Maya Hawke is done with all the chaos

The Stranger Things actor talks her upcoming third album, Chaos Angel, and the final season of the show that made her a star.

Maya Hawke is beaming in from The Upside Down, aka her dad Ethan Hawke’s basement in New York. The actor-turned-musician is back in town on a couple of weeks’ break from the Atlanta set of Stranger Things, and has already been sent downstairs. But not because she’s been naughty.

There’s a giant leak in the ceiling of my apartment here. There’s a crack in the brick mortar, so the paint is just crumbling off the ceiling,” she says, describing a scenario that could be straight out Netflix’s blockbuster fantasy phenom on which Maya (who plays soft scoop slinger Robin Buckley) is in the middle of filming the fifth and final season.

Her boyfriend, Phoebe Bridgers collaborator Christian Lee Hutson – who produced Maya’s third album Chaos Angel and co-wrote a few of the songs – is working with a new artist in the city, and the young woman needed a place to stay. So she’s staying in my crumbling apartment. I’m staying in my dad’s basement. You know,” Maya says, flopping back on the couch with a what-can-you-do? smile, New York is a crazy place.”

Behind her loom almost life-size renderings of Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen, bearing down from a giant poster for cult 1973 prison-break movie Papillon. Next to it, shelves groaning with DVDs. Like her dad (and, we’re guessing, like her mum Uma Thurman), she’s a physical media type of woman. So much so that Maya, who turns 26 next month, is thinking well ahead and planning on taking all her stuff with her when she, er, goes…

My idea for how I want my remains dealt with after I die – and I don’t know if this is possible – is that my body is wrapped in my clothing. Not really wearing clothing, just wrapped in my clothing. And then, dig a hole in the earth, and my favourite books are put down around me. So me and my favourite books and my favourite clothes can just rot together in the earth.”

Morbid musings aside, Maya is currently juggling promo for Chaos Angel – a reflective, spectral, singer-songwriter set billed as 10 songs about falling in love, fucking it up and getting back up again” – with the final months on Stranger Things, the show that catapulted her to global stardom when she joined in 2019’s third season.

I’ve been working pretty steadily since January. I have a couple of weeks off while they shoot someone else’s storyline. Then I’ll be back. We’re chugging along, though. I think they’re gonna finish when they say they will. I don’t know that I can say exactly when that is…”


Congratulations on the record, Maya. Not to diminish the other two (2020’s Blush and 2022’s Moss), but we think it’s your best yet.

I do too. But I also hope I feel that way every time I make a record for the rest of my life. I hope I’m never like: Ah, yeah, here’s this one. But I know the last one was better…”

The latest single is Hang In There. What can you tell us about the real life inspiration for that song and the intensity of emotion in it?

I hesitate to name the actual person that it’s about. Because if I did, you could figure out who the other person is pretty quickly. But it was a combination of [that song] being about someone else in my life, and a way of talking about my own experience at the same time.

What I was really interested in is this thing that can happen in friendships where, when your friend is in a relationship that’s not a healthy one, as a friend, you’re doing a dance. You’re trying to figure out when is the moment that you need to say this is bad”.

You’ve written a note about the overall inspiration for the project: My life felt out of control, and disorganised. I wasn’t happy. And I wasn’t making the people around me happy either.” Could you unpack that?

A combination of the pandemic, and when it occurred in my life, [was when] I had been burgeoning into full agency over my adulthood. Just when I was just getting control of my life, I was backtracked into a role of being back with my family. Then, trying to take control back with the limited capacity that the pandemic allowed, created a sense of chaos for me in terms of the timing.

So, age-wise and career-wise, it was a pinch-point…

Well, in your late teens and early 20s, you’re just experiencing stuff, right? Just reaching out and experiencing life. Then you get to your mid-20s and you’re like: Oh, I might have been stuck in some patterns.” Like: Oh, I’ve been through the same breakup twice. Uh-huh, interesting. I’m doing the same thing over and over again.“

And the [mistake] I used to make was [thinking] that the relationship was never the problem. But breaking up was always the solution. Where [in fact], I just wasn’t being myself inside a romantic relationship. Which was fine and fun for the first couple of months, where I would be this character. Then I would start to feel suffocated, and blame the other person for suffocating me. When really it was me that was suffocating myself, by initially playing this character in the beginning. So I would break up with them, and I would feel myself again. But it wasn’t their fault. It was mine.

How did that feed into your songwriting?

I was having that experience and I really focused on it in the title track, in Chaos Angel, where the pattern was [in the lyrics]: I want you, I’m sorry, I love you, I’m sorry, I promise, I’m sorry.” That was the cycle that relationships were taking – desire, and then love, and then making promises that those two things would never go away. Then they do go away and you’re like: I’m sorry!”

So I started getting interested in the other patterns that I had in my life. Like, in the song Okay, that’s about codependency. [About] relationships where you are only OK when the other person is OK, and if they’re not, you’re not. That’s not independence or autonomy. Though I did learn a fun new word recently that I’m excited about, which is interdependence: being dependent on someone without being codependent on them.

