Music inspires the soul and allows listeners to feel joyful and free, and behind every piece of inspirational music lies a songwriter and a story. Throughout spring quarter, columnist Kaitlyn Peterson will sit down over tea with UCLA singer-songwriters to explore their musical goals, personal inspirations and what makes their songs so special.
You really can sail away with Keegan Hawkins’ music.
This week I drank tea at Kerckhoff patio with the second-year psychology student, who writes his own music. Inspired by rock artists such as Styx and Hozier, Hawkins displays an awareness of the world by acknowledging heavy subjects such as sin and internal darkness.
As a 5-year-old, he loved Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” even though his three siblings always groaned when it came on the car stereo.
Hawkins hoped to one day learn the song’s guitar riff, which never ceased to fascinate him with its catchy, cool and fun melody.
Hawkins eventually learned Styx’s song when he took electric guitar lessons starting in first grade. His instructor taught him how to play classical rock, including music by Van Halen and Guns N’ Roses.
Hawkins didn’t write his own lyrics initially, because he felt it was hard to focus on singing and playing at the same time. He laughed and told me he was also too shy to even start songwriting and share his words with people.
Hawkins broke through his timidity during his freshman year of high school when he received an acoustic guitar for his birthday. His first original song was called “Find the Way,” a gift to his girlfriend at the time. Hawkins was too embarrassed to tell me the lyrics at first.
He gave in and looked up thoughtfully for a couple seconds before reciting the song to me: “Every time I see those green-brown eyes, it reminds me that opposites collide.” He laughed and said the song earned him major boyfriend points.
However, his most recent song, “Mark of Cain,” is more serious. It was influenced by the prevalence of sin portrayed in the novel “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck and the 2017 play he acted in, called “Game of Greed,” through Lapu the Coyote that Cares Theatre Company at UCLA.
“East of Eden” is based on the biblical narrative of the siblings Cain and Abel, discussing the weight of sin and the presence of it in the world. Similarly, each character in “Game of Greed” embodies one of the seven deadly sins, with Hawkins’ character representing the sin of lust. Both works made Hawkins heavily aware of sin, whether in the form of a large or a small mistake, he said.
In “Mark of Cain,” Hawkins plays the guitar at a fast pace, incorporating high notes to add to the quick strumming. Lyrics include: “They say it’s history / why we can’t / overcome our father’s pain / the mark of Cain.” The reference to the story of Cain, who kills Abel, brings depth to the song and uses the narrative as an embodiment of universal sin.
Although Hawkins enjoys using lyrics to verbalize his experiences, he told me he feels closer to his instrumental songs. I sipped my chai tea and he explained that he can close his eyes and feel the music most when playing his guitar in his dorm room.
His instrumental pieces, played on the guitar, represent actions and emotions, such as bundling up in a corner or feeling inner angst, he said. Music served as a journal for Hawkins, with each past emotion or experience represented by a different chord progression or guitar riff. A slower progression may represent sadness, while a fast-paced one may represent anger.
Hawkins told me about two instrumental songs, simply called “The Happy Song” and “The Angry Song.” Whenever he gets a wave of inspiration on the guitar, he uses his phone to record himself playing and adds to the songs. He keeps the songs on his phone, hoping to one day record them on his MIDIbox at home.
Hawkins sent me his most recent instrumental called “Bayley’s Comet,” a reference to Halley’s Comet. The song describes the feelings of falling in love and having to let that person go. Similar to how a comet orbits the sun, one is left hoping their loved one will orbit back into their life, he said.
He told me to listen to it with my eyes closed; the soft notes were so soothing and compelling that I played the song two more times. The quiet melodies expressed sentimental longing, whether for a past memory, experience or person.
Hawkins leaves a lasting impression, whether by causing listeners to think about the weight of sin or feel deep nostalgia.
Listen to some of Hawkins’ favorite songs: