Concert Preview: Lilly Hiatt
With her excellent fourth studio album "Trinity Lane" having been released for mere hours, the Nashville-raised singer-songwriter will showcase her new work this Sunday at Rumba Cafe
“Oh, man,” singer-songwriter Lilly Hiatt exclaims dolefully as we start off our phone interview discussing her latest single, “The Night David Bowie Died,” and its obvious inspiration. “Well, I think for me…first of all, I think David Bowie’s got this sort of celestial kind of aura about him. So having a guy like that leave…you kind of perceive and see them as these immortal Gods of rock-and-roll. I’m like, ‘No, that can’t happen!’ you know? ‘It can’t be!’ Just kind of the initial shock of that.”
Hiatt’s tribute is a gutsy, raw, mid-tempo rocker with thick, crunchy guitars — and in its accompanying video she meanders through images of hometown haunts with her reflective visage emblazoned with Bowie’s iconic Aladdin Sane lightning bolt make-up. It’s the kind of dedication you have to think he might have loved.
“But also his legacy — he did so many things that…I remember hearing the song ‘Changes’ on some computer program I had when I was a kid that was trying to teach you about…it was like a kid encyclopedia online or something like that. It had a clip of [that song] on there talking about rock-and-roll music. And from there, you know, Labyrinth, Hunky Dory, the Lou Reed album Transformer he produced — just his hand in musical culture was massive, you know? That leaving a gap in the atmosphere.”
Bowie’s death two days after his 69th birthday in January 2016 was tough to swallow — even for people I know who aren’t typically fazed by the passing of public figures, it was intensely personal.
“It was kind of the catalyst — his death — for looking at where I was in my life,” Hiatt affirms. “It felt really lonely without him, without anyone to talk to about it, really.”
A native of Nashville, and daughter of veteran singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist John Hiatt, she has been performing music since the age of 12. Her first band, Shake Go Home, was formed during Hiatt’s years as a psychology major at the University of Denver. She would also appear on her father’s 2008 album, Same Old Man, as a guest vocalist on the tracks “Love You Again” and “What Love Can Do,” as well as albums by alt-country singer Ronnie Fauss, and Americana-rock outfit Across Tundras. In 2012, Hiatt signed with Normaltown Records and released her first solo album, Let Down. Its follow-up, Royal Blue, arrived in 2015. Earlier this year, she collaborated with Columbus export Aaron Lee Tasjan on a pair of singles — “Dublin Blues” and “Angel From Montgomery” — on The Luck Mansion Sessions.
On Friday, Hiatt released Trinity Lane, her fourth solo album. Through-and-through it’s a fantastic listen, and it’s interesting to hear where her influences ebb and flow between country, blues, R&B, and alternative rock. Shovels and Rope’s Michael Trent, who is also Hiatt’s stablemate at New West Records, produced the album, an experience that was rewarding while allowing her to remain the creative driving force behind her own material.
“Well, you know, Michael is amazing. I took my band out there and the way we did it is we sort of stood in a circle — Michael and his engineer, Andy Dixon, would sit in their chairs by the computers and they would watch us play through a song. We’d play through it three or four times, and he would literally just watch us work it out. There were some times before he chimed in…you know, he really let me be the boss and he really listened to me. Which was a beautiful thing — he really had a lot of faith in me as a bandleader, so that’s very encouraging and helps you rise to the occasion. And then after, we kind of sorted some things out as a band, that’s when he would come in and start giving in his two cents, whether it would be, ‘You know, I think we need to speed this up a little, rock it out a little harder. Let’s try that.’ Or ‘Maybe we should try this kind of drum beat.’ But he didn’t ever try to alter the overall…he let us solidify the vibe.
And then he kind of brought out the colors — he made things a little more vivid. He has all sorts of ideas and he’s really gifted in that. It could be the simplest thing like tambourines in this song, or piano — he plays on almost every track. He put a really cool guitar solo on ‘Trinity Lane.’ But he never tried to micromanage what we were doing. He let us get there first so he could wrap his head around what we were doing, and come to that place with us. It was really neat.”
