Michael Keenan is a man possessed.
The vocalist who fronts the band Hawks is a personable guy who's been a fixture on Atlanta's punk and hardcore scenes since the early '90s, most notably playing guitar for Electrosleep Int'l. But put him on a stage and the transformation is like Jekyll and Hyde. "Something about a crowd puts me in a fucking frenzy," he says.
Over the last year, Hawks have refined an aggressive dirge that recalls a noisier era of indie rock when bands like the Jesus Lizard, Hammerhead and Unsane ruled. Made up of Keenan, Shane Patrick (drums), Andrew Wiggins (guitar) and Sean Fitzgerald (bass), the group concocts a screeching wall of aggressive, guitar-driven mantras, samples and growling vocals. Songs such as "White Buffalo," "Shitfist" and "The Thrust that Missed" from debut LP Barnburners (Army of Badluck) present a mass of chugging but precise musicianship.
Onstage, it unfolds in a tangle of sexual tension. "When I go to a show, I want my mind to be separated from whatever I was thinking about when I got there," Keenan says. "I'm paying to loose myself and feel something that I don't feel every day, and that's what we try to do. One of the best ways to do that is through a strangely aggressive, sexual aesthetic."
During shows, Keenan has stripped down to his underwear only to have them ripped to shreds by audience members. He buries the microphone, and his face, in women's cleavage and in men's crotches, to finish songs. Witnessing such a spectacle is a discomforting venture, but one that resonates on a primal level.
"It's what I want to see," adds drummer Patrick. "The fun part about being in this band is that we can be deviant in ways that we don't get to be in our daily lives and act on the shit that we wouldn't normally act upon."
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Michael Keenan's role in Electrosleep Int'l. He was the guitarist.