By Amy Sondova “I’m talking to you and painting my kitchen,” cheerfully announces Hawk Nelson’s lead singer, Jason Dunn, as he carefully colors his walls Olympus white. “It’s actually lightish gray,” he explains, then distastefully adds, “I’m not sure if I really like the color, but I don’t have much of a choice now, do I?” It’s this type of amusing conversation that has endeared listeners to the pop-punk quartet know as Hawk Nelson.
The Canadian rockers release their fourth full-length album, Hawk Nelson Is My Friend (BEC) on April 1. The guys in Hawk Nelson—Dunn, bassist Daniel Biro, guitarist Jonathan Steingard, and drummer Aaron Totsi—decided to dedicate their latest offering to the people who matter most—their friends. Though it should be noted, the band doesn’t have “fans”, it has friends. “Fan just sounds kind of arrogant,” explains Jason nonchalantly. “I think famous people have fans and we’re not famous, but we have a lot of friends.”
Since arriving on the scene with Letters to the President (BEC) in 2004, Hawk Nelson has been featured in countless magazines including Billboard and Tiger Beat, performed on “Good Morning America”, Nickelodeon, and even had a cameo singing “Bring ‘Em Out” in the movie Yours, Mine, & Ours. Hawk Nelson appeared on NBC’s “American Dreams” as The Who singing “My Generation.” According to Jason, the band wasn’t allow to reenact The Who’s famous performance on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour”, in which Keith Moon blew up his drum set and the rest of the band smashed their guitars. “It would have been great,” he says reminiscently.
Candid and talkative, 25 year-old Jason Dunn relishes the fact he’s far from typical. The night before the interview Jason and his friends were eating at a restaurant after a full day of snow tubing, “I started blowing bubbles in my Diet Coke, and it was going all over the table,” he laughs. His quirky restaurant behavior isn’t the only thing that sets Jason apart from the crowds.
Jason is one of the 3 million Americans who lives with Type 1 diabetes, the form of the disease in which the body produces no insulin to break down sugars. Diagnosed at the age of 12, Jason says, “I’ve been on insulin for 13 years. The crazy thing is that no one else in my family suffers from it.” Despite the demands of touring, Jason’s been able to maintain his blood sugar well, “A few years ago, I got an insulin pump and that’s really changed my life.” Instead of administering insulin shots and dealing with blood sugars that are too high or too low, Jason’s insulin pump gives him the amount of insulin he needs throughout the day.
And it’s long days filled with friendly faces, performances, and a sea of green shirts that Hawk Nelson looks forward to as they headline the spring 2008 “Green T Tour”. Coinciding with the release of the new album, Hawk Nelson is offering a super deal at their “Green T” ticket buyers— a free limited-edition green T, which enables the wearer to receive special seating, attend an exclusive listening party, and a chance to pre-buy Hawk Nelson Is My Friend. The green t-shirt is a recreation of one of the band’s original designs, “When we first started playing locally, we had this shirt that said, ‘Hawk Nelson is my friend.’ Originally we thought it was funny to have people think that Hawk Nelson was just one guy,” shares Jason, who adds that the van the band first used was also green.
“We put hundreds of thousands of miles on that van. Our audience would show up and support us,” he remembers. “Now it’s five years later. We’re a little older and a little more successful, and they’re still coming to our shows. Literally, we would not have the success we have without them. They’ve been so good to us; they deserve a record made just for them, so we did it.”
Born out of the intense loyalty to their audience, Hawk Nelson Is My Friend is a very relational album that spans the gambit both musically and topically. “The whole record has been a lot more real to me; this album is a lot more personal,” explains Jason, who seems surprisingly unaware that “Friend Like That” (video link) has already skyrocketed to the top of radio charts. “It’s a feel-good song that’s fun to play live.”
“Let’s Dance” is another song that begs to be heard by a live audience, yet it’s far from feel-good. “It’s one of those songs talking about how the media tries to make you a certain way to fit an ideal image. I’m saying that you can’t make me look a certain way to make you money, I’m just going to be me,” says Jason.
Dealing with the dark side of relationships, Jason started writing “Just Like Me” when he was in high school. “When I was 16, I considered this girl my friend. She was my friend to my face—and she was like this with everyone—but then behind my back she would make fun of everyone to the point where she has no friends left.” He sighs and admits, “I was almost at the point where I was being judgmental of her, but we’ve all done that. We’ve all talked smack about someone behind their backs. We need to change the way we think and the way we talk about people.”
Co-written with Matthew Gerrard, one of the minds behind the wildly popular “High School Musical” movies, Jason doubts he’ll make an appearance in “High School Musical 3” due out later this year, “That would be cool, but I can’t dance or sing like that.” Hawk Nelson worked with other collaborators to craft the album, though Jason says the contributions were mostly musical, “I’m kind of picky about lyrics. I would rather sing my own.” Yet collaborating with other musicians including long-time friend Trevor McNevan of Thousand Foot Krutch (read interview with TFK’s Trevor McNevan) has been a positive experience for the band, “I learned so much through working with other people. Everybody needs help.”
The song, “One Little Miracle” co-written with Richard “Right Here Waiting” Marx, comes from an unlikely inspiration. “You know those World Vision commercials with those starving kids? I was thinking about that in my head when I wrote the song, how one little thing can make a difference,” Jason thoughtfully shares. While “I Still Miss You” is a deeply meaningful to Jason, who wrote it in honor of his deceased grandmother, he names “Somebody Else” as his favorite song on the album. “It’s about asking questions. All the guys are married now except for me. I have to be honest; it’s way better being single. You have your whole life to get married, right?” Knowing meeting the right girl would change everything, he says, “Then all of a sudden a girl comes in. She’s the love of your life and your dreams start to change a little. All of a sudden this girl’s taken over my dream.”
Yet Jason’s dream is still his own as he exclaims, “I like what I’m doing. It’s my favorite thing in the whole, wide world. I wouldn’t want to do anything else,” he pauses, and then adds, “Except maybe ride a motorcycle around the world.”
“I don’t even really want to do that,” he admits with a chuckle. “One day I hope to look back and say, ‘Wow, I did it.’” Then, almost poetically, Jason updates his painting progress proudly announcing, “I got a whole wall done and it looks pretty marvelous.” Walls, albums, lives—Hawk Nelson’s Jason Dunn will continue to paint each with his special touch, and look back to see a job well done.