Maya Hawke Acts, Sings & Cries

Photo: Mathias Goldstein.

Maya Hawke started making music because she was crying too much.

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Like any 19-year-old fresh out of high school and facing the intimidating “What’s Next?” phase of their pre-adult life head on, she was feeling the feels. So, she started writing those feels down as short poems, each one breaking down one of those racing thoughts, or reflecting on a quiet moment, or just dreaming about being in love. And then, something amazing happened: She actually fell in love, and suddenly her passion project (the now 21-year-old will tell you that music is still a passion project — she has no desire to become a “pop star”), became something more. “It has given my life some structure and purpose so that I'm not just waiting around and losing my mind and crying,” Hawke joked over the phone on a sunny Friday afternoon.

Written over the course of two years via email between Hawke and her collaborator, Jesse Harris, a Grammy-winning writer, singer, producer, and guitarist who is responsible for the legendary Norah Jones track “Don’t Know Why,” Hawke is finally sharing the first glimpse at the full album (release date TBD). Her first two singles will be released as an A-side and B-side, a nod to the records she grew up listening to in her childhood home. Hawke sings on both, while Harris plays the guitar — she is taking lessons to one day record and perform herself, but the idea of singing and playing at the same time is still “terrifying” to her.

“I picked these two songs because the first one, ‘To Love a Boy,’ was the first song Jesse and I wrote together. It is really aspirational,” Hawke explained. “It is a really dreamy song, and then the second one, ‘Stay Open’ is more — the whole album is going to be full of love songs. These two are really interesting to bring together as an A-side B-side because one is really about the desire to fall in love. The other one is sort of more grounded in the reality of being in love.”

“To Love a Boy” and “Stay Open” are both acoustic folk in style — light-hearted, easy listening songs that evoke a feeling of wistfulness, much like speaking to Hawke herself. She dreamily reminisces about bringing her poetry to life through song (with her own money) and teases that she will one day perform with her father, Ethan Hawke. Her multihyphenate patriarch taught her how to sing and has become one of her biggest cheerleaders on social media.

At this point, it’s not hyperbolic to deem the past few months the Summer of Maya Hawke. The actor can be seen everywhere, from Netflix to red carpets to big screens, building an intense and dedicated fandom along the way. People want her hair, her parents, her one-liners as Robin in Stranger Things. Now, they’re all going to want her voice, too.

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You’ve had a crazy summer with Stranger Things, Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood, and now your album. Where are you now?

Maya Hawke: “I am in New York. That’s where I live, and I'm home.”

Is that where you wrote a lot of your lyrics?

“I’ve written some in New York and some all over the world. I have been going around and having thoughts or feelings and wanting to write little poems and songs about them. I send them [via email] to Jesse wherever he is, which is often all over the world.”

Did you know that when you started writing these poems that you were going to end up with an album that was mostly love songs?

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“It was just naturally where it went because it just happened to be that over the year we were writing them, I fell in love. So the nature of the lyrics lent themselves that way. A lot of artists' first albums are love songs because it is something young people go through — if they’re lucky. There is nothing wrong with a silly love song.”

Would you ever write anything more long form?

“I'd love to. I totally aspire to be a writer. I am just trying to take everything step-by-step and trying to do my best with the next thing that comes along. I love acting, and I never want to stop. But I hope I never stop trying to experiment with mediums like music that I have no business experimenting with. You have to put yourself out there, and try to do things, and try to express yourself in different ways and put yourself in danger. I think that’s the only way to learn. I hope to keep experimenting, and learning, and fucking up.”

Photo Credit: Theo Wenner.

What’s the inspiration for the album cover?

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“The photograph was taken by Theo Wenner, who is an amazing photographer. I was lucky enough to have him take some pictures of me, and his photographs will be the covers for the album and everything else that will come after this first single. I really wanted the writing on the image to feel hand-drawn and loving. I am not a professional musician. I love writing lyrics, and I love singing, but I have no desire to be a pop star or anything. I just wanted to find a new way to express myself. So I wanted my music, both in the quality of the songs and in the way that they were presented, to feel homemade. I didn’t want them to feel too studio done, or too fancy, because they're not fancy. I made this with my own money.”

You’ve said that you didn't pursue acting until you were out of high school. How did you know you were ready? Is it serendipitous that your music is also coming out during the Summer of Maya Hawke?

“I don't think I was ever ready, am ready, or will ever be ready. I have always loved music and writing lyrics. I've done it since I was like 7 or 8 years old. I think the first lyrics I wrote I ripped off a Hannah Montana melody. I'm getting older, and I’ve been out of school for two years and have had free time to be making things and doing things. Acting is an amazing. I love [it]. But the problem is that you're always waiting around for a call; you're waiting for someone to give you permission to do your work. The nice thing with music in the last three years alongside the acting work I've done is that I didn't have to wait for anyone’s permission. I could work on a song in a trailer while I was waiting to go on. The months I just spent just waiting to get a part, I’ve been able to work on this. It has given my life some structure and purpose so that I'm not just waiting around and losing my mind and crying.”

What sort of sound can we expect on the album?

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“I love lyrics, and I love poetry. In this contemporary world, the best way to communicate poetry is through song. Rarely do people buy a book of poems, but they often listen to songs. I wanted to communicate my poems and my thoughts through music. The sound I was looking for was a clear one — one where the message and the lyrics of the story could really come through.

“I've always been inspired by folk artists like Joan Baez, Rebecca Cash, Fiona Apple, Paul Young, Bob Dylan… I don’t want to compare myself to any of those people at all, but those are the people that I've idolized and loved my whole life. They all have different sounds, but they all tell a story, and the stories of those songs really come through clearly.”

Do your parents ever ask to sing with you?

“My dad and I have always sung together growing up. That is how I started singing — he would play guitar and we would sing together, so I am sure we will sing together someday in public. We sing together privately all the time. My mom [Uma Thurman] is a beautiful singer, but she doesn’t sing that much.”

Your upcoming film with Gia Coppola is really different than what we’ve seen you do before because it’s set in modern times.

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“I did two contemporary films in a row. I did this movie that is coming to Toronto called Human Capital, and then I did Gia’s movie. It was really different. I love serious stuff, and I love dressing up in cool costumes and going through that transformation. There is something more naked about doing a contemporary piece. You’re really trying to reflect on your own time, and it’s hard to have insight and perspective on your own time. But I love working with Gia; she’s brilliant and funny and has such a wonderful visual imagination. All the actors in that cast are unbelievably talented, and I am really excited for people to see that movie.”

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