I meet Canada-born, prolific music artist and song writer Hawksley Workman at the Borderline off Tottenham Court Road, just before his London show; his twenty-something-th headline date at this venue in his lifetime. We sit down with a can of coke and a punnet of blueberries, and he apologises for keeping me waiting, explaining he’d travelled with his crew via the Channel Tunnel, where they’d got stuck on the train for nearly three hours.

Chatting about the current mess of politics in the UK, and the state of the music industry across the Pond, I hear an intelligent, vibrant individual and dedicated artist, who’s obviously worked hard in his field - but I don’t feel it’s necessarily paid off for him commercially.

I’ve never heard about Hawksley here in the UK, despite having been signed to Universal, releasing twelve records in ten years, touring the world relentlessly and obviously being a talented, eclectic, and most importantly real artist. He’s had coverage and acclaim over in the US and Canada, and across mainland Europe in places like France and Germany. But, like his train, Hawksley seems to have had some trouble getting over to us in Blighty! I wonder why.

HW: Over here, it’s hard to get noticed. My first trip here - I played every night - I probably played here 20 times. I remember some journalist from the NME saying to me: the NME will simply never write about you. I think it’s a bit of aggravation for aggravation’s sake you know.

R13: The NME will only write about you if you’re wearing the right trainers…
In keeping with Canadian good manners, having made sure we wanted him to keep talking about the subject, Hawksley continues:
HW: I was thinking about it this morning - there was a time in Canadian music in the early 90s where there was a big country scene that spawned a few very famous bands that have become iconic in Canada. Then there was this lull until Arcade Fire, and all of a sudden Canada was the thing again.
In that ‘lull’ was when I came out and a lot of other great songwriters. We sort of fell out of favour - it seemed like being in a band, or having some kind of gimmick was where it was at. And in some ways song writing hasn’t returned to being fashionable at the moment. So maybe that’s why.

R13: I wondered what Hawksley thought to this uneven distribution of his press coverage.
HW: I’m not young anymore and being young and good looking is part of what opens doors when you’re starting out. We’ve toured the world over and over: sometimes it’s being in Canada. When I was with a major label in Canada: it’s a very impotent situation to be in.
I remember I had a hit song in France. It was number one and it was a big deal! Then two records later you hear from the label that they’re busy with I don’t know, Mariah Carey, and ‘unfortunately we can’t release your record’. And you’re like Wow! So that’s how it happens!
Sadly I signed a major deal at the wrong time just as it was crumbling. In the industry, talent almost comes third or fourth behind perseverance or timing - I think timing is at the top.
I’m trying to be more realistic with (my career) because it’s a funny job to have.

R13: I’ve had a look at your musical CV so to speak. It’s huge. You’ve had songs on ‘Scrubs’ and ‘Queer as Folk’ to name a few. You’ve released so many records that you’ve toured the world with several times. What’s your creative process? What keeps you going?
HW: The last few years I’ve been expanding - writing for Pop Idols: Finnish Idol, and Swedish Idol and Greek Idol. I think because it’s work to me, I don’t try and make the song sound like me. I write quickly and I don’t edit which is probably why there are a lot of hits and the occasional miss on my records. I don’t think about creating the opus.
I sometimes wonder if I hear music differently. When we were driving from Paris Supertramp came on, I was thinking: this used to be considered pop music. Can you fucking believe it? Something as complex and spectacular as that now would be considered the most indie, difficult music. I think pop has wound itself down. There’re moments in pop I really love: I’m a Jay-Z fanatic, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s just out there to dumb the culture down you know?
That said I’ve written songs to be on the radio and they’ve been on the radio! There’s a science to some and a magic to others; the stuff the audience likes live tends to be the stuff that’s got magic in it.

R13: I ask Hawksley to tell me more about the ‘science’ of song writing and how creativity in general has been affected by the industry.
HW: In some ways (song writing has) been made so quantifiable and scientific. I do it - it’s part of my job; I fly to Stockholm and I churn out pop ditties. I find it a challenge and I find it interesting.
When grunge came out, everyone was saying oh this is the great saviour: saving us from all this hair metal, but that was the moment the industry perfected its machine. They were able to really drain all the art away and say: ‘Okay what we need now is stuff that sounds exactly like this.’

R13: Isn’t that inevitable in an industry whose sole aim is to make money?
HW: Yeah. And maybe that’s fine I don’t know.
I think now people have been marketed to so specifically that each music has a hairstyle and clothes, and then you join the tribe. Because people were originally tribal and it seems something we find hard to shake.

