks in, and he’s not what I expected — mainly because he’s fully dressed. Shutterbugs, after all, tend to snap photos of Keenan when he’s screaming, shirtless and sweaty, if not burying his face into a stranger’s crotch. As the Hawks’ lead singer, he’s helped the band earn choice words like “pig fuck” and “acid prayer”. In fact, he and Sean Fitzgerald are still suited up from their day jobs at an Atlanta ad agency and law firm. The sleeves of Keenan’s light grey jacket cover most of his tattoos, sparing only the ‘GUTS’ spelled out on his right knuckles.

But going into the release of Rub — out now through Trans Ruin Records  — Keenan isn’t feeling as self-assured. “I feel more naked,” he laughs. “And that’s weird.”

Hawks, comprised also of drummer Shane Patrick and guitarist Andrew Wiggins, are used to baring all. As they crack open cans of Guinness, Keenan and Fitzgerald spill their thoughts on seemingly everything: Matthew Robison’s We Fun (hint: they’re still pissed at its all-hail-Deerhunter slant), their opinions on Pitchfork (“It can be one guy playing three notes on a fuckin’ Casio, and Pitchfork will love it”) and a story they call “Snug Harbor” named after the Charlotte, N.C. bar from which the puke bath flowed.

In their debut, Barnburner, dissonance flies like shrapnel, and Keenan’s slight growl swimming in a murky noise rock soup — a sound they struggled to replicate in a live setting. Hawks had recorded some of the original Rub mixes, in the midst of a tour, inside a North Carolina grist mill, and a year later, they found themselves handing over the still unfinished songs to Kyle Spence. The Harvey Milk drummer invited them inside his Athens home studio, listened to the songs they towed, then proposed a different approach — tackling the songs with little more than what they’d play with on stage, leaving Keenan’s voice almost completely unadorned.

As a result, Rub hits like a sledgehammer, with every blow more deliberate and striking harder. It feels more like the music that Keenan and Fitzgerald initially bonded over, like The Jesus Lizard, Pissed Jeans and the Dischord discography. “Real simple and minimalist and can get you to move instead of confound,” Fitzgerald says.

Or, in even simpler terms: “This is what we’re doing — fuck you.”

Photo Credit: Tim Song