Paul Hawkins and Thee Awkward Silences' single, 'I Believe In Karma' is undoubtedly one of the most witty the fascinating pieces of music to land on our doormat in a long time, so we caught up with the singer to find out a bit more about his charismatic indie music.

R13: How long have you been writing music?
Paul Hawkins: I started writing lyrics first of all when I was about 14 but didn’t learn the guitar ‘til I was about 17. Then I think it was about 6 months before I wrote an actual song on the guitar. Then for a few years I wrote loads of songs (some of them pretty terrible when I look back on them!) but never really got to playing outside of my own bedroom ‘til I was about 22 or 23 (I’m 26 now) and had started living in London. I didn’t really know anyone and started doing it as a way to get out and meet people as much as anything else…

R13: Your next single is 'The Battle Is Over', is about a soldier returning from war, what inspired the story?
Paul Hawkins: It’s something that’s interested me for a while, ever since I read or heard somewhere about Vietnam veterans who’d come back from fighting and got spat at in the street. And I found it fascinating to think about how much that’d fuck you up psychologically - whatever the rights or wrongs of any war, obviously the people fighting the war feel they’re serving their country and it has to be pretty distressing to come back from doing that to find half the country hates you for what you’ve done - which I imagine would be very much the case with the Iraq war veterans too.

One day I was walking down the road and the “I went a fought a war for you”/“well, I never ever asked you to” line came into my head and then I wrote the rest of the song from there..

R13: Are the songs personal or more concerned with invented characters?
Paul Hawkins: I’d say most of the songs are personal but there’s a lot of fiction in them. I mean even the ones where, on the face of it, it’s about a fictional character and not about me at all, usually the seed for the song will have been something I thought or felt that I want to express and feel I can express it better through an analogy or a story rather than through being entirely direct.

I think there’s this trap it’s easy to fall into when writing songs of mistaking what’s literally true and what’s emotionally true and often I think it’s easier to talk about your thoughts and emotions more openly when doing so in the form of a fictional character as you’re a lot less self-conscious about it. When you’re singing as “yourself” you’re more likely to leave out bits and edit bits to make yourself look a little bit better whereas if you’re claiming you’re writing as a fictional character you can be much more open about your flaws and are far less likely to censor yourself.

R13: The band has a decidedly DIY feel, especially with the videos, is that part of the ethos or would you like to do things differently if you had more funds?
Paul Hawkins: It is part of our ethos but we probably would do things differently if we had more funds. I remember reading a quote from a graphic artist called Saul Steinberg along lines of “the most interesting thing with any work of art is the artist’s struggle against his or her limitations”, which is probably the best way I can describe how I feel about what we do. I think the appealing thing with the best DIY or lo-fi music and videos is when you can see there’s really good ideas there that someone’s trying to express in the best they can within the circumstances they have - like the Daniel Johnston recordings when he’s recording at home on a cheap tape recorder and he’s obviously not the best musician, or singer, he obviously hasn’t got the best equipment but he’s obviously also got something unique to say and a big part of the appeal is hearing him trying to express that against the odds.

But I think at the same time I do think that once you have more money and resources, the goalposts have moved slightly and you aren’t going to be struggling against quite the same limitations as you once were. And in that I sense it always feels a bit self-conscious and contrived to me when bands who do have money and resources try to go for the lo-fi angle in the same way - it sort of feels like a kind of fetishisation of being a struggling artist and sort of a musicians’ equivalent to the girl Jarvis Cocker sings about in “Common People”.

That’s not to say if we ever became more successful I’d not want to be involved in the videos and not want to pursue interesting and unusual ideas (and obviously Michael Gondry’s “Science of Sleep” showed you can do a DIY stuff with a decent-sized budget without looking like you’re trying to make it look deliberately cheap) but I do think we’d have to approach things a little differently to keep the ethos the same.

R13: You've been described as "antifolk", is that a term that you identify with, and if so, what would you define it as?
Paul Hawkins: Antifolk’s a difficult word to identify with in that nobody seems to agree on what it means! Certainly a lot of my early gigs as a solo artist and with the band were organised by members of London and Brighton’s antifolk community and we regularly play the antifolk festivals that are on at the 12 Bar Club in London every 3 months. Personally I see antifolk, in the UK at least, as a community of people rather than a specific sound. It’s a great community of people that I owe a lot to and I’ve been to and played some fantastic gigs as a result of it - but at the same time I don’t think we sound like what most people would describe as ‘antifolk’ and it’s probably not the word I’d use to describe our music either.

R13: Where did the puppets in the recent videos come from?
Paul Hawkins: They were made by Sarah, our backing vocalist. She’s got a background in doing art & design and tends to volunteer to contribute to these kind of things - she chose the most of the costumes for the Battle is Over video and the outfits for the album cover too.

