For a dozen years now, I’ve been stoking this electronic campfire, which has brought together folk from literally around the world who have an interest in frontier history and culture. Quite a few of us shape our day-to-day lives around a modern version of a frontier mindset. Andrew Scott Wills is one of us. As Hawken Horse, he’s a balladeer recounting the mighty deeds of the men and women who have trekked across these pages. Wills and I have many a touchpoint in common — a love for music, a desire to get out in the woods with a rifle, and a mighty appreciation of the archetypal Frontier Partisan Simon Kenton.
Hawken Horse’s new CD Longhunter drops on May 19. I plan to put it into permanent rotation in my truck carosel, along with the Outlander soundtrack, the score for the old History Channel series Frontier, and a Dave Alvin’s Austin City Limits performance. And we’ll download it, too. You can acquire this fine plunder at https://hawkenhorse.com.
Wills was gracious enough to take the time to answer a few questions from Frontier Partisans:
Your new album Longhunter lands on May 19. You’ve described this collection of songs as a real passion project. Tell us how it came about.
It all started with Allan Ekcert’s The Frontiersmen. Being a Historical Fiction, it read smooth like a fiction but conveyed all the truth that blew my mind. I’ve been trying to figure out how to go back in time ever since, with no success. And so I decided to create a way to experience the 18th Century frontier through music.
What is it about the story of the Ohio River frontier of the 1760s-90s that is so compelling?
Growing up in Xenia, Ohio, I was surrounded by the history of the Ohio Country. I grew up paddling and hiking along the banks of the Little Miami River, the main travel corridor for the Shawnee on their way home from the Ohio River. A mere two miles north of Xenia is the birthplace of legendary Shawnee leader Tecumseh. A little further north and you find the grave of Simon Kenton. All this history was fuel on the fire of a boy who spent every waking hour in the woods or on the water.
But beyond that, it was the ultimate culture clash. There were colonists, many of whom fled Europe for religious and economic reasons, hungry for a chance to own a piece of land and live by their own authority. There were French trappers to the north who were floating down from the headwaters of the Mississippi. Then you had the British and French armies in a pissing match trying to claim land for their own kings across the Atlantic. And finally, you had the Native tribes who were caught in the middle, fighting for their homeland with inferior weapons and technology but with superior fighting tactics. And all of this took place over a mysterious, seemingly endless wilderness. It’s incredibly compelling.
Tell us about your musical journey. How did you become a balladeer of the frontier?
When I was growing up, music was always important to my family. I loved oldies, classic rock, I sang in the church choir and got my first guitar at 15. My first instinct wasn’t to learn a song from the radio but rather to write my own. I’m a creator at heart.
With hard work and a lot of support from my wife, I moved my family to Nashville in 2012 to take my songwriting career to the next level. It’s been an amazing experience (and a hard one!) but I’ve had many experiences that a lot of people wouldn’t believe. My songs have been performed from the Grand Ole Opry and Red Rocks Amphitheater to the Empire State Building and Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth. But out of the 700+ songs I have written for others to sing, I wasn’t fully chasing that creative bug inside me. I wanted to create something truly original, and to be fully in control of it.
Who are some of your musical influences?
I love so much music. I listen to Orchestral music, Classic Rock, Bluegrass, Country — I mean, if “Africa” by Toto comes on I’m cranking it up! But my favorite music is acoustic and story driven. Some of my favorites are Tom Petty, Gordon Lightfoot, Eagles, Bob Dylan and Jeff Black. I’m also a new fan of Pete Kosky who I was introduced through Spotify telling me my fans listened to him as well. He’s so great!
Your acoustic guitar sound is very rich and full. There are a few guitar nerds on here — can you describe your performing/recording set-up?
Well first off I have a great recording guitar. When I got my paycheck for my first Billboard Top 40 I bought a 1960 Gibson J45. It sounds big and full and sustains for a ridiculously long time. They literally don’t make them like they used to! My studio runs LogicX with a Universal Audio Apollo interface. My acoustic guitars are typically recorded on a Lewitt LCT 140 condenser mic and my vocals are usually through a Warm Audio WA-14. The biggest thing is that my studio is always set up and ready to go when inspiration strikes.
You’re not just singing about the way of life — you are out there in the woods, crushing it. You’re writing practical stories for American Frontiersman Magazine (now absorbed into Guns of the Old West). And I see you have a new Kibler Woodsrunner rifle (and a beauty it is). Tell us a bit about how you touch this history in your everyday life.
Whether I am out in the woods or traveling across the country, I put myself in a frontier mindset. I try to see the landscape around me the way those before me would have seen it. I recently built that Kibler Woodsrunner, and, boy, do I love that rifle! It was a fun and easy build. I can’t wait to take it out for muzzleloader season this fall!
Writing for American Frontiersman just happened organically through my music. They, like Frontier Partisans, have been supporters from the beginning!
Here’s the single:
And what has become my favorite rendition of the theme from Jeremiah Johnson:
I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of Longhunter. If you haven’t pre-ordered, git on it now…
I don’t know if it is possible, but it would be great if you do more interviews.
I’m up for it where appropriate.
lane batot says
Yeah, SUPERB post! And “Frontier Partisans” is still my favorite blog, ever! I’ve had better story-swapping on here than anything in my face-to-face life, with the exception of that one Summer in Africa, around a campfire every night(after ranging the bush on foot, all day every day!) with a fellow Critter Geek Extraordinaire! And I had to laugh at the specific mention of Toto’s “Africa”–although I prefer(and will only pay money for) Classical or other instrumental music(I like a lot of ethnic stuff–Gypsy, Celtic, Slavic, Native American, African, Asian Indian, Arabic, etc. etc.) I, too will crank up Toto’s “Africa”–that song is especially sentimental to me, as it came out the very year(1983) I went to Africa! One of those amazing coincidences, for me……
Hawken Horse says
haha! Love it!