Hawktail share a glimpse into their creative process in the new video for “Dandelion,” premiering exclusively on Billboard below from the all-star acoustic quartet’s upcoming sophomore album Formations.
“One of our favorite tracks off the last record [2018’s Unless] was a tune called ‘In the Kitchen,'” says guitarist Jordan Tice. “It’s based around this arpeggiated, finger-picking guitar thing I had. It was a sound we felt was something special, so when we were trying to write music for this record we wanted something that was in that vein.
“I started messing around with some ideas, with a capo on the fifth fret, and came up with that little ‘Blackbird’ sounding riff at the beginning. Then maybe 20 seconds later it modulates up a fourth. There’s something colorful between the two keys that really works, and then we asked ourselves ‘Where do we go from here?’ and built it. That’s the way a lot of our stuff happens.”
Formations, due Jan. 10, does introduce a new era of Hawktail, however, as well as some new music. After recording Unless nearly four times due to personnel changes, the new album includes mandolinist Dominick Leslie (Deadly Gentlemen, Noam Pikelny & Friends) from the get-go, joining Tice, fiddler Brittany Haas (Crooked Still, Steve Martin, Live From Here) and bassist Paul Kowert, who’s also part of the Punch Brothers. “[Unless] took care of the learning curve,” Tice notes, “and having done that we were like, ‘Oh, we know how to make music together now. Let’s make another record.”
The all-instrumental Formations came together during a four-day session at Southern Ground studios in Nashville with Kowert’s Punch Brothers bandmate Chris “Critter” Eldridge producing.
“In a lot of ways it was easier this time,” Tice says. “We had a better control of what we’re about and what we had in our toolbox and were capable of. The music was written in the course of a month and a half and recorded over the course of four days. And having Dominick in the writing from the beginning of the recording changed a lot of things. There’s more of that rhythmic, mandolin-chop kind of driving within the band, so there’s more robust, groove-oriented stuff on this record.”
All of Hawktail’s members have other commitments, of course. But the quartet has set up a number of shows for the new year, starting Jan. 31 in Nashville, and the next night at the Grand Ole Opry, and Tice is hopeful that a second album will inspire the musicians to make more time in their schedules for the band.
“Since the inception of the band our schedules have thinned out a bit and people are a little more available,” says Tice, noting that the Punch Brothers in particular are working less due to Chris Thile’s public radio obligations with Live From Here. “I think [Hawktail] had to prove itself as a viable thing, not a novelty side project. It seems like people are into it, so I think that energizes us to devote more time to it.”
The video for “Dandelion” is below.