In a crowded field of musical acts, it seems Hawley Shoffner, 24, can’t help but stand out. For her third performance as a solo artist, the singer-songwriter won the 2008 Farmer’s Ball, a battle of the bands competition in her native Wichita, Kan. After moving to Chicago in 2010, Shoffner found a job crafting clever puns as a staff writer for Groupon. While performing at numerous venues around the city, she met Alex and Austin Ward of the band The Noise FM, who performed on and helped produce her eponymous debut album, which launched on Aug. 19.
The Chronicle sat down with Shoffner for a cup of tea to discuss her new album and her growth as a musician.
The Chronicle:So you play the piano, accordion, ukulele and kazoo. What led you to choose those instruments?
Hawley Shoffner: I’ve played the piano for forever. I tried to play guitar for a little while, but my heart wasn’t in it. I switched to ukulele because it’s more fun and easier to learn. Any weird instrument I could find was fun, especially with solo stuff. When I moved to Chicago, I started playing the electric guitar, and that’s my new favorite instrument.
The Chronicle: And the kazoo? That seems like an unusual choice.
HS: Basically, I went through a big Bob Dylan phase. I bought a harmonica holder because I wanted to look like Dylan. I knew I couldn’t play the harmonica so I just bought a kazoo and put it in there. I would just walk around with my ukulele and kazoo and play little songs.
The Chronicle: You’re often described as a folk musician. Is that a label you agree with?
HS: Deep down I’m a folk musician, but I’m trying to branch out. A lot of my songs are pretty folksy because that’s what I grew up listening to. I’m kind of drifting away from that, but I can tell when I write songs they are still based on those very basic chord progressions.
The Chronicle: Are you still a solo artist?
HS: Every once in a while I play a show by myself, but right now it makes more sense to have Austin and Alex, especially with how the album sounds when performed live.
The Chronicle: Which is more important to you, lyrics or melody?
HS: The lyrics are what I’m the most proud of. I guess I’m not as concerned about the way a song sounds unless you’re playing a venue where no one can hear you. Then you’re like, “Man, I wish I spent more time on the melody!” When you’re playing the ukulele, nobody gets confused about what you’re saying. Now that I’m playing the electric guitar, I feel I need to step it up as far as harmonies go.
The Chronicle: How did the idea for your album evolve?
HS: I started recording the ukulele songs in Kansas. Once I moved here, I started writing more guitar songs, and it became hard to decide what would go on the album. We recorded it all in our basement, and that honestly didn’t take too long. Alex was very dedicated to getting the album out on time, and it actually went by pretty fast when we finally got down exactly what we were doing. It was a really comfortable recording experience.
The Chronicle: What is your favorite song on the album?
HS: I’d say “Suzannah.” Right after I moved to Chicago, I was really bummed out and trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I’d just graduated from college and couldn’t even get coffee shops to hire me. Things were really rough. I wrote it as a kind of “cheer up” song about how it’s all going to be OK. It still makes me feel better when I play it.
Hawley Shoffner will perform at Debonair Social Club, 1575 N. Milwaukee Ave., at 10 p.m. on Oct. 6. To avoid a $5 cover charge for the 21+ show, RSVP at Do312.com/Indie. For more information on Shoffner and how to purchase her album, visit MySpace.com/HawleyShoffner.