The Hackensaw "Boys Don't Cry"
Founder David Sickmen Says Hackensaw Boys’ New Album is the Record of a Lifetime
by Stephen Pitalo
When you listen to Hackensaw Boys, you can hear the dirt, and in more than one way. The dirt means the grit, that scratchy and abrasive power that punk bands fling at audiences. The dirt also means the soil of the earth, where musicians grow roots, and then harvest what they produce. Twenty-one years later, Hackensaw Boys keeps smearing that dirt, that grit, that soil of punky American roots music, as masters of their craft who stand armed for war, as their newest EP A Fireproof House of Sunshine can attest.
“We weren’t really a punk or old-time or bluegrass or folk band,” founder David Sickmen said, “we were this thing that slammed all those styles into one. I was into a lot of different music as a kid. Since there were only two or three radio stations to choose from back then in the ’70s and early ‘80s, my childhood musically was dominated by classic rock and country music. I first heard bluegrass listening to my uncle’s gospel records. I first heard true Appalachian singing — line singing — going to my mother’s family’s church in the mountains of West Virginia.”
In 1999, four friends from Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley found their collective ways to the roots music hub of Charlottesville, Virginia. Having played a show on the street the day of their first practice, Hackensaw Boys formed and proved infectious among musicians, resulting in a lineup that reached twelve players for their first US tour. Helmed by Sickmen, the Hackensaw Boys run parallel to bands like The Clash or the Pretenders, “grounded” as it were in their working-class upbringing.
Sickmen cited Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Richard Brautigan, Arthur Rimbaud, Doc Boggs, Marc Chagall, Mother Maybelle, Mother Nature, and the Kinks as main influences on his songwriting and performing. And throughout the 21 years of the band, Hackensaw Boys have shared the stage with diverse artists such as The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Trampled by Turtles, Rambling Jack Elliot, Cake, Cheap Trick, De La Soul, and many more.
“I realized as a 50-year-old man,” Sickmen says, “I’m too far gone to stop. I’ve waited too long to have another career. I did a lot of soul-searching, trying to figure out what Hackensaw Boys even is at this point with all the people that have come and gone through it.”
In 2018, Sickmen formed up a brand-new band – Beau Dodson (“Charismo”, percussion), Chris Stevens (bass), Caleb Powers (fiddle, banjo, mandolin, vocals) – drawing from no shortage of talent in the group’s pool of musical friends and compatriots. The new EP’s title nods to Sickmen’s fiery new purpose, and his wish to build something that endures. A Fireproof House of Sunshine keeps the band’s classic punk-fueled roots sound at the center but fulfills the promise of great Americana melodies.
When asked about the tone of the new EP, Sickmen said the emotions that live in his songs be a method “to cope with the rollercoaster ride of our shared human existence.”
“The songs on Fireproof were written over the last 20 years,” he explained. “They were written on barstools, bus seats, green rooms, kitchen tables, and some in the woods. I believe they are a true representation of feelings and experiences of things that I was exposed to throughout those years. I tried my best to be honest within the lyrics and true to the melodies in my mind. The fellows in the band did a wonderful job of bringing their own sensibilities into each song, as well.”
“I always thought that our story was about all the people that have come and gone from the band,” Sickmen says, “but I think now the story’s more about a band that just wants to keep developing. It’s not about the past 20 years we put in, it’s more about the next 20 years we want to put in.”