The Hawk is an enormous collaborative project that brings one musician’s musical lineage full-circle.
While it may have taken seven years to complete, the debut album from Senior Citizen will be officially released Friday July 1 via Forward Music Group’s sister label, Backward Music.
Senior Citizen is a solo project by Cape Breton-born percussionist and producer Bob Deveau. Over the past two decades, Deveau has performed with a who’s who of popular East Coast acts including The Olympic Symphonium, Force Fields, Gravity Strike, and perhaps most notably, Grand Theft Bus. Having proven himself time and time again as a versatile and dynamic drummer, The Hawk could easily be described as a departure for Deveau – an attempt to branch out and explore new sonic territory – but beneath the pristine synths and lo-fi beats that guide the album’s nine tracks, The Hawk is very much an extension of Deveau’s well-established sonic esthetic, mixing strong foundational grooves with an uncanny awareness of how to engage with any melody to reveal its greater potential.
As Deveau tells Grid City Magazine, the entire project began in 2009 simply as a cure for boredom. At the time, he and his wife were preparing to spend a year in Toronto and with a baby on the way his immediate future as a live performer hung in uncertainty. After spending so long recording, performing and touring the country with Grand Theft Bus, Deveau found himself back at his family’s home in Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia as he and his wife prepared to embark on the next chapter of their life. Like a bird in a cage (a hawk, if you will), the isolation revealed a creative void that needed immediate attention. “I was bored. I was bore as shit,” he said. “I set up my drums in the shed and played for hours and hours and hours and would just record it all on my Macbook using the built-in microphone. Then I’d listen back, find a couple of good bars and just start chopping.”
Still unsure of what exactly he was creating, he quickly assembled ten tracks and decided to share the rough mixes with a select group of close friends and musicians to learn what, if anything, they might be able to contribute to the project.
“After I created the drum tracks, I worked on melodic ideas,” he said. “Some of them were completed instrumental tracks in my brain and others were just loops. That’s when I figured I might as well just send these out to everybody and see if anyone had any input. Everyone got all ten songs and eventually people started sending ideas back.”
This is where the project first began to reveal itself as more than just a way to pass the time. As friends began shooting back ideas for vocal lines – or in some cases complete songs – almost every new idea fit with exactly how Deveau had imagined. And what’s fascinating about this collaborative approach to writing is that without any conversation as to who should work on what, practically every contributor naturally gravitated to a different track, effectively eliminating the need to pick one vocal line over another.
“There were ten songs originally and I got back lyrics for every one of them,” said Deveau. “There was only one track that didn’t match what I had in my head so that became Drowning Bea Arthur, the album’s only instrumental track. And of all the tracks I sent out, there was only one that ended up with two sets of lyrics. Everyone else just magically picked different songs to work on. It was crazy.”
“I was feeling uncreative so I thought maybe if I resurrected this project it might spark something and inspire me to be involved again in something that basically defined me for such a long time.”
With the birth of their son, Samuel Herman, Deveau and his newly expanded family returned to the East Coast in 2011. Back in his comfort zone surrounded by musicians he’d spent so much time working with, Deveau quickly resumed his place behind the kit and in doing so, left this project behind. “I spent so much time on this back in the day,” said Deveau. “Seriously, hundreds and hundreds of hours and I eventually got to the point where I couldn’t even listen to it anymore. I just got burned out with the whole thing.”
And so it sat, left on a digital shelf for the next five years as Deveau sought a balance between fatherhood and his previous life as a touring/performing musician. “It was so far gone in my brain that I thought I had deleted all the files and everything,” he said. “In my mind it was completely gone – lost – and then this past winter I found all the files in a dropbox account. Everything was there.”
And just as before, this music came along at exactly the right time. Reconnecting with the project after such a long break allowed Deveau to revisit these tracks with a new set of ears and newfound inspiration. “I wanted to be productive again because I felt like I spent a long time doing nothing,” he said. “I was feeling uncreative so I thought maybe if I resurrected this project it might spark something and inspire me to be involved again in something that basically defined me for such a long time.”
Working with engineer Chris MacLean at All in the Mind Studios, Deveau began to give the tracks a solid mix and as his interest in seeing this project through continued to build, word got out to Kyle Cunjak at Backward Music. Cunjak was one of the musicians to first receive an invite to contribute to the project years ago when Deveau first sent around his tracks looking for suggestions.
“I always told Bob I wanted to release this album,” said Cunjak. “I’ve been telling him for years but sometimes these things take a long time to come to fruition. A lot of musicians in Atlantic Canada, Bob included, don’t get the props they deserve because it takes a lot more work to get recognition outside of a major centre. I think this may have contributed to the fact that this project was shelved for years but I’m very, very glad that Bob found the inspiration to return to it and see it through to completion.”
“Sometimes it’s hard to know whether you like something because it’s close to your heart or because it actually rules.”
The Hawk features vocal contributions by many of Deveau’s previous musical cohorts including Graeme Walker and Nick Cobham (Olympic Symphonium), Matt Gilles and Caleb Crandall (All of Green) and Andrew Sisk among others. But it’s Deveau’s skills as an arranger, composer and producer that shine the strongest across the album’s nine tracks. His ability to evolve an established theme through complex melodies and interlocking rhythmical structures help make each track an exciting and unpredictable journey.
It’s been seven years since the initial ideas were first put together and somehow the album remains as fresh as it was created just last month.
“There was a time a few years back where I probably listened to this album more than anything else,” said Cunjak. “Sometimes it’s hard to know whether you like something because it’s close to your heart or because it actually rules, but the fact I can return to these songs and still enjoy them as much, or more, than I did year ago is testament to the fact it’s likely the latter.”
“I find the music is almost a little timeless,” said Deveau. “It worked originally and I think it still works now. I think there are some real magical moments and despite how it all came together, I think it’s somehow cohesive, but I’m obviously biased.”
To mark the album’s official release, Deveau, along with a handpicked group of musicians, will join with many (if not all) of the album’s contributors to deliver a one-time performance of The Hawk in its entirety on Saturday July 2, 2016 at The Capital Complex in Fredericton.
Senior Citizen+Jaguar Knight | July 2, 2016 | The Capital Complex | 10 p.m. | View event