Local musicians discuss how Long Island City inspired their reflective new album

Irwin + Hawkes 1 by Lesley Martin
Photo by Lesley Martin, courtesy of Clandestine

“Wide Open Sky,” a new collaborative album by Long Island City-based musicians Pat Irwin and J. Walter Hawkes, takes listeners into a reflective, yet grounded world of jazzy guitar and trombone instrumentals laced with hints of electronic sounds.

Irwin and Hawkes were inspired by Long Island City, the neighborhood that they’ve called home for quite some time now, when creating the 10-track record. Irwin moved to LIC in the late ‘80s while Hawkes arrived in the early ‘00s.

“We know our neighbors. We care about our neighbors,” said Hawkes, who plays the trombone. “It wasn’t until I moved to Long Island City and have been here for a minute that I ever felt like I was a part of a real community, and I lived in a few other places in New York and the country.” 

Over the last few years, though, they’ve witnessed firsthand just how rapidly the neighborhood has changed.

“The name of the record, ‘Wide Open Sky,’ is a direct acknowledgement of what the sky used to look like in Long Island City,” Hawkes said.

“It was like a secret,” Irwin, who plays the guitar, said about what Long Island City used to be. “New York changes, cities change — we just didn’t know it was going to change the way it has.”

Both Irwin and Hawkes mentioned the increasing rent rates, lack of affordable housing, and tall skyscrapers along the waterfront — or, as Irwin puts it, the addition of “a separate economy” — as examples of developments they didn’t foresee coming to LIC.

“We’ve had lots of friends that had to leave the neighborhood because they got priced out,” Hawkes said. “I’ve been in a very cool building with a great landlord since 2007 with other musicians … [Now] my future is very much in question here because my landlord is selling the building.”

They acknowledge the benefits that come with new developments, such as libraries and more efficient public transit. Irwin even remembered a time when he couldn’t even buy groceries.

“You don’t really wanna sound like, ‘back in the olden days,’” he said. “But creative people have put a lot of work into this place. And when we’re being pushed out, it takes a certain chunk out of the quality.”

Irwin and Hawkes have already released several music videos for the album, but their video for the album’s opening track, “In Another Time,” feels particularly nostalgic and intimate.

The video showcases LIC’s many facets as the duo play their instruments during one cloudy evening.

While Irwin acknowledged that “Wide Open Sky” has nostalgic undertones, he feels that ultimately, it has a way of “looking back and looking forward.”

Irwin has had a long and diverse career in music. He toured with the B-52s for almost two decades and started several New York City-based no-wave bands, such as The Raybeats and 8 Eyed Spy.

Hawkes has won four Emmys and worked with Billboard’s top jazz artist of the ‘00s, Norah Jones, and the renowned Elvis Costello.

But other than their love of music and impressive resumes, Irwin and Hawkes have another thing in common: they’ve both scored popular cartoon series.

Irwin worked on Nickelodeon’s widely popular “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Rocko’s Modern Life,” while Hawkes has credits on “Blues Clues” and PBS’ “Peg + Cat.”

“We’ve done stuff, individually, that’s had a pretty long reach,” Irwin said. “You can’t really run into many people who don’t know ‘Blues Clues’ or ‘SpongeBob’ … but I think we’re both pretty lucky to know that we’ve done that and now we can come together and do something starting from a smaller, local place.”

The two met back in 2005 and almost instantly knew they wanted to work together.

After working on “Wide Open Sky” for about eight years on-and-off due to their conflicting schedules, Irwin and Hawkes can now say they have.

“I think at some point we counted how many tunes we had,” Hawkes said. “Some [tunes] were small, just trombone and guitar, and some of them were larger, and I think I was half-thinking it was two different records — but then we looked at it and we thought, ‘No, that’s a record!’”

On Sunday, Iriwn and Hawkes celebrated the release of the album with a listening party at LIC’s Ten10 Studios.

“This is about us,” Irwin said. “I don’t think either of us knew what we were gonna get when we started making the record, and I don’t think we imposed it on one another, it just happened.”

Regardless of whether you live in LIC and are affected by the changes that it’s going through, Irwin and Hawkes just want people to enjoy the album.

“I just wanted to make something beautiful,” Iriwn said.

You can stream “Wide Open Sky” on all streaming services, including on Spotify.

Photo courtesy of Clandestine