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Catherine Hawksworth | Owner, Modern Legend

The more interviews we do, the happier it makes us, to see women finding their way into this industry with sheer determination because they know it’s the only thing they should be doing.  Part of our mantra is to help girls, women, LGBTQ+, and those marginalized find their way here by choice and not chance.  In speaking to Catherine Hawksworth, owner of Modern Legend, you can tell she did just that, it was in her blood.

Modern Legend was born from Catherine merging different parts of her world together. After eight years in retail, a degree in Music Business from Berklee College of Music, and many experiences traveling and living all throughout the country, she decided to come back to her roots and start her own company.

“Modern Legend is kind of my little dream. I came up with the name because of the inspiration I’ve always gained from David Bowie’s music, and the song “Modern Love” is an all-time favorite of mine. I was sitting in my room of my apartment in Seattle at 2 am going crazy over this idea, and Bowie was the thing on repeat. And then I wanted to find another word to play off of “modern”, something that essentially means the opposite, you know, and as I’m thinking that – Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” comes on. And it was just like a lightbulb went off. “That’s it,” I thought to myself. It was like my creative, adventurous side finally became friends with my cool, collected side and it was a beautiful thing. And then it was sleepless nights and planning for months. The best kind of sleepless nights. The kind where every yawn comes with a sense of accomplishment.”

She started Modern Legend about five years ago now in her early 20’s. Coming out of 2020, she’s built an all female team of six, badass members of her community, with various talents and interests.  How awesome is that?!  They all help in selecting the vinyl the shop carries, as well as book and promote shows in town to highlight local artists / bands at various venues. 

When she isn’t at work, as mentioned above she’s booking and promoting shows. Catherine works in a few different aspects of the industry depending on the time of year to “keep things fun“. Anything involving live music, she’s there.  She also loves to read, and chill at home with her records. Book she’s reading?  Girls Like Us, which is a about Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Carly Simon.

How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?

I worked retail from age fifteen, and I’ve genuinely always liked working with the public, which honestly is something that most people don’t love as much. I knew I wanted to keep that going. I also grew up in a household of people in the music industry – literally myself, my brother and both of our parents work in it in some capacity, so music has always been our bond and even our own language in a way. I was six years old knowing every Sam Cooke song and singing it at dinner with my family. Our jokes became things like trying to carry on conversations solely using the titles of songs or records and see who would be the last to get stumped. You could say my love for music is in my blood and it is, but it’s also the only thing that I’ve ever felt like I have truly loved or felt connected to. In my mind, if I could create a space where another young girl out there feels that strongly about it and could come in and not feel judged at all for their taste or style or interests, that was the ultimate dream.

At twenty three, I opened Modern Legend, named half after a Bowie tune and half after a Neil Young one.

What is a day in the life like?

For me, it’s a lot of different things. Outside of running the shop itself, it’s about staying on top of new releases and reissues, as well as being sure to keep our shelves stocked with all of the favorites and best sellers. It’s really fun to throw some in there that I don’t think anyone will be into, and then see who comes in and snags it and they’re usually so excited about it. So that’s fun. It’s a lot of balancing various things, of course, with so many different parts of a business now – social media, website, photo content, etc etc.

What has been your favorite sale / relationship made from behind the counter?

Every member of my staff. I met every single one of them because they were a customer, which is a totally amazing sort of bond. They all came in for years before working for me, so there’s a very special layer to it. They all separately grew to love the store so much over time that they wanted to be a part of helping it grow, and you just can’t ask for a better situation than that.

In your opinion what has been the coolest thing to come through your shop / the thing you had to keep / almost couldn’t put out for sale?

Dang! What a great question. When I was younger, I was super into heavier music. When I lived in Atlanta, there was a band called The Chariot that I used to love and then they broke up not long after I got super into them. I never heard much about them again, couldn’t find anything on vinyl or anything. Last year, they released the record I had been looking for as a RSD exclusive and it was such a huge deal to me, and everyone in my life at the time that we all sort of reconnected over that specific release years later which was so cool. Two of us actually just talked about it a few days ago!

