A Conversation with The Cars' Greg Hawkes
Mike Ragogna: Greg, it's been over twenty years since the last record, right?
Greg Hawkes: Yes, it has, it's been quite a while.
MR: So? What's been going on over those last twenty years?
GH: Well, musically, I've been doing a number of things. I've been out performing with a few people, doing some recording things here and there, and this sort of took me by surprise--doing an album of new Cars material. But it was a very pleasant surprise, and so far, so good.
MR: How did the new Cars album Move Like This come together?
GH: Well, from my point of view, I got a call last year in '10 from Ric asking me, "What do you think about doing a Cars album," and I was surprised, but totally up for it. I think he had just written a batch of songs that he just thought might be appropriate in the context of a Cars album.
MR: What's interesting about this album is that it sounds like there has been no time lost, and yet it's contemporary. How did you pull off that trick?
GH: I don't know. That's the trick, isn't it, to sound contemporary, but still sound like the Cars without sounding too retro?
MR: Exactly. You hooked up with producer Jacknife Lee for some of the songs. How did you start the process?
GH: Well, I guess we sent Jacknife a few songs, and he sort of made his selections of the songs that he'd like to work on. Then, we got together in L.A., and I think we probably did three songs to start, which was what his schedule would allow, but also a matter of us testing each other out, seeing how this would go in the studio. It went really well, so we booked another couple of songs, and then we did the other songs sort of on our own in a studio in Millbrook, New York, which is just upstate New York a little bit.
MR: What was the initial reunion like?
GH: I don't know, it was a lot of fun. We got together in the studio and started running through a couple songs, making tapes. It seemed to work pretty well, and it was pretty easy and fun to work with everybody else.
MR: And what is the rapport between you and Ric after all these years?
GH: Ric and I have continued to get on just fine in this interim waiting period. We keep in touch, and I go down and see him occasionally when I go to New York. It was great working on this record, so I hope we do more.
MR: So, Jacknife Lee worked on a few songs, and then you went back and completed it yourselves.
MR: How much material did you start with and how did you know which songs to record?
GH: Well, actually, when (Ric) first called me up to talk about the idea of it, I went down to New York, and he played me 25 songs, and out of those 25, we narrowed it down to about a dozen or 15, maybe. Then, out of that dozen or 15 is what the band was considering. It was a pretty easy selection process, although, there are still a number of songs from that batch that, you know, would be good on another album sometime.
MR: Move Like This, Volume 2.
GH: That's right...or, No, Like This.
MR: (laughs) Let me ask you something. You didn't replace Ben Orr.
GH: That's right.
MR: Was that in reverence to his place in the group?
GH: Well, yeah it was. I think we just felt that for this new project, there is a lot of talent in the four guys, so we thought that we could cover it, musically. Ben's presence was certainly missed, but we didn't really feel the need to get somebody else to replace him.
MR: And then, of course, Ric sang all the songs.
GH: True enough. However, he was always the main songwriter, so it's not something that is wacky, or anything like that.
MR: I understand that Move Like This originally was supposed to be only an online album.
GH: You know, I don't know. Maybe (laughs).
MR: (laughs) I was told that the original plan was to self-record it with no greater goal than releasing an online album, but you guys were so juiced in the rehearsals that you guys decided to go for it.
GH: Yeah, I guess so. It was sort of a step by step process, and we didn't really have any plan except to get together and do three or four songs to see how it goes. That went well, so it has evolved on to where we are now.
MR: Nice. So, your new single and video is "Blue Tip"?
MR: What's going on in the video, is there an actual story there?
GH: Let's see...no, not really. That's the sort of silhouette graffiti one, right?
GH: I get confused because there was a preview video, that was just the first part of the song, like a minute long. There was a whole bunch of still, maybe black and white photos--I'm not sure. Then, there was another video for the whole song, which was sort of some silhouette stuff, with a graffiti artist spraying our silhouettes around New York.
MR: Nice. Let's catch everybody up on The Cars. Can you give us the basic bio?
GH: Let's see...The Cars formed in January of '77, and I had known both Ric and Ben for a few years before The Cars actually became an entity. In fact, I played in a band with the two of them a couple of years before The Cars, which was called Richard And The Rabbits, and like most bands, nothing really happened and we broke up after about a year. Then, I took a job playing with Martin Mull, if you know who that is--a character actor. He used to make comedy albums, and I was in his band just before The Cars, and in the meantime, Ric and Ben had formed another band that had Elliot Easton in it. That band also broke up, so they started yet another band with Ric and Ben, and Elliot was still there, and then David Robinson, our drummer, joined. David had been in a group from Boston called The Modern Lovers, which was an early new wave band before there was new wave.
MR: Yep, great band.
GH: He was the one that came up with the name, The Cars. So, I was actually the last one to join, and then we had a record deal with Elektra by the end of the year, and we went to London to record our first album in February of '78 and it came out in either May or June of '78.
MR: That was with producer Roy Thomas Baker, right?
GH: That was with Roy Thomas Baker, who had just produced "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen right before the first Cars record.
MR: Yeah, those two albums, A Night At The Opera and The Cars, wrote some new rules about recording in the studio.
GH: Yeah, Roy was great. He used the Stephens 40-track machine. Twenty-four tracks was kind of the state of the art then, but Roy had this unique machine and he was great to work with. We got to go over and perform in George Martin's studio, The Beatles' producer, so we were thrilled.
MR: Any particular favorites on the album?
GH: "Hits Me" is one of my favorites. I don't really have a particular story to go along with it, but I'm trying to think.
MR: Was there anything that came off like the perfect Cars song right from the start?
GH: Actually, there was a song, "Too Late," that was just one of those songs. The first time I heard Ric's demo I thought, "Oh, that would make a good Cars song."
MR: Are there plans to tour for the album?
GH: Yes. We're doing a string of dates in the middle of May.
MR: What kind of advice do you have for new artists?
GH: Boy, just be unique. It's tough because there's no real secret rule or formula to do it--it's still like a strange new world for us. The music world is very different than it was in the '70s and '80s. The whole format, and the internet has changed everything, and that seems to be the way for young bands to make a mark, to get an internet presence and spread their music.
MR: Well, it was so great to talk to you, and it's really great to have The Cars back.
GH: Well, thank you so much. I'm excited about it, I've got to admit.
MR: Predictions, like for a year from now?
GH: (laughs) I have no idea. I can barely predict like two weeks from now.
MR: Well, my hope is you'll be working on the follow-up.
GH: Working on a follow-up, there you go.
MR: Greg, thank you. I really appreciate your time.
GH: My pleasure, thanks for having me.
1. Blue Tip
2. Too Late
3. Keep On Knocking
5. Sad Song
7. Drag On Forever
8. Take Another Look
9. It's Only
10. Hits Me
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney