Hawktail’s Jordan Tice on ‘Formations,’ Band’s Evolution, and 2020 Plans

When genre-bending acoustic supergroup Hawktail comes to Little Harpeth Brewing this Friday night, they will do so in celebration of Formations, their new album which serves as the band’s most cohesive representation of its musical vision to date.

The group – consisting of Grammy-winning bassist Paul Kowert (The Punch Brothers), violinist/fiddler Brittany Haas (Crooked Still), mandolin player Dominick Leslie (The Deadly Gentlemen), and acclaimed guitarist Jordan Tice – used the chemistry that developed in the process of creating its 2018 album, Unless, to inform an exciting direction that continues to take shape.

Much of that is owed to the addition of Leslie. After a couple of attempts at recording Unless, the band – consisting at the time of Haas, Kowert, and Tice – welcomed their long-time friend and collaborator into the band, and then opted to record the album for a third time as a quartet.

From there, they hit the road, and became inspired to capture some of their live performances to complete the record.

“We realized that there was a nice energy to some of the tracks (on Unless) that we weren’t getting in the studio,” Tice said. “So, we did our first tour and multi-tracked the whole show. Three of the tracks on the last record are live.”

That energy carried over into the band’s current work. Tice credits the group’s collaborative lessons as the foundation for the smooth creative process behind Formations.

“We were flowing (after the release on Unless),” Tice said. “The learning curve was out of the way, in terms of how to write music.”

Having all four members included in the process helped the band take a creative step forward, as well. With Leslie in the songwriting mix, Tice notes that the songs on Formations “breathe a little more, rhythmically” than the band’s previous material.

“The mandolin functions almost as a snare drum in a lot of acoustic ensembles,” Tice said. “A lot of the music on the new record is based on a more rhythmic framework that (Leslie) provides. There’s a groove, and things happen over that, as opposed to a more chamber-influenced weaving.”

The band came together in February 2019 to begin writing Formations, completing all of the songs by April. Then, for four days in May of last year, they ventured to Southern Ground Studios, where they brought the new material to life with the help of producer (and Kowert’s Punch Brothers bandmate) Chris “Critter” Eldridge, engineer Dave Sinko (Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck, Sam Bush), and revered mix engineer Jacquire King (Tom Waits, Kings of Leon, Shania Twain).

“We do a lot of the arranging, but (Eldridge) is good about following the musical thread and energy. He has a lot of recording expertise; he’s good at translating what we’re trying to do musically to the speakers,” Tice said. “(King) has the rigor that it takes to engineer things at a high level. But, he’s also super musical. We trusted him to do his thing, and he brought out a lot of cool stuff.”

Some of those moments include “Last One on the Line,” which Tice enjoys for its “weaving and interaction, and a lot of cool interplay that’s really palpable.”

That’s only the beginning.

“I think ‘Dandelion’ is ethereal and ancient, in-the-clouds. I like that one a lot,” Tice noted. “I like the intro and outro to ‘Tobogganist.’ The finger-picking is fun and spacy.”

This Friday, the band will look to present those moments – and, perhaps, create new ones – in front of the crowd at Little Harpeth Brewing for its Formations release show. The show begins at 8 p.m. with a supporting set from Paper Wings, and tickets are available for $10 at this link.

“We’re going to play our new music off the record, and there are some moments on the record we’ve been learning how to stretch out live, which is fun, too,” Tice said.

From there, 2020 remains exciting for Hawktail. On Saturday night, they’ll play The Grand Ole Opry in its return weekend to the Opry House for the 2020 season. After that, the band will be touring, with stops at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado this June, and the Newport Folk Festival, taking place in Newport, RI from July 31-Aug. 2.

“Those are rites of passage in their own ways,” Tice said. “There will be a lot of milestones for the band this year.”

Stream Formations, the new album from Hawktail, below!

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