Jason Dunn, the front man of pop/punk band Hawk Nelson, is ready for a big year. With his band’s fifth studio album set to release in February, an arena-sized tour this spring and a solo project in the works, he expects 2011 to be another huge step in the Canadian quartet’s evolution.
But before he can bid farewell to 2010, there’s a bit of business to attend to. Namely, the three-day Big God Conference which kicks off tonight at Beach Church, 557 George Bishop Parkway. The band’s performance will serve as the highlight of the first day of the sold out event, which also includes appearances by four nationally-recognized ministers, praise and worship teams, and another musical performance by Christian rock sister act BarlowGirl.
ListenUp spoke recently with Dunn about his plans for the holidays, the struggles of being labeled a Christian rock act and Hw Nelson’s upcoming release. Here’s what he had to say:
Myrtle Beach Music: Hawk Nelson is (from left) Daniel Biro, Jason Dunn, Jonathan Steingar and Justin Benner
Have any big plans for Christmas this year?
Yes, I’m with my wife and her family and we’re in West Palm Beach, Florida. This is a first for me being out of the snow and into this hot heat. And I’ll be honest with you, I kinda like it.
You guys recently recorded a cover of The Chipmunks, why did you choose to do that song for Christmas?
Well, we all love Christmas, obviously, it’s the best time of the year. And our label asked us to record a song for their Christmas CD they were putting out. When they asked what we were gonna do I had no idea and that was just the first song that came into my head and it was like “We’ll do the Chipmunks song.” That was pretty much it.
You guys have been doing this going on seven years now, how have things changed for you during that time?
Well, we’re not getting any younger, that’s for sure. Obviously, music is still a huge part of our life, but things have slowed down quite a bit.
You know for seven years we’ve been on the road for close to 300 days a year and now our show amount has declined quite a bit and we’re just taking it easier. We’re just playing as much as we can and enjoying every minute of it.
Do you still feel the same inspiration for making music as you did when you started?
Yeah, when I’m not on the road I’m at home making music and writing new songs. Always just going for it, you know. Absolutely.
As a Christian guy in a Christian band, how do you use your faith to shape the direction your music takes?
I don’t know if I actually intend to do it on purpose, but I think my faith is an everyday part of my life and that’s obviously going to take some sort of account into what I’m singing about, you know.
It’s the same as being alive or loving my wife, that kinda takes into effect as well. So there’s certain songs where that shows up. Loving my wife and loving people is an everyday occurrence for me and so it’s going to show up in some way in each song that I write.
Just having that faith and love for God is still going to make itself know from time to time, for sure.
Myrtle Beach Music: Hawk Nelson performs live
Do you get a lot of pressure from labels and other industry folks who want you to make more “Christian” music?
Yeah, they definitely do, but we don’t listen to them. It’s a very thin line to cross when you’re making songs about God to make money. That has just always felt weird to me and it’s not a line that I want to cross. I try not to write anything that isn’t real to me.
Do you feel like in your profession its harder to balance your beliefs and your life than it would be if you were, say a banker or an accountant?
I don’t really know for sure, but if I had to take a guess I’d say probably yes. I think every career has its own struggles you know and I think since this is all I know — I’ve been playing in a band since I was 19 — I guess to me, being on the road all the time, you just roll with the punches you know.
And with us, I think we’ve got enough good people around us to remain accountable to each other you know. I think that’s the key for most bands like us is to keep people around them that can allow them to live a healthier lifestyle, I suppose.
Do you feel like you’ve reached a point in your career where you can pretty much do whatever you want with your music or are there still certain expectations about how you “should” sound?
I guess in a way yeah, but I think Hawk Nelson just kind of has that pop/punk vibe so that when people think of the band the automatically think of say, a Christian version of Blink 182 or something in that vein.
But honestly, I’ve been doing a lot of writing myself and I’m looking forward to this year I’m going to be doing a little solo thing and that kinda gives me my outlet where I can be a little more creative and write things that really isn’t that pop/punk style, but what I’d call a little more creative on the whole.
Tell me a little more about the solo project you’ve got going on...
I don’t really know exactly, it’s just always been in my heart to do something different like this and I really love doing Hawk Nelson, but I just see it as another creative outlet.
Long story short, when I was 12 I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes and thanks to the Canadian Diabetes Association, they helped me out a lot when I was a kid with medical supplies and the education I needed to keep growing up with this disease.
And this is just a way to give back to them, so I wanted to give back to them through this music and I’m not sure how much I can give, but definitely a percentage of the project, when it happens will go back to them to help find a cure.
Has giving back to charity always been a big part of what you do?
Not really. Actually, this is kinda something that in the last year I’ve really wanted to do and since it’s something I actually do care about greatly. I’ve done charities in the past where you just do it because they need someone, and that’s fine, but to be able to do it with conviction and actually really care that’s one step further in the right direction for me.
Tell me a little about the new Hawk Nelson single “Crazy Love.” How did it come about?
Yeah, it’s actually the title track from our new album which comes out Feb. 8, and it’s basically was inspired by the book “Crazy Love” from the author Francis Chan. I’m not really a big reader, but I read that book and it just basically paints a picture of what Jesus did for us.
As a kid growing up in Christian family in the Christian church it just kinda become bland when you hear it time and time again, but this book really inspired me by talking about what the son of God actually did for me when I really don’t deserve it.
Myrtle Beach Music: Hawk Nelson
And with the new album can we expect more of the same vibe from it?
It’s a little more punk rock than maybe some of our past albums. Originally the record was called “Truth Bombs” but it didn’t go over too well with the Christian listener with that title so we changed it to “Crazy Love.”
But most of the songs are droppin’ some truth, you know, on the listener and along with some personal things that me and the band were going through or that our audience may have been going through. That was the idea behind the record...even though we ended up changing the name, the message stayed the same.
So you guys will be playing here Thursday as part of the Big God Conference. Do you do many of these big Christian gatherings?
We kinda just try to play wherever we can. They just asked us to play and we’ll be out there giving it our all, that’s for sure.
We’re headed out on another one in the spring. It’s called the Evolve Tour. It’s starting in the New Year so that’s always fun starting to play more shows again and get into the swing of things. For 12 weekends basically, we’re on this all-girl conference which is a sweet gig for us because we show up to these huge arenas to play for all these teenage girls — it’s a definite win for us guys.
How do the crowds at events like this compare to just your average Hawk Nelson show?
Well, you know people show up for these things. (laughs) If it’s just Hawk Nelson, you’re not gonna get a big crowd, let’s be honest here.
Ever been to Myrtle Beach?
I was there about six years ago, but we’ve never played there before. My grandparents used to always go there for Christmas, so growing up I always pictured it being this huge tropical place, so I’m pretty excited to go back, that’s for sure.
What else can folks expect from Hawk Nelson in 2011?
Just the new record in February, it’s come out and we’re stoked about it. Can’t wait for you all to hear it. It’s going to be a good year, 2011. Looking forward to it for sure.
Check out more about Hawk Nelson at http://www.hawknelson.com/