Listen: Hawley Shoffner


I first met Hawley Shoffner when I was an undergraduate at the University of Kansas. I was always the loud, boisterous, blonde at the party and she was the cute, stylish, brunette (rumored to be a near-prodigal musician). All I knew was that she had a ukulele, a love of old Hollywood, and quite the soft spot for Veruca Salt. Needless to say, I fell in love. And so has the rest of the country. Over the past few years I’ve watched her evolve from playing quiet, smoky, dive-bar shows (often with just a keyboard and her crystalline vocals) to winning the coveted and cut-throat Farmer’s Ball competition in 2008—quite the feat considering she was a solo act. But her talent transcends the typical singer/songwriter formula.  Somewhere between her evocative voice and cathartic soliloquies, she’s made a name for herself as a revered musician in a widely known boys-club—finally recording her debut album after years of lending her writing, vocal, and instrumental skills to various touring and recording bands (NoiseFM, California Wives). Now with shoutouts on Refinery 29 and comparisons to the likes of St. Vincent–it’s safe to say she is on the track to great things. Settling into her new Chicago home and days after her album release show, we talked pianos, historical biographies, and Patti Smith. [Naturally.]

R/V:  I’ve seen you play at least a dozen different instruments; tell me about learning to play your first one.

HS:  I started playing piano when I was six. My piano teacher thought I’d never amount to anything because I couldn’t play through a whole song without messing up one note and starting all over again. Plus, I never learned how to sight read sheet music because I would spend nights memorizing each piece of music; writing out each note on a piece of paper and humming a tune to go along with it. I couldn’t stand being unprepared or improvising, which would explain why I played music solo for so long.

R/V: Do you have a favorite?

HS:  Right now, my main focus is the electric guitar. It’s exciting to try out new pedals and playing techniques. I’ve never played loud music before, and it’s so refreshing. I also play the accordion, ukulele, piano, and a kazoo attached to a harmonic holder.

R/V: Describe your album in three words or less.

HS:  everything at once.

R/V:  What or whom have been your greatest sources of inspiration for this record?

HS: My inspiration for this first album was basically growing up and taking responsibility for my anxiety problems. I would latch onto a musician or historical figure after reading their biography or autobiography and immediately have to write a song about our shared experiences. Writing in a detached sort of way or through someone else makes it easier for me to confront my own issues. I wrote two new songs after reading Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” and a John Cale book that a nice man lent me while I was working at an antique store in Lawrence, KS.

R/V: Writing is tough stuff on its own accord; yet you manage to balance melody, tone, vocals, and lyrics seamlessly. What’s the creative process like?

HS:  My song-writing process is a bit scattered. Generally, I’ll write a line or so of the lyrics first. Then I’ll come up with a melody and try to structure the song around that. I’ll then write the final version of the lyrics after I’ve figured out the full melody. The mood or feeling of a song can change drastically during band practice. A quiet song can easily transform into a loud or angry one.

R/V: What is your favorite track on the album and why?

HS:  “Suzannah.” It’s the latest track on the album and it illustrates my feelings of moving to a big city far away from my family in Kansas. It’s meant to reassure those outside of their comfort zones.

R/V: You own more records than anyone I know. I think you go to the record store like most people shop for groceries. Who are you currently listening to?

HS:  I’m currently listening to Little Ann’s “Deep Shadows,” VA – “Chicas! Spanish Female Singers 1962-1974” and Oh Land’s self-titled release.

R/V: Ok. My favorite final question for anyone I adore—what are your words to live by?

HS:  Everything should be beautiful.

           [photo credits: Carolina M. Rodriguez (album cover) and Sean Schmidt (live shot)]

{Check out Hawley’s website at  for upcoming shows or purchase her album at . You can see her next singing back-up for California Wives ( ) at North Coast Music Festival on September 3rd and with a full band at Silvie’s Lounge [Chicago] on September 9th with Cross Record.}



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