MUSIC: Surrey math-pop band calculates new name, EP (with video)

SOUTH SURREY — Baby-wipe showers and foot deodorant.

Those were the biggest takeaways from Tommy Alto’s last tour, a 50-date haul across Canada and the American west coast. The math-pop four-piece will be sure to load up on hygiene products as they hit the road again this summer, but don’t expect to see their name on any marquees.

“Basically, Tommy Alto was a dumb name,” said lead singer and guitarist Tom Vanderkam, noting the name started as a joke.

“As fun as it was, it really just doesn’t mean what it originally meant to us anymore.”

In preparation for their latest record, the band felt they’d outgrown the name they came up with in high school and brainstormed one more fitting for their matured sound. After weeks of spitballing, they landed on Hawking, a name of unknown significance that everyone liked.

Well, almost everyone.

“My mom wasn’t a huge fan at first,” said bassist Chris Young, “but she grew on it.”

“(The response) has been just about unanimously positive,” added Vanderkam. “Most of the people who were opposed to the name change were fans from years before, back when it was unmistakably Tommy Alto.”

As Hawking, the quartet recently wrapped up its self-titled EP, showcasing a layered and refined dance-y sound with gang vocals, intricate guitar work and nods to mid-aughts alt rock. Not too shabby, considering it was recorded “in an unfinished basement with some carpeting on the walls for soundproofing.”

“It shows if you have good instruments, people who know how to play them and decent microphones, it’s just as good as doing it in an actual studio that costs $500 a day,” said Young, noting they also produced and mixed the record by themselves.

A testament to DIY know-how, the five-track disc distances itself from Tommy Alto’s two albums, save for the final two songs, which serve to recognize the group’s longtime fans.

“We couldn’t just completely change to a totally different indie-rock sound without any warning,” said Vanderkam. “It’s not fair to them to go, ‘Nope, sorry, we’re a different thing now.’”

Unlike their previous albums, which are littered with nature themes, the eponymous EP drew lyrical inspiration from other sources, though Vanderkam still hasn’t figured out why. It clocks in just under 20 minutes – perfect for a band that prefers releasing its music in short bursts.

“It’s the same thing with live – I’m all for the 25-minute set. Less is always more, especially as a booking agent,” said Vanderkam, who formed Badmouth Booking after putting together Tommy Alto’s last two tours.

“One guy asked, ‘Who booked your tour?’ And I went, ‘Oh, I did.’ And then he found out we turned a profit on it, and he goes, ‘How the hell did you make money your first tour? Most bands don’t break even until a while into it.’

“I’m proud to be representing a bunch of really, really cool bands from all over Canada, and a couple in the States. As well as ours. We’re pretty OK, I guess.”

(Story continues below video of Hawking’s "My Heart Is Bigger Than Yours (Live Session)"


Hawking’s summer tour dates haven’t been announced, and the EP doesn’t come out until July 14, but those who attend the pre-release party at the Media Club will get their hands on the record two and a half months early.

“That room only fits like 150, maybe 200 people. If there’s that select number of people who get to hear it before everybody else, I think that’s really, really special for them,” said Vanderkam. “I think it helps listeners feel like we actually care.”

“It’d be really, really cool if it appeals to more of the commercial side, and people who don’t necessarily listen to technical music,” added Young. “Our fanbase with Tommy Alto was a few indie kids and a lot of musicians.

“We want more of those indie kids.”

Hawking hit the Media Club (695 Cambie St., Vancouver) on Friday, May 1, with support from alternative trio The Vidos, ambient rockers Royal Oak and indie supergroup Altona. Tickets are available via or at the door for $12.

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