Yoko Bono (At Home With...)
On the first Radio Cuddleman podcast, I spoke to to Dan Hawkins, singer for bands such as The Toot Toot Toots (later known as Twin Beasts) and The Good Time Party Band. Dan performs as Yoko Bono. He came in to play songs from his solo Yoko Bono set, a tune from the Twin Beasts second and final album Badlove as well as an unreleased song written in those sessions. We discussed his approach to songwriting, his different aliases and voices, the writing and recording of the second Twin Beasts with producer and ex-Gerling member Burke Reid, along with the evolution of his solo set and his future plans for a new group after Twin Beasts’ dissolution earlier this year.
Simon: So, ‘Badlove’… second Twin Beasts album? First Twin Beasts album?
Dan: Well… there was The Toot Toot Toots, we changed our name… so… First Twin Beasts album… but second album from that band… who changed their name. (laughs)
Simon: I think on that second album, it sort of went in a… I don’t want to say pop [direction]… but there definitely was really tight structures. So, how did that [writing process] work when you were working with the band? Was it you and Jules sort of 50/50 songwriters?
Dan: I think it was split pretty evenly across the four of us, but that album was written with Burke Reid who used to play in Gerling and has produced a lot of great Australian records. We hadn’t really written much for that album; Burke, who was living in Canada at the time, came down to Australian and workshops a whole lot of songs with us at our bass player Steve’s holiday house in Phillip Island. So we spent a week there with Burke writing songs then we drove up to Gosford in NSW and recorded the entire album up there for two weeks.
Simon: I think it looked very picturesque from what I remember from the photos I saw. Was it kind of a lodge-y kind of thing?
Dan: Yeah, it was a big house, and there was a lodge out the back that Burke stayed in. I think it used to be owned by one of the guys from INXS but now it’s owned by Hillsong, so… (laughs)
Simon: Well, now we know why that record sounds so good - it has that Christian rock sheen to it.
Simon: Were you happy with the way the record turned out, as far as the sound of it goes and the way it was put together?
Dan: I’m really happy with the way it sounds: I think it was our best record but it wasn’t our most successful record.
Simon: Commercially or with the fan base or…
Dan: Just as far as… a sales perspective. Definitely not as popular as the first one.
Simon: Ah… well… I guess that’s… a shame… (trails off)… I think you got a reasonable amount of airplay from the singles? Definitely when you listen to the songs back, like the song ‘Badlove’, that’s definitely like, a radio hit, sound wise?
Dan: I think Triple R played it quite a lot, but I don’t think it caught on everywhere else.
Simon: I think I remember you saying to me that it was “high rotation on Double J… whatever that means”.
Simon: Before we started recording [this podcast] you alluded to maybe the end of Yoko Bono and the beginning of something new, so, what’s on the horizon next for you?
Dan: I don’t know… I started mucking around playing solo shows even before Twin Beasts finished… I’ve been trying to get some new songs happening but they’re all half-finished so that’s what I’ve been working on mostly. I’ve got about four musicians that I’ve kind of roped-in to practice them, so I think we’re practicing our first rehearsal tomorrow, so I think it’s very early days.
Simon: Is it going to be primarily your vehicle songs or are there going to be multiple singers?
Dan: I definitely want it to be male/female lead vocals, y’know, 50/50 kind of deal. As far as who writes the songs, I can take a backseat or I can share mine. I think it’ll probably be a collaboration.
Simon: Collaboration is good.
Dan: (polite laughter)
Simon: So, you are Dan Hawkins - in Twin Beasts/Toot Toot Toots you were Danny Eucalyptus. Now you’re Yoko Bono. I think you even had a band before The Toots…
Dan: The Good Time Party Band - I was just Dan Hawkins in that.
Simon: …but you had different voices when you sung in different bands - kind of - didn’t you have a kind of “Danny Eucalyptus”[-specific] voice?
Dan: Well, I’ve got two voiced - I’ve got the voice I sung with today, and I’ve got my Twin Beasts voice which is the gravel voice.
Simon: I guess in the early days of The Toots, you had the gravelly voice comparisons with, maybe like, Tom Waits type thing, but incredibly tuneful today… Do you write in different headspace when you go for different voices or do you just pick and choose what you go for depending on the song?
Dan: Ah… I don’t know… I have a better range with my gravelly voice… I can sing higher. So, sometimes I find myself resorting to that if I need to hit a high note. I just liked how it sounded when I started The Toots with the other guys, so I used that voice. So when I started using it I thought I better keep using it.
Simon: …and you had the contrast between your voice and Jules’ voice which was… I can’t think of a comparison… it was kind of like…
Dan: Rough and smooth?
Simon: Yeah, rough and smooth… Fire and ice… Peanut butter and… jam?
Dan: (more polite laughter)
Simon: What about writing songs - as far as writing songs for the band vs writing songs for Yoko Bono - autobiographical [for one project] and you taking on a persona [for the other]? What kind of way do you take on these things?
Dan: I kind of struggle to write songs if I don’t have a deadline, so if I don’t give myself something that definitely means I have the songs ready by then I tend not to do them at all. Typically what I’ll do is book a show in and then panic that week and write, like, five songs, and then I’ll write what I think sounds cool in the moment and then I’ll change the lyrics until they tell some sort of story. I mean, Twin Beasts songs were really all storytelling songs.
Simon: I think Outlaws had kind of running theme to it, or or one story across…
Dan: …one narrative across the 12 songs.
Simon: Did you approach that from that start or did you kind of tweak a few things to make old songs fit into that…?
Dan: We came into knowing we were going to tell one story across the one album. We did that with the first EP (Curse The Crow) as well, which was one story through six songs. And then with our last album we were planning on doing it again but the story wasn’t coming together so we just broke it up. All the songs have one theme but the songs are completely separate from one another; they just have that them that underlines the entire album.
Simon: I guess sometimes it’s good to leave it a bit open; although it’s one theme, but there were a lot of songs on the last record that had that thing with all good songwriting that it was open enough to put your own emotions in there, if you will… like the song ‘Wasting Time’? We can all relate to that.
Dan: (chuckles) Totally.
Simon: So, your co-vocalist in Twin Beasts Jules has a new project at the moment, Ferla? Is there a [healthy] rivalry there, or like a Wilco vs Uncle Tupelo thing? Do you foresee any gigs coming up in the future with those guys.
Dan: Yeah, we’re still good mates; I was actually hanging out with Jules last night. I saw them play their first show the other night - Steve from The Toot Toot Toots, Chris Drane from Cherrywood and Katie from The Harlots.
Simon: All these all-star bands; I don’t want to spill the beans about your new project, but lots of familiar names in your new project. Okay, personal question. Both you and I have a background in education. I know when I was a teacher where - it might be a bit different with your students - but my students liked to google me. Have you had any situations where kids have looked you up or where students have come to school and started singing your songs to you?
Dan: I’m pretty fortunate in that I have two famous people who share my name…
Dan: So if you google me, there’s no way you’ll find me because I have the same name as the guitarist from The Darkness.
Simon: It’s also beneficial to have that persona/stage name because that means you won’t have anyone google you.
Dan: But other teachers have shown the students my video clips...
Simon: (exasperated sigh)
Dan: ...which, y’know… I didn’t really… I guess it doesn’t bother me that much. (laugh)
Simon: I don’t know if you ever met my friend Josh who played bass towards the end of YIS, and he looked somewhat like me, and they found his band, which was Bidet Mate, and started singing his songs to me. And I was like “it’s not me, it’s Josh!”, and they were like “Yeah… ‘Josh’. Riiight…”. That's not the best video for your kids to see.