Fresh from a five-year hiatus with the November 2020 release of their eponymously-titled fourth album, out now on Blang Records, inclusive outsider pop mavericks The Awkward Silences recently released their latest single ‘There’s Nothing More Obnoxious Than A Self Made Man.’ Following the release of the track, we spoke to Paul Hawkins from the band about what brought them back together, his work as a disability campaigner, and what he hopes the future will hold in store for the band.
Thanks for your time, how is 2021 treating you so far and what are your plans for the year ahead?
Paul Hawkins: “It’s obviously not got off to the start that any of us hoped for! I think we’re playing it by ear in terms of our plans. In an ideal world, I’d like us to release another single from the album, record a new EP, start planning the next album and get gigging again but the situation around the pandemic and the lockdown will shape a lot of what is possible.”
Firstly, you got back together last year, what brought about that return and why now?
“We didn’t actually split up per se. After 2015’s Outsider Pop album, we had a few line-up changes. We brought in Stu on drums and Adam on guitar, both of whom we know as they also play in David Cronenberg’s Wife, who are back with us. We started recording the album in about 2017 but we’ve all got jobs and commitments outside the band and it took a while for everything to come together. A big part of the delay was the fact that my Dad was diagnosed with a terminal illness and passed away at the beginning of 2019 so there was a long period when my focus wasn’t really on the album. It was then pretty much ready by the end of 2019 but it was then working out the best time to release it, which is a bit hard to judge at the moment!”
Five years is quite a gap, how have you been keeping busy during that time, and did you stay in touch?
“As I say, we were still working behind the scenes and recording the album. For the first couple of years we were running our regular night Outsider Pop, which we hope to restart once we are able to do so. We then played Kendal Calling in 2018 and played a few other gigs but everything moved quite slowly. But we were very much in touch. Adam, Stu and Jes (our bassist) all play in David Cronenberg’s Wife together as well as another project called the Phone Call whilst Chris (our other guitarist) and I actually lived together until early 2019. We just found life was getting in the way of getting loads of music done.”
And these are strange times for everyone, how did it work for you rehearsing and building up the band again during lockdown?
“Fortunately we’d recorded the album before the lockdown which made things easier. We’ve actually not yet found a way to work together during the lockdown. I’ve worked on a collaboration with my friend Misha Chylkova called the Forensic Report and Jes, Stu and Adam did some rehearsing with the Phone Call but I’ve got an underlying health condition so didn’t feel comfortable rehearsing in person even when the lockdown was a bit lighter. We’ve all met up outside a few times but I think rehearsing and recordng is on hold until we can all be together again.”
I read you kept yourselves busy by producing a video for each track on the album – how much fun was that?
“This was loads of fun. We did it because we wanted to find a way to launch the album and didn’t feel we could do ourselves justice with any sort of online gig. The videos were a combination of some footage we’d recorded during the Autumn, old holiday footage on phones, royalty-free early 20th century film footage and some existing videos we’d already prepared. We spliced in some talking heads recorded during lockdown and created a film of the album which we used as a launch. We pulled it all together during the November lockdown and it was great to have something positive to focus on.”
Before we talk about the album, let’s talk about the new single “There’s Nothing More Obnoxious Than A Self Made Man” – was that track inspired by a particular person or situation? If not, can you tell us the story about the song?
“It wasn’t one person in particular but was based on a number of conversations I’d had and attitudes I’d seen being expressed. It’s essentially about people who take sole credit for their success and blame others for failures without considering the role society and support from others plays in your chances in life. I feel there’s certain people from the post-World War II generation who worked their way up the social ladder at a time when houses were affordable, social mobility was easier and jobs were more secure and now make it their business to try to stop other people from benefitting from the advantages that they had.”
The single comes from your fourth album, an album that tackles the inequalities of society. When we finally come out of lockdown, what do you hope society will have learned from the last year?
“I think the pandemic has exposed how fragile our economic system and how, after years of “efficiency savings” many businesses, public services and jobs are based on a philosophy of spending as little as possible, putting no contingency in place and hoping that nothing goes wrong and I think that, when things go wrong, that leaves us incredibly vulnerable. I do worry about what we will have learned though. Even with over 100,000 dead, there still seems to be a reluctance to ask questions about exactly how and why that happened and what might have been done differently. I really want us to learn from this but I’m not sure that we will.”
Has there been any story or event that has come out of the last twelve months that has changed your view on society?
“I think it has been a challenging time to be disabled. I spent a lot of time in the middle of last year living in my Mum’s house in the countryside trying to keep myself safe in the pandemic and it was uncomfortable and disturbing to be perceived as “vulnerable”. I think what has made me really uncomfortable is seeing the discussion about ’elderly’ and ’vulnerable’ people during this pandemic and realising the extent to which some people see older or disabled people as being completely “other” to themselves and, in some cases, less deserving of basic rights and freedoms. That has been a bit of an eye opener.”
Now you’re back together and the album is done, have you talked about long term plans for The Awkward Silences?
“We’ve touched on it. We need to get ourselves back into a room and rehearsing but we’ve started talking about the next album and how it might sound and we’ve got ideas around a potential direction. Usually these things change massively once you get into a room but we’ve definitely got ideas!”
Away from the band Paul, you’re an author and a disability campaigner. What are your plans in those areas for the year ahead?
“I work for Attitude is Everything, who work to improve access to live music for deaf and disabled people. I run a project focusing on getting more deaf and disabled people working in the industry. It’s a challenging time to do that but I think the pandemic makes it even more vital that the industry is as diverse as possible as it recovers. I also am a trustee of Inclusion London and feel we have a lot of work to do the inequalities that have sprung up as a result of the pandemic. I don’t how much writing I’ll do this year but keep getting dangerously close to starting a podcast and I’m hoping that will happen this year.”
We’ve talked about your challenge of recording a video for each track and the downside of lockdown but, have you seen any other people doing things during lockdown where you’ve thought, “I’d like to have a go at that?”
“There’s lots I’ve seen and enjoyed but there’s not loads I’ve seen that I feel we could do and would like us to do. I’m really keen to get in a space and at least record a performance as soon as we can but I don’t think there’s yet been a time where I feel we could have done it. I loved what Nick Cave did at Ally Pally with a piano and I’d love to do a solo gig in that style but the chances of me blagging my way into Ally Pally and the chances of me suddenly discovering I can play the piano are both equally remote!”
With events and gigs cancelled for the ongoing future, what are your thoughts on how different the music industry will be for bands at your level when life starts to return to some semblance of normality?
“I think there are a lot of unknowns. The major concern for me is whether the grassroots venues are still there. Even without COVID, we’ve lost a number of great venues in recent years such as, in London, the 12 Bar Club and the Buffalo Bar. A number of the venues we love such as the Lexington and the Windmill are at risk as the pandemic goes on and the hope is those venues will find a way to make it through and still be there when we’re able to return.”
Thanks for your time and good luck for the year ahead. Over to you for the final word…
“The single and album is out now. We think both are quite good and we’d love people to listen to them. But, more than that, we’d just love to see people out supporting fundraisers for local venues and keeping the grassroots scene going so we can all get back to it as soon as possible!”
The Awkward Silences’ self-titled album is out now on Blang Records, and you can pick up your copy from here.