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I am pretty sure that the early 2000s (and perhaps the late 1990s) was the golden age of punk music. To be fair, I have listened to very little punk music released after about 2009, so I’m biased, but there were just so many great bands and albums back then: Yellowcard, Simple Plan, blink-182, Good Charlotte, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, and more, to be sure.
I was into all of those bands, but my favorite was a Christian punk band called Hawk Nelson. You may have heard of them. They are still around, but they aren’t the same as they used to be. They sound different and have different members.
This is the Hawk Nelson I remember:
That blonde kid there, the lead singer, is Jason Dunn. He’s not the lead singer of Hawk Nelson anymore—he left the band in 2012—but he was one of the original founders and the lead singer.
I don’t remember exactly how many times I saw Hawk Nelson in concert, but it had to be at least three, and maybe even four or five times. They were on Winter Jam at least once, and they played a couple of concerts at the Fort Wayne Wizards’ stadium back in the day. Without a doubt, my favorite album was Letters to the President. The others were fine, but none were quite as good as that one for me.
Last week, I reached out to Jason Dunn on Twitter to see if he’d be willing to be interviewed for my blog. He said he would love to. I geeked out.
Here is our conversation:
Chris Martin: Hawk Nelson was one of the best Christian pop/punk bands of the 2000s, what do you think made you guys different?
Jason Dunn: We started Hawk Nelson when we were just kids. We all shared the same vision and had the same goals for the band, which will make any group unstoppable. We loved what we did and truly cared about the music we made.
CM: Which Hawk Nelson album was your favorite, and why?
JD: I think “Letters To The President” will always stand out to me. It was the first “real” album we ever made. Hearing us as a produced band was life-changing. That album had set the bar for every song I’d ever recorded from that record on.
CM: So what’s your favorite song and why?
JD: That’s a tough question. “Somebody Else” would be my pick just because I wrote it with Raine Maida (Our Lady Peace). It was just a great experience to work with him.
CM: What was the best part of being in Hawk Nelson?
JD: Living on the road with the Hawk guys was a riot. It was my entire life. I didn’t know how to live without those guys. We were like family. It made going to work very easy.
CM: What was the hardest part?
JD: As we grew up, we were less of a band and more of a business. I’ve always been 100% creative. The business side of Hawk was run by other people. Eventually we started doing what felt right for the business rather than what felt right for the fans or the band.
CM: What is the best on-tour story you can tell?
JD: One of my favourite tour stories happened near the very beginning of our touring careers. We were out on tour with Toby Mac, Audio Adrenaline and Kutless. I grew up listening to Toby and Audio A so it was a bit surreal to share the stage with those guys, let alone spend three months with them, getting to know them as people, not performers.
[Tooth & Nail] signed us with the intent of us being the Christian Good Charlotte.
I thought I’d set the bar on the first night of tour by pulling the first tour prank. We were kind of known as the prank band on the road so I couldn’t let our identity down. I snuck on the Audio A bus while they were playing and stole all the pillows and blankets out of all the bunks and hiding them in our trailer. The next morning I learn that I actually snuck on the tour crew bus. Every single guy that worked so hard to set up our production and gear slept with no blankets or pillows that night. Needless to say, we got put to work for the next four shows setting everything up.
CM: When it comes to being a well-known, professional musician, what is a big misunderstanding you think people have about being on tour and being “famous?”
JD: I think people had really high expectations from us. People tend to forget that we were just four kids who loved to make music. It was cool that we gained some success by doing what we loved, but at the end of the day, we were just four guys from Canada who just loved punk rock.
CM: Did you ever struggle with the idea of making “Christian music” instead of just being a Christian who made good music? I know a lot of Christians who are also musicians struggle with that.
JD: Ya. That always kind of bothered me. We signed a record deal with Tooth & Nail records in 2004. They signed us with the intent of us being the Christian Good Charlotte. I never wanted to be the Christian version of any band. I always wanted to be a better version. Now that I’m older I completely understand it. Everything is easier to see in hindsight.
CM: You left Hawk Nelson in 2012 not because of hard feelings, but just to do something new on your own. What was it like going from a well-known act to a new project?
JD: It sucked, ha. It was like all the wind was sucked out of my sails. I knew I was leaving Hawk and [guitarist Jonathan] Steingard was taking my spot. I assumed they would continue playing our songs and write new material that fit our sound. With that in mind, I tried going the polar opposite by recording super weird emo acoustic stuff that I ended up hating.
I fell away from God and everything I believed in. Even in my last days with Hawk, it was pretty messy.
I learned very quickly what was natural for both parties. I’m a punk rock guy. I always have been. Steingard and [bassist Daniel] Biro aren’t punk rock guys. There’s nothing wrong with that. It was just a little bit sad to hear the songs coming out under the name that I created.
CM: In a Facebook video posted last year, you talked about how you sort “became a shell of yourself” after you left Hawk Nelson and did your own thing. I think a lot of people feel this way and often don’t know what to do. What happened, and how did you deal with it?
JD: It was a real struggle. I fell away from God and everything I believed in. Even in my last days with Hawk, it was pretty messy. Again, it’s a lot easier to see in hindsight. I was afraid to face reality. I wasn’t sure what the future had in store for me. It wasn’t looking bright. I was drinking a lot. I was getting in fights and just being stupid.
I really hit rock bottom. I had never relied on grace so much during those days. I’m very thankful those days are behind me.
CM: Throughout all the years: from the humble beginnings, to the peak popularity of Hawk Nelson, to the new projects, how have you grown as a person and as a follower of Christ?
JD: I have experienced a lot of ups and downs in the past few years. My wife Niamh and I committed our lives to Christ for real last year. Not only for us, but for our children. It’s been amazing. We are both actively serving at our church in Peterborough, Ontario. Life has never been better.
Music is still a huge part of my life but it’s not my entire life. I still make music but I don’t do it to make a living anymore. I make music when I want to make music. I’m not relying on it to pay my bills, which is a relief. That makes writing from the heart a much easier thing to do.
CM: So, you’re a husband and expecting father now. What’s that been like and how has it changed you?
JD: Being a husband is the greatest thing in the world. My wife is Irish and is the sweetest woman you’ll ever meet. We got married last June on the water with just our family near us. It was a perfect day. We’re expecting our first child at the end of May and we could not be more excited! We’re anticipating big changes and we couldn’t be more thrilled!
CM: What music do you like listening to these days? I’m always interested in who my favorite artists are listening to.
JD: I’ve always been a punk rock guy. There are some great bands you should check out: The Story So Far, Neck Deep, Lights Go Down. 😉
CM: I know you’ve been busy still making music since leaving Hawk Nelson. But, for anyone like me reading this who loved your work with Hawk Nelson in the early 2000s, what should we be looking out for from you in the coming months/years?
JD: Since my wife and I have settled down in Peterborough, I have opened a recording studio so a lot of my time is spent there writing and recording new songs. My first single is called “Rock Bottom” and it is about my journey. It releases March 10.