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Workman for the weekend

Thinkin' 'bout a space to play in, probably // Dustin Rabin
Thinkin' 'bout a space to play in, probably // Dustin Rabin

‘A room is an important thing,” Hawksley Workman begins. “When you listen to Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction or Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, you have to believe that those records were made with the room size that they were eventually going to play those songs in, in mind. You don’t play ‘Born in the USA’ or ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ in a club.”

It’s a fair observation from a guy who’s peddled his slyly idiosyncratic, sometimes-pop-sometimes-folk-sometimes-rock music through every sort of venue in Edmonton—from early stints at the Sidetrack (“One of the first places I was ever treated as a human being,” he notes of his early touring days) and the Dinwoodie Lounge to a prominent Folk Fest slot and a Winspear show. So catering a set to the space Workman’s in is old hat by now—he’s done ’em all.

Still, while touring The God That Comes, Workman’s theatrical cabaret of revelries, last year, he came to love The Club, the cabaret space that the Citadel Theatre revamped one of its theatres into a few years back. He’s making a four-night return to the room, and has been busily dreaming up a set intricately tailored to that particular space.

“I knew I couldn’t just show up and play ‘Striptease’ and ‘Jealous of Your Cigarette,’ you know what I mean?” the 39-year-old explains. He’s been dipping into some deep wells: old songs, as well as some he’s “never played” live, but that might prove ideal fits for The Club. “I want to take risks on the stage there,” he notes.

It’ll be Workman and a small corps performing: longtime pianist Todd Lumley (Mr Lonely), potentially a drummer (unconfirmed), and maybe a local guest or two. It’s not part of a greater tour Workman’s doing—the Citadel’s Neil LaGrandeur simply asked him back, and after the time he had last year, Workman agreed. But that isn’t to say he’s presently just picking up gigs: Workman’s speaking on the phone after wrapping up a recording session at his home studio. After a year spent working on non-namesake projects—The God That Comes, as well as drumming in CanCon superband Mounties—he’s finally getting around to another Hawksley Workman album.

The album’s called Old Cheetah, and its creative process is pulling from that past year of new experiences—using improvisation to shape songs, for starters.

“That was lifted right from the way Mounties works,” he says. “Mounties sits and chases hooks. But we chase hooks in the form of a 30-minute jam. It’s a bit disconcerting a drug, making records like that is. I have to keep reminding myself … because I’m someone who likes to work quickly.”

Someone who likes to work quickly, and with brio, Workman’s most invigorated these days by that give-it-yer-all-in-a-jam approach, then going back in refining, if need be. In that way, making a record becomes more like a performance.

“Music for me is so physical; it’s not a cerebral process for me in any way,” he says. “So if I’m gonna go into the studio, I’m gonna burst physically. I’m gonna sit at the drums and play as hard as I fuckin’ can. I’m gonna go and do the vocal and sing it four times, as hard as I can. And you just can’t sustain that. I think that’s why the stage is, for me, a more comfortable place. Because it’s a place where I know I have to puke my guts out for two hours. It makes total sense for every cell in my body, that when we go up there, the job is to sweat our very DNA out of our pores.”

Wed, Dec 3 – Sat, Dec 6 (8 pm)
Hawksley Workman
With Sarah MacDougall (Dec 3) Lily Kershaw (Dec 4 – 6)
The Club, Citadel Theatre, $49

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