It’s 5:30 p.m. and I’m one of eight passengers stuffed into a rented white Ford Econoline van alongside 30 different musical instrument cases housing everything from Roland Juno keyboards to guitars to a full drum kit. The members of Youngblood Hawke have just finished their second soundcheck of the day at the South By Southwest Music Festival, but they’ve already loaded and unloaded equipment from their van five different times today. You’d think the group might be weary after doing all that work without even being able to experience the rush of performing in front of any actual fans yet and, truth be told, the van is a little quiet as the various members of their group using their 10 minutes of downtime as they shuttle between venues to text and check their Twitter feeds. But then lead singer Sam Martin starts spontaneously humming a bit of the opening bars of the band’s song “Rootless” to himself, at an almost imperceptibly low volume. Although his humming is barely audible, sending these vibes out into the universe causes an instinctual, infectious ripple in the van and, within moments, the rest of the band starts singing along in harmonious unison. Sam looks up, smiles and takes the cue. “The world is feeling warmer,” he sings while the van drives down a side street in Austin, “The path rolling to your door is a jungle / I’ll be back because I never left.” And, just like that, I begin to grasp how the familial aura of this band —made up of both friends and family members— is going to be the thing that ultimately earns them a widespread audience.
VH1 You Oughta Know artist Youngblood Hawke’s debut LP, Wake Up (in stores today, people!), is chock full of shimmery, upbeat, immensely positive tracks that will appeal to fans of acts like Passion Pit and Walk The Moon. However, in order to understand how this band —a group that played its first gig less than two years ago, mind you— got to the point where the band’s debut track, “We Come Running,” has been viewed over 1.6 million times on YouTube and selected to the anthem of an upcoming, worldwide advertising campaign by Coca-Cola, you must first get a glimpse of where they came from.
A HINT OF EARLY SUCCESS COMES WITH A “TOXIC” AFTERTASTE
Simon Katz and Sam Martin met as undergraduates at the University of Colorado at Boulder in the mid 2000s. Simon grew up in San Antonio and always felt drawn to creating music; he got his first guitar when he was 13, picked up the drums by 15, and taught himself how to play piano by the time he was 18. Sam, on the other hand, was raised in California with a passion for the movie business so strong that that he put off matriculating to college immediately after graduating from high school so he could move to San Diego to work with a film company. “My first passion was film editing and writing,” he told us. “My dream was to become a director. But one day, I woke up and thought, ‘I want to experience college.’ So I went out to Boulder for film studies, and I thought I’d hone my craft.”
He quickly grew impatient with film studies, though, and realized that his true passion was storytelling. This resulted in him realigning his focus from film studies to becoming an English major, a decision that proved to be fortuitous. “I started meeting people that were really into music, like Simon, and I just got sucked in,” he explained. “The passion that I had for it just blindsided me. It still took me awhile to realize it, but I discovered that I had this thing inside of me that I wanted to share. It grew and grew, and kind of took over my life.”
Simon’s interest in pursuing music had never wavered, and he eventually minored in Music Studies. “I hate saying this, but it made me not like playing music because it was SO regimented,” he explained to me over an iced coffee. “Music was always my way to get free, and express whatever I was feeling, and I didn’t want to feel so regimented. That works for a lot of people, but for me, I’m more of an explorer. I want to go out and figure it out myself.”
Simon and Sam became fast friends and, along with fellow University of Colorado student Jarvis Anderson, soon made their way to Los Angeles, where they formed the band Iglu & Hartly in 2006. The band kicked around SoCal for a few years steadily building a fan base, ultimately resulting in a major label deal courtesy of Mercury Records. Although their party rap-rock sound —their “bass-heavy pop-rap attack” drew comparisons to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Beastie Boys— didn’t quite break into the mainstream here in the U.S., the band’s profile exploded overseas. Their single, “In This City,” rocketed into the Top 5 in England, where it was championed by NME as “the sort of joyful pop bearhug you’d lick blended strawberries off the nipples of” (whatever that means), which earned them a spot in England’s V Festival in 2008 and a slot at Coachella in 2010. Despite this apparent success, all was not well with the band.