Movement towards collaboration

Dechen Hawk on the singer-songwriter’s tendencies towards solitude


The creative process of a singer-songwriter can be a lonesome one. You write songs alone, rehearse alone, often perform alone. A byproduct of that solitude is total control over the final product, but when it comes time to start working with bands, the reality of having to collaborate and rely on others can seem quite different.


Changes in local soul crooner Dechen Hawk’s life have led to changes in his music. In the past few years he has swapped the solo guitar act of his earlier years for a thicker, fuller soul sound backed by a multi-piece band. He credits this in part to his job booking gigs at The Laughing Goat and Caffè Sole. He started sitting in with local jazz group Supercollider when the group did its weekly gig at the Goat, and something about the new sound struck a chord within him. That led to members of Supercollider backing him for his first few shows at the Fox Theatre, and now some of its members are backing him on his forthcoming EP, Soul Sessions.

“When you try to do everything yourself, unless you’re a master of all of it, something’s going to suffer,” Hawk says.

The tracks on Soul Sessions are rife with horns, soulful backup vocals, delicate electric piano fills, and simple guitar parts over funk-infused drums and bass. Every part is meticulously placed and calculated for maximum effectiveness.

“I’m a less-is-more type of guy,” Hawk notes.

No one instrument ever dominates or plays a stray note. He’s aiming for the fullness of classic soul records achieved by the simplicity of bands backing famous soul singers, and the effect is a rich, enveloping wall of sound.

Hawk will bring the full band approach he used in the studio to the Fox Aug. 25 as he opens for local group Legitimate Front, which is releasing its own CD on the same night. Backing him will be Mirco Altenbach on tenor sax, Jon Gray on trumpet, Kip Kuepper on bass, Brian McRae on drums, Erin Jo Harris and Devon Parker on backup vocals, and Jerred Menard on guitar.

Given his position booking two smaller venues that host mostly local acts, Hawk has a bird’s-eye view of the Boulder music scene. He wants the scene to be healthier, but he says it’s a crapshoot to gauge local interest in shows. The reason why is a mystery.

“I think it’s hit or miss,” he says. “It’s hard to say whether people will come out.”

One of the problems in Boulder is that people expect live music to be free, he says, which suggests that the expectation of getting recorded music at zero cost through downloading might be bleeding over to live music.

“Even though there is a lot of music here, it’s not expected to pay money [at shows] here,” Hawk says. “I put a $5 suggested donation box at the door at the Laughing Goat, just so people get used to seeing it. … It’s tricky. I don’t know exactly what the answer is.”

Hawk makes his living playing as many shows as he can, booking venues and teaching private lessons (in various instruments, he says, noting he teaches musicianship more than anything. “I’m much more into the finished product than the technique,” he says).

He is already looking beyond the release of Soul Sessions, when he says he will work with producer Elliot Hunt to retool some of his work into something he can sell to studios for music soundtracks and the like. He sees that as the next step forward in his music career. It’s another part of his slow progression towards collaboration, and he says he has never really worked with a producer on his music.

“That was kind of part of the collaborative nature too,” he says of working with others with an open mind. “I can learn from other people.”