Blue Dream:
AV Talks with Fiona Joy Hawkins

 

Fiona Joy Hawkins

Visit Fiona's website

Blue Dream

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Dream:
Ambient Visions Talks with....Fiona Joy Hawkins
ゥ2010 Ambient Visions

 

AV:  Your bio says that you started playing music as a child. How young were you when you first started playing? What was it about music that captured your interest so early in life? 

FJH:  My grandmother moved into our house when I was 8 years old. When she moved in she brought a 100 year old iron frame German piano with her.  My mother showed me the staff and stave and how to work out which note was which in relation to the musical score and within 6 weeks I could play the first part of Fur Elise.

Maybe that initial intrigue was stirred within me because learning the music bore such a similarity to working a giant jigsaw puzzle (of which I was very fond). I begged them for lessons because I needed to learn more.

I started pretty much straight away and had a wonderful teacher who encouraged me in every way. After a few months of "getting the gist of it" I became more interested in writing my own music than playing someone else's, but in addition to the process of learning to play properly I had to learn discipline in regards to my music and oddly enough I realized that fact even as a young child. Kind of like loving your day job but hating the paperwork that goes with it. Thank goodness I did follow the conventional classical training path because now I can play well enough to perform what I write. :)  

AV:  Do you think that children soak up their environments as they grow up and how important was it to your own interest in music that there was always music in your home?   

FJH:  Music in the home is definitely important. I grew up with my ear glued to the speaker system. My parents were very young (mother 17, father 19) when they had me and there was always music and dancing. I loved Ravel, Prokofiev, Andrew Lloyd Webber and all of my father's music like Anne Murray, The Seekers, Neil Diamond and even a few really dodgy ones that I simply tolerated.   

My dad was Jesus in Superstar so I guess the music came from the gene pool. Dad and I spent a lot of time with guitars singing - I知 not too good on the guitar but to this day I still sit and play and sing for enjoyment and relaxation.  If children are exposed to music then they have the opportunity to choose to go in that direction. Without that exposure they will never understand the love of it and they will potentially miss out on something they may have been good at.  

AV:  When was it that you began your formal training on the piano and how did that help you to take your playing to the next creative level?  

FJH:  I did all the AMEB exams to grade 8. I think you absorb the Baroque, Classical and  Romantic periods through that process and then it translates into contemporary compositions when you eventually start writing your own music.  I guess you soak it up almost by osmosis.  The past is what we build on and so we have to start there. 

AV:  Is it always essential to have formal training once you seriously start to pursue music or if a person has an affinity for music can they develop just as well without any formal training? 

FJH:  It depends how good your ear is. Many people believe that too much classical training makes you rely on the music and not your ear and I would have to agree with that. I work with lots of people who can't read music and their ear is so much more developed than mine.  I guess it depends on what you want to do with your music and which part of the industry you are working in.  I needed the classical discipline and structure.   

Working with so many amazing instrumental musicians (both soloists and session musicians) I have become inspired and I am learning to forget the classical training and use my ear more.  Seeing the brilliance of people who, using their ear alone can chart your music and record it perfectly on the first take (in the correct key) is awesome.   It痴 inspirational. You can hear that my music is structured and that I知 a product of my classical background. 

AV:  Your music seems to cross a few genres including contemporary classical, jazz and world fusion. What was it that originally drew you to these forms of expression for your music?   

FJH:  I love world music influences but the jazz expression in my music is a complete accident. I never learned a jazz chord in my life.  People keep telling me I cross into that genre but the truth is that I write what I write and where it fits in is determined by other people.  If I set out to do anything too specific I would have my creativity backed into a corner before I even started to write.  It allows me a complete freedom of expression.   

Oddly, I have had all that classical training and I don't start with a clue as to where I知 going.  I just translate the subject matter into music that tells the story.  Luckily I have people telling me its classical, new age, jazz and world. That's a good thing because the music fits into more pigeon holes that way. If I were to say anything is purposeful it痴 the world influences and that痴 because I love so many of the sounds and instruments and languages outside my own culture. 

