Fiona Joy Hawkins is an artist whose music I became acquainted with in 2006 when she sent me her second album, Angel Above My Piano
, to review. (She released her first album, Portrait of a Waterfall
, in 2004, which I reviewed in 2012.) Fiona and I did an in-depth interview in 2008
about the beginning of her career, her early life and her first album produced by Will Ackerman, Blue Dream
, so this interview is focused on her more recent recordings and how her career has progressed since 2008. Fiona performed here in my house concert series two years in a row, in 2012 and 2013, with Trysette Loosemore, so I had the incredible opportunity to get to know her and Trysette on a somewhat more personal basis, too.
One of the founding members of the award-winning super-group, FLOW (with Lawrence Blatt, Jeff Oster and Will Ackerman), Fiona has released a fascinating assortment of solo piano, ensemble, electronic, themed compilations of her own music, and compilations with other artists as well as two albums with FLOW. Many of those albums have won multiple major awards. Her most-recent album, Moving Through Worlds
, was released earlier this year and includes four pieces that she marketed to raise funds for firefighters and wildlife rescue during the devastating bush fires in Australia. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this interview with Fiona!
Fiona! I can’t believe it’s been twelve years since we last did an interview! I just reread it, and you were working on Blue Dream
, your first album with Will Ackerman producing. There’s a lot of water under the bridge since 2008! You did two concerts here with Trysette in 2012 and 2013, and it was SO much fun getting to know both of you! It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. Hopefully we’ll be able to do another concert here when the virus finally goes away.
How are things in Australia/New South Wales?
FJH: Australia is doing OK…. Thankfully NSW is a much better state to live in and I’m fortunate enough to be in a small rural village of around 900 people so day to day life goes on as if nothing has changed. It’s certainly a different matter on a business level and as a touring artist. That part of my career has gone out the window.
KP: It’s been quite a year all over the world. Is the coronavirus pretty much contained in your area?
FJH: It varies here state to state. Victoria has the most COVID cases with quite draconian lock-downs. It’s been months of curfews, border closes and strict rules. Australia is taking the pathway of elimination until vaccination and that’s a tough direction to take without a looking glass to see if the pay-off is even possible. Let’s hope so. History will tell us so much more. For now, we can only go along with our decision makers and know that they have more information and tools than us.
KP: That’s pretty scary, too!
You recently released Moving Through Worlds, which was three years in the making. In the liner notes, you called the album “an exploration of ‘now’…water, fire, climate change, survival, and the vanishing of souls into the wind.” Can you elaborate on that a bit?
The songs come from different worlds in terms of both the timing in my career and the issues we are facing in the world today. For example, I have a song I wrote when I was 12 (“For the Roses”) and it was played at my Grandmother’s funeral. The other extreme in terms of timing is that several pieces were improvisations recorded on the day they were recorded (that’s 44 year time span!). The simplicity of a young composer’s writing compared to the sophistication of an impressionistic improvisation by a seasoned musician are certainly worlds apart and not just musically, but also in the thinking and storytelling that goes with maturity. Subject wise, I’m moving from climate change (fire, water), to where we have come from and where we eventually go afterwards. The Australian bushfires had a large effect on the latter content added to the album. I dropped a couple of tracks in order to add the ones that were written as a direct reflection on the fires and the need to raise funds for those affected.
Click on album cover
to go to Kathy's review.
Moving Through Worlds
"Prayer for Rain" and "Prelude to Fire"
were released as singles and are
mentioned in the full review of
"Moving Through Worlds."
spans three years, six studios (two countries), two pianos and hundreds of years from Chopin and the Classical Period to New Age interpretations of modern composition with Celtic, jazz and neo-classical writing. It starts with homage to my Celtic ancestors and moves through many worlds of both styles and subject matter.
KP: Four pieces were marketed as singles to raise funds for firefighters and wildlife rescue from those devastating bush fires - a wonderful thing to do! Is Australia starting to recover from the fires?
FJH: I think it will take many years to recover – if at all. Perhaps we will have to learn to live with the possibility of fires every year, given that they are related to climate change. The fires were so horrifying to us all that the only way I could cope was to do something positive. I released the songs to raise funds for firefighters and wildlife in advance of the album, knowing that as singles they could do some good ahead of their release on the album. I felt like I could either curl up in a ball or do something helpful. The latter avoids falling into the depression trap. As artists we are sensitive and we take on the world around us. It’s part of the story telling process, but hard emotionally given our creative vulnerability.
