Lilly Hiatt Makes Timeless Singer-Songwriter Rock Record With ‘Trinity Lane’ (INTERVIEW)

Lilly Hiatt, Nashville’s latest breakthrough artist, has just released her third and strongest album to date. Trinity Lane is a bold, beautiful and rockin’ collection of songs that are helping her make waves across musical genres as she hits the road with her band this fall. Lilly proudly stands behind her latest effort with an unapologetic, empowering stance that she is clearly proud of. While it might be easy to identify Lilly Hiatt as John Hiatt’s daughter, Trinity Lane is as bold and courageous as anything there is out there, with the songs told through an engaging first person perspective; check out the statement of grief in “The Night David Bowie Died.”

Between parking her Econoline van and setting up for soundcheck before a gig in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Glide recently stole a few minutes to chat with Hiatt about growing up in Nashville, her musical influences and of course, Trinity Lane.

You were born in California, but moved to Tennessee. How old were you then and why did you move across the country? 

We moved to Nashville when I had just turned one. My mom died just before my first birthday. My dad had lived in Nashville before and I think he thought it was just time to come back. I think he thought it would be a better place for us.

At what point did you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in the music industry?

It was something that I always knew that I was going to do. From the moment that I was able to think about a career. I always knew that I wanted to play music. I didn’t play in front of anyone until I was in high school, performing at a talent show. I did play open mics in college. 

When you crossed that line from amateur to professional, what were those gigs like?

I was living in Colorado, because I was going to college there. I think we had a show opening for Jackie Greene. Or was it Tea Leaf Green? Anyway, I’m trying to remember, we got some opening gigs and I’m sure that we were really, really excited. I remember being really buzzed after playing. My band and I were all going in very different directions. We were kids. Maybe 21 and maybe not sure about what we were doing, so our professionalism was not there. But you know, we were really excited to be there and we played our hearts out.

The music that permeates Tennessee and Nashville specifically, must have had a huge impact on you as a songwriter?

I think just growing up around a bevy of talent kind of seeps into your being. The bar is set really high in Nashville, so it’s incredibly motivating. It’s a pretty intense place. It’s a necessary rub for me, because I need a little bit of that as a push. Just being around this really talented community of writers and musicians that encourage each other to reach for the stars in terms of their musical capabilities. It’s really inspiring and makes you want to write more. It makes you want to write better songs. Taking note of that, it’s definitely helped me refine things. You have to be good in Nashville, if you want to get anywhere there. 

I imagine that it’s a very supportive community and that everyone is trying to help each other out a little bit.

Yeah! It absolutely is and that’s one beautiful thing about Nashville. It’s very competitive, but very supportive. People believe and root for one another. It’s really cool.

Do you think that you’ve developed your own writing style or process yet?

Um, songs come to me in different ways. But, I do notice that I’ll go through very creative periods when I’m in a somewhat peaceful place. When I’m experiencing and processing things, sometimes I’m so overloaded by the emotion, that it takes a bit of a step to put it into a song. It takes a little step away from it to observe, bank and register those emotions. I do a lot of that and I like to be by myself. I like to be alone and not have people hearing me work things out. I’m really solitary in my writing process.

I’ve read that your influences include Lucinda Williams, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, The Pixies, Wynonna Judd, and The Breeders. In “So Much You Don’t Know”, you cite Prince’s Purple Rain as being your favorite record. I assume Prince would then be an influence of yours as well.

Prince is amazing. I know that my mom and dad were playing it a lot when I was a baby. Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” was one of my favorite songs when I was little. Prince always did it his way. And that is something that I’m super-inspired by. He seemed to stay very true to his muse. He was very in control of his art, which I admire. 

What musical influences do you think your fans would be surprised by?

Well, I don’t know if it’s a surprise, but I love Pearl Jam. They’re my favorite band. There’s this band called PAW. I don’t if anyone would remember them, but they were very heavy. I think they were from Kansas. They’re loud. They’re metal! They have pedal steel guitar woven into some of their songs. They have pretty melodies and choruses. People expect me to have country influences, but I have more rock and roll influences more than country. Although, I respect country music and can identify with some of it.

On that note, do you think that there’s one genre that could label your music?

I have a really hard time trying to describe what kind of music it is. I really stumble over what to say. Do I say rock and roll? Do I say country/rock? Genres are tough. I think of a lot of bands that I love and how to classify them would be tricky? When you’re a songwriter, it kind of implies working with an acoustic guitar. But, I am a songwriter and that’s what I do.

