By Brent Thompson
Raised in New England by a family steeped in classical music, it may seem unlikely that Madeline Hawthorne ended up as a singer/songwriter based in Montana. But as listeners, we are glad she took this path as evidenced by her single “Neon Wasteland.” Based on her experiences in Nashville, Hawthorne’s song encapsulates her musical style which is both familiar and refreshing at the same time.Recently, she spoke with us by phone.
Southern Stages: Madeline, thanks for your time. Are you at home right now?
Madeline Hawthorne: I’m home in Montana – it’s a beautiful fall day. We have snow coming next week – today is one of our last warmer days of fall. After our interview, my husband and I are taking our raft out on the Yellowstone River for one final float before we put it away for the winter season.
Southern Stages: You’re originally from New England – how long have you lived in Montana?
Hawthorne: I’ve been in Montana for 16 years. I went to college here with my husband and we both stayed. We love it here.
Southern Stages: I understand that you grew up in a musical household. If you will, talk about that experience.
Hawthorne: When I was born, my mom was a classical performer in the greater Boston are and also toured the world as a solo soprano doing primarily Baroque-style music. I grew up in a classical music household and I got to see her perform at a very young age. The more of these interviews I do, the more I realize how much of an effect it had on the decisions I made and how I would up being a performer myself. She’s retired now, but music never leaves you.
Southern Stages: We are really enjoying “Neon Wasteland.” How did the song evolve?
Hawthorne: I write all of my songs on my acoustic guitar. I had the bluesy rhythm in mind and I was working on the melody and the concept of a young woman who’s struggling in her career. I think she’s a character I could have become had I made different choices at each fork in the road. It’s a tough world, the music industry, and there are good days and challenging days. The hook and the title came to me after my first trip to Nashville. It wasn’t a bad trip, but I learned a lot and it was stepping out of the comfort zone of the Mountain West which is an area I’ve toured and know very well. Nashville was exciting, but also new – I felt like a fish out of water. I came back motivated to keep writing and that phrase came out. I felt like I could tie my personal experiences to this character’s experiences and make the song feel genuine and therefore I could perform it better.
Southern Stages: How would you describe your songwriting process?
Hawthorne: I always carry a journal – usually multiple journals – so I’m constantly writing down my experiences or a phrase or a conversation. I’m always trying to keep ideas going and when I’m home I flip through the journals and look for nuggets of inspiration. Sometimes, when I’m on the road, I’ll sit down and try to write a song and finish it whether it’s an album-worthy or single-worthy tune. I have a very large collection of bad songs [laughs], but I try to write as much as possible.
Southern Stages: How do you feel about the current musical climate? Outlets including Spotify, satellite radio and Youtube make your music easily accessible to listeners, but I am sure they present certain challenges as well.
Hawthorne: It goes back and forth – like I said, there are good days and challenging days. The challenge is to manage my highs and my lows. There are some days it can feel totally overwhelming and there are victories along the way that give you the energy to keep going. Over the years, people have encouraged me to have a shtick or a gimmick, but my goal is to stay genuine to myself as a writer. Hopefully, that reaches enough people to pay the bills.
Southern Stages: Is your husband in the music industry as well?
Hawthorne: He owns a software company based in Montana called Sellout – he’s in event ticketing. Our first date – I was 17 or 18 at the time – was a Lynyrd Skynyrd and Doobie Brothers concert. I owe a lot of the musical inspiration that’s come into my songwriting to Henry. It’s really cool to be in the industry together, but working in different sides and growing together in this, like you said, new industry.
Southern Stages: How do songs stay fresh for you after you’ve performed them dozens of times?
Hawthorne: That’s a great question. I really attempt to make the songs feel genuine to me when I write them. That helps me to go into a headspace when I’m performing to act the part and sell the character and tell that story. As my career evolves and my performances improve, I get to experience the songs in a different way.