Photo courtesy of Lilly Hiatt
I swore I wasn’t going to bring it up, but here I am right in the first sentence doing exactly that. I’m telling you that singer/songwriter Lilly Hiatt is the daughter of John Hiatt. There. Done. If you don’t already know who John Hiatt is, I’m sorry, I can’t help you other than to tell you to just start looking up his music. He’s been around a long time and he’s already got enough street cred. Did Lilly Hiatt need anyone to know she was his daughter? Not really. I’m telling you that because I’m just one of those strange people that enjoys fun facts and that happens to be one. If you’re into music and you know of John Hiatt, you might have wondered, now you know. A load of bricks is off my back. I grappled with whether or not to introduce that bit of information or not, and rather than think about it anymore, and then decide where to throw it in if I did, I just let it out right away. Now I can move on.
How cool is Lilly Hiatt? She’s so cool, but not in that cool way that makes you afraid to say something to her. She’s inviting. Once again, it was a phone interview because we’re all just social distancing our lives away these days. While she may be just down the road a few miles, she may as well be across the world. This is how we do life in the days of COVID-19.
She picked up the phone and we got right into talking about her style of music, which I had just started listening to once I found out I was doing this interview. I listened to every single song I could find. From the earliest songs right up to her latest album, Walking Proof. I discovered that she really changes up her style from project to project. Like a chameleon, she transformed from a rocker to a country artist and even to a bluesy-sounding singer and back again. This latest album being kind of a slick culmination of all her past styles. I couldn’t wait to hear her take on it. “Well, there’s always been a jagged edge on everything I’ve done, but there’s a slick, smooth, shiny side of it that hadn’t been shown yet, and it’s just a very kind of upfront record,” explained Hiatt.
Does she have a favorite on the new record? “It’s hard to say. The one I think was the most sensational to finish was ‘Some Kind of Drug’ just because of the way it happened. It was just unexpected and quick, and those are always like, really rewarding songs because you kind of don’t feel like you wrote ’em or something.” I asked, “Like they just came to you in a dream?” “Yeah. When it just happens like that. Like, when you can’t even remember quite how it happened or how you came up with the words. That’s always a powerful experience for me.”
Video courtesy of New West Records and YouTube
My personal favorite on Walking Proof is “Never Play Guitar” and I asked Hiatt to tell me a little bit about that one. “Yes! I’m so glad you like that one! I wrote it, I was like, sitting on top of my washing machine in my kitchen looking out the window, because I got to the point where I was at the place in my house furthest away from my door, because I felt like people were needing me a lot at that time. I needed to be alone and away. (Laughs) I was on a break from tour and I was like, ‘God, I wish I could just get a song out!’ Like, really fast, that one came out.”
In order to get to know a little bit more about who Lilly Hiatt is as a person, I asked her to name five artists she would put on a playlist entitled “Don’t Talk to Me During These Artists”. She was totally up for this, and actually had no trouble coming up with five artists quickly. She listed Bright Eyes, Jenny Lewis, Otis Redding, Angel Olsen and Lauryn Hill. “Don’t talk to me when I’m listening to those people. Those are all artists, when they’re singing, I need to hear those words,” said Hiatt.
Being the type of artist that seems to alter her sound from record to record, I asked Hiatt if she had any ideas on what she was going to do next. She replied, “I definitely have a side project planned with my friend Patterson Hood that I think we’re gonna do, so I have enough songs for it, and I’m sure he’s got songs for it, so hopefully that’s the sort of thing that doesn’t take too long, because I feel like we both have the material probably, but I think we’re both serious about it when the time is right. Other than that, I write a lot. I have a lot of songs I’ve never recorded and I feel like I’ve kind of hit my stride with Lincoln (Parish, her producer on Walking Proof ). I think it would be really fun to do some more stuff with him. I’ve worked with a lot of different people, and I love doing that. I’d also love to work with some of the people, Adam Landry and Michael Trent, the guys I’ve recorded with, I’d love to work with them again. I don’t know, just making a bunch of records, you know, throughout my life is my plan.”
In these unprecedented times of social distancing and tours being canceled, what about online streaming of shows? Will Lilly Hiatt be joining the legions of others that are already doing that? “I haven’t totally figured out my approach to that. It’s kind of a new thing to me and I can’t tell if it’s the sort of thing where I should do it frequently, or if I should do them every so often. I think I’m at a point right now where we just had such a week releasing (the record), and there was a lot of communication and discussion that led up to that, and a lot of planning, so I thought I would take a step back for a second and kind of process everything. Then when that’s happened, maybe start in on some live streams. You want to kind of let the record brew for a second, so I want to give people a chance to listen, get to know it and then do some streamin’!”
