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Madeline “Maddie” Kelly planted the seed for Bozeman band The Hawthorne Roots years ago, spurred by a desire to perform her own music. Hearing at the band now, with a solid line-up of musicians and increasingly prominent bookings around the state, it’s easy to forget Maddie’s personal journey as a musician. But the singer-songwriter almost walked away from the idea when her first solo show was cancelled. Unable to let that happen, sister Emma Kelly was there, finding another place for Maddie to play when the younger sister’s resolve to share her original music wavered. Now, Emma stands beside her sister and trades harmonies in The Hawthorne Roots.

“The phoenix does rise,” the sisters sing in “Phoenix,” a song streaming on The Hawthorne Roots’ website. “She has risen before.”

The song seems fitting for a band that has spent the last couple years in transformation, building a band around the harmonies of the Kelly sisters. The current lineup has only been set since January, when Lucas Mace joined on lead guitar when John Shirrell moved. Last year, Haley Ford took over the bass duties from Casey George. Michael E. DeJaynes remains a stalwart on the drums. With the new bandmates, The Hawthorne Roots are honing in on the sort of band they really want to be, defining a sound around each of the member’s contributions.

“Elements are familiar, but we still catch people by surprise,” Lucas said.

With genre a fluid concept, the band has gone from branding themselves “genuine starlight soul harmonies” (taking cues from other local bands with celestial tag lines) to “revved-up Montana soul music,” blending styles from Southern rock to folk.

“People don’t like being put into boxes,” Maddie said during an interview at the band’s South Willson Avenue practice space last week.

Mid-June saw the band at Headwaters Country Jam. Though they won The Bozeman Magazine’s Bozeman’s Choice Awards for Best Local Folk Performers (and Best New Local Band), mid-July will see them at Moods of the Madison, an Ennis music festival with electronic DJ Bassnectar as a headliner. The Hawthorne Roots will kick off the Emerson’s Lunch on the Lawn on July 6. Upcoming performances also include a Music on Main after party on July 14 at the Zebra and Aug. 3 at Bite of Bozeman.

Maddie has been the principle songwriter, bringing in initial lyrics and chord structures. Each band member then takes the idea and contributes to the formation of the song.

“It’s always happened easily, organically,” Haley said.

With a jazz background, Haley approaches each song as if she is writing another synergic melody. She will often play whole chords within songs, an unusual approach for a bass player. Lucas adds another harmonic layer to the sisters’ voices, often featuring call-and-response style licks.

“He listens to the song,” Maddie said.

“He doesn’t ever take over the song,” Haley added.

On drums, Michael (who also plays guitar and fronts his own band, Solidarity Service) is also a non-conformist.

“My sound that I’ve been trying to bottle my whole life is called ‘sponge rock,’” he said. “I absorb it all, then squeeze back out the essence of it.”

“It’s really cool how it all works,” Haley said.

Emma and Maddie have been singing together their whole lives, as the family lived in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, California and everywhere in between, according to Emma. As a side note, “Hawthorne” is not the name of one of the streets on which the Kelly family lived, though that tidbit has circulated. It’s a family name from their maternal great grandmother, and Maddie’s middle name. Music has always been in their lives, the sisters said, describing how their dad would pull out a guitar if the power happened to go out. Their mother was a singer and voice teacher, and under her influence, the sisters learned to intertwine their voices, with Maddie layering on top of Emma’s deeper alto.

“There’s something to be said for the genetic aspect,” Ford said. “...I find myself getting lost in those harmonies and forgetting what I’m playing.”

As kids, they were each given a Walkman and a Beatles tape, Emma’s green with a copy of “A Hard Day’s Night” and Maddie’s red with a copy of “Rubber Soul.” Those early influence, Michael noted, show up in their approach to vocal harmonies, especially when the harmony line is lower than the melody.

“Now it’s her part and my part,” Emma said. “They’re not harmonies per se. In ‘Two Little Birds’ my part is the melody. In “Keena,” each part stands alone on its own.”

The Hawthorne Roots will take the harmonies on the road this year. The band is set to embark on its first out-of state tour to Wyoming and Colorado this summer. They’re also working on the monetary side of things, saving for a van and future recordings. In rehearsal, excitement for the future is palpable. Ideas for new music are coming fast from all sides. After the summer’s performances, the rest of the year is slated for further crafting of The Hawthorne Roots sound.

“We do have the potential to make some waves,” Haley said. “We already are, in pretty much our infancy.”

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Rachel Hergett can be reached at or at 406-582-2603. Hergett is on Twitter at @hergett.

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