Vowing to Play Nice
After years of crossing paths as L.A. musicians, Hawthorn and Proffit officially met in an empty Cinema Bar in 2012.
“We talked for so long, I remember going home thinking, ‘What a nice person,’ ” she recalls. “And then a little time went by and I kind of ran into him here and there. …
“Every time I ran by him, we always had a connection,” adds KP, who was planning to see a friend perform that enchanting evening after finishing a tour with her band. “[Johnny] came walking in and we just were like, ‘No, we’re not letting this one get away this time. We’re gonna sit and we’re gonna connect.’ And that was it.”
Random flirtations followed, and though they were dating regularly by 2014, some ground rules were set. “When we got together, we made sort of a commitment to say, ‘You do your thing, I’ll do mine and we won’t cross-pollinate our [coupling],’ ” according to Johnny. “… You see that a lot where somebody starts dating and then the next thing you know, that person’s playing in the band. Well, I didn’t want that to happen ’cause it just never works out, it seems. So when Calico ran its course [after releasing second album Under Blue Skies in 2017], I was ready to start a new project anyway. That’s when we decided, ‘Hey, let’s just do our thing now.’ … Everybody was free and clear. And that’s how I wanted it.”
Before they officially became the HawtThorns (with the uppercase “T” used to avoid confusion with other preexisting musical Hawthorns/Hawthornes) near the end of 2018, Johnny and KP got married. On 20 May 2017 at Standing Sun Wines in the Santa Ynez Valley in California, there was a show within a spectacle at the venue owned by their friend John Wright, a winemaker who also puts on stellar concerts. Surely, this was one to remember.
A packed room full of friends and loyal followers, also entertained by the performances from bands of both artists, got their money’s worth by attending this twofer.
Musician Grant Langston, who’s also ordained and has collaborated in the studio and on stage with Johnny, conducted the ceremony. He began by playing a rendition of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” that soon included the star attractions.
“We were like, ‘Hey, welcome to our wedding,’ ” KP exclaims. “Then we had the most hilarious vows read and we got married right there in front of our fans who paid a ticket price for our wedding.”
After they “turned on the engines quickly” to become the HawtThorns, their dual partnership blossomed under the Morning Sun. The debut album was recorded at L.A.’s Kingsize Soundlabs, co-produced with Eric Corne and released in August 2019 via his Forty Below Records label.
Though Johnny sums up the Hawthorns’ stable and compatible personal relationship by admitting, “We’re not young, but our relationship is young,” KP, who has three children from a previous marriage, manages to find humor in the subject. When asked if they’ll share what may be an age-old secret, her acid-tongued reply is laced with a taste of honey: “I always say I’m old enough to know better than to answer that question. (laughs) … But we’ve been around a minute. Johnny and I have. We’re young at heart.”
Welcome to the Club
The Hawthorns not only wanted their own label for future record releases but also took a number of talented, like-minded artists under their wing when KP cofounded Mule Kick Records with friend and musician Adrienne Cohen Isom in 2020.
As an entrepreneur and forward thinker looking for ways to get ahead and survive in the music industry, KP actually began the process in 2018 in order to make a documentary film and soundtrack called Palomania. Initially working with Isom on a boutique festival, they met with artists who spoke fondly of the Palomino Club. The fabled venue in North Hollywood that closed for business in 1995 turned out to be a more creative, fascinating — and time-consuming — project. KP found out, “It was a big thing to chew off because none of us had done it before.”
The Pal hosted some of the industry’s preeminent performers from the Everly Brothers and Johnny Cash to Patsy Cline and Linda Ronstadt. The hallowed hangout at 6907 Lankershim Blvd. became associated with its twang thang, and the music’s distinctive styles finally got a catch-all tag — Americana.
At least more historical homework paid off when KP and Isom decided to name their label and production company Mule Kick, which the Palomino was previously called. KP expects Palomania to be ready for a 2023 release, filled with appearances by artists as legendary as the club itself such as Taj Mahal, Albert Lee and Dave Alvin.
Isom (the film’s director) and KP (the documentary’s writer) also tracked down members of roots royalty for interviews, including Emmylou Harris, whose first L.A. performance was at that venue, and Lucinda Williams. Some film footage was shot during a one-night-only Palomino appearance by several bands and artists celebrating a California Country revival in 2018, with various songs played that night expected to be on the soundtrack.
Isom is from a film family that includes her mother Myra Maislin Mann and late stepfather Abby Mann, an Oscar winner (Best Adapted Screenplay) in 1961 for Judgment at Nuremberg, and also known for penning various TV series like The Marcus-Nelson Murders and The Atlanta Child Murders. Yet these days, Isom, the mother of two daughters, also focuses on being a bassist/singer-songwriter for Nocona, the band she and husband-vocalist-guitarist-songwriter Chris Isom founded. KP calls their sound roots rock, cosmic “psychobilly kind of really cool music” and super cowpunk. The L.A.-based outfit was the first to sign with Mule Kick, releasing Los Dos, their debut record for the label, on 10 July 2020 during the heat of the pandemic. Music from other artists like Andrew Leahey and Rosie Flores, along with duos Side Pony (Alice Wallace and Caitlin Cannon) and Desert Hollow (Xander Hitzig, Nicole Olney), soon followed.
Most members in Mule Kick’s lineup didn’t play sanctioned showcases at AmericanaFest 2021 in Nashville last September, but they all seemed to be the life of the party at two lively events ahead of the official activities. Mule Kick’s Palomania night at Basement East, called “a celebration of California Country and the horse it rode in on,” starred Palomino Club alumni James Intveld and Rosie Flores, and featured special guests in a Cosmic Honky Tonk Revue including Jim Lauderdale, Chuck Mead and Jason Ringenberg. The label’s rollicking roster of artists started showing up early the next day at the Groove’s outdoor stage in East Nashville, with Desert Hollow kicking off the festivities at noon. Beer, tacos and KP’s breakfast burritos were served, bringing a homey atmosphere to the scene.
“Basically, it’s all family,” contends KP, whose own team includes “a core group of press and radio and digital marketing people. It’s like a little machine that we have, and it’s almost like a co-op. ’’Cause everybody works real hard and it’s a lot of sweat equity.”