Fiona Joy Hawkins is a multi-talented pianist/composer and artist from Australia. She was classically trained on the piano at a young age and some of her favorite composers were Mendelssohn, Prokofiev, and Ravel. In fact, she liked Ravel's Bolero so much that she spent countless hours dissecting the music to understand the classic composition. Fiona has led a multitasking life of raising a family, creating jewelry, painting, and composing music on the piano. With the suggestion of her mother, Fiona began to concentrate primarily on her music when her children reached adulthood. Through hard work and practice, she is now a world class pianist with 10 albums to her credit. Fiona tours in the US, Australia, and China on a regular basis and performs at the finest concert halls they have to offer. She also gets involved with the entrepreneurial side of the business by maintaining her own record label Little Hartley Music. Her brand new release "Signature Synchronicity" was recorded in the US at Imaginary Roads Studio in picturesque New England. It follows the 2016 ZMR "Best Solo Piano Album" award-winning "Signature Solo" release. I recently talked with Fiona about her recent accomplishments.
R.V.B. - Hi Fiona. How are you? Welcome to the United States!
F.J. - Thank you. I'm not quite sure what part of the world I'm in at the moment. Haha
R.V.B. - You do seem to get around. You recently had a nice tour of China last year?
F.J. - I did, and I'm going back this year. I love touring China. It surprised me that I would enjoy it that much but I actually really loved it.
R.V.B. - How many shows did you do there?
F.J. - Last trip I did 4 concerts. The trip before I did 6 concerts and the next trip I do 10. When I say concerts, I mean there's 1,500 seat auditoriums and there's not an empty seat. You solo on the stage. You do these 10 concerts all in a row and you may get this odd day off. It's really hard work when you're on stage for an hour and a half by yourself.
R.V.B. - I can imagine, and with 4,800 people in the audience, there's a little bit of pressure.
F.J. - Yeah, a little bit. You come away from it and you're totally drained. They're so good to you there. The view is beautiful... the children are great. I love it.
R.V.B - What cities did you visit?
F.J. - It's difficult to pronounce them. Hahaha - I have them up on my website.
R.V.B. - Oh ok. How many different cities did you visit?
F.J - When I did the 6 concert tour I visited 6 totally different cities. It was really funny because they would say "Today we are playing a very small city - only 7 million people".
R.V.B. - Hahaha.
F.J. - Sydney is 5 million.
R.V.B. - It's very crowded over there.
F.J. - It was a real eye opener for me because I come from a little village of only 830 people.
R.V.B. - That sounds very rural.
F.J. - It was. I lived right in the middle of town. It's called the poets village... Kendall.
R.V.B. - So it's a quaint little village and it has some charm to it?
What brings you to the United States?
F.J. - I'm a finalist in the Zone Music Reporter Awards for the "Best Solo Piano Album". It was internationally radio voted. The album Signature Synchronicity is a 2 part series. The 1st part is Signature Solo, which was recorded with Blue Coast Records. It was actually recorded to tape and was released in DSD download and all different download formats. Then it was put out on SACD and then finally on CD. They're content partners with Sony for high resolution. It was done in a single take. It's got that live performance energy happening. Then I took the same 10 songs - note for note - and re-recorded them on a homemade Australian piano... which was a Stewart and Sons. I took it into the studio for the fully orchestrated overdubs. There's lyrics, violins, cellos, and people like Tony Levin. It shows two completely different worlds. The solo piano world and the same 10 songs taken into the studio.
R.V.B. - I listened to each individual track and the first thing that hit me was the beautiful production work and the seamless intertwined sounds.
F.J. - Thank you. I'm working with Will Ackerman who is the founder of Windham Hill Records. He was the producer with Tom Eaton and James Englund. Part of it was recorded in Australia and then it was brought over to Imaginary Road Studios. Working with those guys "You just can't miss... they're amazing! Really incredible".
