Known collectively as Hawktail, fiddler Brittany Haas, bassist Paul Kowert, guitarist Jordan Tice, and mandolinist Dominick Leslie have combined their monstrous compositional and instrumental forces once again for a much-anticipated sophomore album, Formations. Set for release on January 10th, 2020, Formations took only two months to write and four days to record, a far cry from the 3-year process of their debut album, Unless. “We had studio dates to record a quick EP of covers, arrangements we’d been playing live,” explains Kowert, “But we had these strong starts that felt so good that we were like ‘let’s finish THESE instead,’” Adds Haas, “We found a new joy in creating, tapping into the experience we gained from writing and recording Unless.”
Over those four days at Nashville’s Southern Ground Studios, co-producer Chris “Critter” Eldridge—Kowert’s Punch Brothers bandmate—joined up with veteran engineer Dave Sinko (Edgar Meyer, Béla Fleck, Sam Bush) and legendary mixing guru Jacquire King (Tom Waits, Kings of Leon, Shania Twain) to create a cohesive vision; a bigger picture shared by the entire band and production team. “Critter knows what we’re going for and when we’ve gotten it,” says Haas. “We’ve just made so much music with him and Sinko over the years, the understanding is deep,” Tice adds. Having King mix the finished product was the proverbial icing on the cake for Hawktail. “We’re so happy with what he did to it—in some cases, it was like hearing the true nature of the piece for the first time,” says Kowert.
And the “true nature of the piece” shines brightly upon Formation’s first single and opening track, “Annbjørg.” “Annbjørg” is a dizzying, Scandinavian-tinged choose-your-own-adventure tune; the band shared a live video for the track today via Folk Alley. Listeners might decide to get lost in the whirlwind of fiddle and bass interplay or focus on the impeccable, time-keeping groove of the guitaa way to hide menu r and mandolin—collectively though, the song echoes a thread which runs through the entirety of Formations; a familiar nostalgia with more than enough musical depth to satisfy even the most discerning ears. Folk Alley’s Kelly McCartney commented, “We simply haven't seen these instruments played this way and with this exuberance... except by Hawktail.”
Fans that were around for the beginning of Hawktail may notice a slight change in the energy each instrument brings from song to song. This new energy is largely due to Leslie’s presence from the inception of Formations. “Our first album had more or less been written by the time I joined the band, so it was more about finding a complementary part,” says Leslie. “On Formations, I was there for the writing, which resulted in the mandolin having a fundamental role in the music.”
With Formations, it’s become clear that Hawktail are quite capable of blazing away at their own trail, successfully challenging the traditional roles of their respective instruments and genres. “We’re just trying to find something good to play,” says Tice. “We’re not interested in adhering to the same old forms—merely adding some spice to something that we all know how it’s going to end.”