Friday, January 2, 2009
Hawley Shoffner's eloquent songs for piano and ukulele often take inspiration from biographies and historical events, but they’re artfully timeless in their dedication to good melodies and spirited performances.
Hawley Alexandra Shoffner can surely be forgiven for tallying up late fees at the local library. Her eloquent songs for piano and ukulele often take inspiration from biographies and historical events, but they’re artfully timeless in their dedication to good melodies and spirited performances.
“One-Take Aley” knocked out three fabulous new songs to accompany our podcast interview. Her articulate piano playing may surprise folks who only know her as the ukulele-toting madam who dispensed the competition in the 2008 Farmer’s Ball (she plans to put the free studio time to use as soon as she takes the LSAT). The Wichita native also wields a mean accordion and a temperamental kazoo – the latter of which she affixes to a harmonica holder. Hmm, maybe she hasn’t entirely grown out of that dressing-like-Bob-Dylan phase…
No-fi highlights from the podcast
lawrence.com: Can you explain the curious case of your interchangeable names?
Shoffner: My full name is Hawley Alexandra Shoffner. I was named after a male orthodontist named Dr. John Hawley Rogers, so that’s what I chose for all my music stuff. But I generally go by Aley.
How do you approach songwriting?
I just try to write something that I’m not going to get really sick of. Music hasn’t ever really been my main priority, so I don’t come up with all that much. It’s more school and work – if I had all the time in the world I would write a lot more songs. I’m a history major and I’m going to go to law school in the fall hopefully. I’m kind of a super-nerd. I like to get ‘A’s. I have a pretty good GPA – 3.9, I think.
Live on lawrence.com
Do you nerd out when it comes to writing lyrics?
For sure. I want to write a song for the Lincoln Bicentennial. I think that’s totally appropriate.
You probably even know the date of the Lincoln Bicentennial, don’t you?
Um, I actually don’t. I should though.
3.9 my ass.
Yeah, for real. I’m a fraud.
What sort of things have you written about that have to do with history?
“Sirs and Madams” is all about my favorite historical couples – Bonnie & Clyde and Katharine Hepburn & Spencer Tracy. Katherine Hepburn is my favorite person ever. She wears the pants and she’s sassy. She went on the Dick Cavett Show and rearranged all his furniture and told him what to do.
Word up to anybody who might consider getting hitched to Aley – she’s going to be rearranging your furniture when you’re old and confused.
I don’t think anybody will be confused about that if they actually take on the challenge.
From what I gather, your song “Living in America” is not a James Brown cover.
No, although I wish I could do something like that someday. I like to throw in covers of things that don’t necessarily sound like they should be played by a ukulele. At Farmer’s Ball I did a Guided By Voices song. I want to do “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and I think I want to do a Clash song.
What inspired you to pick up a ukulele?
I’ve always been confident in my piano playing, but guitar has never been something that I thought I could do very well. I was trying to figure out guitar for awhile and then I just kind of gave up. So I started playing accordion. I’m not super-good at it, but I’m alright. After that I went for ukulele, because I thought it would be another instrument that not too many people know how to play, so maybe I could pull it off like I knew what I was doing.
The vocals are more important for me, so the ukulele was a pretty logical choice. Plus it’s kinda cutesy, and they’re cheap. You can buy one to match every outfit, which is really something I’m into.
How many ukuleles do you have?
I only have the one right now. I want to get an orange one next, but I just have a little white one now. That’s Ukey.
Do you dress in white so you can match Ukey?
I kind of do. It’s sad. Don’t tell anybody. I wore white tights the last time I played.
It’s nice when songwriters go above and beyond the call of duty and dress for the occasion.
Yeah, I always dress for occasions. I try my best.
How do you dress for drinking?
Usually drinking requires boots – for stompin’.
Stompin’ on skulls?
No! Just on floors. You know, raising a ruckus. Dressed up to get messed up – that’s what it’s all about.
If I know that a day is going to be particularly bad, I dress really well … You get compliments all day. It just makes the day better.
I tried a similar experiment, but I wore a cape. People just made fun of me all day. It made it worse.
Yeah, you probably just should have worn a suit and some fancy shoes.
How was it coming of age as a young musician in Wichita?
It was excellent. I had a lot of friends who played music. That’s kind of all we did, because we were extremely bored. Some of us did graffiti or other not-so-savory things, but really it was a good place to grow up. The people who I hung out with all went to shows and played music. It was a great place to not know what you were doing, because nobody judged you for it.
Have you ever brought a collaborator along to a show or is it just you at this point?
It’s just me usually. I used to be in a couple bands … My first band was called Hot Autumn, which is the worst name of anything ever. It was like a “jazz” band – it was terrible. I was also in this ambient band in Wichita called Reverend Rhodes … I play a lot of music with my brother, but nothing official.
Is working at Love Garden a total dream job, or is it more like working at a library?
It’s both. Of course you have to file a lot and know your stuff, but a lot of it is just getting along well with the other people who work there and being cat-friendly. Originally Kelly (Corcoran) said something about how you needed to be able to give Jack a shot, but Jack isn’t with us anymore. I think I’m a rookie for life with capital-R status.
Have you had any interesting music discoveries lately?
All I really want to listen to right now is the Rolling Stones. I’ve been listening to “Metamorphosis” a lot, but I really like “Some Girls” and “Beggars Banquet” … A friend recently introduced me to Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tapes,” which is like “Blood on the Tracks” but not as produced and not as hokey. It’s excellent. It’s all I want to listen to besides the Stones.