F.J. - It's a contemporary hand made piano as opposed to "Signature Solo" which is an 85 key Steinway from the 1800's. It was a really old one. The Stewart and Son's has 97 keys and a whole different tuning system. There's no bend in the decay of a note. The theory is that the tuning pegs go off to the side. If you listen to the decay of the note, you can hear it go off in the distance and waft off in the direction of the tuning peg. With the Stewart and Son's, the strings go up and over a patented clamp. The sound goes around and around in circles. If you listen to a note, it goes off forever and ever. There's no bend in the decay and you get these amazing harmonics. You have to be careful with your pedaling so that you don't take the previous chords harmonics with you across the music, otherwise you can end up with a muddy sound. To some degree you can hear harmonics carrying across because that's the nature of the piano. It's a very different instrument to play. Even though it's a piano... it looks like a piano... it sounds like a piano... it's a new design in a piano.
R.V.B. - I would presume that harmonics come into play depending on what type of venue you are performing at also? Can you have that issue live also?
F.J. - It can just be so beautiful live. I think of myself as more as a storyteller so it's more the integrity of a single note. You can put that note out there and the energy in that note can mean something... and depending on what reverb the room offers... you can play a single note and everyone goes "Oh, that's amazing!". Then another harmonic can hang on it. The Stewart and Son's piano is just a really beautiful instrument to play and you really have to be classically trained to play it... because of the demands of the instrument.
R.V.B. - You mentioned that you are classically trained... I noticed one of your favorite pieces is Ravel's Bolero.
F.J. - When I was a kid my dad had a record player and I used to lie in front of it and listen to Ravel's Bolero. I was around 7 or 8 years old, and I had this fascination with the buildup in the music. The idea that instruments would come and go and create so much emotion and interest. It would change and then the instrument would come back again... and something else would come in. I used to deconstruct it to try to figure out how it worked in layers. It really helped me as a composer because I'm very interested in the build process. How you can tell new stories and introduce new rhythms. I love that piece of music.
F.J. - I'm a conceptual writer. I have an idea in my head and a plan for the album before I even start writing. I have to have a subject matter, to turn into a piece of music. I don't sit down at the piano and just improvise. I do it every now and again but it's not my usual way of writing. I'm telling a story, for example: "Fair Not" is about a princess and a dragon. I wanted to write something about modern day fairytales told from an adult perspective. The princess in the tower is princess Fiona. There's a really evil person that I don't like, and there at the bottom of the tower is the dragon protecting me from that person. It's real life in fairytales, and stories that evolved from that. As a composer playing instrumental music, I can only suggest the story. The listener has to take their own meaning out of it. I can give the suggestion of the subject matter but I can't give the answers. They're about the stories of our life.
R.V.B. - That's a very good concept and it seemed to work out real well. I know that you're involved in a lot of different arts. Is it difficult to juggle your time between practicing each of them? Such as: jewelry making, painting, and your music?
F.J. - To be honest my music has been so demanding I haven't had the time for the other things. I have now been asked to join what Will Ackerman is calling a "New Age Supergroup". It's the first group that he has been in since Windham Hill. It's called "FLOW" for Fiona, Lawrence, Oster, and Will (Ackerman). For me, it's just been this ride of one thing after another, after another. I've done 10 albums since my career started and painting unfortunately went out the window. It distresses me in a way because I love painting. For me it's so cathartic, and so relaxing, whereas my music is so serious. Music is my heart and soul. It means so much more to me than the art... which is something I do for enjoyment more than anything else. I miss it. The jewelry is just an extension of that art. The music comes first.
R.V.B. - Once you have it in you, it will come back at some point.
F.J. - I hope so because music can burn you out as well. At some point I want to take a step back, and start painting one day a week. I think I will be a better overall artist. For now, my career has been so demanding of me. I have more projects than I have time for... which is good because I get to pick and choose.
R.V.B. - That's a good problem to have.
F.J. - It's a good problem to have because it means I can pick the better project. Hahaha
R.V.B. - With the work of supporting a new album like the videos and the trailers that you have done. Do you enjoy this process? You seem to be a natural at acting in your videos.
F.J. - The weird thing is when I go on stage, I'm a performer and an entertainer. I love touring and I love playing for audiences. I'm as nervous as hell before I go on stage but when I walk on stage everyone says "You look so calm". They have no idea! Hahaha. With the video... I think I've got a little actress in me. I love that sort of thing. It's that whole thing of being somebody else and telling a story. I enjoy doing the videos and I love the video editing process as well.
R.V.B. - I saw in the video that you were out in the field and there was a fire going on. It was mixing in with the mist. That was very powerful.