KP: Just as an aside, I remember you telling me that you used to work in wildlife rescue and the various animals you helped. Tell us about that.
FJH: Yes, I was a Wildlife Information and Rescue Officer (WIRES) for eight years. I did a number of courses but specialised in macropods (roos). I raised quite a few and because I lived on an acreage in the Blue Mountains (2 hours west of Sydney) I was able to rescue, raise and successfully release a number of joeys back into the wild. My children were young then, so it was perfect for that time in my life and also something I really enjoyed.
KP: Back to the album. You recorded some of Moving Through Worlds at home and some at Imaginary Road Studio in Vermont (Will Ackerman’s studio). I loved hearing your Stuart and Sons piano! Do you plan to do more recording at home?
FJH: I would love to record more music on my Stuart and Sons piano but there are a few issues to overcome in that process. I live in town and it’s not a recording studio. This means that if one of the magpies that I hand feed hears me playing and flies to the balcony and starts singing – recording is over! If a truck drives past or a mower strikes up…. Same thing. It’s a huge job that includes notifying all neighbours and mower businesses to lining the room with mattresses or anything that gives protection from outside noise and dampens the room. Basically, I have a concert grand in an unsuitable space – so it can take a day just to set the room up and bring all the recording gear in. I keep trying to figure out a way to simplify this, but to get a good recording we just have to do the work.
KP: Your piano has a story of its own. Tell us about it.
I landed at my parents’ place back in 2008 after a divorce. I didn’t have a piano for 18 months but I did discover that Wayne Stuart’s piano factory was only a block away from where I was living. It turned out that my Uncle was his accountant and he made the initial connection. Wayne is like most audiophiles in that he is interested in the nuance of every note right down to the bend in the decay. Most classical music has too many notes for true appreciation of his pianos so he had always fancied that the Windham Hill Style of music would best show off the true sound. It was perfect – I had a whole showroom of pianos to practice on and ended up with one myself! Wayne and Katie Stuart have been wonderful supporters of my music and I truly love the unique pianos they have created.
Fiona and Rebecca Daniel
KP: Last fall, you released your first collaborative album with violinist/vocalist Rebecca Daniel, The Lightness of Dark. Rebecca is also Australian. How did you meet?
FJH: I lived in Little Hartley at the time and we had a neighbourhood concert. Because I had a piano, my house was chosen for the community practice sessions. I had just written a piece for piano, violin and cello and was told there would be great players coming to the session. I was skeptical, and when Rebecca came in my hopes were dashed. I didn’t believe she could possibly be a serious violinist dressed in vintage clothes with violin case covered in "Doctor Who" and "Star Trek" stickers. When she opened the violin case it was hard to miss that the violin was in fact a VERY serious instrument (1700 Italian violin) and the minute she started to play I was completely blown away. Rebecca had been invited from England to join the Australian Chamber Orchestra and it turned out she was my next door neighbour. She had been living on a property behind ours for 8 years! Amazing.
KP: She’s a wonderful violinist and vocalist, and your styles mesh and weave together so beautifully. Do you plan to do more recording with Rebecca?
FJH: YES…. We are working on material right now, but it will take a year or so before we get to the recording stage. It’s not the writing that slows us down, it’s finding the funds to bring the project to reality. We are applying for grants and working on a kickstarter campaign.
KP You mean you’re not a gazillionaire??? (I couldn't resist!)
You mentioned fairly recently that you were planning to do quite a bit of touring together before COVID-19 shut everything down. Is that still the plan once we get to the other side of this pandemic?
FJH: In 2020 I had planned to spend 4 months in the UK networking in order to return and tour at a later date. I also had planned to tour China on a yearly basis. The US is getting hard to tour due to increased visa issues, but it’s always been my biggest market and favourite place to visit. I wish I had a looking glass to know if COVID will allow us to return to normal, but I feel it’s something that I can’t rely on for a few years. Thank goodness for live-streaming! It has allowed me to continue growing an audience while in isolation by playing from my living room to global audiences in their homes. I have been using my music page on facebook to do weekly concerts and it’s keeping me both sane and in practice!
KP: Last fall, you also released the second album by FLOW - yourself (F), Lawrence Blatt (L), Jeff Oster (O) and Will Ackerman (W), Promise, which I really like! Are you planning to release a third album at some point?
