He sits alone by the window of The Laughing Goat. A laptop, lunch and red wine are in front of him and conversation with another table happens to his left.
We’re looking for Dechen Hawk as he’s doing all of these things, blending into the surroundings because this is essentially his office, and he’s been here all day. When he’s not booking talent here at the Laughing Goat or Caff Sole, hosting open-mic Mondays at Johnny’s Cigar Bar or haunting Pearl Street Pub sessions, he pursues music nightly through his own performances and private lessons.
It sounds like a daunting and impossible life, but he’s quick to show you how to do it. One impression you get from Hawk is that generosity is not just a courtesy; it’s a business plan.
“Sharing myself and what I’m excited about seems to be the type of thing that is both contagious and infectious at the same time,” he tells us with radiant eyes.
Born into a Shambhala Buddhist community and raised with that outlook, his brand of soul music mirrors the values that make him an easily accessible personality: His fans are just as important as his band; life thrives beyond lines of self-preservation; the answer is never further than yourself. More than two decades of musicianship has taught him just a few of these things.
His upcoming show at the Fox is not his first — he nearly sold out the venue in January — and unsurprisingly, he’s excited to promote his band as much as himself.
“I’m basically done with the first leg of what I’m releasing, and I’m excited because it’s finally representing what you will see at this Fox 28th show, this full soul band, this nine-piece soul band,” Hawk says.
Though he has the talent and character to portray the unfalteringly pleasant Mr. Schuester on Glee, he speaks of himself as only one component of the underground Boulder scene and ignores his role in booking much of it. Playing with Boulder friends such as Rogue Sound and Paa Kow’s By All Means Band is just as exciting to him as his name on the marquee.
“You want be part of a scene you can stand behind and feel good about,” he says, “and be like ‘Yeah, this is my music, this is coming out of where I am. It’s just like Seattle blew up.
There’s no reason we can’t do it; it’s just a matter of us working together.”
A multi-instrumentalist who has played all the various instruments of his band since his 1994 Live @ Penny Lane release, Hawk morphed through various stages of Buckley-esque acoustic songwriter, jazz cat and funk trio leader to arrive as the arranger and vocalist of a surprising new soul band.
He studied music at Naropa and traced the history of soul from its gospel roots up to D’Angelo. Reading the works of Howard Thurmon, the history of black authors and why the music was expressing what it did was to fit a missing puzzle piece.
“I knew it was already in me, and I knew that that’s what I needed to express, and I’m also some random white kid born in Austin, Texas,” Hawk says. “So you can get the whole blue-eyed soul thing, and blah blah blah, and I’m like, well you know what, nothing worked but Stevie Wonder to put me to sleep when I was an infant. You can’t deny that that is what’s in my soul, that’s what needs to be expressed from me.”
A lot of his influences come back to Stevie Wonder, a masterful pop songwriter who mastered the powerhouse hook with an uplifting message that’s “repeated like a mantra,” Hawk says, “so you can’t help but become a part of the message as well.”
It’s all in the music, anyway, he tells us. Latching onto social movements from the ’60s, soul music is the quintessential means of expressing love and peace, and even when it’s modern and sexed-up, it’s still about staying together. That is the thing in the music that calls to Hawk, no matter what genre he chooses to embrace next.
“I think we, as artists, pull from all these different areas not because we’re trying to be like someone else, it’s because there’s something in us that’s being called by them to come out,” he says.
When you see it and get the chills, it’s calling to you as well.
“It’s real, it absolutely is, and even if they don’t believe it, I just make it real because I say so!” he says with a genial laugh. “Because that’s all that it is anyways.”