AV:  Just for clarification what does being "classically trained" mean in terms of how you compose and play music on the piano? Is it like a foundation that everything else is built upon?  

FJH:  Yes exactly.  It's the foundation, the discipline. We learn from the masters. We then evolve with our contemporary writings but it's all essentially derived from their explorations. 

AV:  What are your feelings about your music being labeled and classified into the genres of new age, ambient, classical and jazz music ?  

FJH:  Everyone wants to pigeon hole my music or any music. I知 pleased to be confusing them all with what I write. I知 not even sure where I fit in myself.  Genres are probably necessary in terms of marketing and product placement, but so often I hear genres associated with certain artists or albums and they don't fit it at all.  One time I found my album A Portrait of a Waterfall in a shop in New York in the jazz section and I swear on the bible there isn't a lot of jazz on that album.   

New age is undergoing a transformation at the moment.  I would like to think I知 part of that world but on the cutting edge.  As we move into 2010 I'm hoping that I知 original enough to make a directional contribution to the evolution of 'new age music'.    

AV:  Who were some of your major musical influences and why did they have such an impact on your music and your life? 

FJH:  Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf.  I danced to that.  I loved ballet and I danced all over the house from as young as I can remember.  Geez, I still dance around the house, but now I have a boyfriend who does the tango!  Mamamia that's one sexy dance. Ooops, off topic. :) 

I loved Ravel's Bolero - I used to pick the layers apart (in an auditory sense) and I marveled at the structure of it and how he achieved the build. I have always wanted to do a track like that and have set about it several times only to find that the song I started with changed completely on the way and I didn't come close to my goal.  I'm going for it again on the next album - it's a piece in 5/4 and it will be circular with various instruments coming in on each round, making a statement and then settling back into the layers making way for a new instrument to step up and to shine.  Hopefully this time it will work.  I'm going to be recording again in November (with Will Ackerman and Corin Nelsen - in Australia on a Stuart and Son's piano). 

AV:  When did you start writing your own music and how much different was that from sitting down at the piano with sheet music and playing someone else's pieces?  

FJH:  I started composing at the age of 8 right after I started lessons.  It felt natural and it was the thing that I loved most about the piano. The fact that I could make music myself was exciting to me.  It moved me, right from the beginning. 

AV:  What kind of music did you write to start with and how has that evolved over the years since? 

FJH:  I'm so pleased you asked this question no one ever has before and it's a memory I love.  I wrote a piece called 'Feelings' in 3/4 time and in a minor key. It had words as well and I used to sing it.  I only looked at it again a few months ago while I was packing boxes (I moved to Kendall) and it was so 'cute' - if I may say so myself.  I was only 8 years old and it was such a baby attempt, but it was bold and 100% correct.  I never excelled at musical theory and yet I could write for the whole orchestra if it suited me at the time. I got bored in theory classes but could figure it out if I needed it for my own purposes (I was possibly the teacher's nightmare).    

My writing gradually became more sophisticated, but to be honest I think I was writing at my full potential in my teens - I have since learned to orchestrate and negotiate the recording studio - but I could construct and play music just fine at 14 years of age - it took me till I was 38 to go into the recording studio.   A bit slow! :)  The main advantage of my age is a bit of experience, wisdom and depth from which to draw on for my compositional subject matter.  That makes a big difference in what I write. 

AV:  Tell me about how it is that you go about composing music that evokes images, emotions and tells stories?  Do you set out with any specific emotions or stories in this regard and work from those premises as you compose?  

FJH:  I guess I just always need subject matter. If I sit down at the piano and improvise it goes nowhere.  If
I知 feeling emotional about something, moved by something, wanting to de-stress by expressing something then I know exactly what I知 doing. I have an instant purpose at the piano at those moments.  It's a bit like synchronicity when you see something in one medium and then you translate it another medium and for me, it痴 translated into music. 