R13: Your debut album is due for release in September, what stage is it at now?
Paul Hawkins: It’s pretty much done from our end and I think the label are in the process of getting the actual physical CDs made. The main challenge has been sorting out the tracklisting - we had somewhere between 20 or 30 songs to choose from and it was a case of trying to work out how long it should be and what should go on there. The main discussion about was whether we should try and get as much on as possible (we were even talking about a double album for a while!) or try to make something snappier and more streamlined. Part of me thinks the more sprawling, unfocussed album would have been far more representative of the band but we sort of went for the snappier option in the end, although it’s about 55 minutes long so not really all that snappy anyway… I’m very proud of it though - whenever I’ve listened through it I’ve thought it definitely works well as an album. I don’t want to talk it up as though it’s the future of music or the Eighth Wonder of the World or anything like that but I do think it’s the best album we could have made at this moment in time and I’m pleased with it for that reason.

R13: The album is titled, "We Are Not Other People", what is it that makes you and your music different from the mysterious "other people"?
Paul Hawkins: The title actually originally came from something my Dad used to say when we were growing up. He never felt the need to rush out and buy whatever new gadget or appliance was in the shop so quite few other people’s parents had microwaves, video recorders, computers etc. before we did. And whenever I (or more usually my brother) would ask him why we didn’t buy one since “other people have got one”, then “we’re not other people” would always be his stock response…

It potentially comes across as quite an arrogant title but it’s got far more to do with the way a percentage people get left out when you make any kind of generalisation. For example every few months a new band’ll come along and come out with some quote about how they’re “the voice of the people” or “they’re singing real songs about ordinary people’s lives” or something similar. But obviously there’s no way anyone can ever sing a song that applies to everyone’s lives (unless they were being ridiculously vague and non-specific). Whereas when I grew up I was massively into bands like Suede and Belle & Sebastian who sort of seem to be deliberately writing about the kind of people who slip through the net when you talk about people in general terms..

I think a lot of the songs on the album are in that vein in that they are songs about specific people in specific situations that maybe a lot of bands wouldn’t choose to write about - Gentleman on Crutches is about a lonely old man dying at the bottom of the staircase, for example, and the Evil Thoughts is an unrequited love song from the point of view of an alcoholic with a Compulsive Thought Disorder. I mean obviously I think there’s things in those songs and on the album in general a lot of people will relate to but it’s very much an album about people who can’t really be categorised in neat generalisations.

That said, I suppose there was something we were trying to get across about the band ourselves too by choosing the title - it does seem that there’s so many bands out there that I think it can be hard to wade through them all and find the bands that really interest you and I think it does sometimes feel like a lot of bands are essentially doing similar things. Whereas I do think that we’re different to most bands out there and trying to do things our own way. That’s to say I necessarily think we’re better but I like to think someone who listened to us or watched one of our shows would feel we aren’t quite the same as most other bands playing in London at the moment. That’s not a value judgement and, to be honest, I’m not sure being “different” is a virtue in itself as you can be different in a good way or a bad way, but I do think we probably aren’t like all the other bands.

R13: Your live shows are rumoured to be very extravagant is the theatricality inspired by other live artists or just what feels right?
Paul Hawkins: It is basically what feels right and I suppose really it’s inspired by what other live artists weren’t doing. There just seem to be so many bands that see words like “performance” and “entertainment” as dirty words and seem to think the only way to retain ‘credibility’ is to shuffle on stage looking miserable and spend the duration of the performance acting like they don’t want to be there. And certainly when I go to a gig I want to enjoy myself. And I think when you’re on stage and clearly enjoy being there then people in the audience find it easier to enjoy being there too and you just end up with a much better atmosphere.

R13: Who's the most exciting band/artist that you've seen this year so far?
Paul Hawkins: I’m a huge fan of a guy called Tim Ten Yen, who’s in many ways the polar opposite of what we do. He’s basically a guy who writes these brilliant pop songs and performs live with just a backing track on an MP3 player. He’s such a good songwriter and performer it works brilliantly. David Cronenberg’s Wife are an excellent band too. They’re very involved in the ‘antifolk’ community I mentioned earlier and write these brilliant literate, subversive, dark and funny songs. Lastly I’d mention the Indelicates who blew me away when I first saw them live and their album’s ace too.

R13: What's the most inspiring thing you've seen/read/listened to in the last week?
Paul Hawkins: Probably a link someone sent me on Youtube to this really strange ethereal pop song and video someone’s made out of samples from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. (It’s here incidentally: I still can’t work out whether it’s a fantastic piece of invention or simply proof some people have too much time on their hands but it’s an impressive piece of work nonetheless…