Youngblood Hawke is Up and Running

Published April 30, 2013

ABOVE: YOUNGBLOOD HAWKE. PHOTO COURTESY OF SHAUGHN CRAWFORD

With the recent onslaught of electro-pop bands, it’s only natural that newcomers would want to distinguish themselves. If you’re Youngblood Hawke, you do that, mostly, by filming a music video for your single “We Come Running” underwater—complete with instruments, scuba gear, and 14-foot tiger sharks.

The band, named after a Herman Wouk novel, flowed into the mainstream with “We Come Running,” a power-pop anthem that’s clearly fresh but potentially timeless. The single, which features the LA Children’s choir, has a cinematic quality to it that pervades much of the album. It’s especially evident in songs like “Rootless,” in which the lyrical tone is dark, but the melody remains upbeat.

Sam Martin, Youngblood Hawke’s lead singer and co-founder, had no musical background before forming his first band with Simon Katz and Jarvis Anderson, Iglu & Hartly. What he did have was a passion for writing and, eventually, the help of long-time musicians Alice Katz (who is also Simon’s wife), Tasso Smith, Nik Hughes, and Omar Ahmed. The band’s debut album, Wake Up, comes out today. We caught up with Martin to talk brilliant, bearded family members, copyright infringement, and Jimmy Kimmel at Coachella.

CASSIE TITLE: Can you list all the band members?

SAM MARTIN: I’m Sam; I sing and play the keyboard. Tasso Smith plays the guitar. Nik’s our drummer. Alice Katz is our vocalist and percussionist. And Omar plays the bass. We all kind of sing, too. It’s like a big gang vocal.

TITLE: I like this “gang vocal” term. I probably can’t count, so was that five or six people?

MARTIN: Six.

TITLE: A lot of articles say you guys have five members. We won’t lie. I know you’ve all been friends for years, but how did you meet?

MARTIN: Simon and I met in college, at the University of Colorado in Boulder. We formed another band there [Iglu & Hartly] in 2003-2004. We moved to LA, and were out there for six or seven years. And when that fell apart, we kind of formed this band. Tasso and Alice and Simon, they all grew up down the street from each other in San Antonio. Tasso and Simon grew up learning the guitar together. Eventually, Alice moved out to LA. Tasso, at the time, was living in Florida, and he moved out to join the band. Our drummer Nik played in our old band for about three weeks on this tour of the UK we did. And he introduced us to our bassist.

TITLE: I read that you and Simon started this project to get some release from Iglu & Hartly. I thought it was interesting that what started as creative freedom from mainstream music ended up becoming more popular with the mainstream.

MARTIN: Well, it wasn’t really the commercial pressures; it was inter-band relationships. We didn’t really have a voice in the other band. We outgrew the music we were creating; we wanted to try something completely new. It became kind of a nightmare. It soured music for us—we weren’t enjoying ourselves. So, when that band fell apart, we formed this group. We were in a low place—no jobs, broke. We were scared and angry, and just poured all that into our music. We trapped ourselves in the studio over the summer and started writing songs together with really no intention of starting a band.

TITLE: I’m always intrigued when people who become rock stars never did musical things in school. Do you have a musical background?

MARTIN: Not at all, to be honest.

TITLE: That’s awesome!

MARTIN: I was really into filmmaking and writing, and wanted to be a director. But I always kept journals and wrote lyrics and stuff. I had a huge passion for music, but not really a passion for creating it. But when I moved to Boulder, I was completely blindsided by this group of kids who were really into music and always jamming. And I was like, Man, this is what I have to do. And my passions completely shifted. I just kind of gave my life up to music from that point on. But the rest of the band had been playing since they were four or five years old.

TITLE: Since you wanted to a director, did you have a hand in directing the video for “We Come Running?”

MARTIN: We handed that over to Marc Klasfeld. He’s done hundreds and hundreds of great music videos, so we just came up with the concept of the sharks and he took it from there. But it was the most insane experience of our lives. It was also the most beautiful, transcendental experience. To be surrounded by 14-foot tiger sharks for an hour and a half—it was mind-blowing.

TITLE: Did you have to hire some sort of shark safety specialist?

MARTIN: We went down with some trained divers; they do this all the time. They go to this place called Tiger Beach. It’s a sanctuary where animals can’t be killed; it’s completely wild. They were extremely knowledgeable and super professional and made us feel really safe.

TITLE: That’s crazy! In the song, the children’s chorus fits perfectly.

MARTIN: The West Los Angeles Children’s Choir goes along with the message.  When you’re a kid, you believe in anything; you can be an astronaut or lawyer. You have that wide-eyed view of the world. That’s what that song’s about—how we try to maintain that view on life. So when we made that song, we were just like: Oh, this’ll be perfect if we can get these little kids! And we called the West Los Angeles Children’s Choir and they were completely happy to do it. The kids were adorable and six to 14 and they did such a wonderful job. I think it really made that track special.

TITLE: They’re amazing.

MARTIN: We also used them on “Stars [Hold On]” on the EP.

TITLE: I’ve noticed a maritime theme with you guys; you have the shark video, and then the character in the book your band is named after was in the Navy, and I saw that one of you used to clean boats as a job.

MARTIN: That’s an interesting question. I mean, we like to surf, and we live in California. We like to get outside and enjoy the natural world. But I wouldn’t say that was part of the concept. [Youngblood Hawke] was my Uncle Mike’s favorite book, and he was kind of this outlaw of the family: poet, super brilliant, with a wonderful beard.

TITLE: The best kind of family member!

MARTIN: He was always telling us stories growing up. And Youngblood Hawke‘s his favorite book. I picked it up at the time we started writing this album, and it blew me away. It just inspired me beyond anything I’ve ever read. The character was from Kentucky and moved to New York to become a writer. So there were a lot of parallels with the book and our lives. Then the name: I thought it was so unique and so cool and it represented us, too. It feels young; it feels completely appropriate.

TITLE: This is kind of a joke, but how are you not infringing on copyright?

MARTIN: There were no problems; they let us use it. The author’s son, actually, tweeted about us. They’re proud that we used the name.

TITLE: I know you performed on Jimmy Kimmel a while ago. I was wondering if you had heard about Kimmel’s recent Coachella video. He had someone go up to random concertgoers and ask what they thought of bands that were actually made-up names.

MARTIN: It was hilarious.

TITLE: I think you would be one of those cool bands that Coachella kids would pretend to know with your unusual name. There’s this whole subculture of indie hipster rock, which lately has the sound of electropop that you guys could fit in. But you’re not indie—you’re signed. So I was wondering whether you thought “indie” had a different meaning now.

MARTIN: The whole classification of music thing has always kind of thrown me. That’s a tough question. I don’t really know what indie rock means anymore. I don’t know if that exists anymore, to be honest. I consider us a rock group with pop sensibility and a mix of a bunch of different genres together. I’ve just always been a fan of songs.

YOUNGBLOOD HAWKE’S DEBUT ALBUM, WAKE UP, COMES OUT TODAY, APRIL 30. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, PLEASE VISIT ITS WEBSITE.