Dawn & Hawkes are cute enough together to suggest they were Care Bears in another life. The Austin folk songwriting duo's tender harmonies are woven with gentle wispy folk and sinewy roots rock in warm interplay punctuated with displays of affection.
Public displays of affection help counterbalance public displays of violence, figures Chris Hawkes, sitting beside partner Miranda Dawn in Austin. "People are mean enough to each other in the public eye. A little affection here and there isn't bad, especially when it comes from really appreciating someone."
The pair's overt tenderness can feel uncomfortably like eavesdropping on a honeymoon, particularly for the uncoupled. Hawkes can feel their pain. "We've both been those people," he says. "I was that for a long time — the lonely guy with the really sad songs. So I completely understand."
Earlier this year, the couple made waves on The Voice, with judge Adam Levine declaring their Beatles cover his favorite performance in the show's history. It was a special moment for two musicians who'd each taken circuitous routes to become musicians.
Hawkes grew up in a musical family, but first studied visual art at North Texas State before moving to Austin to do production and play in a band. Dawn's father, Chico Oropeza, is a veteran Austin musician, yet she too initially avoided music.
"I had a business degree. I worked in the nonprofit sector and started a few small businesses," she says. "I did everything but music for most of my twenties."
The pair met when Hawkes asked her to dance at a club. Both were singer-songwriters, which was actually a potential dealbreaker: What if one of them sucked? "Maybe that's the reason we didn't get to know each other any better right away," Dawn admits.
Several months later they met again at a songwriter's night Dawn hosted. Both performed and came away impressed with the other, and Hawkes invited her to his studio to record one of her songs.
It was there that their musical chemistry became obvious. "He pinpointed this one line that I had always had a feeling should be different," recalls Dawn. "No one had ever done that before — at least in a way that didn't make me feel defensive — and he just immediately knew what to do with it. It felt like he was in my head. It was insane, and it's felt like that ever since."
Everything's flowed organically from there. Even their appearance on The Voice happened to fit an open date on their West Coast tour. Although the couple lost their battle round in April, the publicity from it propelled 2012's Golden Hearts EP up the folk charts, and helped the duo raise more than $15,000 in May to record their full-length debut. They say they're now happy to be back in their DIY universe, grinding it out.
"It was tricky and it was stressful, and it honestly has been a different world since we've been on The Voice," says Hawkes. "We try to take it in stride, to see it as sort of wind in the sails, but you have to keep your oar in the water at the same time."