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Escaping Gravity: The HawtThorns Elevate Their Sound with ‘Zero Gravity’

n this interview, The HawtThorns opened up about their creative process, the influences behind their distinct sound, and the collaborative spirit that shaped Zero Gravity into a masterpiece of modern music storytelling.

ByTara Low for Guitar Girl Magazine

May 6, 2024

woman standing next to chaise with man sitting on the chaise
Photo by Stacy Huckebae

The HawtThorns have emerged with their latest sonic adventure, Zero Gravityseamlessly blending indie-pop, alt-country, and rockReleased by Red Parlor Records, this album marks a pivotal evolution for the Nashville-based duo, KP and Johnny Hawthorn, whose roots in LA’s vibrant music scene have seasoned them into deft storytellers and musicians. As they dive into their third album, the couple continues to blur the lines between genres, crafting tracks that resonate deeply with personal experiences and abstract storytelling, all while pushing the boundaries of traditional soundscapes.

Zero Gravity is not just a title but a thematic exploration of weightlessness — both in the literal sense and metaphorically through life’s transient and ephemeral moments. This concept, which blossomed post-recording, encapsulates the album’s ethereal and dynamic nature. With the addition of live band recordings directly to 2-inch tape, the album exudes a raw, vibrant energy that is both nostalgic and refreshingly new. The decision to record without a metronome, relying on the organic synchronicity of the band, infuses each track with a palpable spontaneity that is rare in today’s digital world. In this interview, The HawtThorns opened up about their creative process, the influences behind their distinct sound, and the collaborative spirit that shaped Zero Gravity into a masterpiece of modern music storytelling.

man holding guitar and woman leaning against wall
The HawtThorns – Johnny with his Xotic XTC1 and KP – Photo by Alysse Gafkjen

Zero Gravity seems like a metaphorical title with deep resonance. Can you share what inspired this title and how it relates to the themes explored in the album? How has your approach to creating music evolved with this third album compared to your previous works?

The concept for Zero Gravity was adapted after the record was recorded. As much as we loved the song “Zero Gravity,” we didn’t know going in its potential for being such a strong recording. We realized we had something personal, fun, exciting, and a little ethereal and decided to make the title track video a very “spacey” vibe. We had original artwork for the record that had nothing to do with the video, but quickly decided to scratch that and lean into what we had created visually. The screen shots from the video that make up the artwork for the album help to tell the story and create a narrative and a feel for the music. This is the first record we have made with a live band recording to tape with no metronome, and it was invigorating!

You recorded the album in Nashville with some notable musicians. Share with us the details! I understand that the vocals and instruments were recorded live directly to 2-inch tape. How did this affect the overall sound and feel of the album?

Making this record at The Wood Brothers’ studio with Brook Sutton behind the board and Ted Pecchio at the helm was pretty joyful. Ted was able to round up this fantastic band, including Nick Buda on drums, Jano Rix of the Woods on keys, and some additional guitar by Chris Condon. When we originally talked with Ted about what we wanted the record to sound like, he knew who to call.

To be able to get live performances by these players straight to 2-inch tape without a click track gave the record such a lively feel from the beginning. Even many of the vocal performances were captured live, something we rarely do. Everyone showed up each day, ready to play and create. All of the people in that room are producers in their own right (including The HawtThorns!), so the ideas were flowing, and it was about as easy as it could be. And WOW, the sound of the tape definitely made a difference. We realize everyone is listening digitally mostly, but there is something to be said about the performance you get from players when the record is coming out sounding like that warm tape in that room.

man playing guitar
Johnny Hawthorn with Fender Telecaster Custom Shop with Bigsby and TV Jones pick-ups – Photo Alysse Gafkjen

The album features a rich layering of different guitar tones and textures. Could you discuss your process for selecting and blending these sounds? There’s a mention of far-out keyboard tracks and syncopated guitar hooks. How do you balance experimentation with maintaining the distinct sound The HawtThorns are known for?

We love so much different music, and we have many influences. Lots of the new music we listen to has synth sounds, but there is no getting around the great albums of the 1970s that were purely analog. We are always looking at ways of blending what we love. While we were recording, we explained to Jano what we were hearing, and he is such a creative genius he would just pull some crazy sound out of his keyboards. The beauty of his playing is that it isn’t only about the sounds but the rhythms he is playing — extremely percussive and with such a great feel. Johnny Hawthorn played all of his parts at our home studio so he was able to work around what was there on keys and really accentuate the existing tones. He also loves composing melodic solos; we intentionally left lots of room for that. Johnny plays with compression, reverb, rotary, delay, and super fun effects; it is like he has a canvas and he is painting it.

