Irreverent rock star knows how to seduce a crowd

Hawksley Workman’s hits are like pickup lines. “I’m jealous of your cigarette, and all the things you do with it.” Or.

Hawksley Workman’s hits are like pickup lines.

“I’m jealous of your cigarette, and all the things you do with it.”


“Your kisses are all I think about  … striptease for me baby.”

It’s hot music.

But the 30-year-old Ontario pop rocker isn’t all sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

In fact, he’s not even sure about pop.

 “Pop music should really be dead,” said Workman from a friend’s Toronto apartment on Monday.

And, despite his success, he doesn’t really care about the hits either.

“I’m pretty irreverent to what I’m supposed to be doing,” said Workman.

“If I was really worried about my career, I guess I would be trying to write hit songs on every record.

“But I just want to make sure I make great records no matter what they are, and that it’s fun and interesting for me and I never get locked too tightly into doing one thing.”

And Workman hasn’t.

After the catchy pop rock recording The Delicious Wolves and the indie, hip-hop influenced Lover/Fighter, his music took a quiet, crooning, folksy turn with the recent release of Treeful of Starlings, an album that poured out of him in the California desert.

“I went to the desert to have a kind of change or shift in myself,” said Workman, who was fed up with the booze-filled, rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

“And I was not really expecting to write.

“But I did for whatever reason, and that record just kind of came out. Whatever I’m writing I usually write in a blast, a big splash.”

Which explains why each of Workman’s albums has such a distinctive, cohesive feel.

They’re almost like concept records, he said.

And Treeful of Starlings’ concept is clear.

“Hymns for a dying planet and a culture in decay,” is scrawled across the inside cover.

“I was particularly nihilistic then,” said Workman with a laugh.

“And I still am.

“Although for my own mental health, I’ve let go of some of those feelings.”

Our culture is sick, he said.

“And the fact that we keep regurgitating ourselves is one indication that the culture has nothing new to offer and, in many ways, is sort of eating itself.”

Old films are being remade, there’s nothing new on television and there’s very little innovation, said Workman.

“Which would lead me to believe there’s very little to say.”

But Workman’s still singing.

It has to do with ego, he said.

 “You think what you’re doing is worth people hearing. You feel you’ve got something to give.”

And when it comes to releasing music, Workman isn’t shy.

“I’m never really concerned with guarding people from my weaker moments,” he said.

“I kind of put everything I do out, because you’ve got to let people know you can fail.

“We’re surrounded by images of perfection in this culture, and I think it does people a service to know that things can be weak, or in need.”

However, without confidence Workman might not find it so easy to bare all.

“I know I’m pretty great at my job,” he said.

“But I know I’m going to suck some days too, and I don’t ever really want to be afraid of that or I’ll be more neurotic than I already am.”

Music began for Workman when he was five.

His dad was a drummer and his mom was a painter and singer.

“Music has always been there,” he said.

At 14, Workman was teaching piano and guitar, and worked as a hired drummer for country and western bands.

And by his early 20s, he was writing his own stuff.

“But the songs aren’t really mine,” he said.

After writing and recording them, he always lets them go.

“For me, writing the song is just about engaging in the excitement of testing your faith of creativity,” he said. “And once it’s over, the song kind of leaves you.”

It’s touring that keeps the music alive, said Workman, who’s been on the road for the last eight years and has toured with the likes of David Bowie, The Cure and Patti Smith.

“It’s the best way to keep your career buoyant and maintain your connection with your audience,” he said, noting he’d been to Australia four times this year alone.

But this will be his first trip to Whitehorse.

And he is “amped” to get up here.

Workman’s a northern boy.

He grew up in rural Ontario, rode the school bus for hours each day, and he still has a home in the area, an old schoolhouse where his Grandmother studied.

He returns to it when he’s not touring or couch surfing in Toronto.

However, he doesn’t get home enough, he said.

Being on the road all the time is not easy, and that lifestyle has taken its toll.

“It’s not healthy, it’s not good for you. And the partying its ubiquitous,” said Workman.

“And that part has gotten to me. I sort of don’t wish for it anymore. I’m certainly not very social — I never really was, although I sure drank a lot.”

Now, for Workman, music is a job.

“When you start out, there’s all sorts of naive confused ideas of what it will be, and now for me it’s just a job I do extremely well. And I still quite like it, so there’s been no real need for me to change.”

But Workman doesn’t plan to be a rock star forever.

“I always thought I’d be a farmer,” he said.

“I wouldn’t mind being self-sustaining. And it looks like that’s the way society is going to head.”

Workman is performing at the Yukon Arts Centre Friday, December 15th. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets range from $25 to $30.