Failure breeds maturity, at least for Simon Katz and Sam Martin of indie-pop quintet Youngblood Hawke. In 2008, their former band Iglu & Hartly had a hit single, “In This City,” and a European tour. But after being dropped by Mercury Records, they soon dismantled. Katz and Martin found themselves jobless and broke.
When they decided to start writing songs together the following year in Katz's cramped Echo Park studio, they didn't imagine it would lead anywhere. “We didn't write songs to write songs. We wrote songs as almost a cathartic way to get [them] out,” Katz explains over coffee at Groundwork in Hollywood.
That period in their lives turned out to be a rebirth of sorts. While reading the Herman Wouk novel Youngblood Hawke, Martin felt inspired by the story, which details the protagonist's journey to literary success. Last year the duo recruited close friends, including Katz's wife Alice, and made their dream of a new band into a reality.
Their efforts have struck a chord, with kudos from journalists, fans and, earlier this year, a Universal Republic contract. (Their sound, which harnesses the pop energy of groups like Fun., seems capable of seizing the mainstream.) In August, they released a self-titled EP, which was produced by Tim Anderson of Ima Robot and received nods of approval from Rolling Stone and other kudos. Earlier this month they played Jimmy Kimmel's show.
“Being able to play music for a living is a gift,” Katz says, drumming his fingers on the table. “We just saw a guy on the street corner rapping, and how much would he give up to be in our position?” Inarticulately put, perhaps, but he has a point.
Martin and Katz share control over the band's creative vision, and that desire for collaboration influences their sound. On stage, they sound almost like a choir, and for their recorded version of “We Come Running” (above) they actually do use the West Los Angeles Children's Choir.
The result is a track that recalls Arcade Fire's “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations” in its choral sound as well as some comparable lyrics. But Martin is hesitant to cite any concrete musical influences, saying, “I think we really wanted to create something of our own style and sound.”
By early next year, Youngblood Hawke will debut a full-length album and support English band Keane on a national tour. “We [just] can't believe we're here,” Katz sums up, “following our dreams.”
Youngblood Hawke performs tonight at the KROQ Locals Only Showcase at The Roxy.