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State of Hockey Anthem Project: A Roundtable

Chris Hawkey, Doomtree, BNLX and The 4onthefloor discuss their history, tracks and favorite Wild memories

by Devin Lowe / Wild.com

Last month, the Minnesota Wild launched the State of Hockey Anthem Project, which asked seven local artists to produce and record their very own versions of the franchise's iconic anthem to benefit the Minnesota Wild Foundation. Wild.com sat down with four members of these bands to hear their take on making music, what inspired their track and their favorite Wild memories. The interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Wild.com: Tell me a bit about your background, what first drew you into making music for a living and the founding of your band.

Aaron Mader/Lazerbeak, producer for Doomtree: Doomtree formed back in the early 2000s after a lot of us had gone to high school together and all realized that we wanted to be making rap music. It was kind of that strength-in-numbers vibe. It started as a collective of solo artists, and it still is that. But we also get together from time to time as a band and make crew albums. Everyone makes a song together or an album together. A lot of us have alter egos. My name is Aaron, but my producer name is Lazerbeak. Sims, he's one of the rappers, goes by his last name. A lot of it happened when we were young, and we ended up with those names, for better or worse.

Chris Hawkey, lead singer of Chris Hawkey Band (and morning host on KFAN 100.3): When I was 15 years old … my mom just got sick of hearing me talk about how I was gonna be a rock star. There was an ad in the local paper for a band that was looking for a singer. My mom dialed the phone and handed me the receiver because she knew I wouldn't do it. So I got the audition -- she had to drive me to the audition - I got the gig, and I was probably the only person that auditioned. I had a cool T-shirt on, a KISS T-shirt. It was fun, because all the bars we'd play in, we weren't old enough to be in. There was only one guy in the band who was over 21. In the breaks, we would have to sit right beside the stage and the security guard would stand there and watch us, and then we'd go back up on stage. I was terrible, just terrible. But I learned how to do it. So I did that all of my youth and then went to college for broadcasting, because I wanted to do something that involved a microphone and music and such. I got an internship at a radio station, the big rock-and-roll station in Dayton, Ohio, where I went to college, and I followed radio all over the country, but I never quit singing in bands. I couldn't. I loved it too much.

David Jarnstrom, drummer for BNLX: I've been playing drums ever since fifth or sixth grade, whenever you start that in school band. … Once my friends and I got our drivers' licenses, we'd go up to First Ave, so I was always very much into music and wanted to play in bands. … Later, I was working with a magazine here called Metro Magazine, and right about that time I met Ed Ackerson, who's the frontman of BNLX. He wisely spent his money that he made from major label deals on building this great studio in Uptown called Flowers, which is where BNLX does all of its recordings. On top of being a great musician and songwriter, he's a great, in-demand producer who's worked with tons of great bands, especially in this area, like (fellow State of Hockey Anthem Project artist) Soul Asylum and Motion City Soundtrack.

Gabriel Douglas, singer and guitarist for The 4onthefloor: I'm from a small town in northwestern Minnesota called Stephens. I started playing music at a young age. I played saxophone in band and then saw my dad's guitar when I was around 14 or 15 and played in bands all through high school. And then in college, I played in bands over in Duluth at UMD. When I first started playing in bars and clubs, I was doing towns in Manitoba with some buddies from back home. I moved to the Cities about a decade ago, and at that point, the guitar player who had formed 4onthefloor with me was already down here. He was from Duluth as well. So we started playing some bluesy kind of stuff and everything kind of grew from there. We've been around for over eight years now.

Wild.com: If you were to explain the genre or sound of your band to someone who'd never heard your music, how would you describe it?

Mader (Doomtree): At its core, it's hip-hop and rap. It's not something you're gonna hear on mainstream radio, but there's lots of sounds in the group and we're all influenced by a lot of different music. If you listen to our stuff, it's not like any other rap song; there might be rock, R'n'B or soul, any of that stuff. It's kind of a hodgepodge.

