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Debra Clifford, Sarah Hawker, & Rayna Gellert

A Conversation with Sarah Hawker

Puremusic: Hi Sarah, it's good to talk with you. I guess all of our contact so far has been email.

Sarah Hawker: Yes, so far. It's good to talk with you.

PM: But sometimes email can get you far enough downtown where you fancy you have spoken to someone.

SH: [laughs] Yeah, that's true.

[We started off talking about HBO's Deadwood and Six Feet Under because Sarah called back when Deadwood was on.]

SH: Hey, I wanted to tell you, somebody bought our CD today off CDBaby and said they heard about it from Puremusic.

PM: Well, that's good when you can trace it so directly.

SH: I know. I love that about CD Baby.

PM: Oh, yeah, one of the many great things.

SH: Yeah, many, many. Have you met the guy who runs it?

PM: A number of times. In fact, I think the most in-depth interview you can find on Derek Sivers is the Puremusic interview.

SH: Oh, I want to go read that, because I like him a lot.

PM: He's one of the only utopian businessmen I've ever met.

SH: Yeah, I mean I've heard that people have tried to buy him out for a long time, and he won't sell it.

PM: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And people have tried to buy him out at various levels. Have you arranged to have yourself digitally distributed by them?

SH: I keep not finishing the paperwork, if you can believe it. I'm on the third CD, you'd think I'd get it by now.

PM: I can believe it. You're a musician, so I can believe it.


SH: Yes, yes. I'm lucky I can do what I do.

PM: But the pitch is that once he has your permission to digitally distribute you, they prepare the files, check the files, then, over the course of a few months, because everybody is a little different, ends up distributing you to 37 or 38 different e-tailers, as they call them. For instance, iTunes sells a song of yours for 99 cents. They're the biggest customer, say. They take 99 cents, they pay him 65 cents, and he pays you 56 cents.

SH: Wow. He's so fair. He's so fair in what he gives for CDs, too.

PM: Doing the clips, checking the clips, sending them to 38 people, he takes nine cents a song.

SH: Yep.

PM: There's nobody else out there like that. But anyway, that's about Deadwood and that's about Derek.

SH: Well, now that I've interviewed ya...


PM: And we've given lots of airtime to some of our favorite people. I'm sorry we couldn't synchronize our watches for a video interview in New York City.

SH: I know, I know.

PM: But tell me I have a rain check, please, for that down the road apiece.

SH: Oh, yeah, that would be a blast.

PM: Because I really want to do that. And now I'm kind of sold on the idea, if it's achievable, of the very first Puremusic video interview being one with the Lonesome Sisters.

SH: That would be totally great.

PM: Somebody made a funny joke out of that at rehearsal an hour or two ago. I said, "I'm sorry, I have to leave. I have an interview with the Lonesome Sisters." And the woman bass player said, "Oh, don't worry, they'll be waiting for your call."


PM: I don't think I'd ever really heard her crack a joke before.

SH: Oh my God, do you know how many guys come up to me and say something like, "How lonesome are you?"

PM: [laughs]

SH: And when we first came up with our name, this guy Chad Crumm who does all our recording--he's amazing--when we told him what we were going to call ourselves, he said, "You know what guys are going to say about this to you?" We're like, "What are you talking about?" He was totally right.

PM: [laughs] Oh, and now everywhere you go--

SH: Everywhere I go. It's like, "Do you know how many times I've heard that?" I can't even respond anymore.

PM: Right, "You were doing so well before you opened your mouth," kind of thing.

SH: [laughs]

PM: I really like all three of your discs very much.

SH: Oh, thank you.

PM: I've a very big L.S. fan. But I really like the new one, Follow Me Down, the best.

SH: Yeah. I agree.

PM: In every way the duo seems to have progressively come into its own.

SH: Uh-huh.

PM: Especially with the incorporation of more original material, I think. Because how does an old-timey or a high lonesome Appalachian kind of group step into notoriety with traditional material? I mean, you've basically got to make your own way.

SH: Exactly, exactly. And we try to straddle it as much as we can.

PM: And it's very hard to write songs in that world, in that paradigm.

SH: Uh-huh.

PM: Even if you're born to it, as you are--I mean, I sat down a little while ago and thought that I would try to write a little melody in that vein, and found that, hey, that's not easy.

SH: Yeah. Well, it helps if you don't know that many chords.


PM: Right. And unfortunately I know far too many chords.

SH: Yeah, I could tell.


PM: But even if you try not to use them--

SH: Yeah.

PM: --still, melodically, it's hard to stay in the right place.

SH: That's true. It is.

PM: Now, you seem to be writing the lion's share--lioness' share, in this case--of the material. Is that right?

SH: Yes.

PM: They're really, really good songs.

SH: Thank you so much for that.

PM: I really like your writing. It must have been a real big shot in the arm to have your song "Forgiveness" win the Chris Austin contest at Merlefest.

SH: It was. It was amazing, because my experience with music is that if I take even a half a step towards it, life comes towards me so much. That was the second song I ever wrote.

PM: Oh, my.

SH: And I'd only just started playing out. I had terrible stage fright, and I'd never sung in front of anybody. I sang all the time, and I was very interested in it, but I never thought of myself as a musician. And Debra was the first person I met who I could really say to, "I'm going to try this. I can't go through my life and--I mean, this is ridiculous."

PM: She was already a seasoned musician.

SH: Yeah, she had been playing in bluegrass bands for years. She had done lots and lots of different stuff.     continue

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