Peyton Semjen looks to Colter Adams while she sings a song during a rehearsal with other members of Night Hawk, including Alex Kozic, left, Courtney Burnett on drums and Shea Sewall at Bowdoin College on Friday. The band’s songs are inspired by Edward Hopper paintings. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

In Edward Hopper’s painting “New York Interior,” a woman sits with her back to the viewer. The scene is both impersonal and intimate, her face hidden from view but the nape of her neck exposed. She is framed by a window, a common theme for the famous American realist who often painted people in their homes as he saw them from his seat on passing trains.

In their song “Bedroom Waltz,” the indie band Night Hawk imagines her story.

“In love with an addict / He works fighting fires / He gets paid in forgiveness / And he never gets tired,” the song goes.

Bowdoin College students Colter Adams and Peyton Semjen started Night Hawk as a songwriting project during the COVID-19 pandemic. They set out to answer a single question: “What do Edward Hopper paintings sound like?”

The answer has grown into a full band and a debut EP released Friday, and Night Hawk is planning a Northeast tour this summer after most of its members graduate in May.

Some of their songs are explicitly based on individual paintings, while others blend the artist’s general aesthetic with the musicians’ own experiences.


“There’s a lot of ambiguity in his paintings, and I think that lends itself really well to storytelling,” said Adams. “You are invited into this image as a very active participant.”

On their lineup of shows is an April concert at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Frank Goodyear, the museum’s co-director, said it was a “no-brainer” to host Night Hawk there. He noted a long history of shared inspiration between visual art and music. (In fact, Edward Hopper’s paintings have also inspired a one-act opera titled “Later the Same Evening,” which premiered in 2008.)

“Hopper’s work, I think there’s a certain silence in those pictures,” Goodyear said. “Critics have long talked about the kind of sense of loneliness, the sense of quiet in his pictures. What Colter and Peyton are doing is to try to create musical companions to these pictures, and I think that’s a completely intriguing and wonderful idea.”


Most of these seven students started their tenure at Bowdoin College in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic limited student gatherings. The friends that ultimately became Night Hawk mostly met because they all were looking for spaces to play music and people to play with. With performance and practice spaces shut down, Adams and Semjen challenged themselves to write music based on visual art. They settled on Hopper because they admired his paintings, but they also felt a strong connection between his work and their experience of the pandemic.


“I think a lot of his paintings give this feeling of being just outside the sense of understanding,” Adams said. “You know the themes at play, but you don’t know exactly what’s happening. During COVID, we’re all living alone. We all have these snippets into each other’s lives, but there’s so much going on that we don’t know because we’re so isolated.”

In 2021, they started performing again with friends, and the crowds that came to their shows told them that the campus was starved for live music. Adams and Semjen presented their band with the songs they had been writing.

Edward Hopper. “Nighthawks,” 1942. Friends of American Art Collection. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Semjen is working toward a minor in art history, and cellist Layla Rafimayeri is studying visual art and art history.

But the rest of the bandmates are studying something other than art, ranging from computer science to biochemistry to Russian. Still, the others were on board with the project, and Night Hawk was born. (Yeah, they know Hopper’s iconic painting of a late-night diner scene is called “Nighthawks.”) The band now includes Rafimayeri, Courtney Burnett on drums, Shea Sewall on bass, and Zach Leibowitz and Alex Kozic as lead guitarists.

“It was cool to me to find people who were so dedicated to a concept like that,” said Burnett, a sophomore majoring in psychology and minoring cinema studies.

Layla Rafimayeri plays the cello during a rehearsal of the band Night Hawk at Bowdoin College. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Rafimayeri was working on learning bass when the band asked her to bring her original instrument into the mix.


“I played cello for my whole life but in a classical capacity,” she said. “I had never been in what you would call a band before. It kind of stuck.”


Some of Night Hawk’s songs are directly related to and even named after Hopper works.

“Soir Bleu,” for example, is a painting set in a café in France. Hopper depicted an odd assortment of characters at the table – a clown, a sex worker, a man smoking a cigarette, a bourgeois couple.

“That one really spoke to me, particularly because of how absurd this painting is,” Semjen said. “I kept humming different words about the painting in my head.”


Those words became lyrics to their single “Soir Bleu,” released in 2022: “Face caked in rouge/ an evening painted blue/ nothing left to pursue.”

Others draw more from Hopper’s general aesthetic than a single painting. Instead, they tell stories about turbulent relationships. Adams pointed to a favorite line from the song “9 a.m.” on their EP: “We’re love with no makeup/  It’s nine in the morning/ Cartoons on the TV/ And outside it’s pouring.”

