Eight years after he acquired his passion for playing, singing and writing songs as a serious hobby, John Hickman’s exciting emergence as a critically acclaimed independent artist will inspire anyone of a mature age who thinks a full on pursuit of musical dreams is best left to kids in their teens and 20’s to think differently regarding that idea. Now fully retired from his longtime “day job” as an Aerospace Engineer, Hickman follows a series of single song releases – and a semi-finalist award in a 2011 Song of the Year Contest for his provocative high octane rocker “While Everyone Was Sleeping” – with Remnants, his infectious, musically eclectic and powerfully produced full length debut album.
With such powerful songs as “Cascade,” a booming, high energy tune that uses images of nature as metaphors to convey divine and human love connections, the melodic, deeply poetic singer/songwriter infuses the 12-track collection with a dynamic array of the classic and modern rock influences that fueled his musical ambitions. “My influences can vary sometimes depending on the song,” he says. “Most of the time, it’s the greats I grew up listening to, like David Bowie, Styx, Rush, and The Beatles. With its playful harmony vocals, title and reverb, ‘Hello Hello’ definitely brings the Fab Four to mind. ‘While Everyone is Sleeping,’ on the other hand, reflects more contemporary influences like Green Day, and I’m also a big fan of Coldplay, so they are a major influence as well.”
Hickman’s stylistic diversity and skills as a vocalist and songwriter have been praised by music makers and tastemakers alike. Upon hearing Remnants, composer Sabrina Pena Young called it a “unique indie album with catchy tunes, a great mix of styles, insightful lyrics and a retro sound that truly takes you out of this world.” Evan Feist, Producer, Stacks of Wax Productions, says, “John Hickman knows his craft; he knows how to build, set up and deliver a killer hook…He transforms himself for his art; in (his earlier single) ‘Whole Lot of Money,’ he successfully channels Robert Plant.” The webzine Indie Band Guru perhaps captures the spirit of Hickman’s musical vibe best when they write: “Forget your preconceptions of a boring guy sitting alone on stage with a guitar on his lap. John shows that alternative rock can be achieved all by yourself…Perseverance makes for a good teacher, and Hickman has plenty of that.”
The well-traveled Hickman was born and raised in Dallas, went to college at the University of Texas at Austin, and lived and worked in various cities in Texas for several years before moving to Los Angeles for a time and then spending the last 20 years in Seattle. Though he and his wife recently moved to their longtime favorite vacation spot of Maui, he cut the tracks at London Bridge Studios in Seattle with the help of mixer/engineer Jonathan Plum (who also plays bass) and mastering engineer Geoff Ott. While singing the dynamic lead and background vocals and playing keyboards on all tracks except for two of the 12 tracks, Hickman achieves his big, multi-textured sound with the help of numerous local musicians, including Adrian Vanbatenburg (drums and percussion), Shohei Ogami (guitars), Tim DeHuff (guitars), Andrew Fox (keyboards), Mikhail Pivovarov (bass), Ally Jenkins (violin), Laurel Pistey (cello) and Ken Fordyce (bass).
Explaining his unique and fluid songwriting process, Hickman adds, “Writing songs and recording music has been very enjoyable to me, just being able to take an idea that starts forming in my head and then to develop that into a complete song. Sometimes things can change course along the way in the creation of a tune, resulting in some interesting new developments as new ideas come to mind.”
The song Hickman partially titled the project after, “Remnants of the Human Race,” is a perfect example of his unique flair for highly emotional music and penetrating lyrics tackling often surprising themes. A dramatic piano ballad enhanced with orchestral strings, it evolves into a soaring, electric guitar driven progressive rocker chronicling an imagined sci-fi drama where human beings escape into space after the destruction of planet Earth. Other tunes like the deep, throbbing rock jam “Escape” and the searing power ballad “Passing Thru,” take on a more hopeful tone (seeking freedom, searching for something more in life), while “Paris is Burning” is a romantic piano driven pop rocker whose lyrics tap into numerous historical references and playfully quote Cole Porter and Jim Morrison. Another spirited slice of optimism is “Soiled Dove,” whose title comes from a nickname that was used in the settlements of the Old West to refer to a prostitute. It’s about a woman who is damaged by a tough family background, but despite her present circumstances, is hopeful of a better life.
While many musicians who come into their own as artists at a later age speak of achieving a long deferred dream, Hickman’s story is unique in that while he loved music and took piano lessons in junior high, he never actively dreamed of pursuing music professionally. He can’t recall the specific moment in the early 2000s when he thought it might be fun to pick up and learn to play guitar, but he likes to say that somewhere in his subconscious mind, seeing other people play and enjoy it so much must have inspired him. His wife bought him a guitar for Christmas and he originally saw it as “something to mess around with.” Later taking his development as a musician more seriously, he also bought a book and CD package of voice lessons to improve his vocal range, and then followed that up with personal vocal coaching from qualified instructors.
Feeling encouraged, Hickman picked up the keyboard again and took to it much more passionately than he did as a teenager. He started writing songs in 2008, and while working on his craft, began performing solos and duets with other instrumentalists at his small church in Seattle. From these humble beginnings, his sonic and career ambitions grew exponentially and he began investing in the recording process and creating his initial singles. Now that he’s fully retired from the aerospace industry and living in the peaceful environs of Maui, he’s giving his career as an artist his full attention. Considering his progress over the past years, clearly, to reference his longtime “day job” in aerospace, the sky is the limit.
“What I enjoyed most about making Remnants was the opportunity to put these ideas I had in my head into these recordings, watching them come to life with these incredible musicians,” he says. “A lot of work goes into the process of making an album, and I’m very proud of my work here. Yet the most exciting thing is that, now that everything has come together, I have the opportunity to get the music out there for others to enjoy as well.”
John Hickman – Remnants of the Human Race
John Hickman – Cascade
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