Madeline Hawthorne

“Stepping with boots she’s breaking in / Running on dreams and adrenaline,” Madeline Hawthorne sings at the top of her remarkable solo debut, Boots. “Hit the pavement walk a mile / Don’t know what she’s doing and it makes her smile.”

“I’ve always had to learn by doing, by taking these leaps of faith,” Hawthorne explains. “It only felt right to kick off the album with a character who’s finding her own way, someone who’s enjoying the process of having no idea what she’s doing and just believing in herself regardless.”

Written and recorded following the dissolution of Hawthorne’s longtime band, The Hawthorne Roots, Boots is indeed a leap of faith, but more than that, it’s a work of profound reflection and self-discovery. Co-produced by Brad Parsons and Fruition’s Tyler Thompson, the album reckons with evolution and independence, facing down the pressures of modern womanhood with unflinching honesty and steadfast resilience. Hawthorne penned much of the material here during quarantine, and while the struggle for balance and stability is an ever-present one, she consistently refuses to surrender to despair or uncertainty, pressing forward with a relentless drive that fuels her riveting performances. The result is a raw, rousing collection that blurs the lines between roots, country, and soul as it transforms pain into beauty and doubts into hope—a bold, ambitious debut from an artist learning to trust her instincts and chart her own course one step (and one song) at a time.

“Making a solo record was a terrifying and exciting prospect all at once,” Hawthorne confesses. “I’d never written without the safety net of having other people around to bounce ideas off of before, but at the same time, I’d also never really experienced the freedom of being able to truly say whatever I wanted, however I wanted.”

It was that prospect of freedom and self-expression that attracted Hawthorne to songwriting in the first place. Born to a classical vocalist mother and a concert conductor father, Hawthorne was surrounded by music throughout her childhood in New England, but she never considered it a viable career path until she landed in Montana for college.

“I was studying sustainable food systems at the time,” she recalls, “but I started going to more and more concerts and feeling this itch to be onstage. And then I went on this 26-hour road trip to the Electric Forest festival in Michigan, and that really sealed the deal. Being surrounded by people who loved music so deeply, the feeling of connection and community, it all left me with no doubt in my mind that I needed to start pursuing music in a very serious way.”

So Hawthorne picked up the guitar she’d played sporadically since her teenage years and began taking formal lessons at a nearby music shop. In her spare time, she took a job working as an artist liaison at a local acoustic venue in Bozeman, where she learned the ins and outs of the industry firsthand.

“I remember taking Ray Wylie Hubbard out for fried chicken before a show one night, and he took out a sharpie and wrote all these notes for me about making my way in music,” says Hawthorne. “Getting to meet all these incredible songwriters and pick their brains definitely had a big impact on me.”

Determined to use everything she’d learned and pick up the rest as she went along, Hawthorne launched her first band, The Hawthorne Roots, in 2014, and quickly built a loyal following around Montana. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle hailed the five-piece’s “tightly woven harmonies and relentlessly catchy melodies,” while Bozeman Magazine readers voted them Best New Band and Best Folk Performers in the annual Bozeman’s Choice Awards. With their profile on the rise, the group began touring throughout the West, earning dates with the likes of Nicki Bluhm and Dustbowl Revival and landing festival slots from Targhee and Yarmony to Red Ants Pants and Big Sky Big Grass.

“Not only did I write and perform,” says Hawthorne, “but I also managed most of the day-to-day, our tour schedule, marketing, everything. We were totally independent, which meant that pretty much all of my time and energy was devoted to the band.”

When COVID hit, though, the group’s momentum came to a screeching halt, and by the summer of 2020, they’d decided to go their separate ways. Back at square one, Hawthorne found herself unsure of her next steps but determined not to let society’s expectations stand in her way.

“I was feeling the push and pull of wanting stability and a family along with all the other pressures that come with being a woman in this industry,” she explains. “But I had this revelation that I didn’t have to subscribe to anyone else’s ideas of how I should live my life, and the next day, I was out in the shed behind my house writing this album.”

When it came time to record, Hawthorne stepped out of her Montana comfort zone and flew to Pittsburgh, where she cut the core of the album live in the studio over the course of just two-and-a-half days. Inspired by Sheryl Crow and Tom Petty, the performances were raw and loose, with freewheeling, improvisatory arrangements often locked in on the fly as the band discovered the music in real time.

“I’d never worked that way in the studio before,” says Hawthorne, “but it just felt right for these songs. We needed to all be in the room together feeding off of each other’s energy and intuition.”

That energy and intuition lies at the heart of Boots, which consistently zeroes in on the sweet spot between ecstatic abandon and thoughtful introspection. The gritty “Rein It In” meditates on the importance of taking stock and slowing things down, while the driving “Train” insists on forging ahead in the face of resistance, and the soulful “Strange Familiar” wrestles with anxiety and expectation.

“I was trying to reconcile the idea of motherhood and having a family someday with my life as a touring musician,” explains Hawthorne. “Eventually I had to remind myself that nobody really knows how they’re going to make it work. All you can do in this life is trust your gut and figure it out as you go.”

It’s a lesson Hawthorne returns to throughout the album, learning to let go of the past and stop projecting into the future in order to find peace in the present. The tender “Joker” meditates on the liberating power of forgiveness; the bittersweet “Long Cold Night” searches for common ground in the midst of conflict; and the lilting “Riverbank” (which features Fruition’s Mimi Naja on mandolin) embraces the serenity of simplicity. It’s perhaps the album’s final track, though, the stripped-down “Rara Avis,” that best encapsulates Hawthorne’s journey, as she sings, “It’s time to take a trip on your own / Wandering child you rolling stone / Your house is on fire / Time to reacquire the words you lost not long ago.”

“I wrote that song about learning to get back in touch with myself as a songwriter and an artist and a performer,” Hawthorne explains. “‘Rara Avis’ is a literary term that means rare bird, and I was feeling like it was finally time for me to be my rare, unique little self and spread my wings.”

Every flight, after all, starts with a leap of faith.

Boots is due out this fall.
Giovanni Gagliano

Passionate about music I wrote my first article for "Given To Rock" in 2012, reaching now 30K global followers. I am also a musician, gigging around London.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post