photo by Keith Smith
photo by Glenn Cook
Like bears emerging from a particularly long winter, music fans have been waking from their pandemic hibernation, returning to the clubs to support their favorite artists. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but musicians are just as eager to be surrounded by the same vibes, and not only as performers. Singer-songwriter Lilly Hiatt, who wrote her latest album Lately during the 2020 lockdown, was ecstatic to be a live music-loving audience member again, and she’s carrying that excitement into her own upcoming tour with Lydia Loveless.
Lately is due October 15 via New West Records with a cassette version dropping October 8 in honor of Cassette Week.
I recently sat down with Hiatt to discuss revisiting the past, individual understandings in shared experiences, and whether or not she would like to try her hand at the music industry during the time when her father, John Hiatt, got his start.
American Highways: I love that you have said that whenever songs happen for you, they’re kind of like photographs of time. Does that make albums the yearbooks of your life?
Lilly Hiatt: Yes, I think in a way. Or maybe just how I’m near it, maybe just how I’m perceiving what’s going on, and how that’s inspiring the stories that get created within.
AG: Does revisiting those old tracks, whether it’s live on the stage or even just listening to them on your own, does it place you back into the mindset you were experiencing when you wrote the song, or, do you feel like who you are now is not necessarily who you were then?
LH: Well, I definitely am. I definitely remember all the places or all the emotional states that inspire, or that were the spark of, the songs originally, but they do change and I do relate to them a little differently and the audience and listeners are part of that, too. But, I do end up revisiting those places quite a bit.
AG: You wrote the songs that make up Lately during the isolation of the pandemic. Was songwriting as important to you in 2020 as it had ever been because of that isolation? Did it become a coping mechanism?
LH: Yeah, definitely. I mean, it’s always been a friend. In 2020, for me, there was no urgency to get out and have something to show for it, which is never why I’ve written songs in the first place, but it is a part of it. It wasn’t really there, because, we couldn’t have shows, so I was just feeling like I needed to… I’m happiest when I’m either creating something, in any way, whether it’s a live performance or music at my house or meaningful interactions with people. The songwriting was how I could get into that at the moment.
AG: Beyond writing, was music itself, as a listener, something that helped you through that period as well?
LH: Definitely. I listened to tons of music. Tons. Went on a ton of walks with my EarPods and started every morning with an album. I listened to so many records.
AG: What’s amazing about this period is that the world has had this shared experience, unlike anything I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. Do you think that made the songs that were written during this period, and not just yours but everything that has come out of the heads and hearts of songwriters, more relatable on a mass scale?
LH: Well, I do think there is a unifying aspect of going through a pandemic together for the first time. Regardless of our individual understandings of how to navigate that, we share in the fact that it was isolating and scary and heartbreaking, you know? So, yeah, I do think there’s a lot to come together on, and I’m sure many, many people who were making music… I would imagine have some things to speak about that others will identify with.
AG: You have to imagine, too, that in 20 or 30 years, this period will be viewed as a bit of a golden age of songwriting because of just how much was being created during that isolation.
LH: Yeah, definitely. I think that good art can come from trying times, and it carries us through. So I’m into that, to the artistic revolution that we all get to to live in. I guess that’s always happening in some sense, but I think now’s a real cool time for music to come out.
AG: When you look back at what your dad was able to accomplish in his career, would you have liked to have taken a crack at the music industry during that period when he first got started? With so much having changed between now and then in terms of how people listen to music, the experience would be completely different.
LH: The experience is different and we have talked about that a bit. The thing that hasn’t changed is that people love music and they’ll always need it, and want to hear it. There have been times where I’m like, “Oh, what would it have been like to be coming up in the 70s?” Or something different, like when record sales happened, but, from my understanding, there’s always been pressures. There’s always been things about being a musician that have been difficult and involve pressures of different sorts. So, I don’t spend a lot of time lamenting how things have changed, because I don’t really see any sense in that. I don’t think it’s going to get me anywhere. I’ve got to roll with the current times because that’s where we are, you know?
AG: What would somebody learn about you today in terms of who you are as a songwriter in sitting down and listening to Lately front to back?
LH: Hmm. Perhaps they would learn… I’m not sure how to answer that. I think maybe they would learn that I really love to sing with my guitar? (Laughter) I know that’s a simple thing to say, but it’s kind of in the words, it’s just finding that love.
AG: What are you most proud of with this one?
LH: I’m proud that it just came together in such a natural way. I made it with my friend, Kate Haldrup, who plays drums with me. We made it at her studio and her and I produced it together. That was really cool to work with her. I’d never worked with another woman in production. I’m really proud of that, and I’m really proud of her.
AG: Just hearing that story, Lilly, it just makes me think that what’s memorable for us, the listener, is not always what’s memorable for you, the artist. We hear the songs, but you carry the experience with you.
LH: Yeah, totally. That is such a fun part of the making a record. This is my fifth one and all the experiences have been really different and they’ve all been filled with joy for me. Really different vibes for every studio. And I love it.
AG: You had a great post on Facebook a couple of days ago where you mention how special it was to be at shows again, both as a performer and as a fan. Can you touch on that again, because that’s something that I feel like everybody’s experiencing as they step into a club again, for what feels like the first time.
LH: Yeah. It’s just unbelievable. I mean, I’ve always loved music and going to shows. I’m just as big of a fan as I am a musician and this summer has just been so special. I got to go to some really great concerts with my boyfriend. He’s a musician too, so I got to see him play, started to see my friends play again – my heart was so full and just being so deeply fulfilled by just… that’s all, that’s enough. The music is enough. That’s what I realize. For me, it’s not just, “Oh, I want this or that,” from my music. I just want to be having it there, in a room with people and sharing it together. It’s an extremely powerful feeling, and very uplifting and essential, too, I think.
AG: I remember the last show I got to see before all the closures and how I carried that with me through those first couple of months. Nobody really knew it was going to go away. So you were just living your life until you couldn’t.
LH: Yes. I know. Exactly. What were the last shows that you saw before all that?
AG: The last show I saw as a fan, which is always a different mindset that when I’m covering a show, was The Brother Brothers. It was a great escape and I was able to carry that escape forward for a bit.
LH: I saw them play last week and they were awesome. It’s true, you hold it so close, those last shows. That’s like the last tour I did before everything shut down. It was with Todd Snider and I held that very close for… all this year long.
AG: Finally, Lilly, if you had a chance to sit down with the Lilly who first picked up a guitar, would she be surprised to hear how your musical journey has gone thus far?
LH: Maybe so. I picked up the guitar as somebody who was really into a lot of grungy bands and stuff – and I still am – and that’s not really where my music landed. (Laughter) But, it just kind of happened the way it did, so, hopefully she’d be pleasantly surprised.
Read another interview of Lilly Hiatt here: Key to the Highway: Lilly Hiatt