Concordia University

‘Drinking in L.A.’ and talking in Montreal with Steve Hawley

Concordia alum and founding member of Bran Van 3000 discusses the indie band’s rise to fame 20 years ago and his varied and eventful career since
April 5, 2018
By Richard Burnett

When Montreal indie band Bran Van 3000 released their song “Drinking in L.A.” in 1997, it unexpectedly shot up the charts, hitting the Top 10 in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway and Italy, and made them international stars.

The group’s album Glee, which included “Drinking in L.A.,” went on to win the Juno Award for Best Alternative Album.

Steve Hawley, BA (comm. studies) 97, a founding member of Bran Van 3000 and known by his nickname “Liquid,” remembers the time well. Madonna’s Maverick Records, A&M Records and Capitol all wanted to sign the band. As Bran Van 3000 frontman James DiSalvio told The Toronto Star in 2017, “It was a very Hollywood, very surreal time.”

Steve Hawley Steve Hawley was a founding member of Montreal indie band Bran Van 3000, which enjoyed internationally successful in the 1990s. Since then Hawley has started a promotions company, ran a local bar and acted — and continues to make music. | Photo: Courtesy Steve Hawley

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.”


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