“It’s like creating a still life with personal experiences, with emotion, with people, which is what Hopper does sometimes,” Adams said. “He focuses so much on the shape and the texture and the scene without highlighting the human expression. That’s true with ‘9 a.m.’ The best lines are focusing on scene setting – what’s on the TV and what the room is like and the language that Peyton uses to describe this eroding relationship. There’s so much focus on the visceral aspects there, rather than the details of the relationship.”

Adams and Semjen write the lyrics, but the band works together to set them to music. Sometimes they talk about the paintings, but they all take a different approach to the source material.

“For now, I haven’t been looking at the Edward Hopper paintings,” said 22-year-old Alex Kozic, who grew up in the U.K. and had never heard of the artist. “That provides a little bit of creative freedom.”

“I always care to see the painting and think about it, but at the same time, we’re contributing what comes to us,” Shea Sewall, 21, said. “I try not to demand that that comes specifically from the painting, and I think it’s better to let the music and what they’ve already written lead what comes out of me in that way.”


The band contacted the Bowdoin College Museum of Art last year about a collaboration. In 2011, the museum partnered with the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City to host an exhibition of works Hopper created during summers in Maine between 1914 and 1929. He visited, painted and sketched in Ogunquit, Monhegan, Rockland, Cape Elizabeth and Portland.

Goodyear said those pieces came to the museum on loan, but the permanent collection does include a drawing and an etching by Hopper. The drawing is a charcoal self-portrait done in 1903, when Hopper himself was in his early 20s. Goodyear said that piece will be on display during “Edward Hopper Recomposed,” when members of Night Hawk perform with two dancers in the museum’s rotunda. Works on paper are sensitive to light and not often on display, so the event will be a rare opportunity to see the sketch.

“It shows Hopper at the same age as this group of seniors,” Goodyear said. “We thought, how cool would it be to frame that up?”

Edward Hopper drew “Portrait Head of a Young Man” in 1903 when he was the same age as the students who make up the band Night Hawk. Photo courtesy of Bowdoin College Museum of Art


Dan Capaldi is a local producer and a drummer who performs his own music under the name Sea Level. He worked with Night Hawk to record their EP titled “Everything Good Ends” in a single day at Monaco Studios in Falmouth. He said he sees them as part of a swell of younger bands coming onto the scene in Portland.

“I see them being included a lot more, and I’ve seen venues becoming more flexible at being like, we can do a show that’s all ages, even though we’re not going to make as much money on beer sales and alcohol sales,” he said. “That’s been a recent shift, and it’s beautiful.”


Capaldi said he focused more on getting to know the musicians than he did on understanding the connection to Hopper.

“It’s wonderful building your own mythology and building your own story,” he said, “That’s something I do to sink into my art, to make creative decisions more confidently.”

For most of Night Hawk, this EP was their first experience recording outside of their bedrooms.

“I’ve recorded drums before, but for Night Hawk particularly during this session that we did for this EP, I felt like rather than playing drums as a drummer, I was playing drums as a songwriter,” Burnett said. “They write the songs, they write the lyrics, but the instrumentation is just as much a part of deciding where the song is going.”

Courtney Burnett looks to other band members while playing drums during a rehearsal of the band Night Hawk at Bowdoin College on Friday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The band has now headlined shows in Brunswick, Portland, Boston and New York City. They’ve played with artists such as Y La Bamba, Sadurn, Lady Lamb, Dino Gala and Dead Gowns. (At rehearsal on Friday, they crowded excitedly around Burnett’s phone to read a message from one of their favorite local bands, Weakened Friends.)

They credited other local musicians such as Dead Gowns for helping them get established in southern Maine.


“Getting a chance to hang out with them before and after shows, that’s been so helpful and inspiring,” said Zack Leibowitz, 22.

Their first tour will start in Portland and travel down the coast to end in Washington, D.C. What happens after that is still uncertain, but they said they are working on more songs and hope Night Hawk keeps playing together.

“I think this tour is going to be a big jumping-off point creatively for us,” Adams said.

Night Hawk’s debut EP, “Everything Good Ends,” is available on all streaming platforms. Here are two upcoming opportunities to see the band:

WHAT: Sadurn with Windier and Night Hawk
WHERE: Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland
WHEN: Thursday; doors open at 7:30 p.m.
HOW MUCH: Tickets are $2 for Space members, or $15 in advance and $18 day of show.
For more information, visit

WHAT: “Edward Hopper Recomposed”
WHERE: Bowdoin College Museum of Art rotunda, 245 Maine St., Brunswick
WHEN: 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. April 19
HOW MUCH: Tickets are required but free.
Information on obtaining tickets will be available soon at

For more information on Night Hawk, visit

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