Quick Q and A with Hawthorn

I come from Salem, Massachusetts.  It’s the hometown of Nathaniel Hawthorne.  It’s no wonder that I couldn’t help noticing the name “Hawthorn” come up in the Boston music scene.  I learned that the core of the group was comprised of Heather Scott and Taylor Holland. I then had the pleasure of seeing them at Campfire at Club Passim and then was absolutely thrilled when they were chosen to appear at last summer’s Emerging Artist Showcase at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in Hillsdale, New York.  It’s been exciting to see them gain confidence in their music and their performing and to grow into such a powerhouse of music.

To learn more about the music of Hawthorn, visit their website.

Check out this video of Hawthorn singing “Appalachia.”

Your website describes why you named yourselves Hawthorn and it’s totally fascinating.  Your analysis of the hawthorn tree and the combination of the berries and thorns as representative of the human heart and all its varied emotions.  Did you percolate on that name for a while or did it come up because of some deep love of trees?  (I note that one of your early recorded efforts is called The Arboretum Sessions.)

When we were naming the band, we asked ourselves “what do we love?” We both are happiest outdoors and take great inspiration from the natural world, so we started looking at plants. ‘Hawthorn’ first struck us because it’s such a strong word, and as we began researching the tree and learning about its role in folklore and herbal medicine, we knew it was the right fit. We love trees so much–our new record is called Maggie Willow, and the ‘willow’ part comes from the fact that we both had a willow tree in our backyards growing up.

Where did you both grow up and how did you become friends and musical partners?

Heather grew up in Central Massachusetts and Taylor grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Taylor moved to Boston for college and we met in Jamaica Plain four years ago. And honestly, our music brought us together! We were in the same friend group and heard each other singing at parties, and finally thought it would be fun to sit down and play together. The first songs we sang together were old Dylan covers…”It Ain’t Me,” “Don’t Think Twice,” etc., but we quickly moved to writing our own material. After three years of creating together we’ve become incredibly close… our friends joke that we’re a married couple

 You’ve described your music as part Appalachia and part Celtic and that does come through vividly on many of your songs.  Do you have any musical heroes from those genres and how have they influenced your songs?

A lot of our folk influence came to us through the 60s folk revival–Simon and Garfunkel, Joan Baez, Peter Paul and Mary, Joni Mitchell, etc. Heather studied music and classical voice, and sang in as many choirs as she could as far back as elementary school. Taylor grew up playing violin and singing a lot of traditional music from the British Isles. In terms of how our heroes influence us, it’s not something we think about too consciously because we don’t want our songs to be too directly impacted by other people’s music, but our backgrounds certainly come out in our artistic choices: what we find beautiful, interesting, provocative. We both listen to a lot of music from very diverse genres, which we share with our fans in our monthly newsletter’s ‘What We’re Listening To’ section. 

The genesis of Maggie Willow is fascinating–you created a character by that name who you imagine as an ancestor who has many stories to tell about her life and you translated those into music.  That sounds like it was an extremely fun project. Tell us your favorite parts of Maggie’s life and what kind of wisdom can we learn from her?

Thank you–it WAS a fun project! In writing the songs, we drew on our own lives and those of our families and the ancestors we imagine we have in common. Creating Maggie was a way for us to merge all those storylines and also tell a story greater than the sum of those parts. A woman came up to us after the album release show and exclaimed that she’d felt “all the feelings–laughter, crying, dancing, reflection, you name it” and that was basically the best possible response to the record. What we love about Maggie is how fully and courageously she lives her life no matter what she’s going through. We could talk for hours about the meanings behind all the lyrics, but a good place to start for now is the opening track, ‘Burn.’ In the first verse, the lines “Devil’s in the holding tight to the light / when the breathing’s gone and it just ain’t right / and the fire don’t burn no more” are about how trying to be perfect will rob you of your breath and your creative power. Maggie isn’t perfect, and neither are we, but we are breathing and learning and growing and that’s really the best we can hope for as humans and artists.

What’s next for Hawthorn?

We’re releasing some new music and hitting the road for spring! Maggie Willow was named to some wonderful year-end lists from Sound of Boston and WBUR, and after celebrating that …it’s time for Hawthorn’s next chapter. We’ve got our whole band plus some special guests on the new recordings, and we can’t wait for everyone to hear them!

Photo by Ally Schmaling

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