Second Gear: After 24 Years, The Cars Return



The recent reincarnation of New Wave has led to more than just obligatory synth lines in every new indie-rock album: it’s also made room for the welcome second coming of ’80s rockers The Cars. With their reunion album, their first in 24 years, The Cars have modernized their sound while maintaining the style that made them famous. The absence of bassist Benjamin Orr since his death in 2000 doesn’t go unnoticed, but his legacy has continued to live on with their latest album, Move Like This. They’ve modernized their signature sound a bit, too, courtesy of producer Garrett Lee, who has worked with bands including U2, Bloc Party and Weezer.

The Cars have a brief tour planned for May, but performances after that remain up in the air. We had the chance to catch up with keyboardist Greg Hawkes.

ILANA KAPLAN: This is your first album as a group in 24 years, how does it feel?

HAWKES: Well, it feels more like 22 years. [laughs] It has been a pleasure doing this project, working on this record. It’s been really fun working on the new songs.

KAPLAN: Did you ever think there would be a reunion like this after so long?

HAWKES: No really, but I didn’t completely rule it out. It certainly wasn’t anything I was counting on either. It’s a crazy world, how things happen.

KAPLAN: How does this album compare to your others Is this album going in another direction, in your opinion?

HAWKES: Well, it’s funny… to me, it sounds like The Cars. It’s hard. It sounds newer than the other albums, but it sounds like The Cars. I guess it sounds a little more modern to me these days, but it’s hard to describe exactly what that means. Just like with recording techniques and getting to work with Garrett Lee, the producer on some of the stuff. He’s a younger guy and has worked with other younger bands and brings in that perspective.

KAPLAN: What was your inspiration for Move Like This?

HAWKES: Ric [Ocasek, lead singer] was starting to get a backlog of material and must have felt that a lot of it might be good for The Cars, or would sound good in a context of a Cars album. From my perspective, he called me up and said, “What do you think about making a Cars album?” It must have been last year around January or February. So, I was surprised, but totally up for it. Then we just started working in small batches and got together. We would go in and work on three or four songs and see how it goes. It certainly went well enough to warrant staying with it and doing the whole album. It was a lot of fun.

KAPLAN: As I understand it, there was some version of the new Cars, and you had gone back on tour. How did that come about?

HAWKES: I don’t know. It’s a long story. Let me see if I can get the short form. We went out with Todd Rundgren and played for a year, year and a half. It was a great band, to tell you the truth. The situation, just kind of didn’t work out. In the meantime, I sort of kept working with Todd off and on. Besides Todd, I got another part-time job working with Flo & Eddie of The Turtles and The Mothers of Invention. I sort of continued to work as a musician for most of the last five or six years. Before that, I had taken a fair amount of time off doing some recording stuff here and there. Also, I was sort of a stay-at-home dad for 15 years. That was my story.

KAPLAN: Does the new album address the band’s feelings after Ben’s death?

HAWKES: He was certainly missed, especially when we were doing the vocals, and I’m sure had he been alive, he would have been there.  David, our drummer, owns a couple of Ben’s old basses and he ended up playing one of them on some of the tracks, which was sort of a nice touch.

KAPLAN: Definitely! Do you guys have tour plans?

HAWKES: We’re doing a short tour when the album comes out. It’s relatively small venues. When we were making the record, I wasn’t even sure if we were going to play any shows at all. Now that we’re excited about how the record came out, we’ll start with a small string of dates in May, to support the album.

KAPLAN: Who is the greatest person you got to play with in the past?

HAWKES: I got to record with Paul McCartney, who is at the top of my list. That was back in 1990. I worked on the Flowers and Dirt album. Plus, I was a total Beatles kid. My first concert ever, my dad took me to see The Beatles when I was 11. It was the height of Beatlemania. It was crazy.

KAPLAN: What are your favorite tracks off of Move Like This? What tracks are you most excited to play?

HAWKES: Let’s see. I like “Hits Me.” That was an early favorite of mine. All of a sudden I’m blanking out. What are some of my favorites… now I’m trying to think of the names of the songs. “Sad Song” and “It’s Too Late.” I like that one. “Blue Tip.” That’s wacky. That one always had an odd title. I still don’t know what it means.

KAPLAN: Would you still consider The Cars a part of New Wave?

HAWKES: Historically, I’m sure we’ll always be pegged there.

KAPLAN: Presently?

HAWKES: Presently, it’s hard to know. I don’t know. I don’t know how to describe it. We didn’t want it to sound like an ’80s record, yet we wanted it to sound like a Cars record. It’s sort of a funny balance between retro and modern. We weren’t thinking to try and sound like the early Cars or anything. If anything, it was more not to. Even though, when people hear it, they tell me it sounds exactly like The Cars.

KAPLAN: Do you think this album is a new beginning for The Cars? Are we going to see more new albums?

HAWKES: Well, I hope so, because this one was so much fun to work on. We’ll have another album after this. I know there are still some more songs that we didn’t get to record for this record.

KAPLAN: Is there anyone you would like to work on in the future on an album that you haven’t yet worked with?

HAWKES: Maybe Weezer. I’m a fan of theirs.

KAPLAN: That would be a good combination. Are you playing any festivals this summer?

HAWKES: Boy, I don’t know yet. We don’t have any definite plans after this run of shows that’s coming up in May. But you never know. Hopefully, we’ll get the opportunity to do more. We’ll see.

KAPLAN: What is different about The Cars as a band this time around?

HAWKES: For one thing, we’re going to have to approach some of the older songs a little bit different, first of all, because Ben’s not there. So that automatically requires a bit of rethinking on some of the songs, but it’ll be fun to do. We’re going to try to do, not necessarily a “Greatest Hits” tour either. We’re going to try and seek out some of the more obscure Cars songs.

KAPLAN: It definitely sounds like you have quite the journey ahead.

HAWKES: Looking forward to it.