An energetic band whose music walks the line between pop-punk and a more mature pop/rock approach, Hawk Nelson are a group who’ve consistently used their music and their success as a platform for expressing their Christian faith. Hawk Nelson was formed in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada in 2002. Lead singer Jason Dunn, guitarist Davin Clark, and drummer Matt Paige originally played together in a group called SWISH, who in 2000 released an album called Riding Around the Park. Daniel Biro, meanwhile, was at that time the lead vocalist with an act from Barrie, Ontario called Cheese Monkeys from Planet Nine. In 2002, Biro relocated to Peterborough, just as Dunn, Clark, and Paige were hoping to give their band and their sound an overhaul. Biro became the group’s new bass player, and after briefly using the name Reason Being, the band adopted the new handle Hawk Nelson.
In 2003, the group released their first album, Saturday Rock Action. Hawk Nelson toured Ontario in support of the album, and after Trevor McNevan of Thousand Foot Krutch heard the band, he recommended them to the staff at Tooth and Nail Records, a respected Christian alternative label. Tooth and Nail followed McNevan’s advice, and 2004 saw the release of Hawk Nelson’s first album for the label, Letters to the President, with McNevan co-writing much of the material with the band. 2004 also saw Davin Clark leave the group, with Jonathan Steingard signing on as their new guitarist. As Hawk Nelson became rising stars in the Christian music community, they also began to break through to the mainstream audience, impersonating the Who on the TV series American Dreams and contributing two songs to the soundtrack of the movie Yours, Mine, and Ours. (They also make a brief appearance in the film.) In 2005, Matt Paige left the band, and Gideon Courtney briefly stood in as drummer before Aaron “Skwid” Tosti took over percussion duties by the end of 2005. Tosti came on board in time to play on Hawk Nelson’s third album, 2006’s Smile, It’s the End of the World. The album rose to 75 on the Top 200 album charts, and was nominated for a Gospel Music Association Dove Award for Best Rock Album; The Canadian GMA gave the album the Covenant Award for Modern Rock/Alternative Album of the Year. The group stayed busy playing major Christian music festivals in North America, and was included on the soundtrack to the 2006 film Charlotte’s Web.
In 2007, Aaron “Skwid” Tosti left the group to pursue other musical interests, and Justin Benner took over behind the drums. In 2008, Hawk Nelson Is My Friend was released, and as the group began pursuing a more mature musical approach, they moved from Tooth and Nail to their sibling label BEC Recordings. Hawk Nelson Is My Friend earned the band a Grammy award for Best Recording Package. The group also released an EP of covers that year, including a version of the Simple Minds hit “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” that was used in a TV campaign for JC Penny. In 2009, Hawk Nelson released Live Life Loud, which included songwriting contributions from TobyMac, Chris Stevens, Trevor McNevan, and Matthew Gerrard. For 2011’s Crazy Love, the group ramped up their energy for a set that recalled their style of Letters to the President. The album proved to be the last hurrah for lead singer Jason Dunn, who decided to leave the group to pursue solo projects. Guitarist Jonathan Steingard was promoted to lead vocalist, and in 2013 the band became a quartet again with the addition of guitarist Micah Kuiper. Hawk Nelson also signed a new record deal with the Christian label Fair Trade Services, and 2013’s Made was their first album for the label. The album included “Words,” featuring guest vocals from Bart Millard of MercyMe, which became a major hit on Christian radio. In 2015, the band released the album Diamonds, which introduced a new drummer for the group, David Niacaris. Diamonds included the song “Just Getting Started,” which appeared in promotional spots for the 2015 season of American Idol. ~ Mark Deming