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The Industry Source for New Age, World, Ambient, Electronic, Solo Piano, Relaxation, Instrumental and many other genres of Music
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Getting To Know:
Bill Binkelman, 53, has been writing about, reviewing, and interviewing artists in contemporary instrumental music genres since 1997 when he launched the grass roots 'zine, Wind and Wire. Through the years that followed, his reviews have also appeared on various websites and in other publications.


Bill began reviewing for New Age Reporter in winter of 2006. When he's not working at a small private university in St. Paul or buried in his reviewers' thesaurus, he enjoys spending time with his partner, Kathryn Heinze, and their black-lab mix Mamie in a quiet residential neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His other passions include cooking and the Green Bay Packers.

Other Getting To Know::
Getting To Know: Fiona Joy Hawkins, Apr. 2008
Getting To Know: Jamie Bonk, Jan. 2008
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Bill Binkelman
Getting To Know: Fiona Joy Hawkins
April 2008
In a relatively short amount of time, Fiona Joy Hawkins has stirred up a lot of interest in her music and she appears to be just gathering steam. Following on the heels of her first two critically acclaimed albums, Portrait of a Waterfall and Angel Above My Piano, the Australian pianist and keyboard player has released Ice: Piano Slightly Chilled, a 180-degree change in direction from her previous new age soundscapes to a chromium-sheen polished blast of chill-out electronica tinted with world fusion textures via inclusion of didgeridoo. A beauty in every sense of the word (check out her YouTube video entitled "Fiona Joy Hawkins - Photo Shoot 2"), Hawkins is currently in the studio with producer extraordinaire Will Ackerman, hard at work on what promises to be an exploration of yet another aspect of her musical personality. Over the course of several weeks, Fiona and I conducted an email interview (which I only wish could have been done in person!). Keep your eye on her, folks; this woman is going places!

Fiona Joy Hawkins
Bill: Fiona, let's jump right into the present and talk about Ice: Piano Slightly Chilled, your new album. Since this is such a marked departure from your last two albums, tell me what was the initial impetus to switch gears so thoroughly? Was it a carefully thought out decision or impulsive?
Fiona: Nothing careful at all, I completely went out on a limb with this album. It happened because my teenage boys (15 & 17) called me a 'Classical music nerd' and that did NOT impress me at all. Always one to need to prove to the disbelievers and do something to stir the pot, I got to thinking...what if?

So' I went into the studio to try some of my melodies with rhythm. I wanted to layer all kinds of beats and loops to see what happened. I was enthralled with the reaction when I took the demo home and everyone went nuts over it. My kids loved it, their friends were checking out the myspace page (much to their horror) and my husband was madly burning the demos to give to all his mates - so I figured I'd hit on something.

Working on ICE I felt like a classical music geek gone wild, yet it all seemed so natural. I kept going with it as an extra project on the side to my classical work, and that's why it took two years to finish the album. It seemed to keep snowballing, just one experiment after the next, lots of interesting instruments and a whole new way to think creatively outside the square. I found the whole process rather amusing because I'm classically trained and so trying to mess it, dirty it and muddy it, was so against everything I was taught. Isn't it great when you discover something you didn't know you could do?
...Isn't it great when you discover something you didn't know you could do?...

-Fiona Joy Hawkins
Bill: Does this mean you may try something like ICE again in the future or was this a one-shot thing? And now that you have "experimented" with successful results, do any other genres appeal to you which you might explore as an artist?
Fiona: I have definitely learned that experimentation leads to unusual and varied creativity that can take you 'outside the square', so having said that, I'm definitely open to the exploration of other styles. I would love to have jazz lessons so I know more about the chord structures used in that style, I love the freedom jazz players have when they improvise. There is always so much more to learn.

Since ICE charted so well, I may consider it in the future - I'm really not sure yet, there are so many albums I would love to make. I have two other ideas for after Blue Dream, one is to do a duet piano album and the other is to write a stage show combining dance and theatre.

I really need to do a pro tools course so I can use my home studio better. Maybe 2009 will be about furthering my education combined with an effort to do more performance.
"... I have definitely learned that experimentation leads to unusual and varied creativity...

- Fiona Joy Hawkins
Bill: I was so impressed with the electronica/chill-out part of the album (not that your piano playing wasn't great). Are you self-taught on the synths and how long did it take to master them enough to achieve such a well-done sound?
Fiona: I'm no IT expert. I had several sound engineers to help. I became the producer on this project because it was my crazy idea and I had no idea where it was heading - it was totally my vision so the bottom line stopped with me. I wanted to use multiple studios so that I had access to different sound banks, and areas of expertise and sequencing.

