“We can scream and wail to show rage, and also create these beautiful harmonies that show solidarity and love”: HAWXX on the pure catharsis of metal
Guitarist Hannah Staphnill dives into how the band found their sound ahead of debut LP ‘Earth, Spit, Blood and Bones’
HAWXX. Image: Press
Did you know what a group of hawks is called? It’s a kettle, hence HAWXX’s endearing name for their fans: Kettleheads. It’s not hard to see fans of the UK metal band have coalesced into such a tight group, bird metaphor aside. HAWXX’s music offers up just the kind of communal catharsis the genre is great at: a collective voice in the form of a scream and a huge riff.
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HAWXX formed in 2019, and have been steadily releasing EPs and singles since, and now their debut full-length Earth, Spit, Blood and Bones is around the corner. It showcases a sound well-honed by years of smaller releases, not to mention their unrelenting live schedule, at least when the pandemic allowed. We spoke to guitarist Hannah Staphnill about the history of the band, how they found their sound – including their dual use of a six- and seven-string – and how their long-awaited full length debut came together.
How did HAWXX begin? How did you meet, and what made you form a band?
Anna wanted to form an all female band and was even more determined to do so when someone suggested that would be ‘gimmicky’. Even though all male bands aren’t gimmicky?! Anna was rehearsing in Alaska Studio, Waterloo as a solo singer-songwriter and I worked at the studio. I always used to put Anna in the closest rehearsal room to me so that I could listen to her as she was so impressive sounding, rocking these cool bluesy licks and her voice was awesome.
Apparently she’d seen me doing some session work at the studio on keys and drums and asked me to jam. I jammed on keys but then she played a new song and I said ‘I don’t hear keys on this, let me get a guitar – and something special happened! Anna met Jess (drums) playing Jazz After Dark sessions in Soho at 3 AM for no money and bonded over tiredness and snacks. And Julia is the newest addition to HAWXX – we found her on the dark web and she just fitted right in – and had a trial by fire as we pretty much jumped straight on the Tremonti tour.
What bands inspired you when you started out?
We all have different influences so there’s a lot of different ingredients going on. Jess was influenced by Jazz drummers and Prog bands like King Crimson and you can hear that in the creativity she brings to her parts. Julia is influenced by Gothic Rock and is obsessed with Bauhaus.
Anna has a classical guitar background and is influenced by a mix of wonderful things from djenty bands like Meshuggah to Patti Smith and Kae Tempest. I also have a classical background and love film score but early metal influences come from Metallica, Slayer and Trivium.
If you had to play someone just one of your tracks to show them what HAWXX is about, which one would it be, and why?
Death Makes Sisters Of Us All is a really special track – it’s a war cry in response to patriarchal violence against women and our queer community. We recently just filmed the video for it which was one of the most moving experiences we’ve had as a band.
We filmed it in a derelict courthouse – climbing on the courtroom furniture and setting off smoke bombs! About 30 fantastic people were in the video – it was a really fun day but it was also super emotional to see this display of solidarity amongst women, trans and non-binary people. Also the riff is huge and our four-part vocal harmony chords in the breakdown are tasty.
As a band you’ve been outspoken about a range of social issues, from climate change to LGBTQ+ rights – how did that manifest on Earth, Spit, Blood and Bones?
Quite a lot of heavy topics on the album! Each song is its own universe and we serve each song individually. We write about the things that we’re emotionally affected by, and this genre is a real vehicle of catharsis for us. We can scream and wail to show rage and we can also create these beautiful harmonies that show solidarity and love.
There’s a lot more diversity in the current metal scene than there has been – but there’s still a long, long way to go. Since you started out in 2019, have you seen things change? What still needs to happen?
There is! The metal scene is proud of being essentially a group of misfits so sometimes, it automatically sees itself as being inclusive. We’re conscious though that a traditional metal show and audience has always behaved a certain way and doesn’t necessarily provide space for anyone who isn’t a flailing man in a pit.
We’re probably borrowing from punk and trying to make our gigs a brave place for women, trans and queer people to be and express themselves – we’ll often invite them to the front at our gigs so we hold them at the centre of the gig, rather than at the sidelines.
Earth, Spit, Blood and Bones may be your first full-length, but you’ve made plenty of EPs and singles. What did you learn from those that you brought to this record?
We’ve developed and honed what makes us us. So the best advice we’ve been given and now really try to keep in mind when working on a part is ‘do what only you would do’. We’ve also had the space to escalate that on the album, especially vocally – we’ve been able to be really experimental with our four-part harmonies and Anna’s roar.
You’ve also toured extensively since forming (and since live music came back) – what’s been your favourite live experience so far?
There’s too many but I’ll narrow it down to two… first one is gigging in Glasgow – we couldn’t find any paper to write down or setlist before the gig so we wrote it down on the back of our paper plates from the sandwich we made before the gig – this lovely group who had been moshing the whole gig afterwards asked if they could take the setlist and held the plates in the air and chanted ‘DINNER PLATE!’ It was so joyous and random!
The other is playing Download Festival this year. I’ve made the Download pilgrimage as a fan about 9 or 10 times so to play a full Dogtooth Tent blew my mind – really emotional!
How does your guitar playing relate to Anna’s? What kinds of parts do you each take on?
Anna is the bellowing buffalo to my screaming horsie. We always ask sound engineers for a very balanced mix between the guitars as there’s not a traditional rhythm and lead guitar – we very much come as a team! In fact, most of my guitar parts would make absolutely no sense without Anna’s as they’re more atmospheric or violent.
You mix a six-string and a seven-string together – how does that inform your riff-writing?
Anna can get right down in the depths with the 7 string and means she comes up with some great chonky and creative riffs like Soul Breaking Machines. Although I detune the E string on my 6-string to drop A to catch up and the Jackson takes it, to be fair. I lean into my weird chaos and write mad sounding riffs like Embrace The Ugly.
HAWXX are now official Jackson artists – what has working with them been like?
We’re so happy they’ve supported us – it means such a lot for them to be on side. I’m absolutely in love with my white Randy Rhoads – in the showroom I asked if I could pull it off – Anna and Julia said yes so they were my bad influence.
Because we have songs in lots of different tunings, I’ve just had to get another Jackson as I can’t tune on the fly on stage with the Floyd Rose– so I’ve got an incredibly sleek looking Pro Series Dinky last week which I’m really enjoying breaking in. Anna has an orange 7-string Pro series Dinky with fanned frets which feels and looks amazing. And Julia has a 5-string beast that she calls Lord Seahorse.
Alongside your Jackson guitars, what’s your approach to amps and pedals?
Our approach is now relentlessly practical. On paper, analogue would be great and we have Victory amps at home which sound amazing. But after years of loading our gear in and out of venues that probably have a lot of stairs… we’re on a mission for light gear.
We’d already gone digital because it’s too much upkeep to keep tubes happy on the road so we used Kemper racks, which solved one of the problems. But we had 2 Kempers in the same flight case and it’s rage-inducingly heavy and an awkward unbalanced lift. So we’ve just gone Quad Cortex and will be using that on the upcoming Halocene Tour around Europe and the UK. Still playing around with it but it sounds awesome and I cannot wait to sling it in a rucksack!”
And finally – what are your plans after the release of Earth, Spit, Blood and Bones? Are you going to head back into the studio?
We’re heading on tour with Halocene – crossing off some great venues across Europe – can’t believe we’ll be playing places like Milan and Prague! And we’ll be touring the UK in Feb/March so please follow us and come and see us!
Earth, Spit, Blood and Bones is out this Friday, 3 November.