FJH: We would love to record another FLOW album, but COVID has put a complete halt on things. We have considered sending in parts from studios near where we live to Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont and I’m sure that would work if things don’t change. It’s a huge undertaking and may be the best solution. I feel like so many things are on pause until we all know more….
KP: For sure! FLOW’s 2017 debut album, FLOW, was awarded Album of the Year by Zone Music Reporter and IMA Awards. That must have been very exciting!
FJH: Yes, I’m very honoured to be part of the group and proud of the music and what it has accomplished. The Zone Music Reporter has allowed music that falls under the ambient umbrella to reach a global audience and chart with radio stations around the world. I like that it’s radio voted and translates as a fan base – not just peer votes.
KP: I think I’ve reviewed all of your albums from your 2004 debut, Portrait of a Waterfall through Moving Through Worlds (fourteen albums), plus the two FLOW albums, the compilation from your Two Grand I’m Yours tour with Trysette, and a couple of other compilation albums. Do you have a favorite of your albums?
FJH: My favourite is always my latest – whatever I’m currently working on is the one I’m connect to the most. ☺ Moving Through Worlds.
Only three of your albums are solo piano: Story of Ghosts
(2018), Into the Mist
(2016), and Signature - Solo
(2015). Do you plan to do more solo piano albums?
Click on album covers
to go to Kathy's reviews.
FJH: I love working with producer Cookie Marenco at Blue Coast Records. All my solo albums (under the name of Fiona Joy) have been recorded there for Blue Coast and all are available in hi-res formats as it’s an audiophile label. Heavenly Voices – with Rebecca Daniel - is coming out with Blue Coast on March 5th 2021. At the end of The Lightness of Dark tour last year, we landed at Cookie’s studio and performed our duo version along with some variations of the album. It’s a live and hi-resolution recording and one I’m super proud of because it’s performance based.
KP: How do you decide which albums will become “audiophile editions” and which ones will be released through your own Little Hartley Music?
FJH: I don’t have any solo albums with Little Hartley Music so that is one distinction. I do have 5.1 surround mixes in SACD for several of the Little Hartley titles because I’m very interested in the audiophile market. Cookie Marenco’s Blue Coast Records has very strict recording rules. The albums are recorded to Direct Stream Digital (DSD) using proprietary recording techniques. It’s a different audience to the main-stream Spotify/Apple audience and a whole other world of listeners and listening experiences.
KP: Several years ago, you started touring and doing concerts in China and other parts of Asia. How does performing there differ from performing in Australia or the US?
FJH: I have toured China 5 times now. The concert halls there are massive and the piano audiences are very enthusiastic. Over 4 million children learn the piano and the Chinese Government supports culture and the arts by bringing over musicians on cultural exchange programmes. The audiences are much bigger and the venues much grander, so as a touring artist it’s hard to beat that experience.
KP: Do you plan to resume international touring when the world opens up again?
FJH: I’m not sure of the answer yet, but I can say I will always live-stream. It’s been a big discovery to find I can reach many thousands more from my living room (with no travel cost). I have not figured out how to monetise efficiently yet, but I think some melding of performance options will be the best. As I get older, touring gets harder so that is the logical decision. Yes I’ll tour, but less….
KP: It seems like while touring and performing have come to a halt, many artists are busy writing lots of new music while they have the time. Has that been true for you as well?
FJH: No, not in my experience. Until a few weeks ago I found it very hard to write music. The uncertainty of the world and the constant horror of the stories left me feeling that no music exists right now. I’m coming out of that and am grateful that I had Moving Through Worlds written just before COVID hit. My ‘COVID’ contribution to the album was all the layered vocals I added in March, but effectively, the songs had already been written.
KP: What’s up next for you?
FJH: I have a re-edit, remix and remaster of Christmas Joy coming out in a month’s time, Heavenly Voices with Rebecca Daniel for Blue Coast Records in March next year and in a few weeks I go back into the studio to do a mix variation of The Lightness of Dark. Keeping work current is important in the new world of streaming.
KP: Is there anything else you’d like to “talk” about?
FJH: Thank you Kathy for all you have done for my career, there are not many people who have been there right from the start!!!!
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, Fiona! I hope we can meet again soon!
Kathy, Fiona, Trysette, and Bob Fieg in Florence, OR 2013.
Trysette and Fiona in concert at Kathy's house 2012
Many thanks to Fiona Joy Hawkins for taking the time to chat! For more information about Fiona and her music, be sure to visit her website
and her Artist Page
here on MainlyPiano.com.