We’ve all got our desert island play list. What three albums would be on yours?

Okay. We’ll take Neil Young’s Harvest. This is hard. Just three?

You can add more if you want.

No, I’ll try to just stick with three. I’ll take my dad’s album, Walk On. It makes me feel comforted. And, I’d take Pearl Jam’s No Code. Those are my three.

Why No Code?

That album got me through such an interesting period of my life. I was young, like fourteen. Maybe younger. I don’t know, it just reminds me of this great summer and coming into myself. When you’re thirteen or fourteen and you don’t feel like you connect with anything at that age, it’s such a transitional time. I remember that album really speaking to me and being there for me.

Are there any artists that you would like to collaborate with in the future?

Eddie Vedder. It’s going to happen!

Michael Trent of Shovels & Ropes, helped produce the album and he guested on it as well. How did that collaboration come about?

There’s a woman Named Kim Buie, that works at my record label. She’s awesome. She sparked that fire. She suggested that I work with him. I didn’t realize that he had made the Shovels and Ropes album. I was intrigued and we started talking. And, over time, it seemed like the thing to do. He taps in really quick. We were on the same page really quickly. He’s a really nice, good guy. He played a little something on every song, including the solo on “Trinity Lane”. Any tambourine or keys that you hear on the album, that’s Michael. 

In “Records”, you sing ‘that record waited up for me’. I think that’s a priceless feeling that a lot of people can relate to, those people for which music is essential to their lives. You mention “Mr. Young”, I’m guessing that you were giving a nod to Neil. Was it one of Neil’s records that is referenced in the song?

Yes. That goes out to HarvestHarvest Moon, and After the Goldrush. There are so many Neil albums that I love. I just love Neil Young. He reminds me a little of my dad in the way that he talks and acts. I find that really comforting. He’s so about the music and has stayed so true to that and I have infinite respect for him. I love him. I love his writing style. You can tell that he’s not declaring that he’s just crafted a masterpiece. Sometimes, he just high! I just love him! He just puts it out there and I connect with it.

Your lyrics come across as very personal, yet very open and honest. Is that what you want to convey?

I promised myself, that when I made this record, that I wouldn’t hold back. In the past, I did hold back and put a bit of a guard up. I wrote these songs for myself, but with the hope that when people shared them that they could connect because there are plenty of people that have felt the same things that I’ve felt. That’s a comforting thing for when you’re struggling, to know that you’re not the only person to feel this way.

What’s one of the greatest lessons that you’ve learned so far, in regard to your experience, in the music industry?

That’s a great question, one that I’ve never been asked. I think that one of the best lessons that I’ve learned is just not to get wrapped up in what other people are doing. It’s hard when you start playing that game of, they have this or, they’re doing that. It’s good to stay hungry. It’s good to have gratitude of where you’re at, wherever that is.

And, in turn, what’s the best advice that you’ve received from family or friends?

Yeah! Totally. You know, my dad gave me a great piece of advice while I was bitchin’ about something. I was frustrated by another person. And he was like, “You know what, they’re just as entitled to be themselves as you are. So, don’t worry about it.” He was basically saying, like what we were talking about before, don’t get too wrapped up in other people’s shit. Just keep it on the music. Music first!

If you weren’t taking this musical journey, what other occupation could you see yourself in?

Oh, God! I would be so unhappy if I weren’t making music. I’d probably be working with animals. That would make me happy. Animals, or kids. Probably cats and dogs.

You’re on a pretty ambitious tour right now. You’ll be performing in a different city almost every night through the end of October. How would you describe the tour so far and what have been a memorable high and distinct low point along the way?

No lows. We’re only about a week in and its pretty fresh. A high, however, would be that we just played an in-store at Grimey’s in Nashville and it was packed! That was really great. Just a few years ago, I remember agonizing over hoping that maybe ten people would come to a show. It’s Nashville, my home. I have played some good shows in Nashville, but it’s a tough city. It was really special to me to see friends’ and strangers’ faces. And, Grimey’s is a great record store.

 One last question. Where do you see yourself, or where would you like to be, ten years from now?

I better be on a damn bus in ten years! I’ve been doing so much damn driving lately, that I’d better be on a tour bus. That’s what I’m hoping for!


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