Heather Maloney photo by Carly Rae
With her latest single “Perch-less Bird” – out now via Signatures Sounds Recordings – Heather Maloney is bridging the gap between her love for music and her love for the visual arts. Releasing the track alongside of an animated music video as well as handmade merchandise featuring “Perch-less Bird” art, the singer-songwriter is adding another hyphen to her growing list of creative skills, much to the delight of fans who want to delve even deeper into her musical mindset.
Set to begin a tour with Dar Williams later this month, Maloney and I sat down to discuss the single, personal check-ins, and the joy of performing for faces.
Americana Highways: You recently released your new single “Perch-less Bird” on Signature Sounds. As an artist, is there a different feeling to putting a single out into the world as opposed to a full album? Does a single feel more immediate?
Heather Maloney: Releasing a single does feel kind of like releasing a baby album in some ways. I have only done it a few times and I definitely prefer the full album format over singles… but it’s nice to have the options for songs that don’t really fit on a record for whatever reason. I guess it is also a good way to keep releasing music between album cycles, and I definitely think that’s more expected in today’s social media/content-driven industry.
AH: Does “Perch-less Bird” signify a new chapter in your career? Does it mark an album-to-be?
HM: As of now I don’t have any plans to attach this single to an album, but the song definitely signifies a new chapter in my career for another reason… this was my very first coordinated release of visual art and music – something I plan to do from now on. So for “Perch-less Bird,” I released visual art I created for the song, my first animated music video, and a line of my handmade merch featuring the “Perch-less Bird” art.
I come from a family of visual artists and I’ve always loved making art, but as a touring musician I’ve had very little time for it. Over the last 18 months of the pandemic I spent more time making art than I have since I started over a decade ago – mostly in the medium of linocut printmaking (carving designs into blocks, rolling them with ink and relief-printing them onto all kinds of surfaces). I particularly love incorporating song lyrics or a visual representation of the imagery/characters/moods in a song. Long story short, I made a bunch of linocut prints for my songs, started sharing them on my Patreon page, received all kinds of warm encouragement from my sweet Patrons, started selling my prints, kept selling out of them, and finally mustered enough confidence to believe that I’m just meant to be making art along with whatever music I release. I think it’s the most creatively fulfilling thing I’ve ever done.
Bonus: Selling my song’s art directly funds recording and releasing the songs themselves!
AH: The single is about blame in relationships and the accountability that comes along with that. There are two sides to every story, particularly when it comes to relationships. Is part of what you’re trying to say with this song that fault is in the eyes of the beholder?
HM: I think that definitely ties into what the song means to me… and while there definitely is a character in the song who is telling their side of the story (in this case, how they hurt the other person), I wanted the core meaning to be that blame (toward yourself or another) isn’t the same as accountability and doesn’t lead to actual listening or learning from our relationships. I also wanted the song to imply that, as tempting as it can be to blame, there is a choice for everyone involved. So when we see it hovering above the wreckage of our failed relationships, be they romantic or otherwise, we can decide not to let it swoop down and perch on our shoulders if we want. Oh, and I am by no means preaching here… this is one of those songs that serves as a reminder to myself because I’m really good at blaming. Especially myself.
AH: You released your first album in 2011. In what way do the songs on Time & Pocket Change differ most from those you are writing today?
HM: In some ways my songs back then were a little less emotionally dimensional – a little simpler and more straight forward. Definitely not saying that’s good/bad, just different. (Some of my favorite artist write the most brilliantly simple songs.)
For me, I think in the beginning, it felt fulfilling enough to take one strong emotion or insight and center a whole song around it. I didn’t mind spoon-feeding the meaning in the song either. Now I really enjoy leaving some dots un-connected, leaving some question marks in, and allowing space for contradiction. My favorite Walt Whitman quote has probably been the thing that steers me most as a writer:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
AH: A lot has changed within the industry since 2011. Has the way artists navigate the business side of a musical career improved since then or have they gotten more difficult?
HM: Even though the internet had already majorly shifted the industry by then, a lot more tools/platforms/resources/communities have formed that have definitely made it easier to start and maintain a music career. I think that’s resulted in a huge boom in the population of working musicians who don’t fall into the extreme categories of “starving artists” or superstars, but exist somewhere in the middle. Another helpful change in the industry for me has been connecting with a community of working musicians who have each other’s backs, start platforms that specifically, help actually *value* what we do (Patreon!), cross-promote each-other’s work, share resources, etc.
