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For the past 20 years, Hackensaw Boys have been a hard-touring force of nature in the American roots music world, bringing a punk ferocity to their stringband base and a powerful sensitivity to their ballad roots. Operating more as a collective than a band, Hackensaw Boys were around before the O Brother craze kickstarted Americana, back in the old alt-country days. With all this history, it shook up bandleader and lead singer David Sickmen when long-time band member Ferd Moyse let him know that he was leaving the band in 2018. Sickmen’s a man who survived throat surgery to save his voice and endured any number of hardships over two decades on the road, but nothing hits harder than a crisis of faith for a man who’s used his own indomitable will to push past every obstacle.
“I realized as a 50-year-old man,” Sickmen says, “I’m too far gone to stop. I’ve waited too long to have another career. I did a lot of soul searching, trying to figure out what Hackensaw Boys even is at this point with all the people that have come and gone through it.” Sickmen realized Hackensaw Boys was more of an ethos, a mission statement to raise a little hell, encourage a more peaceful world, and bring the music back to its roots in a working-class American vernacular.
Sickmen formed up a brand-new band – Beau Dodson (“charismo”, percussion), Chris Stevens (bass), Caleb Powers (fiddle, banjo, mandolin, vocals) – drawing from no shortage of talent in the group’s pool of musical friends and compatriots. Keeping their roots close to home in Lynchburg, VA, Hackensaw Boys have a new EP, A Fireproof House of Sunshine, that was dropped on June 21, 2019 with their label Free Dirt Records. The EP’s title nods to Sickmen’s fiery new purpose, and his wish to build something that endures.
“I always thought that our story was about all the people that have come and gone from the band,” Sickmen says, “but I think now the story’s more about a band that just wants to keep developing. It’s not about the past 20 years we put in, it’s more about the next 20 years we want to put in.”
Retreating to the Charlottesville studio of co-producer Rob Evans (Dave Matthews Band), Hackensaw Boys cut the new EP in just four days. These five new songs showcase the band’s graceful maturation and feel more timeless than timely, in no small part due to Sickmen’s most deeply cultivated songwriting to date. A Fireproof House of Sunshine keeps the band’s classic punk-fueled roots sound at the center. Yet here the group further explores within genre, from the rollicking contemporary Americana of „Late Night Kitchen“ and „Pass Unloving Eyes“ to the country-blues labor anthem „Factory Blues,” or the loving “Let’s Take Us a Night Ride,” written together with Sickmen’s young son.
“Whatever was the Hackensaw Boys?” Sickmen asks. “We weren’t really a punk or old-time or bluegrass or folk band, we were this thing that slammed all those styles into one.” With this renewed outlook and a burning desire to continue winding down the road doing what they love, Hackensaw Boys won’t be idling for long.