Hiatt’s Columbus fans will have the opportunity to help her celebrate the album’s launch almost immediately when she takes the stage on Sunday evening at Rumba Cafe in SoHud. Local folk-rocker Sean Marshall will open the show. Tickets are $10 plus taxes and fees (guests under 21 will pay an additional $2 cover at the door), and are available through the venue’s website.
You really dug in deeply on the songs you wrote for Trinity Lane. When you’re entrenched in something that personally, how do you come up for air and determine when a song is finished and ready for public consumption?
“For me, usually, if I’m having to mull something over too long, it’s probably not working. When I’m kind of in a reflective place and my mind is quieted down is typically when it’s a pretty effortless process to get those songs out. I just have to feel tapped into something higher than myself, whether that’s the universe, or nature, or whatever — it makes the writing process flow a lot more freely. There are occasionally times where I’ve had a song I felt was unfinished, and I stepped away and thought about it for a little bit before I came back to it. For the most part, it’s either happening, or it’s not happening, you know? (laughs) And sometimes it takes writing some bad songs before good ones, or whatever. I can feel it when there’s something that’s clicked, that’s tapped in.”
And when you exit the studio and take those works on the road, what’s it like to expose them — and yourself — to a live audience? Is that liberating, or is it challenging?
“It’s kind of a mix. I mean, it is…I’m so used to kind of revealing things in my writing. That’s the person I am — I’m pretty heart-on-my-sleeve. I can go deep…go into the heavy stuff pretty quick. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable to talk about those things. That being said, there have been some times where I’ve caught myself…you know, songs start to mean different things to you as well. Some of the material I’m singing about changes over time, and what it’s about changes over time. Occasionally there’s a moment on stage where I’m, like, ‘Oh my God! I’m really stressing here.’ Or even in band practice where I’m, like, ‘Agh!‘
But you know, you’re stepping into the shoes of a performer when you’re doing those things, so sometimes I try to just create a little distance between me, Lilly, who just walks around on the street, and me the person who gets on stage. Those are not completely different people, but one’s a little more emo than the other (laughs).”
Trinity Lane is a culmination of a journey for you personally and professionally. What are some of the more profound things you’ve learned or discovered about yourself along the way?
“Something that really impacted me was at 27, I stopped drinking. For awhile, I couldn’t write — I was, like, ‘Oh my God – I don’t know how to write without this crazy chaotic lifestyle I was living!’ But over time I was able to look even deeper inside of myself, and even farther outside of myself and kind of live in a much more vivid world than I had been — an open world. So that really impacted me. But also just…I think that this go-round of writing this last summer when I wrote all of the songs for this record — which is years later from the the initial quitting drinking — I kind of looked at some other really detrimental habits I had and tried to dissect those a little more. And that took some time by myself rather than running into the arms of someone else to try to hide, or whatever, you know? Just kind of sitting with myself.
And I wasn’t smoking cigarettes this last summer, so my voice…that really opened up a brand new range (laughs). That was a bad habit I’d had for a long time.”
I think a lot of people are going to really connect with the music you’ve created on Trinity Lane. What artists or records do you tend to lean on when you need that connection or nurturing?
“I put one of my dad’s albums…well, there are multiple albums of my dad’s, but his album Walk On — that really gives me a lift because it reminds me of a specific time in my life where I felt really just safe and happy. We lived out at my farm and it was awesome. There’s a Pearl Jam album, No Code, that I really love that just — it’s the same deal — I grew up with it and I find safe haven there.
I love Aretha Franklin, The Delta Meets Detroit…That’s really the beauty of music — you don’t feel so alone when you hear it, like, ‘Oh, other people feel this way.’ Being a white girl from Tennessee being able to relate to this black woman that’s overcome all sorts of things I couldn’t even imagine. That’s the beauty of music — it connects you in ways that nothing else can. But yeah, those are some records that lift me up. There are a billion more…I could go on for hours!”
The track listing for Trinity Lane: “All Kinds Of People”/”The Night David Bowie Died”/”Trinity Lane”/”Everything I Had”/”I Wanna Go Home”/”Imposter”/”Records”/”Different, I Guess”/”Rotterdam”/”Sucker”/”So Much You Don’t Know”/”See Ya Later”