Aidan Hawken’s earnest, honest, heart-on-his-sleeve songwriting has drawn comparisons to Elliott Smith and Ryan Adams and propelled his former alt-rock band Highwater Rising to national exposure through placement on shows like The O.C., Sex and the City, and One Tree Hill. In 2005 he set out on his own, working with luminaries like Chuck Prophet and Jim Bogios (Counting Crows) to record his quieter, alt-country-inflected solo debut Pillows & Records. His second full-length, The Sleep of Trees, was released in mid-2008.
I remember watching Aidan at age 15 at band practice. It was between sets and the others were outside smoking or fucking around and Aidan was perched on his amp, his head bent down and his long hair draped over his guitar as he quietly picked out some new melody. I was kind of hushed. I saw that when this guy was left alone to write, without the mire that was our unfocused noise around him, he was dropping jewels.
Aidan’s songwriting, even then, was instinctual, magnetic and way beyond our hapless high school mess. (Even if he did manage to carry our ragamuffin band C.F.B. to back Jesse Michael of Operation Ivy and to appear on record alongside the likes of Sublime and No Doubt.) There was a bittersweetness in Aidan's songs that belied his age -- an uncanny ability to sound plaintive or melancholy and make you swoon and ache and smile, sometimes all within the confines of one killer pop song. As C.F.B. eventually withered and flaked around 1993, Aidan shot past the pitch-challeneged lead singer and the flashy lead guitar player to take the reins and step up to the microphone himself. There was no need for him to wait and meet some guys who he could teach to follow his lead; Aidan just learned all the instruments and played them himself. Then he learned the tape machine and recorded it too. By 17 or 18 there was his next band, a reggae-drenched affair named for a C.F.B. song called Mango Season, but it was still basically just Aidan temporarily stopping off to have some fun letting good friends sit in with him on drums.
As he begin to soak in the likes of Bob Marley and Van Morrison, Marvin Gaye and Peter Gabriel, his textures and his scope widened, and we began to hear songs that had the flavor we now know as Aidan’s. It was the next band that would really see Mr. Hawken stretch out his vocal style and come to the fore as a lyricist. It would also see Aidan start to gain the following and the acclaim. Again taking its name from a song title from his previous band, Highwater Rising rose up in San Francisco around 1995 and began to sell out favorite local venues like Café Du Nord and Sweetwater.
HR's music reflected Aidan’s voracious aural appetite and showed flashes of some the great modern music of the 80s and 90s, such as Peter Gabriel, Daniel Lanois, or Coldplay. Even in his sometimes scathing parables of relationships, Aid never succumbs to polemics or cynicism.
We respond to Aidan's words and music because they fall on the ear with the smack and ring of felt experience. It was in the context of Highwater Rising that Aidan began to spread his certain take on the world that showed songwriting could be perceptive and funny, not unlike a hipper Paul Simon or a warmer Bob Dylan. Film and television started to notice and Highwater Rising’s songs were featured on everything from “Sex and The City” to “Boston Public” to “One Tree Hill." The press started to perk up. A&R Online effused, “Once in a while a band comes along that makes you smile. Very often it's not something you can put your finger on. It's usually a sense of familiarity with a unique twist on it.
Highwater Rising have successfully achieved this in my view and stand out a mile in a sea of pop groups looking to get noticed.” Influential Los Angeles DJ Chris Douridas of KCRW named Highwater Rising in his best of 2002 alongside heavyweights like Beck, Coldplay, and Ryan Adams.
There were giant shows, such as Summerfest in 1997 in front of more than 10,000, there were a couple of pristine full-length albums, one of which was produced by multi-platinum Los Angeles wunderkind Eric Valentine of Smash Mouth and Third Eye Blind fame. But Aidan still heard something in his head he was not achieving within the confines of HR, and in 2004 he struck out on his own again. Assembling a dream team of studio pros including San Francisco luminary Chuck Prophet, Jim Bogios of Counting Crows, Tom Ayres of Persephone's Bees, Brett Simons of Fiona Apple, and Highwater Rising’s Jason Borger and JJ Wiesler, Aidan recorded his first proper solo effort in the spring of 2005, Pillows and Records. A gorgeous collection that veers from the modern rock stylings of Highwater Rising to a quieter place that possibly reflected the changes Aidan had undergone in his personal life, P&R demonstrated an affinity for quirkier production, alt-country arrangements and even a bit of garage rock distortion.
Again, a swell of acclaim rolled in. Pillows and Records was named Best of iTunes Independent Music in 2006 alongside other indie faves like Joanna Newsome, Josh Rouse, and Alexi Murdoch. Television and movies continued their call for Aidan's tunes and tracks went to the Dane Cook and Jessica Simpson vehicle “Employee Of The Month," “Laguna Beach,” “The OC,” and Showtime’s “Weeds,” among others. Aidan performed a rocker on ABC’s “Wildfire.” A one-off side project called Mega Bass recorded a single song, "Blind," and it was chosen as the theme song for the CW network’s short-lived series “Hidden Palms.” Aidan's song "Shut Me Out" for the movie "Good Luck Chuck" was short-listed for an Oscar nomination in 2007. With Aidan's new collection, The Sleep of Trees, it seems like he's off again.