Artist Interview: Dawn and Hawkes – Folk duo singing with depth and beauty

The first time I heard about Dawn and Hawkes was from southwest folk music networker Romi Kamberg. I was thrilled to make the acquaintance of Miranda Dawn, initially. When I found out her duo band with her partner Chris Hawkes was releasing a new album called The Other Side, I had to ask them a few questions about the album, their career, and their story as artists.

Miranda’s storyline is almost like a fairytale. She grew up in a multicultural musical family “surrounded by different colors.” That description might seem metaphorical, but it was actually pretty literal. Different music, food, and cultural influences gave her a unique perspective on life… one that continues to direct the way she seeks hope and healing for others in life to this day.

Her imagery of colors fits into this latest album quite well as she describes writing as “being in the middle of a gallery of unfinished paintings.” Rather than cranking out songs from start to finish in a corporate writing method, Dawn and Hawkes found themselves working on the paintings over time. The first song was written two years ago and the rest “showed up.” Miranda explained that the sound paintings all existed together and then she found herself saying, “oh, they’re connected.”

Chris has one of those rich and abiding real guitarist storylines. He grew up playing piano in a musical family as well. When he switched over to the guitar, though, his creative calling emerged. The influences around him were steeped in classic rock greats like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, and Eric Clapton. But what stuck out to me was that he said it was the acoustic elements of those greats that pulled him in. Great songwriting, Chris reflected, allowed those artists to shift from different styles and moods within an album and sometimes within a song. I couldn’t agree more with this assessment being part of what makes those artists so phenomenal.

But talking about Dawn and Hawkes as two individuals is silliness. They really function as one. They had solo careers before they met in Austin, but once they started working together the alchemy is apparent to everyone who sees them perform. Heck, even the judges on The Voice saw and complimented this chemistry (yes, they were on the show. There’s plenty written on that part of their lives so we’ll move on here.) The magic of their work together comes through in the blending of them both having stand alone skillsets as accomplished artists. Rather than one who specializes in lyrics and another in music, they both can do it all. Yet when I asked them about this, Chris was quick to compliment that Miranda has a “knack for a bridge” and Miranda swooned that Chris’s guitar playing “something amazing” can prove the inspiration for writing. Clearly these two have something special working for them.

My favorite track from the new album is probably “Stardust,” which I interpreted to be about loving your elders who may not be around much longer. In fact it was written for a friend of theirs. I had to ask about the final track on the album, “Promised Land,” a powerful and thoughtful song with some of the best lyrical work on the album. Miranda told me that the song was inspired by (of all things) discord on Facebook. She was noticing all of the political arguments and lamenting the tension it was creating in her own life. So the song’s message is to open the listener up to an empathetic perspective. “Will you see my face in your own?” It’s a beautiful, moving song and a clear final track for a wonderful album.

So how do these talented artists create this incredible art? I had to ask that one, too. It’s an interesting process as they both play equal parts in writing. Miranda explained that songwriting for them is about going to a “dreamy place” together. They enter into an imagined world and then explain for each other the image and emotion they’re trying to convey. “Less of a therapy session, more of going to a dreamy space.” They both put together voice memos and let them sit until they have time to write. But with two of them writing, they are able to approach ideas and concepts from two different angles. I used the word alchemy earlier and I think it’s fitting here; these two artists take separate beautiful things and put them together to create something new, stronger, and perhaps even more beautiful.

I have to say that Dawn and Hawkes have an endearing sound that I am happy to support, but beyond that they stand for some things that are really rare in our culture right now. They are “making it” in music by staying true to who they are. Yes they were on The Voice (by invitation) and have rubbed shoulders with some of the top names in the business. But they are completely down to earth and happy to talk about life and philosophy. You can tell that they are the real deal, about as accessible as two exceptionally talented artists can be.

To punctuate that point, when I asked what they wanted our readers to know about their music. Chris took the lead on this one and said, “we want people to have the opportunity to hear our music, then see if they like it.” See what I mean? Authentic. They’re not about building thousands of temporal followers. They are casting lines with a specific message with a particular kind of music and they are looking for people interested in that message.

This fairytale I mentioned in the opening is no “fish story.” The duo of Dawn and Hawkes writes with gritty realism, hard conversations about love and life, and a willingness to confront emotions outside of the predictable and easy. Because of this authenticity and quality songwriting, they’ve got me… hook, line, and sinker.

PHOTO CREDIT: Kristina Ohl-Boyd, Hello Darlin Photography

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