Hawkey (Chris Hawkey Band): There's a term called country rock, and I would say we're rock country. I would actually call it "north country," because it's our own northern flair of country music. It was a term coined when I was in a band called Rocket Club by Don Smithmeyer and the guys in that band because we'd go play in the south and we'd tell people we were from Minnesota, and they'd say, "There aren't country bands in Minnesota." Instead of arguing with them, we were kind of like, "Maybe you're right."

Jarnstrom (BNLX): It's gone through a few different iterations, but I think the most general terms we use are indie-noise rock or noise-pop. The songs are very melodic; they can be played as pop songs, but we add a lot of fuzz, a lot of noise. There's always a driving attitude or element. There's an edge to it. Ed's just a whiz in the studio, so he's always coming up with new textures and sounds. But it's really catchy stuff, so at its center, it's melodic rock with a pop sensibility.

Douglas (The 4onthefloor): We're classic rock-and-roll. We're modern dudes playing classic, bluesy rock-and-roll. People always say, "Well, who do you sound like?" And I always say that we're kind of a combination of The Black Keys, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Doors.

Wild.com: What made you and the band want to be involved with the State of Hockey Anthem Project? How did the process unfold?

Mader (Doomtree): I got hit up by my good friend Scott [LeGere, McNally Smith College of Music music business department head and co-founder of Noware Media], who was obviously involved in the process. He reached out and put the feelers out. I'm a big sports guy and I just thought it sounded cool, and I'm always up for a challenge, especially for a lot of what we do on the production side is often times reinventing a track. It felt like it had that vibe to it. I liked the idea of taking the existing song and changing it to give it a little more of a modern feel. I wasn't sure it was going to actually happen, but it all came together.

Hawkey (Chris Hawkey Band): I was honored to even be asked. It was mentioned to me a while ago that there was going to be a group of local bands of all genres that were gonna be releasing their own version of the song. When they told me some of the names of the other bands involved, I said, "Oh my gosh, I'd love to be associated with that," but also just to be associated with such a fantastic organization. I love the team, I love the fight song, I love the atmosphere at the Xcel Energy Center, and the idea of them playing a song of mine in that atmosphere was something I was very excited about. And also, my entire band … huge Wild hockey fans. So when I told everybody the opportunity was there, they all were crazy for it. We spent a lot of time thinking about how we wanted to present it. As I said, we knew all the different genres of music [represented]. There was rock, there was rap, every genre was covered. So we wanted to make sure that we presented our genre as best we could, and I think we did that. I'm really excited because Alex Keole, my keyboard player, came up with the guts of the song, how we were gonna change the structure a little bit, and everybody in my band had the opportunity to weigh in. The song became literally our version of the State of Hockey song, so I'm really excited about it.

Jarnstrom (BNLX): Somewhere around the time where I started playing live with BNLX, I started working at McNally Smith College of Music doing a lot of writing and website work. I've been there for almost five years now. The head of our music business department is this great guy named Scott LeGere, who's been integral to this project seeing the light of day. He actually approached me one day in the hall and said, "Hey, I got this thing that I think your band would be perfect for." I think they were trying to hit on various different genres and show this thing from all sides. I mentioned it to Ed, and I was super excited because I'm a fan and you don't always get the opportunity to mix worlds like this. I was all for it and everyone said, "Let's do it."

Douglas (The 4onthefloor): We've had pretty great success partnering with charities all through the Midwest. So when the Wild came to us and were like, "We're gonna do this to benefit others," we were really into it. Also, it's the Minnesota Wild. We've done stuff with the Minnesota Twins before and we love working with [sports teams]. We're big sports guys, which, in the music scene, there's not that many sports guys. So to have the Wild come to us, that was really cool. We love the unity that this project is bringing between Minnesota professional sports and Minnesota independent music. We're pretty close with all the bands, except Chris Hawkey, but he gets to talk about sports all day and then play rock-and-roll at night and get paid for both of those, so he's doing something right. We really respect that guy.

Wild.com: Tell me about your track. Why did you choose the direction and sound you did? What inspired you?

