Maya Hawke Hopes Her Debut Album 'Blush' Makes You Nostalgic for Life Pre-Pandemic

Ariana Marsh
·7 mins read
Photo credit: Jesse Harris
Photo credit: Jesse Harris

From Harper's BAZAAR

Last summer, Maya Hawke joined the ranks of young Hollywood’s most explosive talents thanks to two monumental roles that led to her meteoric rise. She played “Flowerchild,” a character based on Linda Kasabian, the member of the Manson Family who famously fled the 1969 Tate–LaBianca murders, in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. And even more notably, she plays Robin Buckley, the brilliant ice cream-slinging lesbian heroine in the third and upcoming fourth season of Stranger Things.

Today, the world gets to know the actress and singer in a far more personal manner. Hawke just released her debut studio album, Blush, which is 12 tracks of gossamery emotional folk written and recorded in what now feels like an entirely different lifetime. “They’re songs for listening to by yourself. They’re songs about feelings. The whole album was written pre-corona,” Hawke tells BAZAAR.com in an interview over Zoom.

“I think we have all been changed by this moment, so for me, when I listen to Blush, I have a real sentimentality and nostalgia for when I wrote those songs. I hope that people relate to it, and I hope it also feels nostalgic for them.”

Originally slated for an early-summer release, the album was pushed back indefinitely not long after it was announced. On March 18, Hawke released its first single, “By Myself,” and less than a month later, on April 8, nearly 800 people died in a single day in the United States from the coronavirus. Forty-seven days after that, George Floyd was brutally murdered at the hands of the police, igniting widespread protests that continue to this day.

“That didn’t feel like a time to be saying, ‘Look at me.’ It felt like a time for self-education and support and protest,” explains Hawke. “I wanted to wait and figure out how to put the album out in a way that felt more interconnected to the moment.”

Photo credit: Blush album artwork
Photo credit: Blush album artwork

Blush does meet the moment. It provides a beautiful and necessary respite from the heavy realities of our present while also helping to support two organizations doing important work. A portion of the record sales will benefit the NAACP, while a portion of the merchandise sales will go to the Food Bank of New York City.

“The NAACP is one of the only organizations that really seems to see the interconnectivity between our environmental crisis and our racial and political crisis,” Hawke says. “And regarding the Food Bank of New York City, there’s such a tremendous hunger crisis and eviction crisis right now, especially in New York.”

Born and raised in New York City, Hawke decided to leave her newly rented downtown apartment when the pandemic hit to quarantine with her mom, actress Uma Thurman, in Woodstock, New York. They got a puppy; she listened to the new records from Phoebe Bridgers, Fiona Apple, and Taylor Swift; and in April, she released a one-shot music video for another single off Blush, “Coverage.” Directed and filmed by her dad, actor-director Ethan Hawke, the intimate clip was filmed in a rustic barn and features cameos by her brother and two half-sisters. Having grown up playing and writing music with her family, Hawke looks right at home. “My dad really likes to instill a sort of von Trapp energy—a living room hootenanny jam session is always in play,” she quips.

In high school, Hawke was focused on acting in school productions and trying her hand at playwriting. When she graduated, she attended Juilliard for one year before dropping out to accept her first big role, Jo March in the 2017 BBC television historical drama Little Women. “It wasn’t until I left drama school and started working that I started songwriting again,” she says. “I needed something to do in my trailer and something to do in my hotel room and something to do while I was waiting to get parts and auditioning in the city.”

When she was younger, Hawke would workshop her lyrics with singer-songwriter Jesse Harris, who scored a role in her dad’s second directorial project, The Hottest State, in 2006 and became a family friend. “He told me, ‘Your songs are really nice and you’re a good lyricist and you sing well, but your songs don’t have melody. They’re not eternal. They’re ephemeral,’” says Hawke.

While on location in Ireland shooting Little Women, she wrote a song and thought, Oh, gosh, this kind of has a melody! So she sent it to Harris, who agreed, and the two began a musical partnership.

Photo credit: Jesse Harris
Photo credit: Jesse Harris

Last summer, shortly after wrapping filming on Gia Coppola's forthcoming film, Mainstream, Hawke released two singles co-written and produced by Harris, which earned her a record deal with independent label Mom + Pop. The two continued to work together, writing new songs and reworking Hawke’s old lyrics, and in less than a year, they recorded Blush. “If there’s a theme [to the record], it’s growth,” says Hawke, who explores relationships, selfhood, identity, and forgiveness through her aching, insightful lyrics. “It’s a collection of snapshots of different moments that felt important to me when they happened.”

In March, just before the pandemic caused the world to screech to a halt, Hawke and the rest of the Stranger Things cast had begun filming Season 4 of the show. “Those first two weeks filming before we got cut short were my favorite weeks ever doing the show,” says Hawke. “I’m getting to know Robin better, and I’m figuring out her personality and the role that she plays within this tribe of kids that is trying to save the world over and over again.”

Having debuted in 2016, Stranger Things arrived at a time when the notion that good always conquers evil needed to be heard, seen, and believed in. To Hawke, the Upside Down represents our subconscious minds, where our biggest fears and personal demons—Demogorgons—live. “These kids have the courage and strength and bravery to go back into the battlefield and tackle these monsters and these demons over and over again, and there’s a real optimism to that.”

It’s a lesson in perseverance and, really, in hope that feels especially urgent today. “I think there was a direct allegory with Trump and the Demogorgon in the last season. We defeated the Demogorgon, so hopefully, we’ll defeat Trump too,” says Hawke. “Our country’s wounds have been exposed by Trump. He’s opened a portal to the Upside Down, and we are seeing the truth of the darkness of our country, but we’re also seeing people rise up together and unite against those monsters.”

While she acknowledges that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, “are not perfect,” she stresses that they’re still a great ticket and urges people to cast their ballots early, as well as help mobilize others to do so. “Voting isn’t marriage, it’s public transportation, and it’s not about you picking the perfect person for you. It’s about you picking the option that gets you the closest to where you want to go,” says Hawke, quoting from something she saw on social media. “[Biden and Harris] definitely are that. They are definitely the ticket that gets us the closest to where we want to be and the furthest from where we are afraid that we are headed.”

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