YBH Rewrites An Old Story[dropcap letter=”T”]he catchy melodies and uplifting tones of Youngblood Hawke’s tunes would suggest that some sort of idyllic confluence brought them together. That isn’t the case. Members Simon Katz and Sam Martin found themselves increasingly alienated from their frat- party, electro-pop band, Iglu and Hartly towards the end of the last decade and were struggling for direction. Martin tells the story best: “There were three of us—Simon, another guy, and myself. We started out kind of all on the same page. As the band got successful, the other member turned into a really dark dude. It got really ugly and became everything we were against. We walked away, and it was a really scary thing to do because it was going well in Europe and the UK. But we knew we had to do it because we were fucking miserable. The music was not the music that I wanted to be making.”
Sam and I locked ourselves in his bedroom. It was tiny and had no air conditioning. We just wrote songs all summer. That was our way of putting all the other shit we had to put up with for the past couple of years behind us.
They walked right into their next project. “Sam and I locked ourselves in his bedroom,” Martin continues. “It was tiny and had no air conditioning. We just wrote songs all summer. That was our way of putting all the other shit we had to put up with for the past couple of years behind us.” From there, their musical ascent continued on the same humble trajectory that a myriad of other Eastside LA bands have before them. “Our first show was at The Silverlake Lounge,” Martin recounts. “But we didn’t tell anybody. There were literally two people there—including the bar staff. We were completely nervous. It was our first time playing a show with the rest of the band. Alice had done acting before but had never played a show. I walked up to her after, and she was like, ‘I wanna do that again and again and again.”
They found a sense of home pretty quickly. “Playing The Satellite was cool because, when we first moved here, It was one of the first places we went to see live music. We felt comfortable there. They asked us to do a residency, and it was an obvious yes. That was kind of what started it for us. We didn’t really play that much as a band before. The residency was our third or fourth show. We would walk in the door and be like, ‘Are there gonna be 20 people there? 15?’ And then it was sold out. It was such a great response. People really reacted to the music in such a genuine way. It just felt natural. You can tell when the crowd’s into it.”
And that was it. “We Come Running” was released months later, and Youngblood Hawke became an international buzz band. Just like that. With their second LP approaching, the band isn’t resting on their laurels. There are rumblings of new directions, but fans looking for the YBH signature sound shouldn’t worry. Martin explains, “I don’t know if there’s any way to describe it other than evolving. The worst thing you can do as an artist is continue to make the same thing over and over again. We wrote the first album three years ago. We’re different people now. I don’t think we’re going to put out a folk record or a dubstep record, though. We want it to be fun for us on stage and fun for the people who come see us. Our first record comes from a pop background and sound, even though the stories and the lyrics are dark. I think we’ll probably take that a little further and just experiment, get a little weirder.”
In a lot of ways, the band’s story is an allegory to the novel from which their name was derived, Herman Wouk’s Youngblood Hawke. It’s an important book to Martin. “It was just one of those books that just blew my mind,” he says. “It was my late uncle’s favorite book. It’s about a young Kentucky boy who moved to New York. My whole family’s from Kentucky and I really connected with the story of someone leaving everything behind and chasing their dream of becoming an artist. There’s a lot of imagery and stuff inside the book that really touched me.”
That’s how we feel about music. It’s the one thing we want to do with our lives. It’s become our lives. We’ve put everything into it.
When pressed about the book’s tragic ending, Martin responds, “It definitely has a dark twist, but you decide what you want to do with your life, and you just do it. That’s how we feel about music. It’s the one thing we want to do with our lives. It’s become our lives. We’ve put everything into it.” Maybe the fact that YBH were born out of somebody else’s unhappy ending means that, this time, they’ll get to write their own.
text JEMAYEL KHAWAJA
photo RICKETT & SONES