I was standing in front of a giant abstract yellow painting by Ruth le Cheminant.  It was a landscape that was very textural and had the ability to hold your eye and take it around the canvas; such were the layers and complexities in this artwork. As I stood in front of it I remarked to Ruth that I could hear the music that described that painting she dared me to write it - that was one of the first pieces I recorded and the only re-record on Blue Dream - it痴 called Prelude to a Painting and is on the album Portrait of a Waterfall as Prelude to a Landscape.  I never felt I did it justice and wanted to loosen it up and add a jazzier feel to it. 

AV:  Tell me about your first CD release. Was the experience a good experience for you and what did you learn about the business side of taking your composition from your head to selling it as a physical product?  

FJH:  The learning curve was very steep. I learned so much in a short space of time and was lucky to avoid the major pit falls.  I recorded on a keyboard to start with and I知 happy that I have had experience with that side of things before I recorded acoustically as the two are different worlds.  When you join the two together it痴 wonderful and gives you the opportunity to do interesting things (I did that with Angel Above My Piano and Ice - Piano Slightly Chilled). Blue dream is almost completely acoustic (20 instrumental artists) except for Phil Aaberg痴 keyboard layers. 

The business side of things was also difficult.  I had worked in the area of marketing and had built and run my own business.  I think that I came into the music industry at a time when I understood it for what it is and I had no expectations of big label deals or fame and fortune.  I love the way the industry is do damned hard to negotiate because it makes the challenge exciting.  The hardest part is putting the business hat on in the office and changing to the artist痴 hat when you are at the piano which took me several years to feel comfortable with. 

AV:  Jumping ahead a few album releases do you see an evolution at work from Portrait of a Waterfall to your latest release Blue Dream? What have you learned about your music in that period of time?  

FJH:  I have learned that I still have so much to learn.  I also learned that it is best to stick with what you do best and leave what you are not good at to others.  I'm no engineer and sometimes I知 too close to my own work to produce it.  I love producing and have always fancied myself working with other artists, but when it comes to my own albums, I need an independent and honest ear.  I loved working with Will Ackerman because he could see my vision but still point me in the right direction when I strayed from it.   

AV:  Will Ackerman refers to your Blue Dream album as a flowing work of music that has all of the songs connected as in a suite. When you composed Blue Dream was this how you envisioned the music that you were creating and what role did Will Ackerman play in helping you to bring this music to life 

FJH:  Yes.  I emailed Will and said that the weirdest thing was happening in practice- that I was joining everything together as if it was all one long piece of music and that I had an epiphany to actually do the album like that.  I expected to be told I was a complete fruit loop but Will answered straight back saying he had always wanted to do an album like that but was concerned about making it work. He asked me if I thought I could pull it off.  I promptly sent him some mp3's of how I was going to join it all up and he gave it the go ahead. We had to deal with some technical issues like how to make it seamless but record it in sizeable chunks.  It was exciting to be walking on new ground. 

The subject matter for Blue Dream is really personal which is why there are so few liner notes.  It tells my life story and in that process takes unexpected turns, travels through different worlds and emotions, deals with some demons and lands in a place I wanted it to.  Next up is 600 years in a moment and Christmas Joy.  I had better stop typing and start writing!   

AV:  I also noticed that Blue Dream is available in SACD format. How does your music benefit from this format and did you do a special multi channel mix for the SACD disc?  

FJH:  Yes, I flew back over to Vermont and worked with Corin Nelsen and Bob Ludwig.  We remixed into 5.1 surround. The album has three layers, the Redbook layer (regular CD) a hi-fidelity stereo layer and the 5.1 surround layer.  We did it as a soundscape, so its more of a journey in sound than sitting in your chair and hearing the piano center stage, violin front left, cello front left, drums back, brass middle center - etc.  Instruments and voices come across you, swirl around you and take you where you are not expecting to go.  I have since learned I知 the first independent Australian artist to re-mix into SACD. 