I would spend hours looking for a new sound and would use some really obscure description like 'I want a sharp crystal sounding pad that pierces through the other sounds but creates its own bed and doesn't get too annoying' Makes perfect sense to an Engineer right! LOL Then we would navigate through banks of thousands of sounds until I liked one. You just work out how the pad plays, whether it's sensitive to the weighting on the keyboard, fades or has an echo or delay etc and then you play it in accordingly. Actually I had absolutely no idea what I was doing - somehow I could hear what was missing and instinctively knew what to add and how to add it. A bit like when I wrote for a piece of music for the school orchestra when I was 13, I had never done it before but seemed to know how, as if it was genetically encoded.
... I had absolutely no idea what I was doing – somehow I could hear what was missing and instinctively knew what to add and how to add it...

- Fiona Joy Hawkins
Bill: Do you listen to chill-out yourself on a regular basis, and if so, who, or did you have to do some "research" in order to "find" your own unique sound?
Fiona: I never do research. I never listen to music with a view to using it myself, I have more original ideas than hours in the day to get them done!, I just do what seems right to me at the time and if it comes from within then its fulfilling the ultimate goal – doing something I love.

Having said that, I think we all absorb the world around us and reflect it in everything creative we do, so it goes without saying that all I have ever listened to is stored and referenced at some point. The weird thing is, in my spare time I listen mostly to folk - Luka Bloom, Dido, Janis Ian, Sandrine - I love lyrics! I do however also listen to dance/electronica and adore Enigma, Jean Michel Jarre, Robert Miles, Vangelis and Enya - so I guess that's the influence right there!!

Until recently George Winston was the ONLY pianist I had listened to (and a little Liz Story) - when I was a finalist in the NAR Awards for Best Piano I didn't look at the other artists or listen to them. I don't get anything from it, I always feel like everyone else sounds fantastic and I don't. Guess it comes down to creative insecurity. In the pursuit of self expression, it clouds my judgment and doesn’t help the creative process.

I grew up with my head six inches from the speakers for hours on end listening to Bolero, Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" and anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber. My Dad was Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar so I know every word to that musical. As a child I always loved music and I'm sure that subconsciously I pulled it all apart to work out the mechanics and the thinking behind it.
...I always feel like everyone else sounds fantastic and I don’t. Guess it comes down to creative insecurity...

- Fiona Joy Hawkins
Bill: You use the term "creative insecurity." Do you think there could come a time, and what would it take for it to occur, where you would lose that sensation? In other words, what would have to happen for you to feel you had "made it" and were no longer, shall we say, "auditioning for the role of musician" but were now accepted as a bona fide professional on a par with most of the people you named?
Fiona: The short answer is NEVER. I will never feel that I have 'made it'.

There are so many wonderful musicians out there that I could not hope for a moment to put myself in the same category with them. Having said that, I always trust that I will have the creativity I need to do my job. I didn't always feel that way and I constantly worried that the well would dry up, but I have finally figured out the well is very deep and I will always have more ideas than I can ever get around to.

I had the good fortune to meet Janis Ian once and spend some time with her in a mentoring programe (she is one of my personal idols) – she said that there are two kinds of musician, one that wants fame and fortune (she admitted that was her) and one that wants to create a legacy.

The latter is me! I know it sounds like a very noble expectation when said like that, but it's about doing something worthwhile, leaving a mark behind, leaving something that other people can share and get some benefit from. Don't we all wish for that in one way or another? If I can ever achieve this, it would mean I'd be dead and gone before I had 'made it'. LOL.
...it's about doing something worthwhile, leaving a mark behind, leaving something that other people can share and get some benefit from...

- Fiona Joy Hawkins
Bill: I suppose being from down under, enlisting a didgeridoo player for the album was to be expected. Talk about your decision to incorporate the didge as well as the amount of electric guitar you did. Do you enjoy sharing the spotlight, so to speak, with other artists?
Fiona: I used Didgeridoo because Will Ackerman messaged me on Myspace and suggested it. He had my six track demo and even though he hadn't worked with didge before he could "hear" it in some of the tracks. He's brilliant like that. So I gave it a go.

The didge player is a guy called Michael Jackson and he came to the studio with about 4 didgeridoos (to cover all the notes) - but of course I wanted to be different and get down one note lower to get a great droning sound. We improvised with a large piece of cardboard and wrapped it around the end of the didge. Problem was, it was so long it wouldn’t fit in the recording cubicle and keeping it all together proved difficult. Bruce held it all on by wrapping both hands around and then Michael had to find enough air to create the sound through what was now about 8 feet long!. I was operating pro-tools with my basic knowledge and trying not to laugh because the door was open and it would end up on the recording. We had to auto-tune it down a tiny bit to get the note - but it was awesome!

Talk about doing things differently! Such fun.

