“It’s okay to support the soldier and not the war,” advises Rod Gator.
In writing his new song “Chickenhaw,” sharing credit with Will Walden, the Austin-based musician reflects upon the continued deployment of young men and women into war zones. “I was tired of seeing my generation taken advantage of,” Gator tells American Songwriter. “We’ve been at war for nearly twenty years. That’s longer than any generation before us. The interesting thing is that the generations before us call us ‘lazy’ and ‘incapable.’”
“I witnessed these things first hand: boys from my hometown returning from war missing limbs and suffering from PTSD,” he continues. “If you’re going to come to my hometown and recruit these boys and show them all this attention….you sure as hell better show them the same amount of attention when they come back home.”
Where previous songs like “Pinkville,” released under his given name Rod Melancon, unapologetically tear down a culture of violence with an unwavering anti-war stance, “Chickenhawk” reminds the listener exactly how we got into this situation to start. The older ones ignite it while the younger ones fight it / Young men dying while they squawk / Ch-ch-ch-chickenhawk, his voice lurches into a bird-like squawk of its own.
Originally from Wright, Louisiana, Gator spent much of his childhood obsessed with film. If you peruse any of his social media accounts, you’ll understand he has a particular affinity for horror─from his recent play on “REDRUM” from Stanley Kurbrick’s The Shining adaptation to his cowboy Scream rip-off. He owes his discovery of music and songwriters through motion pictures, as well, including Hank Williams, whose “Why Don’t You Love Me the Way You Used to Do” was used in the closing credits for the 1971 film “The Last Picture Show,” and Bruce Springsteen, who was so inspired by Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” that he wrote a song of the same name.
“Hank and Bruce made me want to give songwriting a shot,” says Gator. “Their songs sound like novels or films. Townes Van Zandt, also.”
Describing his own music as “honest, thoughtful, and slightly unhinged” (simply listen to tracks like “Westgate” and “Goin’ out West,” for example), he finds a song’s evolutionary process the most fulfilling. “I enjoy watching the song grow, from the initial idea to the final recording. It’s like sending your child off to school then watching them graduate. Lots of changes in-between but I usually end up feeling proud of the end product. It’s also my outlet. I work out a lot of personal issues through my songwriting process.”
To newer songwriters, he urges to “ reach for the pen instead of the bottle. Let songwriting be your therapeutic outlet. You don’t have to be a fumbling drunk to create great art. I learned these things the hard way but it’s the truth.”
“Chickenhawk” comes on the heels of “For Louisiana,” both cuts to Gator’s forthcoming For Louisiana, out September 17 via Blue Élan Records.