When I Get Blue (5/12/17)

“You’ll make it or you won’t, and then you’ll die,” sings Zander Hawley, somewhere around the eighth track of his forthcoming debut record, When I Get Blue. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Hawley began falling in love with the musical landscape that surrounded the city he calls home when he was about 16. In befriending and coming of age alongside other LA-based musicians like Phoebe Bridgers, Harrison Whitford, and Charlie Hickey, he wound up at the center of the city’s youthful singer/songwriter scene, regularly appearing at Hotel Cafe and The Bootleg Theater, finding that audiences were consistently drawn to his acutely insightful lyrics. He began his recording career with Honeywater, his duo with friend/actor/activist Amandla Stenberg. In the summer of 2015, the band’s eponymous debut EP reached #7 on the iTunes Folk chart and was hailed by Mic as “four tracks of folk gold.” Later that year, Hawley released his first solo EP, I Wish I Was, and moved to Nashville, where he began writing the songs that would make up his first full-length.

When I Get Blue finds Hawley pulling from the very personal moments of triumph and turmoil that come with leaving home and moving into adulthood. “Lately I’ve been caught between not seeming needy, and needing to feel like she needs me,” he sings on “Until We Both Get Bored,” a slow-burn that reflects the romantic habits and insecurities of today’s youth, yet remains timeless in its expression of longing and loneliness, something that becomes even more impressive upon learning Hawley wrote it when he was 18.

Recorded in the near-impossible span of two days at Nashville’s Sound Emporium Studios in the spring of 2016, Hawley enlisted the expertise of close friend, drummer Marshall Vore (Ryan Adams, Korey Dane), to produce and called on other friends to lend their talents as well, including guitarist Sadler Vaden (Jason Isbell) and Pax-Am alum Phoebe Bridgers, who sings on five of the album’s ten songs. Out of the chaos of those two days came a uniquely visceral record about finding love both externally and internally, and the uncertainty that comes with doing so while in the midst of searching for your own place in the world. “To me,” Hawley shares, “the record is about endurance through self-doubt, broken romances, broken people, but also about the enduring nature of the way I feel love.” More than a hint of early Ryan Adams and Jason Isbell can be heard within these songs and the way in which Hawley illuminates tender moments with a presence well beyond his years, often finding the most power when his guitar is his only instrument. Lead single “Don’t Call Me Back” recalls a Heartbreaker-era energy and self-awareness, while other standouts “I Met Someone” and “Every Woman In The World” are closer to the incisive lyricism found on Isbell’s Southeastern.

But When I Get Blue is bigger than the sorrow that the color implies. “As abstract as it sounds,” Hawley states, “‘Blue’ is a state of mind for me.” When I Get Blue is not just an impressive debut from a young singer/songwriter; it’s an alt-country triumph tied together by the striking truths that are all-too-often best revealed to us by younger generations. Zander Hawley is 19 years old and has, thank god, a lot to say.