Mader (Doomtree): I asked [the Wild] to send me all of the individual tracks that were in the recording so that I could play them. I wanted to root it in its original elements, but take it to a bigger rap sound, or at least modern, electronic sound. I was actually influenced by a lot of the great sounds that have become sports anthems, like "We Will Rock You" by Queen, the big stadium sounds with big snares, so I kind of had that in mind when I was making the music for it. We wanted to obviously keep the sound and the melody, and then the rappers just took it and tried to turn everything up to 11 and give it that energy.

Hawkey (Chris Hawkey Band): We wanted it to be guitar-based because we're a guitar-based band. We have three guitar players in the band. We also wanted to stick as close to the structure as possible and maybe highlight some background vocals. So we went in with those three things in mind. I have a sweet spot as far as where my vocal range sits; we wanted to make sure we sat in that range, but we wanted the tenor, the feel of the song to match the joy of being at a Wild hockey game inside Xcel Energy Center. That's what our thought process was going in as we were about to record it; that's what we were trying to capture.

Jarnstrom (BNLX): I think pretty early on, it was decided that we wanted to stay as true as possible to the spirit of the original and just sort of BNLX-ify it, add a little bit of muscle and fuzz and some of those crazy noises that we do. I think we felt like that would resonate best with the fans and be like what we do best, just keeping that driving, anthemic spirit intact. We didn't want to slow it down or speed it up. Anthems are anthems for a reason. Ed kind of writes in a very anthemic fashion. A lot of our songs are pretty big in scope and pretty thematic; they're sort of like rallying cries. So I think it was a very easy decision to say, "Let's not mess with a good thing and just add what we do best to the existing framework."

Douglas (The 4onthefloor): When we got told we were gonna do the anthem, I was like, "Gosh, this is a pretty wordy song, so I'm not sure what we can do with it." We're all big Dropkick Murphys fans, which is kind of what the Anthem is. It's kind of an Irish jig sing-along. We did a lot of versions of it in the studio and we picked two that were different takes on it, because we couldn't just cover it straight up. We did that and we figured they already had that version of it. So we did kind of an octane-fueled rock-and-roller and then we did a smoky blues one, as well.

Wild.com: Are you and the rest of the band big hockey fans? If so, what's your favorite Minnesota Wild memory?

Mader (Doomtree): I will say that growing up, almost all of us grew up in Minnesota from the jump, so being from the state, it's kind of hard not to be around hockey or go see a game every chance you get. It's in your blood if you're in or around this region. I really enjoyed going to a game probably five or six years back. I can't even remember the team they were playing, but it went into a shootout. Every time I've been to the Xcel [Energy Center], it's just been a blast to yell along with a packed house of 18,000 people. On the music side, we vibe off of the energy of a sold-out show and everyone yelling along to a song, and I get that same goosebump feeling in a sold-out sports game where it's close and everyone is in it together, cheering on the team.

Hawkey (Chris Hawkey Band): This was a long time ago, but the first time I ever did Let's Play Hockey. The morning show was brand new, and I was standing up there with my son, who's 22 now, but he was obviously a lot younger then. They introduced me and I did the Let's Play Hockey, and everybody screaming together with you … I'll never forget that. That was really great, just to feel the energy. And then they won that game, as well, and I'll always take credit for that, that I'm their good luck charm.

Jarnstrom (BNLX): For me, it's got to be the first improbable playoff run they had in 2003, when Andrew Brunette scored the goal on Patrick Roy in game seven. That's got to be it. It was such a shock, and then they went on to beat Vancouver when they were down three games to one in both of those series. It was such a David and Goliath kind of thing. In recent memory, I'm a big fan of the Finns; my father's side of the family is mostly Finnish. This year, it's been so fun to see Mikael Granlund come of age.

Douglas (The 4onthefloor): When we were up against the Avs in the early years of the playoffs, that kind of cemented that we could support the team, even though the NHL took the North Stars away from us. It's been really fun to watch some of the younger players find their form this year.

 

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