Hard Rock Revelry

Gypsyhawk heads to Tucson for the first time—with riffs running against the grain

We'll have to excuse Andrew Packer if he was a bit enthusiastic when he talked with the Tucson Weekly a few weeks ago. He and his hard-rock band, Gypsyhawk, had played Cleveland the night before, opening for the Sword, and he was simply pumped.

"It was the third sold-out show in a row, man," the guitarist said. "This has been an amazing tour so far!"

Hot on the heels of their second album, Revelry and Resilience, Gypsyhawk will play in Tucson for the first time on Saturday, Dec. 15, at Club Congress.

Gypsyhawk's set will be sandwiched between two promising acts from Austin, Texas.

American Sharks, the first band on the bill, is an up-and-coming punk-metal act. The mighty headliner is the Sword, which plays a deliciously retro sound that balances elements of proto-metal, doom and stoner-rock with songs inspired by fantasy fiction and sci-fi. The Sword recently saw the release of its mind-melting fifth album, Apocryphon.

For Packer, being on the road with Gypsyhawk—which calls Pasadena, Calif., home—is the fulfillment of a dream. "I mean, I always wanted to be in a band that was more than just a local band, you know? And now we're out there doing it every night."

Gypsyhawk came together in 2008, after bassist and vocalist Eric Harris abruptly left the Ohio-based heavy-metal act Skeletonwitch. He ended up in the Los Angeles area, and was set on playing music that returned to the 1970s-style of groove-heavy hard rock.

"Eric wanted to start a rock band," Packer said, "and I was the only guitar-player in L.A. that he knew. And all I wanted to do was rock."

Harris and Packer found a second guitarist and a drummer through Craigslist, and released one album, Patience and Perseverance, in 2010 for the indie Creator/Destructor Records. But their bandmates left soon after.

After repopulating the band with drummer Ian Brown and guitarist Erik Kluiber, Gypsyhawk was back in action and recording the new album for legendary metal-label Metal Blade Records.

Packer has much more confidence in the newly reconstituted band, and the new album is evidence.

"The best way to explain the differences is that for the first album, even though we knew we were gonna be a rock band, we weren't sure what kind of rock band, and we weren't sure what kind of album we wanted to make until we were making it.

"For the new album, we had time to study what we wanted to do, and we were more focused, writing all the parts in advance. We upped the ante with stronger chords, not just dragging riffs out."

In sum, he said, Gyspyhawk is "truly a focused fighting unit now."

Indeed, Gypyshawk impressively re-creates the sound of bands such as Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, Hawkwind and Deep Purple, while forging its own broadsword from the same raw materials. Reinforcing that dedication to the '70s sound, the last track on Revelry and Resilience is an explosive cover of Rick Derringer's hit "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo."

"I think we have something for everybody, but yeah, we all just happened to grow up listening to a lot of rock from the 1960s and '70s. But there was a lot of punk and metal among those records, too. We're four heavy-metal guys, for sure, but we want to play rock 'n' roll like you used to hear it, when it was heavy and intense."

Packer said he and his Gypsyhawk pals—who range in age from mid-20s to late-30s all have played extreme forms of metal at one time or another, but he believes some of that stuff has passed its expiration date.

"When we started, we were going to maybe be more extreme. But metal is played out these days, with too many subcategories and Cookie Monster vocals. And then, in addition to that, there has to be a singer with a high voice screaming. I was talking to the guy from Lamb of God, and he said the screaming thing is done.

"Metal will always be around, but I think the whole popularity of extreme stuff like death metal or black metal or deathcore, or what have you, is going to phase out. I love plenty of bands that do that. Not a lot of them around anymore. Suffocation and Obituary—those bands were doing something really good, but that's not always the case with the bands out there now."

Like many of Gypsyhawk's fans, Packer grew up enamored of the music of Jimi Hendrix, but his other two guitar heroes were Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and Metallica's Kirk Hammett. He was also heavily influenced by such acts as the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, he said.

Some listeners will note that Gypsyhawk's music bears an uncanny similarity to that of classic Irish rockers Thin Lizzy. It's there in Harris' Phil Lynott-style vocals and the furious two-guitar attack, but also in the swinging rhythm section and melodies sharing space with irresistible riffage.

Packer understands the comparison, but he says he and Harris were never planning things out that carefully. He never really listened to Thin Lizzy until just a few years ago.

"I came late to that shit, and at first, I didn't see what they were trying to do. When I heard the song 'Emerald,' and I totally got it, I thought, 'Now I know why everyone likes this band.'"

When it comes down to it, Gypsyhawk wants to build music for the future by looking to the past, Packer said.

"We hope to inject just a little of what we grew up with into today's hard rock, something a little more timeless, using melody and good tunes. Those are things that will always be popular in music."