What has been the craziest experience that has happened at the shop?

We’ve had a handful in the first five years of being open, and I won’t lie – there’s been a few times where I’ve thought maybe it was time to call it but I’m so glad I didn’t. In year two, we had to move locations unexpectedly. Year three, Hurricane Florence – which we had bad damage from and had to close for a month or so after. Year four, covid. I would say living through a pandemic has been the wildest so far. And we’re still in it, and it’s still wild!

What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?

I really think if you love something enough and you want to start your own version of it, do the research. Take the time to really look at it all because owning a business isn’t for everyone and that’s okay! When I came up with the idea for this shop, I was living in Seattle and I would frequent Sonic Boom Records in my old neighborhood weekly. My friend Nate helped run it, and he was the first person to really give me some good advice and help me start getting set up with distributors and what not. I think that’s a great way to do it too – just sort of immerse yourself in that world and get to know all you can from being a part of it, and always ask for help or advice! It may not always be what you need, but it can’t hurt to gain as much knowledge as possible.

And above all, you have to believe in what you’re trying to create because it really does become a part of you.

Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?

Of course! It would be hard for me to do this, and not be, I think. Again, my family drew me to it. I’ve been listening to records my whole life, and when I was eighteen I bought my first good player for myself and started my own real collection outside of what I grew up in. From there it became this mix of new and used in my collection and it just spiraled into a beautiful obsession. I’ve been addicted ever since.

What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?

So many things, but I think just being a young woman without a business partner means that everything falls on me all of the time. I definitely didn’t have the normal 20s experience, but I chose that and I can’t imagine doing anything else with this time in my life. It’s helpful now to have a staff since there was a long time there where I didn’t, but doing it alone for the first stretch and then again during covid was nearly impossible. Again, it’s just so much that goes into it – you are your own boss, accountant, buyer, social media person, website coordinator, customer service rep – everything. It’s super hard to balance it all sometimes. Also, naturally in the world of small business, it takes a minute to see any sort of real money for the first few years, so it’s easy to feel defeated.

What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.

There’s actually not much I’m worried about right now, because vinyl is going through such a magnificently strong era. New artists are releasing their work on vinyl, old artists are constantly doing reissue LPs. I love that on one hand I have sixteen year olds coming in to buy a new release and then my next customer is in his 60s and hasn’t ever seen a reissue of his favorite record from the 80s. It’s the same kind of excitement and it’s so honest and I love it. I also think it’s fantastic that the younger generation is so into vinyl, because that means they are listening to an album the way it was meant to be heard – from start to finish as a concept – and they’re even appreciating the art and such that comes along with it.

During this time we’re currently in, what message do you have for music and vinyl fans? How can we support you, the industry?

I think that right now is such a particular time. The real money in the music industry comes from touring, and that was taken away for so long. The next biggest thing is artist’s merch, that includes vinyl, so I can’t stress enough how much it means to these musicians for you to buy their physical music. We all love streaming – it’s cheap and accessible – I get it, but when you’re buying a record, you are buying an experience and the artist is seeing more of that money that they genuinely deserve. People like us, the vinyl shops/sellers, are able to be the middle man in that relationship between artist and fan/consumer, so it makes me so happy to be able to sell the music of these artists that deserve to be heard.

Tell me what you’re listening to (don’t think too hard about it, first thing that comes to you):

Right now? Well, it specifically says don’t think too hard (I already am haha!), so I’ll go with my forever answer, which is Radiohead. Owning a shop that sells music though, you find yourself loving just about every kind out there in some way or another. Today alone I’ve gone from Outkast to Japanese House to Derek Trucks to Thrice and back to Billie Holiday, so it is what it is.

Find Catherine:

Instagram: @modernlegendnc

Facebook: @modernlegendnc

Website: www.modern-legend.com

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