F.J. - We have the whole video done now and it's called "Fair Not". I'm fascinated with Game of Thrones. Once again, it's the other world thing. I wanted to do a video clip that was inspired by that. We painted a dragon on the piano and built some dragon wings. We had the guy who was the pyrotechnic for Mad Max and The Matrix. He pulled the inside of the piano out and basically but a barbeque into it. He could set it on fire and it looked like flames were coming from the back of it. Then he mixed the inside of a bean bag which was poly - Styrofoam with petrol into this paste. then he put this paste all around the top of the piano so that it would burn. He kept saying "Fiona, don't breath the black smoke... it's like napalm". I was terrified playing that piano. I thought the whole thing was going to blow up on me. Haha
R.V.B. - I can't say I blame you. Your son appears on one track. Is he gradually getting into music also?
F.J. - He would love to be a musician. He's only 23 so I don't think he's ready yet. Both of my boys are really musical and they could both could read music before they could read.
F.J. - My older son Ben is a bit of an audiophile. He follows new music formats, and he likes listening to good music. My younger son does the beatboxing. I think that he'll eventually get involved with a band. I took a while before I got into the music industry. I was 38 before I got into the studio. Even though I started playing the piano and writing when I was 8 years old. It took me that long to get around to it. We're slow starters in my family.
R.V.B. - It's better late than never.
F.J. - That's right... it is never too late. I say that to a lot to people. If you've got a passion, you've got to get out and do it. My mother actually said to me. "Fiona, if you don't do something with your music, you've wasted your whole life". I took that and I thought "She's right". There's no point in being a cupboard composer and having this drain. I actually have to be brave enough and just go out there and give it a go.
R.V.B. - How did you get the name Little Hartley Music for your record label?
F.J. - I used to live in Little Hartley. It's a town 2 hours west of Sydney in the Blue Mountains.
R.V.B. - Do you enjoy production side of the fence where you nurture other musicians along in music?
F.J. - I love doing that. I've been very fortunate to have met Will Ackerman because that's what he does. He picks people that needs his help and takes them to the next level. I love producing as well. It's something that you either enjoy doing or you don't. Part of Little Hartley Music is that we help musicians get into Australia and Asia.
F.J. - Thank you. It's this Saturday night. I'm up with David Nevue, Robin Speilberg, Kori Linae Carothers, and Michele McLaughlin. This is actually very exciting because Signature Solo is actually my first solo piano album, and yet my whole life I was a solo piano player. It took me a long time to come back to my roots. This will be my third time to these awards. Last year I won the "Best Piano with Instrumentation" award. It's been great.
R.V.B. - Good luck this Saturday and thank you for taking this time with me. I appreciate it. Your music is wonderful.
F.J. - Thank you very much Rob.
Follow up question - post winning ZMR Award for Best Solo Piano Album
F.J. - I had a wonderful time at the ZMR Awards - there is a real sense of family and camaraderie. I was aware how hard it was to pick the Solo Piano winner because everyone had commented it was the most difficult to make a call on. I count the other four finalists amongst my very good friends and when I won, the first part of my speech was to thank them and say that they must have thrown five stones in the air to see which came down first. I do feel very privileged and honoured to have been in the company of Kori Carothers, Michele Mclaughlin, David Nevue and Robin Spielberg. Signature Solo was my first solo album, recorded on a Steinway in single takes to hi def formats and later into CD and mp3. I was able to thank the radio stations that voted for me, my producer Cookie Marenco, Engineer Patrick and label Tiny Island Music/Blue Coast Records as well as PR Beth Hilton - the B Company and Radio PR Ed Bonk - Lazz Promotions. I also mentioned my excitement to present the second part of the 'Signature' Series with the newly released Signature Synchronicity which features the same 10 tracks with full studio production (lyrics, instrumentation). It was recorded on an Aussie hand made Stuart and Son's piano and produced by Will Ackerman, Tom Eaton and James Englund. Its only just out. To me, this award is recognition that makes me feel enabled to continue - its International radio saying that they like what I'm doing - in this crazy and difficult industry any form of justification is welcomed!
Interview Conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Fiona Joy visit her website www.fionajoy.com
Special thanks to Beth Ann Hilton
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