When we last visited Poison Coats, the project of folk singer-songwriter Trey Hawkins, he’d just released his debut EP, Fever Dreams. Now, a mere four months later, he’s putting out his follow-up, Be a Better Man, a stripped-back, bare-bones, spontaneously recorded four-song EP that Hawkins recorded in a single take over the course of one day with Kevin Sellors at The Vault Recording Lounge in Marietta. As far as mixing goes, Hawkins and Sellors limited the touch-ups to adjusting the level balance so that, according to Hawkins, “the live feeling was preserved.”
Much like 100 Watt Horse did with their It May Very Well Do EP this past March, Hawkins is opting to release his newest collection as a single track, rather than four separate ones. “I think it works better as a full experience,” he tells me. It’s an interesting tactic, and I often wonder if it works. This is by no means a new idea, but it does seem to have seen a revival in recent years, ever since the rise of digital media and streaming services have effectively — as musicians and writers and think-pieces alike frequently bemoan — “killed the album.”
Still, these are clearly separate songs, each with their own character and their own value. Hawkins plays his acoustic with a heavy hand on “Frame (Systematic Disrupt),” a technique that feels like an homage to his days as a member of the now-defunct Echo Collection. Still, for what Hawkins may lack in technical proficiency, he makes up for in his skills as a writer and lyricist. “When time sits on your side / You act like life is some amusement park ride / You wait around in line to follow the same one-track view / until you die,” he sings on “Urgent Sea,” in such a way that seems accusatory but hopeful, mournful but optimistic.
But poignant lyrics aside, one thing alluded my understanding. In April, Hawkins had told me that Fever Dreams brought him to a formative conclusion about teamwork and collaboration. “I went into the studio trying to create something completely by myself and along the way realized how important other people are to the whole process,” he wrote to me via email. And yet, Be a Better Man goes against that realization. Besides a breathtaking cameo by illustrator/photographer/musician Emile Pryor on “The Well,” Hawkins embarks on this pilgrimage alone, frantically strumming his acoustic while he pushes his raw vocals nearly to the cracking point.
“Long story short, I got impatient,” he says when I ask him about this apparent contradiction. “I got sick of looking at songs as these objects that have to be perfect all the time. I’m not the best singer or guitar player, but that isn’t what matters when it comes to music — not to me, at least.”
This, I understand. This sentiment is something that’s understood by all of us. Perfectionism is a beast that artists of all mediums and all skill levels deal with. You’re terrified of what people will think of your art, of the response (or lack thereof), and it results in a paralysis — you sit in limbo, waiting for the day that it all comes together and makes sense.
But more often than not, the day doesn’t come. And I think that’s what Be a Better Man is ultimately about. It’s Hawkins shirking the burden of polished impeccability and doing what he loves, right now. Because who cares what anyone (including myself) thinks?