Your music weaves personal experiences with abstract storytelling. Could you share the story behind one of the tracks that is particularly meaningful to you?

The song “Trouble” is one of those — it is a song that we used poetic words that leave room for interpretation. Sometimes, the way a phrase makes you feel can be more important than what the words are plainly saying. This song is a cautionary tale; it is unknown to the listener who the tale-teller is talking about, but it feels like there is an important warning. What we really wrote the song about is the price that is paid when one is chasing fame and fortune, particularly in the music biz.

The track “Zero Gravity” deals with themes of loss and acceptance. What inspired this song, and what do you hope listeners take away from it?

When David Bowie passed away, we were struck that he had known he was sick but didn’t share the info widely. During his illness, he thought to leave his fans with a full-length record and videos. This got us thinking: there is so much left of a person even after they leave Earth. We have had to let so many people go, but we feel them with us and hope to meet them again on another plane. There are several Bowie references in the song, unapologetically. We hope that listeners think of the ones they have lost in this way after hearing this tune. 

woman playing acoustic guitar onstage
KP Hawthorn playing a Martin D-28 – Photo by Kristen Drum

How did collaborating with musicians like Jano Rix and Nick Buda influence the recording of this album?

The musicians on this record helped us get a fresh perspective for sure. We felt like it got the “Nashville treatment.” They absolutely brought their best, and it was contagious energy in the studio.

Alice Wallace contributed harmonies on the cover of “When Will I Be Loved.” What brought about this collaboration, and how did it complement the album’s vibe?

Alice has been a longtime friend of the band; we have shared many gigs, worked in the studio together, and KP produced two of her records in the past. We love her voice and thought a third part on an Everly Brothers tune wouldn’t hurt anyone!

The album spans a range of styles from Americana to indie-pop. How do you navigate these genre shifts when composing and producing your music?

We understand that genres need to be attached to records so that the powers that be know where to put the music. However, we don’t care what genre we are making; we make music that we love, and that’s pretty much all we can do. Every now and then, we will hear a sound or a lyric and say, “That goes in the Country basket” or something like that. We both believe that evolution in music is a good thing and if we were to try to make a specific genre of music, it would likely sound forced 

There are nods to historical music eras, like the Laurel Canyon scene and British invaders of the ‘70s. How do these influences manifest in Zero Gravity?

True! KP is a California girl and grew up with her mother’s musical influences which were heavy in the Laurel Canyon sound. You can take the girl out of the canyon, but you can never take the canyon out of the girl. “Flying,” “Hands On A Clock,” “Long Game,” and even “When Will I Be Loved” have that easy breezy west coast thing that is a little hard to define. Johnny is not a native of the West Coast but has lived there for years and has a deep love for that sound. Being Fleetwood Mac fans, Joni Mitchell, CSN, there is something there that gets in your blood and lives there forever. As far as the Brits go, obviously, you can’t consider yourself a modern-day songwriter without acknowledging the Beatles. We also love Elvis Costello and bands like Bad Finger, the Kinks, and others, so that is going to come out in the music, particularly the production on “Trouble” and “Don’t Wait By The Phone.”

man and woman onstage playing guitar
The HawtThorns – Johnny playing his Xotic XTC1 and KP playing her Martin D-28 – Photo by Kristen Drum

With the release of Zero Gravity, how do you see your musical direction evolving in the future?

We would honestly like to make a drum and bass record with a creamy vocal and some interesting guitar sounds. We would also be into making an acoustic record with nothing but two-part harmonies all the way through. There is always going to be a love for creating here, and there will definitely be another fully produced, full-band record, hopefully utilizing more and more of what we are inspired by at the time.

Are there any tour plans or live performances scheduled to promote the new album?

The HawtThors are heading to the East Coast in May, routing West in June for shows in OK, NM, CA, and CO. In July, there are more shows in the East and the Midwest. Lots more to come this year; please go to our tour page www.thehawtthorns.com/shows

Zero Gravity tracklist

NOTHING BUT A SHADOW
ZERO GRAVITY
HANDS ON A CLOCK
TROUBLE
FAKIN IT
FLYING
DON’T PLAN TO LOSE
LONG GAME
DON’T WAIT BY THE PHONE
SAVE THIS ONE
WHEN WILL I BE LOVED

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