I loved Dieter's guitar playing. He backed Steely Dan when [they] came out to Australia, he plays with all the top artists and is an awesome player. When he came into the studio we chose the sounds and talked about the part and as it turned out he features in "Cloud Chill" even more than the keyboard. I love it when another instrument works so well that you can put their part higher in the mix. It's good to go where the music leads not just get stuck in a keyboard rut - I would have missed some of the best parts if I did that. There are several tracks where other instruments take the lead and they are some of my favourite tracks - particularly "White View" with Paul Jarman’s oriental instruments.

When Paul came in with the Gough Chin (oriental harp) we were nearly beside ourselves with excitement at all the sound effects we could create. At one stage Bruce’s wife came in and asked us what drugs we were taking. Guess only a musician can get that excited about sound effects!
...It's good to go where the music leads not just get stuck in a keyboard rut...

- Fiona Joy Hawkins
Bill: Now let's turn out attention to your next project, Blue Dream, produced by Windham Hill founder Will Ackerman. Time for yet another about face, it would seem. Did Will reach out and contact you or was it the other way around.
Fiona: I tried to contact Will about three years ago just after Portrait of a Waterfall and got nothing back from several attempts. I read somewhere that he said there are 3 million George Winston Wannabes in the world and every one of them emails him!

After I won the NAR Lifestyle Award for Best Piano Album (George Winston was also a finalist) things changed. It kind of happened via a friend - Jeff Oster. I had met Jeff by email, and when he was recording True with Will he told him about my work and set up the email contact. I was due to come to the US to play at INATS and so Will suggested I visit Vermont to talk about recording at Imaginary Road Studios.
Bill: How long were you at Imaginary Road and what did you think of that part of the States? Was it your first time here? What was it like working with an honest-to-god legend in the music business?
Fiona: It took three weeks to record the piano beds. I had never recorded on a piano before and had reached as far as I had using a keyboard. I guess his attitude was that I could do so much more on his Steinway!

It was a daunting move, but when I got there I was surprisingly NOT nervous and just got in and got the job done. I always think of the piano as my best friend and my tunes as belonging to me - so I just poured everything into it and it went smoothly.

I go back for another four weeks in March [As of the date I submitted this interview to NAR, Fiona is still there] and another 4 weeks in June to finish with the overdubs, mixing and mastering. It will be a total of three months and three visits to VT from Australia to complete the album. Bearing in mind that it's a minimum of 35 hrs door to door and 22 hours in the air - that's a huge commitment. Deep breath!

Working with Will is awesome. His ability to know what will work and which pieces of music have the moment of "magic" is wonderful. I felt encouraged, well advised and confident. We share the same vision for this project and seem to have some kind of ESP happening. I am very grateful for Will's input because I'm out on a limb yet again (story of my life!). Every project seems to be a huge learning curve and having someone who knows what I am trying to do better than I do myself, helps - a lot! Bottom line is, if Will says it will or won't work - he's probably right.
...I always think of the piano as my best friend and my tunes as belonging to me...

- Fiona Joy Hawkins
Bill: I'm intrigued as to why are there is such a long gap between the March and June session. Without getting too technical (for those of us who aren't musicians!), what takes so long that you have to wait before doing the mastering, et al. Also, how are you finding the going back and forth from Australia to the eastern US? Are you the kind of person who suffers jet lag?
Fiona: Ah, that's simple. You need fresh ears to mix and master. You need regular breaks because each time you come back to the music you hear things differently. You hear things you missed, you hear logical answers to problems, you hear what needs to happen. You absolutely can't work non-stop on it without some distance.

The travel is pretty much a pain in the proverbial. Jet lag is a very real thing and you get to learn that you will hit the wall on about day 4 or 5 and that you need really good sleeping pills! LOL! I warned Will and Corin that I may come into the studio on the odd day with my pillow.
Bill: Was the change from chill-out to the more acoustic sound of Blue Dream intentionally timed to be sequential or was it just coincidental that it happened in that order? In other words, after making Ice, were you at all concerned that your new age/adult contemporary fans would feel you had abandoned them if you stayed in that vein for a while?
Fiona: I was terrified I would lose my classical audience with Ice and they would wonder what on earth I was doing and I'd be left with a confused audience that I had alienated. Thankfully that isn’t so.

Will had heard both my classical and chill and so Blue Dream will incorporate both but in a more acoustic way. I can't say much more about the project just yet because we are doing something that hasn't been done before and it's still in the pipe-line. It will be a great subject to talk about later when Blue Dream is out because it's a fascinating story – Will has put a gag on me until it's released. It's due for completion in September so it's not too far away!
... I was terrified I would lose my classical audience with Ice...

