Calgary riff-rock trio Woodhawk takes a cosmic trip to remember with Beyond the Sun

When a band or artist hits the studio to record, sometimes it’s not just making music; sometimes it’s making memories of making music.

That’s most often the case when travel is required, when musicians head somewhere else to create, and return with something tangible but, more importantly, those intangible experiences that coloured the creation.

It’s something that Kevin Nelson can attest to.

He and his bandmates in Calgary riff-rock trio Woodhawk may be set to release their latest album, the gloriously cosmic head-cudgel Beyond the Sun, with a Saturday night hometown show at The Palomino, but it’s also a reminder or a travelogue of sorts of a pretty “amazing experience.”

It was recorded last September at Rain City Recorders in Vancouver with producer Jesse Gander, who’s worked with a host of wet coast rockers including Japandroids, 3 Inches of Blood, The Pack A.D. and Bison.

And while Gander, the reason they made their way out west for two weeks of making music, most definitely delivered with the finish product, it was everything surrounding the process that made it something more.

“It was a dream come true,” says Nelson, noting he, guitarist-vocalist Turner Midzain and bassist-vocalist Mike Badmington stayed in the in the accommodations in the loft of the studio for the entire time.

“It was nice to get away from everything and be like, there’s no girlfriends, there’s no distractions, there’s no animals — there’s just the three of us living there, making music.”

But that part of it, the drummer admits, was a fairly quick five days, thanks to extensive rehearsing and pre-production they’d done in prepping the material for Gander to put his gnarly polish on.

That left for another week or so of mixing the music, making it more expansive and further out there, which they left much of to the man with the plan, which left them to a lot of time to soak up the city, including the 13 craft breweries that were around the studio.

“We would go on brewery crawls and then we’d stop in and see how Jesse was doing and he was just like, ‘I don’t know, it’s really good.’ ‘OK, well, we’ll see you later!’ ” Nelson says.“And Jesse knew all of the good places to eat in Vancouver. So we’d go for lunch, and he’d say, ‘I know the best ramen place or I know the best pho place or the best Mexican.’ So every day we’d try different country’s food.”

And there was also something else on the menu from Woodhawk’s time out there and that was a last-minute, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to open for Aussie rockers Airbourne at a sold-out Commodore Ballroom show.

They got the urgent call the afternoon of the gig — actually, they got several, but their phones were off for recording purposes — and obviously jumped at the chance, which proved to be yet one more thing to write home about.

“It was unreal,” Nelson says. “It was an absolutely mind-blowing experience …

“It was just another one of those crazy things that happened. The next day we were in the studio having a coffee in the morning and it was like, ‘Did that happen last night?’ It was crazy.”

For Nelson, everything about the trip to make the trip that is Beyond the Sun was a pretty excellent introduction to recording with the band. He had yet to join when they’d released their six-song, self-titled debut in 2014.

He’d admits he was a huge fan when Midzain and Badmington brought him onboard, and thinks that how seriously he took it, how far he wanted to go, as well as his ability as a “groove-oriented player” made him the “piece that they were waiting for.”

Hard to argue when you listen to where they are now with Beyond the Sun, hear all of those elements — the bluesy Sabbath grind; Midzain’s cool, honey-coated howl; and a hard-driving rhythm section that could resuscitate the long dead — coming together in a pretty epic way.

They’re already getting a lot of love from a number of blogs around the world, including many in the stoner rock community. It’s all welcome attention, although Nelson admits none of them partake in the smoke and, in fact, true to those B.C. brew cruising days, the band actually takes its name from a U.K. hops and barley offering.

“We like to be called a beer rock band,” he says with a laugh about the preferred intoxicant comparison.

Actually, Woodhawk are a just a damn great band, one of the many that continues to mine the seemingly limitless universe of riff rock when you’ve got the smarts and the power to get you there. 

“There’s lots of good riffs out there still,” Nelson says with a laugh. “We’ll find ’em.”

And come back with some great stories, too.

Woodhawk release their new album Beyond the Sun Saturday at The Palomino.

Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at He likes beer. Buy him one.