I guess the part that’s more difficult now would be navigating the fall of CD sales. (Yes, vinyl sales are up but not enough to make up the difference!) I’ve made most of my income through touring for a long time and I know most of my colleagues do as well… but when touring got taken away I think a lot of us saw pretty clearly that streaming, the thing that’s replaced record sales, is not really designed for most of us to make an actual living income. It really doesn’t come anywhere close to replacing record sales. But somebody’s making out pretty great. I guess they’re a kind of a new gatekeeper in that way. I hope that changes sooner than later.
AH: What is the key to career sustainability in 2021 and beyond? How important is it to stay flexible and be willing to adapt with the times?
HM: I can’t say that I’ve got the key to career sustainability moving forward, but I can say that I’m constantly learning and these have been my most useful lessons:
1. Maintaining flexibility, yes! I imagine that’s true for many careers but remaining open and flexible has served me over and over again.
2. Finding and building as many avenues of revenue has also been helpful. Touring, cycling in new merch, creating as well as monetizing online content (shows, videos, events, subscriptions, exclusive communities, etc), and now for me, integrating my visual art, have all been immensely helpful in making my career more sustainable.
3. Lastly and perhaps mostly, remembering that I’m not doing this to get to some better future moment, I’m doing this because right now, in this moment, I love it down to my bones. Every time I check in with myself I discover that I still love it. Life is too short to spend it wishing I was somewhere else. I just want to make the music that’s in my heart. Cheesy but true. A career in music is almost always full of highs and lows, and it’ll wear anyone down if there isn’t time to stop and connect to what really matters. In all the times I’ve forgotten that and got caught up in people-pleasing, trying to prove my worth, comparison, trying to “make it” and all of that… it’s just sucked the joy right out of it. Luckily, when I go down those rabbit holes, the unhappiness I’ve felt as a result acts like a little inner alarm that reminds me to just let that shit go and keep doing what I love simply because I love doing it and nothing else.
AH: You are about to set out on a tour supporting Dar Williams. In a period when there has been little opportunity to perform live and in-person, how eager are you to get back out in front of audiences?
HM: I’ve been out on a few short tours already (actually on one right now!) so I’m going into the tour with Dar with a little bit of a feel for how touring is in these COVID times. While there are definitely more logistical challenges to touring right now, it’s been really reassuring to see how venues have taken incredible care to keep people safe. And it’s working. The combo of masks and/or vax/negative test requirements seems to be keeping live music alive and I’m so grateful it’s become the current standard because my god, there’s just nothing like it is there? Obviously it will be amazing when the pandemic is actually behind us and we don’t have to deal with the precautions and everything, but for now I’m just thrilled to get to sing for faces again.
AH: Where are you most comfortable as a singer-songwriter? Is it in the studio? On the stage? Elsewhere?
HM: At first I was most comfortable during the actual writing of the song. I’m pretty introverted so a quiet writing corner always feels good to me, but over the years I’ve also come to find a lot of comfort in the moments on stage that I feel fully immersed in the meaning and feeling of a song, and connected to the audience through it. That’s a pretty comforting place to be.
AH: On the flip side of that coin, where are you hardest on yourself as an artist and how do you overcome that self-doubt?
HM: At shows, generally when I’m actively playing and singing, I am just feeling the music… but in between songs I can still get into my head sometimes. Thankfully I don’t as much as I used to – I had debilitating stage fright for a few years – but every so often I step out of the flow and start to get critical about how I’m doing, what I’m saying, what people think, etc. I think there is something about the stage lights that are really good at showing me exactly where I’m harboring self-doubt. But I’ve also always felt that shining a light on something can be pretty useful for – hopefully – uprooting it.
AH: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
HM: Absolutely. As long as I get to keep chasing muses and paying my bills, I wouldn’t trade this career path for anything. I honestly hope that I’m still doing exactly what I’m doing now: Writing songs, playing shows, making art, sharing stuff on Patreon, honing my crafts and learning as much as I can in the short time I’ve got here.
For more information on the single, corresponding visual art, and the tour, visit http://www.heathermaloney.com.
And find the single here: