Warish: Why Riley Hawk Traded "Mystical Demons" for Noise-Rock Catharsis | Revolver

Warish: Why Riley Hawk Traded "Mystical Demons" for Noise-Rock Catharsis

Pro skater channels Nirvana, Misfits, Butthole Surfers and more on new 'Next to Pay' LP
warish_press_2021_credit_magdalena_wosinska.jpg, Magdalena Wosinska
Warish, (from left) Riley Hawk, Justin de la Vega and Alex Bassaj
photograph by Magdalena Wosinska

"When you start writing songs that pertain to personal experiences and real-life situations that you're frustrated with, it brings out a different sound in your voice," says Riley Hawk. "Because you're singing with a different kind of intention versus just singing words."

Hawk is describing the raw emotion heard in his vocals on the new Warish album, Next to Pay. The band's sophomore LP is a dark and backbiting invective, a spasm of maniacal urgency akin to Bleach-era Nirvana. "It's actually something that really helps me mentally with this iteration of the band," Hawk continues. "When I'm playing up onstage and yelling into a microphone for 30 or 40 minutes, it brings some-thing out of me that I haven't been able to exhaust before, a different kind of energy is released out of my body that I really needed."

Hawk has plenty of experience releasing energy in a productive way. Like his dad, Tony, he's a professional skateboarder, but he's also no newbie to playing heavy music. Back in 2017, he started his first band, Petyr, a psych-rock jam outfit that saw him following in the stoned footsteps of his favorite group of all time: Black Sabbath (with whom he had the honor of dropping a collaborative signature LAKAI Pro model shoe last year). Warish represents the next step in his musical evolution, a subversive, skronky noise-rock nod to more abrasive touchstones such as the Misfits, the Stooges, the Butthole Surfers and, of course, the aforementioned Nirvana. As heard on Next to Pay, the trio — rounded out by bassist Alex Bassaj and drummer Justin de la Vega — is more idiosyncratic, more unhinged and more distinctly Riley Hawk.

"I discovered a lot of things in Petyr, like, how to be in a band, playing live shows and being on the road — it was a crash course in the musical journey," he says. "Your first band probably shouldn't be put on blast to the world. You need some time for trial and error at the beginning before you feel comfortable out there." But because of Hawk's notoriety in skateboarding and his famous dad, the group received a lot of visibility. "I didn't know what was going on, but of course it was getting put out to the world because of those factors. I had to quickly learn what kind of songs I wanted to write."

Then something clicked. Hawk turned his gaze inward and made his second band, Warish, much more personal. "These aren't those stoner jam songs about mystical demons and magical stuff. That was fun and I love that stuff, but Warish is more about my own relationships, life experiences and dealing with unwanted attention," he explains. "I try to give people a little perspective of what it's like for a person that has reluctantly lived to a degree in the spotlight — maybe not the full-on paparazzi life, but it definitely felt that way in the skateboarding world."

"My upbringing involved a lot of divorces and marriages," he elaborates later. "Being the oldest child, you don't exactly get left by the wayside, but you end up with a lot of freedom while your parents are figuring their own lives out, which can leave you with a lot of unresolved frustrations. I always kept those kinds of frustrations to myself and ultimately became unable to express them in my own relationships. I've never been someone to lash out at another person, or express any kind of anger, so that part of me would remain bottled up and I would end up self-sabotaging my own relationships because of that."

Hawk's newly introspective songwriting doesn't mean that every lyric comes from personal experience, however. Indeed, Next to Pay standout "Say to Please" sees him imagining himself in another's shoes — while also harking back to that inescapable favorite band of his. "I'm a big fan of Vietnam war songs and hard-rock songs that discuss war," Hawk explains. "Of course, the most cliché is [Black Sabbath's] 'War Pigs,' but that song is the epitome of impactful songwriting — it's so heavy and real and in your face. 'Say to Please' tells the story about someone frustrated over being sent off by the government against his will."

Being the son of Tony Hawk can come with its own frustrations when it comes to being recognized solely on the merit of one's own endeavors, but Riley is philosophical about those challenges. "That's something I can't escape, but I would never let it deter me from having fun with my friends and making music," he says. "It's both an advantage and a disadvantage — people get stoked on the band because it's me and people also hate on the band because it's me. There's no rhyme or reason to the reaction, just however the person wants to feel about it. And I totally get it. I'm not someone who has been in bands forever. Most people are interested in me because of my background and family in skateboarding. Hopefully it will just get to the level where people find and respect the band and our music first."

Stardom isn't the goal for Hawk — ironically, he's an introvert. "I'm not out here trying to become famous or be some rock star," he says. "I actually don't like to have a lot of attention on myself. Of course, I pick playing guitar and singing in a band as the thing I love to do." He laughs. "I have a pretty strange and surreal life because of it and most people wouldn't necessarily deal with it the same way I do — I'm very reclusive and prefer to be alone or with my small group of friends. I guess it all has to come out at some point, and this is how it expressed itself now on this new record."