By John Benson
It’s been roughly a year since singer-guitarist Jay Wiley decided to end his namesake band and join forces with Pittsburgh’s The Country Music Gas Station to form The Hawkeyes. So far, the decision appears to have been the right one.
“I don’t want to be naIve and say it doesn’t happen but I’ve yet to hear anyone talk ill about us,” said Steel City resident Wiley. “It just seems like everyone who has been in contact with us so far has been real positive.”
Those positive vibes aren’t just homegrown, with The Hawkeyes — Wiley, Hubbard’s Bob Pickman (guitar, vocals), Colin Bronnenkaunt (drums, vocals) and Brian Chalmers (bass, vocals) — recently returning from its first southern tour. The singer said the act was well received in Cincinnati, the home of its label Broad Horizon Records, a well as in Kentucky and Nashville. However, it was visiting a certain college town in Georgia that could lead to something big.
“Honestly, in Athens, Ga., we didn’t play to too many people because it’s summer, but we made so many connections in the two days we were there,” Wiley said. “It just opened up a slew of doors for us. There’s a festival we’re going to play in the future, and we met a producer and a promoter.”
That producer is former Sugar member David Barbe (Son Volt, Drive-By Truckers), who may work on The Hawkeyes’ full-length debut due to be cut this fall. Songs expected to be on that release are the dark ballad “Gun Thug Man,” as well as the upbeat “Double E.” In the meantime, the group is playing out as much as possible.
“It sounds clich , but we’re just trying to build our fan base one city at a time,” Wiley said. “It’s just an everyday non-stop working thing for us because we weren’t the popular kids in high school. We have to really go out, meet and greet and find other bands to play with and really just make sure people know about us. We play everywhere and anywhere we can.”
This includes a show tonight at Cedars Lounge.
Finally, while Wiley said The Hawkeyes are often put in the roots music category, alongside such acts as the aforementioned Son Volt and Drive-By Truckers, as well as Wilco and Uncle Tupelo, he feels the quartet has its own sound and voice.
“What makes us stand out is my voice is a heck of a lot different and we have a lot more power and drive to us,” Wiley said. “Also, our live show is something to see. There’s a lot of feeling and soul to it. So when you come to see us, you really connect with the stories we tell and the band.”
He quickly added, “When people walk out after seeing us, they often can be heard saying, ‘That band was (expletive) awesome.’”