- Fiona Joy Hawkins
Bill: I'm always fascinated when I watch a TV show broadcast here in the US titled "Inside the Actor's Studio" on which actors/actresses are brought in front of a live audience and asked questions by the host and by audience members. Some of the host's (James Lipton) questions are the same no matter who he is interviewing. So, I think I'll start doing something like that with you.

First off, what would you be doing if you were NOT playing music professionally?
Fiona: I have always fancied the idea of being a Neurologist as I have an interest in Leukodystrophy in all its forms (my sister has a terminally ill child), also Tourettes Syndrome, MS, Parkinsons - I actually read medical journals in my spare time. Weird - I know!
Bill: Secondly, what is the most rewarding aspect of what you do as well as the least satisfying/most stressful part?
Fiona: The most rewarding part is that moment of discovery when you are sitting at the piano and you are writing music and you find those 'magic' notes.

The least rewarding part is the bad reviews - ALL of us get them and from watching it happen to others, it doesn't seem to be related to how good or bad the music is, it just seems to be mandatory that someone on the planet won't like it - I have learned that you can't please everyone! That annoys me!
Bill: Thirdly, who played the biggest role or who had the most profound influence on your life, both in general and, if it's someone different, on your music career?
Fiona: After I had done a successful art exhibition I called my Mother to brag that I had sold half my paintings. She said "that's lovely, BUT... if you don't do something with your music, you have wasted your whole life". I was so put out at the time that she had not recognized my exhibition achievement, but those words were probably the catalyst. Deep down I knew she was right.

My Father is one of my favourite people on the planet, he is gentle natured, creative, hard working and encouraging. His good nature and wonderful sense of humour has helped to form my easy going outlook on life and without doubt that has flowed through to my music.

Within the industry – Noel Balfour's encouragement was pivotal (he was part of the famous Barry Sisters back in the 70s and has written for some of the biggest names in the world). Noel encouraged me to pursue this and told me the first step I had to make. He listened quietly to all my reasons why I couldn't do it, and all my concerns that I had no technical experience or equipment and then he very quietly said " just book a three hour session with a recording studio - go in, sit down and TALK " - so I did, and this is now 6 years later.
Bill: Lastly, what is your highest aspiration for your music, i.e. what level of success and how would you define success for yourself personally?
Fiona: I'm trying not to aim for any particular pinnacle - just create a place in the market for myself so I can justify my existence and give me a reason to keep writing more music!

MMMMM - an Oscar might be nice... not sure what for.
...MMMMM - an Oscar might be nice...

- Fiona Joy Hawkins
Bill: How do you feel when you look back at your previous releases? I mean, do you listen to them and have a fond feeling or do you think "Oh geez, I could've done that so much better...what was I thinking...etc.?"
Fiona: I'm proud of them, they were the best I could do at the time but I'm over them. I don't ever listen to them, I leave the building if I hear them - its work, and its OLD work. Next project please!
Bill: For artists, whether writers or painters or musicians, one thing that's hard to know is when something is finished and it's time to say "Done!" As a writer, I had to learn that my writing could be subjected to infinite rewrites; I could never consider a piece "perfect" because it never would be. How do you, as a musician, decide "Okay, that's as close to 'it' as I can get."
Fiona: Yep, you have to know when its 'there', when it's too little, too much and when its just not happening at all and you need to abandon ship! I often believe that it's the main thing that separates people in terms of success - there are those that just don't know when to stop and those that know exactly where that place is, they know where the magic place is. Will Ackerman has that ability to the nth degree.
As you know, in my review of ICE, I mentioned how you are bringing some, IMO, much needed beauty, glamour and even sexiness to a genre that is sorely lacking in that department. The YouTube video of the photo shoot certainly communicates that. But I get the impression that you're surprised at this reaction. Am I correct?
Fiona: I guess I grew up plain so I don't think of myself in that way. It's not what defines me, it's not who I am and from years experience I have learned that beauty is only skin deep and ultimately the person you are shines through eventually. My Dad says 'when you are 70, you get the face you deserve' - that is sooooooo true and so totally profound.

Having said that, it's something I am aware of, I'm not totally ignorant of the fact that I can use it. But surprisingly, it's not always to my advantage. There is a perception that Contemporary Classical music has some intellectual value, you throw too much of the pretty blonde thing in there, and you start losing the audience! LOL
Bill: Any parting words? Hints at what's down the road? Any plans to tour or play live here in the US?
Fiona: The future is not clear at all to me. I want to write a stage production, do a piano duet album, a follow up to ICE, tour Australia, Japan and the US and do a film score. Reality will hit at some stage and I will concentrate on two of the above. LOL. I tend to be a little bit fatalistic, so I will see what comes my way and what makes the most sense at the time.
 
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