A band’s name can convey a lot about their story. In the case of Nine Mile Station, it signals long journeys and safe haven finally reached.
What began as a revival of frontman Will Hawkins’ solo career evolved into Nine Mile Station — Hawkins, drummer Nick Moran, guitarist Fernando Perdomo, violinist Scarlet Rivera and bassist Brendan Vasquez — and assumed new dimensions. For Perdomo, it’s an opportunity to deploy his broad sonic palette as guitarist and producer. For Rivera, it’s a chance to demonstrate why her playing wowed Dylan and has influenced numerous other artists. For Hawkins, the multigenerational ensemble offers respite and renewal after 10 years away from making music. When he picked up his guitar after burying his mother, business and relationship, he had “lost all connection” and “needed to reconnect on some level,” he says now. “I just started strumming.” The song that emerged was the cathartic breakup rocker “Caught in the Rain” — which introduced him to Moran and Vasquez, led them onto local stages, and ultimately became the anchor for Santa Ana Winds, the Nine Mile Station EP due Sept. 27.
Nine Mile Station discovered their collective sound in the studio during 2020’s pandemic shutdown while making Santa Ana Winds, which was co-produced by Hawkins and Perdomo. The five-track release is a teaser for their full-length album Open Highways, due in 2022.When Hawkins saw Perdomo in Andrew Slater’s Laurel Canyon documentary Echo in the Canyon, he swore: “Dammit, if I’d met him 15 years ago, he could have been my Mike Campbell.” Connecting through Facebook, the two Tom Petty fans became fast friends. When his guitarist bailed two days before a bar gig, Hawkins texted an SOS and Perdomo stepped up, without rehearsal, to elevate what Hawkins calls “the best show I ever played in my life. We started out with the room maybe a quarter full; by the third song, people smoking cigarettes outside had come in. By the fifth song, the place was shoulder-to-shoulder packed and you could feel the floor move.”
“The crowd was enthralled by us throwing so much sound,” agrees Perdomo, who says they projected “absolute power” from the stage even then. “And we were just a four-piece; we didn’t have a violin player. It really came alive. We can totally jam and the songs have room for explosions and special effects.” He joined the band that night.Fast-forward to March 2020: Four weeks after Nine Mile Station entered the studio, the world shut down. With creative momentum stalled, no work and no money coming in, Hawkins threw a Hail Mary pass to an old boss: Grammy-winning producer Al Schmitt.
“Al texted back, ‘Hey, I’m in the studio with Neil Young, I’ll definitely listen to the tracks but it might take a couple weeks,’” Hawkins recounts. “I said, ‘Hey, man, I’m happy with whatever input you have.’ An hour later, Al called: ‘I’m driving home with my wife, we’re listening to the songs and they’re great. Send me the files — I’ll start mixing tomorrow.’ Al and Niko Bolas came in as partners to mix the record and really helped us. This project became like the light at the end of the tunnel; the band not only survived Covid, it flourished during the lockdown and we became a family.”
Rejuvenated by the legendary Schmitt’s vote of confidence, Nine Mile Station kept working. Generations of classic rock ring through their chords and melodies: Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen, REM, Replacements, Counting Crows. Their first batch of songs was led by “Caught in the Rain,” which audiences had been singing at shows. “That became the foundation of this project, and this philosophy of looking for life’s open doors,” Hawkins says, referencing a live-in-the-moment Stoic belief. “Every single time I tried to find a marketing job after selling my agency, the door would shut — but on the other side of the hallway, a door would open that brought me to Al Schmitt or Fernando Perdomo. Nine Mile Station gave me reasons to get up in the morning.”
Other songs were resurrected from his 2003 solo album Next Stop Bedford Avenue, whose storylines resonate differently now. “Fall Into the Sea,” which scans the future through a prog-rock lens, is infused with ’70s influences. Perdomo treated Rivera’s solos as their own sonic landscape, with her violin cascading downward like California tumbling into the Pacific. “I love producing great songs,” he says. “This band has more in common with older music but we’re not coattail riding. We have a lot to offer. The music’s still modern and real deep.
“We’re all transients,” he adds. “I came from Miami Beach, Will came from New York, Scarlet’s also from the East Coast. One thing about L.A. is that everybody’s out here with their eyes on the prize. That type of passion is something you don’t find in other cities because we’re all away from home. We’re here to bring it, and I hope people feel that passion in the music.” Last October, they attracted new fans with a frequently viewed video of band members performing Petty’s “The Waiting” outside L.A. nightclubs shuttered by Covid, which reflected widespread fears while supporting Save Our Stages and MusiCares. November’s release of “Caught in the Rain” was followed by a Christmastime cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” All three singles received radio airplay. For their recent take on Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane,” they tapped Rivera (A Call 2 Peace, Tracy Chapman, Keb’ Mo’), whose solos electrified Dylan’s 1975 recording and Rolling Thunder Revue tour. She, too, wound up joining the band. Her violin rises and falls in harmony with Hawkins’ burly baritone throughout Santa Ana Winds, whether evoking the title track’s mercurial namesake or Perdomo’s dreamy “California Moon.”
“What a joy — it’s like jamming with a Beatle on a Beatles song,” Perdomo enthuses. “Scarlet created a style duplicated by pretty much every violinist in the Americana genre, and she plays with the same energy she did when she was in her 20s. She is an amazing solo foil.”Rivera, who calls her bandmates “grounded, wise souls,” reciprocates that admiration. “We have a power duo, as far as soloing; Fernando is a masterful musician, guitarist, producer and arranger. Will’s lead singing carries the band. They’re all great musicians, super professional, driven and smart. And the original music is, I think, tremendous — it has great potential.”
“Just being among the last songs mixed by Al Schmitt makes them deserving of being heard,” Hawkins declares, referencing Schmitt’s death in April 2021. “He worked with Duke Ellington … Elvis, Sinatra, Dylan, Toto.” Assessing the industry landscape, he lists immediate band goals: release Santa Ana Winds plus vinyl singles; play live shows; develop their fan community;
Bio Written by Bliss Bowen
Photos by Marta Evry