Noise: We’ll start at the beginning. What led you to pursue music? Was there a catalyst?
Heather:I’d say that there was more of a tipping point than a catalyst. I think I always knew that I would devote my life to music, but I needed many nudges in that general direction along the way. I can’t say that I just “fell into it” because I didn’t. I feel as though I was bound for the life of an artist, and that I’ve done more resisting it than falling into it. Ever since I can remember, I have always sung. I grew up in the woods of New Jersey with no television in the house, and we ended up entertaining ourselves by writing, drawing, playing, and listening to music.
Around the age of seven, I took ownership of my mother’s record player and jumped on my bed to the records I found in her close, mostly Beatles. She would also break out her guitar and sing, and we would harmonize to the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Neil Young together. I loved singing with her and would always ask her to play.
In college, I majored in classical operatic vocals. I studied privately with a jazz improvisational singer and also a little with a classical Indian singer. I was interested in all kinds of singing and I was excited by singers like Bobby McFerrin who used their voices as instruments and let all kinds of influences shine throughout their work. I wanted to sing everything at that time. It was all so interesting and I wanted to be able to improvise or not improvise my style. I wanted to try every kind of singing. At that time, I was very lucky that a family friend, Hui Cox, became my first musical mentor. A Grammy-nominated guitarist and composer, I was nervous and grateful to be learning from him. It was Hui who introduced me to writing and my first original songs were co-written with him.
However, during this very musical time, I was experiencing a growing undercurrent of a seemingly conflicting interest: meditation. I became so intrigued by the practice, and I resonated so deeply with the teachings, that I left everything musical behind and went to live at a silent meditation retreat center. I spent a lot of time writing and reflecting upon my experiences in my journal. About a year and a half into my time there, something huge bopped me over the head: I wanted to write songs about these contemplations and realizations, and bring them to the world with the purest intentions I could possibly find within myself. I wanted to weave the two worlds of meditation and music together. Right as I began writing my first solo songs, Peter [Hamelin, her partner] came into my life. He was at the center for about a year and when he first heard my songs, he said, “Well, let’s get this stuff out there. I’m on your team. Let’s make a plan.”
Noise: You appear to be very true to yourself and to have full awareness of who you are as an artist. The fact that you mention bringing material into the world with the purest of intentions speaks volumes about you, as does your evident willingness to progress. From here, I’d like to segue into discussing some of your influences. In what ways, if any, do you incorporate them into your music or perhaps your live performance?
Heather:There are so many musical influences that I incorporate into my music and performances, and it’s always changing with new discoveries, but I would say that that happens more or less unconsciously so I probably couldn’t mention all of them. Right now, I am loving the New England folk scene with Chris Smither, Anais Mitchell, and Josh Ritter. I can say that a major influence I try to consciously incorporate is meditation. Every time I write or perform, it is like a practice of consciousness, kindness, playfulness, and faith. I find that when these things are on my mind, the music becomes richer and more alive. I am paying attention to what the words mean and why I am singing them. I also have more vocal openness and playfulness.
Noise:It is evident that you have a deep soul connection with your compositions. Is there a particular process that you go through when writing?
Heather: I write very intuitively and not so systematically. One thing I have noticed is that often times, there are three or four incomplete, or maybe complete, but mediocre songs before one good one comes together. Even for that “good” song, I had to write pages of babble and crap before I finally arrived at something “good” to work with. That is what the first song on the record, “Fifty Lines,” is about—the relationship with the muse, which is both frustrating and terrifying. I guess that’s no different from any other relationship, though!
“You only spend a moment in plain sight. You only let me say you every fifty lines. And you know I’ll be here waiting for you all through the night, ’cause you can have me when you want… You, you’re a whisper. You’re a dream. You, you’re a leaf floating down a stream. You, you’re a sunset. You’re a bird. You have a habit of fading into the sky…” –“Fifty Lines.”
Noise: Would you say that your songwriting has progressed stylistically and lyrically over time since the days of Cozy Razor’s Edge? If so, how?
Heather: Most definitely. I’ve only been writing for two years and there is so much more to learn. It’s almost overwhelming. I feel that I’m in a state of constant exploration with songwriting. I don’t want to stick with one style in particular. I want to be my own style; I guess, but I’m sure that many writers want that. I’m always being compared to particular artists, Joni Mitchell, Regina Specktor, Tori Amos, and Dolores O’Riordan [the Cranberries], but I’ve also been told a number of times that I sound like Heather Maloney which, I admit, is my favorite thing to hear! Lately, I’ve been in love with the stories in folk music and I’ve been digging into that type of writing a bit more. It has me looking at things differently throughout the day… like I’m constantly on the lookout for a story, and I have a little highlighter in my mind to pull out when something random pops out and inspires me.
Noise:I’ve never thought of it like that, a highlighter… brilliant. Do you have a favorite track or perhaps one that resonates with you the most on this album?
Heather:I don’t have a favorite track, but one of my favorite moments is near the end of “Quantum Physics” that I love very much. The song breaks into a brighter feel and the vocals become more instrumental.
Noise:What is next for you and your band? Do you foresee another album? Are you perhaps planning a tour, playing any festivals or clubs… something else?
Heather:As of now, I have about two albums worth of new material and I really can’t wait to get back into the studio, but I’m just as happy to be hitting the road! We are about to head out on our longest-yet tour, six weeks, to the mid-west, down the deep South, and then up the coastline, starting at Florida and ending up at home! On November 4, I will be doing a concert, Voices on the Verge, hosted by the Boston Community Church at the First Parish in Watertown. I am sharing a lineup with Sarah Blacker and Caleb Hawley. I’m really excited to be bringing Time & Pocket Change on the road. We poured our hearts into it and it is very satisfying to go out and share it.
Heather is currently on her Mid-West/East Coast tour. Her only New England appearance in September is at Mantague Bookmill in Mantague, MA, on Saturday, 9/3/11.