For Hawley, that experience would open doors over the next 20 years to a varied musical career, from touring the world with Bran Van 3000 to fostering musical talent in his adopted city, Montreal.
The city still has a love affair with Bran Van 3000: tens of thousands of concertgoers attended their big free outdoor reunion concert at the Montreal International Jazz Festival in 2008.
“We all come from different parts of the city — in many ways we reflect a cross-section of Montreal,” Hawley says. “It was a memorable show.”
Hawley recently sat down for a candid Q&A about Bran Van 3000 and his musical career.
It’s hard to believe that “Drinking in L.A.” was released in 1997!
Steve Hawley: “Time goes by so fast. You know, I hitchhiked to Montreal from Peterborough, Ont., when I was 16-years-old. I came from a hockey family. I came to Montreal humble and the city was good to me.
Back then I remember musicians like Freddie James and Alan Prater and their bands headlining Montreal nightclubs. It was an incredible time to be immersed in Montreal’s rich music scene. I felt so proud to be part of a group that really wasn’t a band, but a collective.”
Did you realize at the time how fast the ride would be?
SH: “No. I remember we were told our first tour would last a couple weeks. Then it was extended some 40-odd shows and we were gone for a few months.”
There are a couple of Bran Van 3000 songs on the 2017 movie soundtrack of Bon Cop Bad Cop 2. Any more new Bran Van 3000 music in the works?
SH: “There’s a new album that’s coming out, don’t know when exactly, but it sounds great.”
You have also collaborated with Brooklyn producer and hip hop singer-songwriter Rench of the group Gangstagrass, who were nominated for a 2010 Emmy for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music.
SH: “Yeah, their song ‘Long Hard Times To Come’ is the theme song of the FX series Justified. I grew up in a country kitchen, so when I heard Gangstagrass — a mix of bluegrass and rap — I was impressed.
They called me up a couple years later and asked me to be on their 2014 album Broken Hearts and Stolen Money. I did a song on that album. I even went to New York to perform with them. One thing led to another and I’m 11 songs in now.”
How did Concordia help shape you?
SH: “I came from a country background and sports, and I was shaking like a leaf on a tree on a windy fall day when I first arrived. But Concordia gave me a map, man. I think their communication studies program is one of the best.”
Talk about your promotion company Whisper Communications, which you started in 1997.
SH: “I basically worked with Caccia Fashions to promote their Echo fashion line. I had a budget of $250,000 and placed clothes on everybody I knew who went on TV. It really was about helping musicians build bridges in the music industry.”
You also operated the live-music venue Crobar on Montreal’s iconic Crescent Street from 2015 to 2017.
SH: “Yeah, I did that after my friend and [then-Crobar] owner Robert Balazic died suddenly of a heart-attack in 2015. Rob used to be the captain of the Concordia Stingers football team. He was a great player. The first CD he gave his daughter was a Bran Van 3000 album. That’s the power of music.
For years Rob gave aspiring local musicians a stage to play on. Crobar has a drums, bass and guitar with mics already set up. Montreal grinds out so many musicians who don’t have an outlet, and here I had the opportunity to continue Rob’s legacy.
I left after a couple of years because owning a bar is very time-consuming. I am pleased to see the venue continues to this day under new ownership. It’s places like Crobar that help build a music scene in a city. Running Crobar was one of the proudest and hardest things I ever did in my life. I thought touring was hard until I owned a bar!”
You are now an ACTRA apprentice member.
SH: “Yeah, I’ve had a couple of roles in TV shows, a TELUS commercial, and I’m seen on-camera in Seth Rogen’s comedy Flarsky [co-starring Charlize Theron, which was shot in Montreal in late 2017 and is slated to open in theatres in February 2019].”
Any new projects?
SH: “I am currently working with Rench of Gangstagrass on my solo album Hard Labor which will be released in the fall of 2018. It is a labour of love. This is not about making money, it’s about making music. I am a wealthy man in spirit. Life can change in a heartbeat, so don’t ever quit, and enjoy every moment.”