Jason Dunn and his bandmates in Hawk Nelson were frequently asked, "Which one of you is Hawk Nelson?"
For nearly a decade, the band's fans learned the moniker was a dual tribute to skateboard master Tony Hawk and a favorite store in the band's native Ontario. But now, Dunn has a simpler question to answer: Who is Jason Dunn?
The answer is he is the former frontman of Hawk Nelson, now striking out on a solo career that starts its first tour Saturday night at NorthEast Christian Church.
"We had a really good run, and I'm really proud of how the band went," Dunn said in a recent phone interview. "From 2005 to 2008 were really massive years for us, and we had a really, really good time.
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"But in 2009, I could just sort of feel we were losing momentum, and I didn't want to fall off the face of the Earth, so I thought it was time to go out and try something I've been wanting to try since I was a little kid: to make a solo record and take another stab at it and try to keep momentum up. So here I go."
Hawk Nelson is continuing as the trio of frontman Jonathan Steingard, bassist Daniel Brio and drummer Justin Benner. Dunn, meanwhile, has spent most of 2012 searching for that solo voice.
"I was the voice of Hawk Nelson and I can't get away from that, no matter how hard I try," Dunn says of his new music.
And he tried.
At the beginning of the year, Dunn announced a project under the name Lights Go Down. It didn't work.
"I tried to be someone I wasn't, which was a singer-songwriter like John Mayer, an acoustic thing," Dunn says. "I ended up scrapping that record and just realized, you know what, I was the voice of Hawk Nelson for 10 years. I don't think I'm ever going to get away from that, so I'm just learning to embrace that and go on.'"
While he still sounds like his old band, Dunn says writing for the new project has been a refreshing season of not worrying about satisfying bandmates, labels or fitting into genres.
He has had a collaborator in high school friend Nathan Finochio who went on to drum with artists such as Hillsong New York and also performs under the name Alexander Fairchild. Dunn says he and Finochio grew up three hours apart but frequently saw each other at music events.
Then, as he started solo work, a friend suggested he look up a Toronto producer named Alexander Fairchild.
"I was like, 'Oh, I've never heard of him,' which is kind of funny because most musicians from Canada know each other," Dunn says, laughing. "So I Googled him, and the name Nathan Finochio showed up, and I was like, 'What the heck. I haven't heard that name in 15 years.'
"It's really weird that we've connected the dots, and now we're back together making music after 15 years. We get together every other day, not just to work but to hang out."
Dunn has not released a solo album, so he was surprised when he started booking solo dates and it turned into a tour, starting with Lexington. It is a tour with a purpose, to support the Jason Dunn Diabetes Foundation for children and young adults with Type I and Type II diabetes. There will be a donation collected at the show, and Dunn says he will match the total contribution.
"When I was 12 years old, I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes, and I used to be really embarrassed and tried to keep it a secret," Dunn says. "But I realized if I could help people, I would serve as a role model more than anything."
That was the reason for playing a few shows, but then it mushroomed.
Dunn says, "I expected it to just be five or six dates and take the band with me and have some fun, and then it turned into 15 or 16 dates and I thought, this is a real tour now."