R13: Do you see the progress of the independent industry in the UK? The power to the people as far as music is concerned?
HW: I think so. Back in the 70s, twenty five pop records were released a year, each one with a fanfare and it meant Queen could be in the studio for two years making a five million dollar record, like ‘Under Pressure’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.
Now it’s become a bit of a cottage industry which is cool but in other ways it’s bad that there’s not this money and energy behind music so super-great stuff can be born in the way it used to be. Maybe it’s because I grew up a pop fanatic.
It’s cool because there are more bands and people are finding their own thing and I think the tribe is sort of being splintered off.

R13: You write in such a range of styles and you’re hard to box into one ‘genre.’ What inspires you to create this way?
HW: I remember clearly the day I stopped writing bad songs, I was trying to emulate my heroes, and all of a sudden it was shocking: I can just be me and do what I got to do! It’s about keeping yourself entertained and not boring yourself of yourself you know? There’s a lot I want to do.
I didn’t listen to music to be fashionable when I was at school - I got into jazz fusion music which was really unfashionable and continues to be! It’s partly why I’m still out in the left field with the music I’m making because it’s never been part of my mandate to fit in with the crowd.

R13: This year you’ve got two albums out: ‘Milk’ and ‘Meat’, what’s the concept behind the name?
HW: It’s just me being cheeky. It’s sexual euphemism for man and woman.

R13: You released ‘Meat’ in January 2010 and you’re releasing ‘Milk’ digitally over five months this year! What inspired that idea?
HW: Once I was able to get away from Universal - which was a pretty nice thing - I got to do whatever I wanted. ‘Milk’ kind of got made by accident, and there was a sense we should release ‘Meat’ and for a laugh do this with ‘Milk’.
It wasn’t strategic, I don’t really know if it worked. I kind if feel like it probably didn’t. But it seemed like a good idea, something interesting to talk about, but also because there’s no solution to the fact that people don’t buy music anymore.
So if Radiohead can do a pay what you can then I’m going to release a song a week and you can download it. I don’t know if it worked!

R13: Back in ’99 you released your first record ‘For Him and the Girls’ independently on your own label Isadora Records. What was that like?
HW: (Back then) this idea that indie guys would be releasing their own records was pretty foreign so I was a bit of an oddity from the get go, and I think I got a lot of attention. But now in Canada people releasing independent records is pretty normal. ‘Oh yeah so it’s another indie guy with a beard and a guitar making an indie record in his basement!’ It happens all the time.

R13: What’s the Canadian independent music scene like?
HW: I think in Canada there’s been a resurgence of the indie record shop. It’s partly due to Nationalism. We’re the kooky little Canadians: oh look at us the kooky Canadians! And part of the celebration of our nationalism and kookiness is the celebration of what comes from Canada - which is really just a response to having American entertainment products shoved down your throat all the time.
But we want to celebrate our neighbour because little old Canada can’t get a leg up. There’re 30 million of us and there’re 300 million of them! Just the sheer numbers. When I put out ‘Him and the Girls’ in ‘99 it was a bit of a thing. It got written about, it was praised and I became this indie prince. But that can only play out so far.
If that had happened in America - it did! It was called Rufus Wainright and it sold a lot of records. It’s so much about showing up at the right time and having the right person say ‘this is the thing!’ button pressed, door open, money in.

R13: What was you’re experience with Universal?
HW: The honeymoon was incredible, people spending exorbitant amounts on dinner and wine for you and telling you you’re going to be a star. That lasted about sixteen to eighteen months. And when your record doesn’t seem to be doing what everybody said it was then you start to feel like you might have a disease and people don’t want to be close to you anymore!
The whole aftermath of that exciting time was pretty rough. If you’re not the going concern: they’ve got jobs, and their job is to provide the company with revenue and if they’re not putting music into the world that’s doing that then you are a second class citizen. Labels are a corporation - whether it’s Johnson and Johnson or some kind of a bank. It attracts the sort of people who need stability, a dental plan, and if you don’t fit into that - it’s just the way it works.
The money they pumped in has paid off in some countries, it means that people knew me who wouldn’t have. Having your face on billboards or someone putting your song on the radio, it has its long lasting effects that I’m very grateful for.
But when it ends, the skids are long and hard. The feeling when you’ve worked your whole life to make music and to have some corporate guy decide your day is done, and its over, is something I couldn’t fucking handle. Which is in some ways why I’ve kept the productivity up: I wasn’t going to allow a record company to stop my career. I had to keep moving, I had to keep making things, I had to make it work. If I didn’t have music I didn’t have anything.

Check out some of Hawksley’s eclectic offerings at www.myspace.com/hawksleyworkman. His album ‘Meat’ is out now on CD from all the usual outlets, and ‘Milk’ is out digitally!