By Nicholas Jason Lopez
While the United States was forced into a lockdown in March 2020, multi-genre vocalist/instrumentalist Kimberly Hawkey collaborated with songwriters Lecco Morris and Justin K. Rivers to work on a new indie project.
Despite the obvious pandemic challenge, Morris/Rivers helped to raise well over six figures through investors and donors, which helped this new album grow into the recently released ‘We The Nighthawks.’
With a sound that meshes together elements of jazz, Broadway, Big-band era and folk, the New York-based musician showcases her best on the 13-track album, with songs like the powerful single “Slow Cool Water.”
The Grammy-nominated Assaf Gleizner served as the project’s musical director, while seven-time Grammy-winner Joel Moss (Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Johnny Cash) helped with production. Recording took place at Dreamland Studios in Upstate New York and featured performances by a full orchestra of 20 musicians, each one required to test negative for COVID before studio entry was granted.
The Music Bugle had the chance to speak with Hawkey about ‘We The Nighthawks’ and more.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Kimberly Hawkey – The pandemic has been a polarizing shift of both pain and healing – the usual effects of major change. I’ve been fortunate to have the past year to focus on growth. I didn’t lose anyone close to me and for that, I am grateful. The experience has allowed me the space to slow down and reflect. I’ve been steadily building my business as a music mentor and a bandleader and that silence helped me tune into my true North. It was through this shift that I joined forces with the composer and lyricist of the new album. We stopped running around long enough to find the people we were meant to work with. The magnetism between us became clear and the project was put on a fast track with all the right musicians and collaborators.
Music Bugle – What do you hope for by the end of 2021?
Kimberly Hawkey – I look forward to the opportunity to reunite with the musicians from ‘We The Nighthawks’ we recorded in December 2020 and to perform the work for a live audience. There is nothing like the electricity of live music in a room full of humans. The songs are so deeply embedded in me from months of listening back during post-production. They’re more part of me now than when I was in the studio figuring it all out. I can’t wait to see what kind of magic surfaces in a live setting.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
Kimberly Hawkey – I am most lit up when I channel styles from the past. That includes folk music, traditional jazz and vintage pop. There is a collective weight to songs that have been around for generations. It reminds me of a snowball gathering mass and momentum as it travels down a mountain, through time. It’s an extraordinary experience to meet my fans and hear how these old songs played a part in their own stories. Even in the younger generations, there is something ancestrally familiar about this music on a subconscious level. It makes people stop and pay attention for a moment. The new album is a collection of original songs, so it’s a bit of a different experience for the listener. One has the familiarity and intrigue of throwback sounds – jazz, classic pop, art song – while being tossed into a story as if they are experiencing it firsthand. For that reason, there may be challenging moments for contemporary listeners, who are urged to slow down and breathe into the experience instead of rush through it, but I believe those moments are worth it!
Music Bugle – How would you describe New York to someone who has never been there before?
Kimberly Hawkey – I have a love/hate relationship with New York City. I was born in the Albany region and was always attracted to the movement of the city. I grew up close enough to take the Amtrak into Penn station and spend the day hunting for rush tickets to Broadway shows. In NYC, one becomes immersed in raw humanity at its best and worst – art, collaboration, growth, decay, loneliness, dreams, celebration, greed and generosity. You can live a thousand lives in a split second if you’re in tune with what’s around you. I spent most of my adulthood just north of the city, but lived near Lincoln Center during college and in Washington Heights for a brief time. It was during that second stint that I was swallowed up by my own negative emotions and couldn’t clear them. I realize now that I was an empath living in a depressed neighborhood during a challenging time for New Yorkers – during the 2016 Presidential campaign and Election. It felt dark and hopeless and I needed to escape to the mountains, which is where I stayed and healed for several years. The city is a massive swell of humanity that reflects the current times and holds the past and future in its own gravitational pull. I believe one needs enough self-awareness to know when it’s furthering your journey and when it’s hindering it.
Music Bugle – What was your goal for your new album ‘We The Nighthawks’?
Kimberly Hawkey – I hope that this album brings a sense of beauty and hope to listeners. It was a massive collaborative effort to make this happen during a pandemic – 20 musicians, a songwriting team, a producer and generous supporters came together to make something bright during a dark time. It’s the underdog album of the year. We should win that award if it exists. I know that the people who are meant to find it will do so and when they do, they will discover how our unique approach brings to life stories and characters and expands the possibilities of what we can do with songs.
Music Bugle – Which of your songs were the hardest to write?
Kimberly Hawkey – Our songwriting team, Morris & Rivers, posed an interesting question – How do we take an old-fashioned notion of a songwriting team and make something new and different? I think the answer we found together was that we could bring all our artistic voices to the table. Lecco Morris with his deep wellspring of melody and Justin K. Rivers with painterly lyrics give us a foundation of story and sound and then, my job was to take that blueprint and become the song and I don’t mean just becoming the character, but also the setting, the images, the senses, the feelings. Each song is its own movie and our voices working together are the acting, editing and cinematography all at once.
Music Bugle – What made you want to release “Slow Cool Water” as the first single?
Kimberly Hawkey – “Slow Cool Water” is the song that’s been stuck in all of our heads, but when our composer Lecco saw his niece and nephew singing and dancing along, it sealed the deal. Maybe what the music industry really needs is a four-year-old in charge.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
Kimberly Hawkey – This, to me, is like wondering if cookies are good or bad. My personal theme for the past year has been “balance.” I’ve been trying to find ways to make meaningful connections with my fans while staying mentally healthy. It’s a constant struggle. I think it’s important to follow other artists and people on social media who lift you up and make you feel that spark of inspiration. I try to unfollow anything that brings me to a dark place or makes me feel too competitive. I’ll usually try to analyze the piece within me that’s causing that response, but that can be exhausting! Boundaries are really important here.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
Kimberly Hawkey – I love where I live right now in Nyack, N.Y.. I’m along the Hudson River, about 40 minutes North of Manhattan. I can step out of my door and be surrounded by flowers, good vibes, generous people and a beautiful riverfront. This is how I energize myself daily. When I left my day job six years ago, it became important for me to build breaks into my everyday routine, so I wouldn’t reach a place where I had to drop everything and take a month-long vacation to recover from built-up stress. My other energizing retreat is in the Catskill mountains, which I consider my second home.
Music Bugle – What has been your proudest accomplishment?
Kimberly Hawkey – I am most proud that I had the courage to step away from a promising career and take a “risk” on following a lifestyle that was speaking to me in a greater way. I couldn’t have done it without my friends, family and other support pillars, but it’s still my greatest and most rewarding accomplishment so far. I encourage everyone to look back on a moment like that for themselves and allow a bit of celebration and recognition for how much courage was required and if you haven’t had that moment yet – well, you’re alive and there’s still time to follow that voice!
*Photo Credit – Drew Bordeaux*