AV:  Judging by your release of the 4 titles specifically for the iTunes market you understand the significance of the digital side of your music. Will you always be releasing a physical CD for sale or do you see a time when your music will be exclusively released as digital files? How does this shift in music sales and marketing make you feel about the industry in general? 

FJH:  For now I will release physical product.  The digital only albums are compilations that I did for marketing purposes and these include the albums:  Music for Funerals, Music for Weddings, Music for Massage and my number one seller........ Music for sex :).   

I'm trying not to predict the market too much........however; I think there will be some movement back towards the audiophile end of things and turntables will be selling like hot-cakes.  New age will be slow to re-master in that format, but I知 happy to say it痴 on my agenda for 2011 - I would love to put Blue Dream out on vinyl.  

I guess that means that digital will never have 100% of the market - otherwise all the hi-fi shops would be out of business.  There will always be audiophiles and thankfully they still pay for music!. 

AV:  How has the Internet changed how you sell your music and interact with your fans? Do you find this to be a good thing for you as an artist in a niche musical genre? 

FJH:  Most of my music is sold on the Internet (CD痴 and digita downloads).  You have to have lots of online sites selling for you because your income is made $15.00 at a time!   

As far as the marketing -it痴 very very, very time consuming.  I wanted to answer all my own online site mail and comments and the reality is that I can't.  I try, but I can't get to all of it.   Bob Lefsetz is completely out of line when he preaches that we have to be 'close' to the fans with our Facebook and MySpace sites. It's a great idea but reality is that the only way you can keep up with it is if you have insomnia.   I have someone answer the comments, update the pages, do bulletins, blogs etc.   

I get on there when I can - I do twitter, personal messages on the various sites...... And that's all I have time for. Being an indie artist stretches you in so many different directions. 

AV:  How do you feel about the live performances that you do throughout the year? Do you enjoy the time you spend on stage? What do you get out of it and what do you want the audience to walk away with from the show?  

FJH:  I love performing live.  There is no doubt that it's the most exhilarating way to communicate your music - directly to an audience.  I have not been concentrating on that part of my career but want to change that and do a lot more.  I just put a link on YouTube of a 10 minute highlights from my last concert in Sydney so that I can get more work from it! Finding venues with a grand piano and people to organize concerts has been slowing me down. http://www.youtube.com/user/fionajoy#p/u/0/FUD-agyDBOU    

AV:  As an artist what do music awards, nominations and rankings on music charts mean to you? 

FJH:  Credibility, extra lines to type on your resume. Radio charts are important but awards are not to be taken too seriously.  They lead to extra clicks on your website but few extra sales.  They are essential, but meaningless. They are subjective, they can be political and sometimes are completely biased but we  still have to chase them, be gracious when we lose and not think too much of it when we win.  

AV:  I was interested to see that you are a painter as well. Do you see this an a physical way to express your music too or some other aspect of your personality that needs to be expressed creatively?

FJH:  Back to synchronicity - seeing or hearing something one way and translating it another.  It's a creative outlet that I enjoy, seek and one that fulfills me.  Unfortunately I don't have as much time to paint now but recently I delivered some work to a couple of great galleries - the Pokolbin Gallery at Mistletoe Wine in the  Hunter valley and Longview Wines and Gallery in Lake Cathie. 

AV: Are there any thoughts you'd like to share about your music with the readers of ambient visions as we conclude this interview?

FJH: The piano has been the love of my life, my best friend, always there in times of need, doubt, anger fear and all else that unbalances us. It has saved me many times and given me solace. I'm grateful that others can get something out of what I love to do so much, because the truth is that even if nobody listened, I would still do it............just for me. I know that may sound selfish, but it has to start at that soul level, it has to be that way, all else is a bonus.

AV: It has been a pleasure talking to you and I thank you for sharing your thoughts on your music with the readers of Ambient Visions. You be sure to drop me a line when your next album is done because I'm sure that it will follow in the footsteps of your other great releases and the readers of Ambient Visions will want to know where to get there copy. Good luck.