photo: Michael Weintrob

The High Hawks is what you get when six musician friends come together to create an ad hoc supergroup of Americana that brings together jamgrass, blues, folk, rock and country in a manner that echoes the best moments of The Band.

Featuring Vince Herman (Leftover Salmon), Tim Carbone (Railroad Earth), Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi), Adam Greuel (Horseshoes & Hand Grenades), Brian Adams (DeadPhish Orchestra) and Will Trask (Great American Taxi), the members get together whenever a break opens in the busy schedules from all their other projects.  

Forming in 2019, the group made it a habit of playing live dates whenever the opportunity arose. Two years later its self-titled studio debut arrived. Then, with a week set aside, beginning on New Year’s Day 2023, they settled down at Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, not far from the banks of the Mississippi River, and recorded the band’s sophomore release, Mother Nature’s Show.

With four songwriters in tow, there wasn’t a lack of material. It was pared down to a dozen numbers. Each was discussed and woodshedded the night before they were recorded, which gave the songs a fresh, loose vibe. Altogether, listeners receive a sonic travelscape that begins at the “Diamond Sky” of their snow-blanketed surroundings and moves along the Ol’ Man River beginning in the north and ends up at the Gulf of Mexico for “Backwater Voodoo” and “Shine Your Blues.” 

Carbone does this interview as he’s finishing up a set of tour dates with Railroad Earth. Less than a week later, he’s back on the road with his compatriots in The High Hawks to support Mother Nature’s Show.

Despite a problem with the cargo bay not opening on the tour bus the previous evening, which caused a delay in travel, a chipper Carbone greets me on the other end of the phone line. During this time together – our third conversation overall – we catch up on The High Hawks and creating among friends as well as performing songs by one band and quickly switching gears to tunes by another group, playing with Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group) and more work with Lou Rogai as part of the duo Cedar Sparks.

JPG: The High Hawks started 2019 with its debut coming out in 2021. I read some of the online press on the band and it showed everyone but you as a member. You were referred to as a guest on the first album. So, how did you transition from being a friend and a guest to being a member?

TC: I was asked to be a guest from the get-go when they were just doing some shows. Then, I just decided, ‘Why don’t you just put me in the band?’ So that’s what they did.

It was mostly just them asking me to be a guest on that first little tour. They had a little front range tour in Colorado. We went in the studio about three, four months later before the pandemic. I produced the record.

Once we started playing together, we realized we had something really good going on. I describe it as a ramshackle version of the Rolling Stones meets the Flying Burrito Brothers.

JPG: That’s a very interesting description. Since there’s so many associations with Great American Taxi in the band – Herman, Staehly, Adams and Trask — why not just go with the known brand name of Great American Taxi rather than a whole new name and establishing yourselves?

TC: For one thing, you could probably point to the fact that Adam Greuel is added to the mix. It’s basically based on four songwriters, and we’re all friends. The other thing one of the really essential members of Great American Taxi is guitar player Jim Lewin and he’s not in The High Hawks. It would be a slap in to face to Jim not to rebrand as essentially a new band. I produced two of those Great American Taxi records.

JPG: To some degree, on a personal, personnel and musical level you are already in sync and familiar with each other.

TC: Totally. When we get together, it’s like a group of friends having a good time, and we wind up getting into a really great creative space fairly quickly, especially when we get in the studio. Chad has produced records, I’m working on my 84th album now. I did my first one in 1986. So, obviously, that’s what I love to do. I have a lot of experience in it. Chad has probably five or six, seven albums. Vince has produced a couple. Adam’s produced a couple. And I say to myself, “Oh, fucking great. Now I’m in a band with a bunch of fucking producers. This is perfect. [Laughs.] But, it actually winds up good.

When we did the first record, I was basically appointed the producer. Chad at some point had enough input in there and I gave him a co-produce.

Generally, I don’t like to co-produce because I like to have that kind of control. With the right person I would co-produce but generally speaking…for instance, if I don’t know the person or if he’s a band member with a band that has approached me to produce them. I would basically say, ‘I’m not doing that. It’s too much trouble.’ [Laughs.]

JPG: Is it that there’s too many cooks in the kitchen or somebody’s musical ego will eventually get in the way?

TC: A lot of times when I’m producing younger bands—maybe their first or second or third record—not all the time but that happens often. I just believe that I need to have the reins because I know how to do it, and I know how to run a session. It’s like a painter, an artist knowing when the painting is done. It’s like one of the big jobs. I know when the record’s done, and most times people that don’t have that experience. They don’t really know when the record’s done, which is a big part of the time management, getting things in or under budget. All of that. And then you’ve got to be chief, cook and bottle washer. You’ve got to be a psychologist. You have to be camp counselor and you also have to technically know what’s going on. For me, I’m all of the above, plus.

JPG: Going back to something you said. 84th record?

TC: 84th record.

JPG: As in 84 solo or that you’ve played on or…

TC: Oh, not even playing on it, producing.

JPG: When you were talking about the four songwriters in The High Hawks, the new album was recorded in a week, so was there a degree of efficiency with everything pretty much set beforehand because otherwise it could get chaotic with so many ideas flying around?

TC: Things can get out of hand if you let them. Everybody sent their demos around of the songs. My demos were essentially just me with a guitar and singing, and everyone’s was pretty much the same.

We recorded at a destination studio, Pachyderm, right outside of Minneapolis, the same studio where Nirvana did In Utero. It’s got a house. There’s room for everyone. Nobody has to share a room. We all get together for dinner. So, the night before, right after dinner, we were like, “What are we gonna do tomorrow?” and we’d sit around the kitchen table and play the songs and talk about the arrangement and make sure everybody knows what to expect for that song. We usually try to get two maybe three songs a day. So, we go through the songs that we were gonna do the following day at dinner the night before, and it worked out great. Then, we just go in and we know what we’re doing.

Everybody has a thing and we’d just go through it. Once we get the good take then we start working on that. We put the icing on the cake, so to speak.

JPG: That’s the studio featured in the “Diamond in the Sky” video?

TC: Yeah. I don’t know if you’ve seen the “Making of Mother Nature Show.” I did a little video using a lot of the same footage. I kept the color. They changed [the footage] to black and white.

JPG: Color or no color, a very snowy area can look very beautiful.

TC: It snowed four or five days in a row while we were there.

JPG: Compared to the debut album, was there any idea that the members wanted to do a particular something this time as opposed to what was done before or was it just a matter of here is a song I have and let it be what it can be?

TC: It was mostly, “Here’s a song that I have and let it be what it can be” because when you listen to this new record there are a lot of different shades of color. Because we are who we are and when we play our musical personalities come out regardless of what type of music we’re playing it all still sounds like it comes from one source.

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