How do a couple of Southern Californians who take deep dives into their musical past in search of authenticity, heavenly harmonies, and down-to-earth lyrics and melodies find the meaning of life and love in this day and age? If they’re gutsy, committed, and contemplative husband-and-wife genre-defying artists named Johnny and KP Hawthorn, they move to East Nashville.
That’s how the Hawthorns became the HawtThorns, a darn-tootin’ dynamite duo who aim to pull up their roots, stick by their guns and bring back the sounds of the Laurel Canyon in the 1960s, the British invaders of the ‘70s, and the cosmic cowboys still twirling through time and space. This here is one-stop hopping across the planet.
Right now, Johnny and KP Hawthorn are all about first impressions and second chances, especially since they’re launching their sophomore full-length album — Tarot Cards and Shooting Stars — on Friday (25 February). But they want to give fans — and anyone else who should be intrigued enough to listen — a sneak preview by presenting the 10-song record in its entirety beginning today (22 February) at PopMatters. Who knows if the twosome were prescient enough to pick this date — 2-22-2022 — for this proper premiere, but maybe “2” is their lucky number.
Tarot Cards and Shooting Stars received an early boost on 1 February, becoming the fourth-most added album on the Americana Music Association radio charts, entering at No. 61 on its first week.
The pair aren’t foretelling the future or searching for a theme to this feel-good collection that also includes think-for-yourself messages in tunes like “On the Way”.
“A lot of the [album’s] songs have the essence of there’s a lot of things you can’t control. You just have to take what you have and make the best of it and try to enjoy it. And realize that isn’t the key to happiness, having control of everything,” KP offers in a joint phone interview with Johnny from their modest East Nashville home on Groundhog Day. While there wasn’t a shadow of doubt that Punxsutawney Phil signaled six more weeks of winter, the Hawthorns’ warm, jovial mood remained intact.
“That line in [‘On the Way’] isn’t gonna tell you what you need. Sometimes it’s just luck,” KP adds. “Sometimes you just have to look at what you have in your hand and go with it. ‘On the Way’ is really about [having] big plans and sometimes they get derailed but sometimes you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. Even though it doesn’t seem like that was part of the initial plan.”
Long before they became the HawtThorns (the spelling to be explained later), Johnny Hawthorn and the solo artist formerly known as Kirsten Proffit took a circuitous musical journey before finding each other ten years ago at the Cinema Bar in Culver City, California. They eventually reached their destination as destiny’s devoted darlings with Tarot Cards and Shooting Stars. Listen to the exclusive premiere now, then find out how a Philly boy and California girl grew up on opposite sides of the country with the same love and appreciation for sounds they still enjoy making today.
Classic Case Studies
“I’m basically the youngest out of six kids,” states Johnny, the less loquacious of the two who still possesses plenty of folksy charm. “My parents had the first three kids, then took five years off and then had the last three kids. So when I grew up, the older brothers and sisters were listening to all the music of the ’70s. And even if you don’t play an instrument, that music you grew up with definitely cements inside your soul. So everything from Led Zeppelin and Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Steely Dan, all that stuff’s cooked in the pot of my musical stew,” and today he’s still bringing rock, country, folk, blues and Americana to the table.
“When I started playing guitar in the mid-to-late ’80s, music had changed a lot. Obviously, you had music of the ’80s and stuff but I’ve always held on to that foundation of … whatever they call it now, classic rock. It was a time and a place that won’t happen again,” he continues. Using Led Zeppelin as the perfect paradigm of a band that raised the bar to the highest level, he believes they were capable of offering variety on one record while displaying flash with songwriting and production ingenuity. “Those are the things I kind of carry on with me to this day, as far as like all styles of music I explore and listen to,” Johnny concludes.
If Mr. Hawthorn provided the passionate punch, developing his skills after moving to Southern California at the age of 18, Miss Proffit, a Santa Cruz native and the eldest of three children, delivered the gentle, easy-breezy kind of feeling after witnessing the divorce of her parents. “The only thing they fought over was their record collection,” KP discloses. “So my dad took a bunch of the records away and my mom [more than once] had to go repurchase everything.”
Her mother, who played saxophone as a kid, allowed her children to try out all the instruments scattered around the house, and still plays guitar and piano. Displaying enthusiasm and excellent taste for Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and James Taylor, she shared the music to help bond a splintered family.
“There was like a Laurel Canyon-y kind of folk rock thing that was always happening in my home when I was a little kid,” KP recalls. “She played those records over and over and over and over, and it just seeped into my soul.”
Even a babysitter named Rodney expanded the interest of the would-be songstress by bringing over Fleetwood Mac records. “Music from that era, it’s never left me,” KP insists. “I learned to get into the Beatles later, and the Byrds. … Cosmic country. … Gram Parsons and everything. But that’s where I kind of come from. … I don’t mean or try to make that kind of music come out. I just love that music so much. … It’s just super-inspiring to me.”
When they were “4 or 5 years old,” Kirsten and her sister were taught harmonies by singing “Columbus Stockade Blues” with their mom. “So it wasn’t a stretch to say, ‘Oh, I’d like to make music,’ ” KP reasons. “It’s special when you can make a beautiful sound with your voice. And you know it. It’s a really fulfilling thing to be able to make a beautiful sound.”
An award-winning musician, Proffit released solo albums like 2006’s Lucky Girl and 2012’s My Devotion, while placing songs on network television shows like Dawson’s Creek, Melrose Place and Friday Night Lights. She formed Los Angeles-based girl group Calico (standing for “California Country”) about ten years ago with Jaime Wyatt and Manda Mosher.
Proffit was definitely growing as an artist but discovered at one point in the game that she was playing for an “ageist” industry. Working on a record deal in Los Angeles at the age of 27, talent, experience and qualifications were on her side. But the singer-songwriter was mortified to hear what came next. “I remember the guy at the record label telling me and my manager to my face that I was too old,” KP snarls. “It’s like (muttering), ‘I hate this business.’ ” (laughs)
After graduating from Musicians Institute in Hollywood, Johnny worked as an electric guitarist with Toad the Wet Sprocket and Everclear (2009) and also became a hired gunslinger in the studio for various artists including Nicole Gordon, Grant Langston … and Calico. After releasing the Johnny Hawthorn Band album in 2005 (covering “Crossroads” on lap steel guitar) and Death & Taxes in 2009, he went solo on an LP (2013’s Pawn Shop Tattered Heart) and EP (2019’s Dirty Rocks).
The real magic was just getting started elsewhere, though, when his future partner emerged. Putting two heads together, He and She became one of a kind.