Interview & First Listen: Laura Benjamin of Hawthorn Avenue
There are scores of exciting new acts emerging around South Wales every year, but Laura Benjamin and Marcus Gumm’s new country outfit ‘Hawthorn Avenue’ are set to drop their debut single this Friday (February 1st, 2019), and for these hard-working, accomplished musicians, it’s taken years of cutting their teeth to get to this point of holding their original creations up to the limelight.
We caught up with Laura to talk about all things Hawthorn Avenue, and were treated to an exclusive listen of their debut single ‘Wildfire’. Read on, music lovers;
Swansea Music Hub: Being experienced musicians, both Marcus and yourself are regulars around South Wales venues, but have not necessarily focused on original music in the past. Is Hawthorn Avenue a relatively new idea, or has the project been around for a while before being realised? And, for that matter, where did Hawthorn Avenue come from?
Laura Benjamin: Honestly, the first time Marcus and I sat down together to write was September 2018, which feels like yesterday, but when we sat in the room and decided what the topic of our song was, everything just flowed out of us and we very quickly realised how musically compatible we were. We were surprised and excited by how quickly the lyrics and melodies flew out of us, and wrote the single ‘Wildfire’ in one afternoon. Every track on the EP has been the same, we just work together and so we knew it was worth pouring 100% of our hearts into this project and not wasting any time in releasing the songs we wrote. As for the name, I’d love to say something clever and cool, but... it’s the name of my street... where we wrote all of our songs. I wish we had found picking the name as easy as we found writing the songs! We’d both researched a lot about how to choose names and overwhelmingly, the answer google gave us was ‘pick the one you hate the least’, so we threw a few ideas out there and came up with my street name!
SMH: What is it about Country music that excites you?
LB: To me, the most amazing thing about country music is the fact that it’s so diverse but that all of country music shares the same purpose. You can get the most pop- country songs with synthesisers and flashing lights and you can get a single guitarist sitting on their front porch and you can almost always guarantee, they’re singing about love and life and learning lessons. It’s people pouring their hearts into their lyrics and tying them together with simple but beautiful melodies and harmonies. It’s exciting because you can go in so many directions with it, and it’s exciting because people who love country music are so supportive and open-minded. It really is this wonderful community of people who just want three chords and the truth?
SMH: What are your immediate plans for the future of Hawthorn Avenue?
LB: I’m an obsessive planner, and so we have our next ten steps planned at any given time (I’m also like an excitable child- we both are, so it’s hard for us to keep up with all our exciting ideas). But to give you a little idea about what’s to come, we’ll say that the next new music is never going to be far away (because we’ve written and recorded most of it already). If you’re on the Hawthorn Avenue journey with us, you’re in for one hell of a ride, and we cannot wait.
SMH: Tell us a little about your writing style. Is it a collaborative process when it comes to your songwriting? Do Marcus and yourself have different approaches when considering new material?
LB: Everything we do, we do entirely together. We sit in a room together and have a completely blank sheet. One of us (or usually both of us) may have a song by another artist that has inspired us and we brainstorm (literally- my Dad is a maths tutor and we draw a mind map on his white board in his classroom/ our garage) until we start to feel what the song sounds like. I don’t know how, but we can just read each others’ musical minds. When I can’t find the melody for the line I’m thinking of, Marcus will sing something and it will be perfect, and vice versa! We try not to question it too much because it feels a little bit like magic (sorry if that’s cheesy, I am a country musician after all!).
SMH: 5) Do yours and Marcus’ musical tastes differ wildly?
LB: To an extent, yes. We both adore country music and there are a lot of things we both love (Striking matches, Luke combs, Lady Antebellum, basically anyone who is in Country to country this year) but there is definitely a sub-genre within country that makes me roll my eyes whenever Marcus plays it to me. I don’t know what it’s called, but you can guarantee it’ll mention ‘boots’ or ‘moonshine’, have a shuffling drum beat and have lyrics like ‘Opened me a beer’ or ‘Drivin in ma truck’ - you know, the very cheesy kind of ‘look at me I’m a cowboy’ music. I like country music that’s cooler, and more subtly country. Saying that, I’m a self- admitted T-Swift super fan, so I can’t say much about cheese.
SMH: Do you have a favourite track to play live and, if so, why that specific one?
LB: From our originals, our joint favourite to play live is ‘The Water’s Edge’ because it builds on beautiful harmonies and sounds best stripped back and raw. I think our favourite cover that we play is ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’, again because it suits our voices and the harmonies make my heart flutter.
SMH: If you could organise and perform on your dream lineup, what would the rest of the billing look like?
LB: Taylor Swift then us, so that I could possibly make skin to skin contact with her as she walks on stage and we walk off. Striking Matches (did I mention them yet?). Lady Antebellum. Ashley McBryde (If you don’t know who she is, you need to go and listen to her song ‘fat and famous’ because it genuinely has me in stitches every time I listen to it even though I’ve heard it a million times). Can I have all of the Nashville cast? Is that allowed? Rascal Flatts. Lee Ann Womack. I can’t stop. Can this be a never ending lineup? Zac Brown Band for Marcus. Maren Morris. Ward Thomas. Little big down. Florida Georgia Line. Okay I’ll stop.
SMH: What are the top five songs on your band mixtape whilst touring?
LB: We haven’t been on tour yet, but I can guarantee when we do, Marcus will be the driver and I will have free reign of DJ duties, so it’ll be all of the above even if Marcus pretends not to like Tay-Tay.
SMH: Is there another Welsh artist (or artists) that excite you right now?
LB: In general, it’s just really great to see local artists contributing to and getting recognised for country music. For a long old time the genre was dominated by American artists, understandably. People like The Shires, Ward Thomas and Catherine McGrath are really paving the way for musicians from everywhere in the world to contribute to the genre, and so it’s bringing UK country fans out of the shadows and giving them the confidence to write their own music. We’re so lucky to be friends with so many talented songwriters, and to name a few, Natalie Jones, Ryan Davies, John Adams, Rosey Cale and Holy Home Video (who we are lucky enough to have supporting us at our EP launch party) are all artists who continually inspire us and make us proud to be Welsh artists.
Hawthorn Avenue’s debut single 'Wildfire’ drops this Friday (February 1st, 2019), but we’ve an exclusive stream below, alongside our review. Have a listen, and plan on getting down to a show near you when you can!
EXCLUSIVE FIRST LISTEN
by Hawthorn Avenue
Country music, for me, can be somewhat contentious, and, in my mind, there’s such a thing as being just ‘too Country’. I’m overjoyed to say that this debut track from Hawthorn Avenue, although obviously distilling it’s sound from the genre, infuses itself with a new life that keeps it contemporary and fresh.
Wildfire is a sweet, driven Country number but tempered by a Pop aesthetic, while Tommy Harden’s production perfectly balances the two elements so they sit comfortably entwined within each other. The opening riff, which is reprised at the end of the track, screams of Joe Walsh, while the whole track has a distinctly Eagles flavour, but largely more stripped back.
The duo’s vocal lines sit crisply above the mix, allowing you to really wrap your ears around the flawless unison throughout, and when the true harmonies in the pre-choruses and choruses kick in, it gives a lift to the hooks that works wonderfully whether the instrumentation beneath is sparse or more richly orchestrated.
All in all, for a first offering for a contemporary British Country act, Wildfire displays an accomplished approach to the craft, and excites in all the right ways, and I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into whatever they drop next.
For more information on Hawthorn Avenue, and the current goings on in their ‘camp’, pop on over here!
Interview and Review by Joe Bayliss