Photo by Trevor Tweeten

Your Stranger Things castmates Joe Keery and Finn Wolfhard both make music too. There’s lots of downtime onset, especially with epic fantasy shows like yours. Do you guys play each other your work?

Sometimes. Not as much as you might think. But we are definitely extremely supportive of each other. We all make really different kinds of music. That’s very exciting to everyone that we’re not all doing the same 80s revival vibe. We’re experimenting with different stuff.

It’s a really supportive and fun cast. And Joe and Finn are some of my favourite people. I just love them so much. And I’m so proud of Joe – it’s so cool that his song [Djo’s End of Beginning] that blew up this year was from an old record. Not even a single. Not even a track that just came out. It’s just the magic, weird, confusing power of TikTok.

Your dad’s film Wildcat, in which you play author Flannery O’Connor, came out in the US recently. How was it working together?

Just great. The only thing that’s been weird about it is talking about it – and the fact that, even before we did it, people thought it would be weird. Like: Are you scared to be directed by your dad?” Or: Are you scared to direct your daughter?“

We really weren’t. But then we would come to each other and be like: Hey, all these people are asking me if I should be nervous, and I’m not nervous. Should I be nervous? I’m nervous to do a good job, but I’m excited to work with you.…”

But doing it was awesome. We’ve been [doing this forever]. When I was eight years old, I dictated a short novel that was a rip-off of The Spiderwick Chronicles that my dad had [read to] me. We’ve put on plays together in the house, we’ve done readings, auditions… We’ve been making art together and telling stories and watching movies my whole life. So it felt pretty natural. It just felt like an extension of that.

Are your parents harsh critics of your music?

I definitely get honest feedback. But I think that I’m my own biggest critic.

Are you hard on yourself then?

Yeah, for sure. I challenge a critic to write something mean about me that I haven’t thought about myself. That’s why it’s painful to get bad reviews. They stick with you more because that’s what you’re looking for, in a way. You’re looking for someone to be like: We know you’re full of shit.”

I’m just overwhelmed by [Taylor Swift] as a writer, [not just as] a performer, as a leader of men, as a Messiah!”

Between all the filming and music-making and promotion, have you had time to watch Baby Reindeer?

I have! I just finished it. It’s a really intense show. I devoured it. But it also made me extremely uncomfortable, which I think it’s supposed to. Every character made me uncomfortable. There was no safe place. What bothers me about TV shows especially, [although] it happens in movies, too, is when characters make bad decisions that seem so obviously avoidable and don’t fit with their character.

But Baby Reindeer had an amazing achievement, which is that its characters were capable of making bad decisions, without me doubting that that was the decision that they actually would have made. I believed every bad decision that was made… It’s one of the most vulnerable things I’ve seen in a long time.

Speaking of globe-gripping cultural events this spring and summer: have you caught The Eras Tour yet?

Of course. Twice. Once in New Jersey, once in Nashville. It’s extraordinary. Just the power of Taylor’s songwriting… To be able to play a three-hour show, where every moment [whips by]. I’m a lifelong superfan. But even for people who aren’t – I took my brother to watch the [concert] movie. He was just like: Woah, I didn’t even know how many of those songs I knew every word of…”

But I’m just overwhelmed by her as a writer, [not just as] a performer, as a leader of men, as a Messiah! It was a euphoric experience.

What would you like the Stranger Things super-fandom to get from Chaos Angel?

Well, an amazing thing has happened, which is: I’m forever grateful to the Duffer Brothers for writing such an extraordinary character for me to play. Not only is Robin fun, but the people that she attracts… There’s a big overlap between them and people who like my music.

I remember it made me a little sad, when I first started playing shows, that there were so many people there with Stranger Things posters for me to sign. But as time has gone on, I feel that there’s been a marriage of the vibe where the people who found me that way, because they like Robin, actually do like my music. Because it’s a lot of really strong, independent, smart, young women. And who could ask for a better group of fans? They’re just the best.

The Olivia Rodrigo Guts tour just came through the UK. She speaks to her fans with an emotional intelligence that’s much more empowering than any male fandom we’re seeing in music right now.

I agree. I actually think that there needs to be some new, great male rock stars. Because between Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, there’s a lot of great women happening, right? But I do feel like young men [need that]. I recently read this amazing book, The Flowering Wand (Rewilding the Sacred Masculine) by Sophie Strand. It’s about how there doesn’t need to be a masculinity crisis. There just needs to be new male role models to follow, and how they’ve actually had their best role models stripped away from them.

How so?

She writes really beautifully about Dionysus, and Tristan and Iseult, and these incredible gods of sex and love… These beautiful, poetic, male figures that have existed throughout history that have really been obliterated. So I think that they do need some great new role models. But there are people like my close friends Finn and Joe, who are rising. And that’s gonna be great. They’re great role models.

Chaos Angel (Mom + Pop Music) is out on 31st May

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