Once everything returns to some semblance of normalcy, hopefully sooner, rather than later, what places is Hiatt most interested in going to take her music to? “We’re planning a tour for Europe and the UK in the fall. I hope that goes through. I mean, if it doesn’t, we’ll reschedule it, but that’s always a real treat. Getting to California is always really special. Oregon, Washington, I love going west. Colorado, you know, I love having a rockin’ band show in New York City, that’s always really special. I love it all, I really do. I really have a blast pretty much everywhere. Anywhere. Just get me back out there. When the time is right and when it is, it’ll be like a jubilant, amazing time I believe.”
Photo courtesy of Lilly Hiatt
Hiatt is known for her songwriting and she loves doing that, but when she’s playing live does she ever cover any songs? If so, does she have any favorites? “A song I have covered my whole career, starting from like, age seventeen, is the John Prine song, ‘Angel From Montgomery’. It’s a song many people sing, but it’s definitely a song that’s very dear to me, and I feel like it’s a song for everybody.”
Video courtesy of Music City Maven and YouTube
I couldn’t help but mention that at the time of our interview John Prine was quite ill with the COVID-19 virus and I was hoping that he would pull through that. Hiatt responded, “Me too, I really hope so badly for that.” I told her that “Angel From Montgomery” was a great song and I didn’t care how many people cared to cover it, they could continue to do so. She was happy to hear that and expressed her thoughts, “Totally! I’m not the best at cover songs, but I do love throwing one out every so often. I need to kind of like, deepen my repertoire with that.” I told her she was fine and the world has enough covers, originals are always welcome, to which she replied, “Well, just throw in a cool cover to carry on the tradition of the song.” Fair enough.
Calling East Nashville home, Hiatt lives in one of the hotbeds of creativity in Music City. So many brilliant musicians live in that part of town and I wondered if there was anyone she liked to collaborate with there, I mean, it’s really like taking your pick. Her answer was quite interesting. “Yeah, I do. I’m not a huge collaborator. I’m collaborative in the sense that I love to get together with the band or a producer and create stuff, but with other stuff I’ve always kind of done my thing. Somebody it kind of seems to come pretty naturally with is my friend Aaron Lee Tasjan, who is just, I don’t know what it is about us, but we have kind of an effortless thing whenever we get together or play. An unspoken understanding.
I had to tell her that I first saw Aaron Lee Tasjan at a Gibson event at Summer NAMM and was simply blown away by him. His guitar skills were something else. I was really impressed by his song and the song he did with Ray Wylie Hubbard. I was an instant fan and I’ve followed him every since. Hiatt went on to tell me, “He’s a great writer, a great guitar player and a great singer. He’s so good. He’s definitely on the top of my list of someone I can see myself touring with for a lifetime, you know like, coming together with at different times, so I hope that’s the case. His guitar playing is out of this world, for real.”
Video courtesy of Luck Reunion and YouTube
The state of the world is so precarious right now. Not everyone is having an easy time of it. Even if they’re feeling healthy physically, they’re emotionally confused and afraid. They’re worn down and becoming exhausted. Sometimes they just need words of encouragement. Many of us don’t have the right words. Songwriters, who spend their entire lives taking thoughts and emotions and putting them to words that make people feel certain ways, just have a gift for saying things the best way. I asked Lilly Hiatt how she would best tell people to just keep it together for a little while until things get better. She very quickly had some great words for everyone. Nothing fancy, but really good solid advice.
“Be gentle with yourself. Be vigilant and try to find that profound gratitude that propels us forward. It’s definitely an okay time to feel a lot of different feelings. Cut yourself some slack and allow that to happen. Let it sift through and we’ll get through it, you know? Life is pain and it’s hard, and this is on a profound level, but yeah, we will come out of this.” ~ Lilly Hiatt
We talked about staying positive and not losing our collective minds and how vital that was. “We can’t lose our hope. We just can’t,” stressed Hiatt. She’s absolutely right. Hopelessness creates a sea of negativity and everything in that sea will drown. Nothing can save it. Stay hopeful. Always.
To end our interview on an upbeat note, I chose to ask a question about her songs as a whole. If you listen to her catalog, which I did, you’ll notice she uses the names of several cities and at least one state that I remembered. In short, she seems to enjoy the use of proper nouns, specifically certain places. I was curious as to whether they were places she had actually had real experiences or just places with names that fit the song because they rhymed or sounded good in the song. Not that it mattered much to me, I love proper nouns in songs. Drop a name and I’m happy. I’m drawn to that type of thing for some reason. Hiatt told me this, “Almost all of those places are places I’ve been, but I will say I’ve not been to France, and the Eiffel Tower definitely pops up in the song ‘Little Believer’. Most of the places are places I have been through. I have been to a lot of cities and countries.”
Finally, when Lilly Hiatt “Thinks Country”, what does she think? “I think green fields and great lyrics.” That was a wrap on one cool interview. Check out Hiatt’s new album Walking Proof on all the usual digital platforms and find her at all the links listed below.
Photo courtesy of Lilly Hiatt (Mural by Kim Radford)
*Featured image courtesy of Lilly Hiatt and Kim Radford