INTERVIEW: NYC artist Kiyomi Hawley takes back her life and her music

Kiyomi Hawley - finally free!

With all that life throws at us, we all could use a little help from our friends...and music! New York City-based singer-songwriter Kiyomi Hawley endured a big life transition where she literally extracted herself from a "cult" and channeled all the emotions she felt into her new EP Meet You There that she just released this September. Kiyomi shares in her interview below how her vocal coach, friends and family helped her get back to her musical self and her freedom to create. Her new music video for her title track "Meet You There" shows that new-found freedom, which we are pleased to premiere below...

Congratulations on the release of your EP, Meet You There, which you released on September 28th! I understand you took a 7-year hiatus from music prior to recording this EP. How does it feel to have come after a long, emotional journey to finally reach this achievement?

Thank you, the EP release has been like an unexpected little surprise; I didn’t know I would actually release the music or how it would be received if I did, but the response has been so encouraging! It feels like I’m back where I’m supposed to be. Stepping away from music made me feel like a shell of the person I used to be, but looking back I think it was a very beneficial and necessary period. I feel I had to learn a few things about myself, and grow. I also had to build up the courage to present myself for exactly who I am, minus the masks I used to cover myself up with. I also was able to meet some amazing mentors during this time. Tina Shafer helped me to develop musically as well, as we worked a bit on my songwriting and vocal technique. During one of my lessons with her I broke down in tears as I told her about the cult I was born into, even though I was terrified. Her embracing and accepting response gave me the courage to stand proud for who I am today.

Your bio talks about you breaking away from a "cult" where you grew up feeling restricted in many ways. How did this big life transition affect your songwriting process?

I think that the obstacles and transitions in my life really helped me to have a more compassionate heart and helped deepen my songwriting. Songwriting is a difficult process for me, but when I have something to write about it makes it more natural. So in a way I am grateful to all of these experiences life threw at me. Breaking away from the cult also helped me to become a stronger person, and I guess you have to be pretty resilient to pursue music!

With your new video for the title track from your EP, what was the video making process like?

I worked with a filmmaker named Matthew Cobb - he was amazing! We ended up filming for 6 hours straight, and it was outdoors in 95 degree weather. Matt went above and beyond in trying to get enough footage to put together what he did. We all kept getting bitten by bugs, hiked for about 4 miles or so, and were sweating from the heat but it was all worth it.

How are your family members dealing with your new life and renewed focus on music?

I have 3 other siblings and they are all more on the neutral to “not in the cult anymore” stages. I’m very close to my siblings, probably because we all went through this crazy life together, and they have always accepted me as who I am, no matter what stage I was in. My parents may have had a harder time with my decisions, but in the end their love and care for me is greater than it all. I have music running in the family from both sides, so they have always, always been big cheerleaders in me pursuing music. My mother was an opera voice/piano major at one of the top music conservatories in Japan, and coincidentally my paternal grandmother also attended the same school as a piano major.

Now that your new EP and video are out, what's coming up next for Kiyomi Hawley in 2019?

In 2019, I hope to perform more, and I also hope to have my new almost finished song recorded and maybe released. I already know it’s called “The Blessing”, which is what the arranged marriage ceremonies were called in the cult. Being in the cult required you to be a part of one of their many mass wedding ceremonies where your partners were chosen for you. But this is a whole other story. I also hope to one day write a book about my experiences, as I’ve always felt a pull to do so. I have stacks of journals I’ve kept since I was 12, so I guess it would be a matter of going through them all and refining them, which actually sounds like an extremely lengthy and time consuming project!

"Meet You There" by Kiyomi Hawley

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