PHOTO CREDIT: ALYSSE GAFKJEN
Interview by Harry Kaplan
I met Lilly Hiatt and her wonderful band about two months ago at a house concert in Baltimore. It was a great place to see a show, especially one that features Lilly Hiatt. Lilly is amazing. She writes, sings, plays guitar, and performs. She does all four things at an extremely high level. Most importantly, Lilly is one of the sweetest people you will ever meet. She was gracious enough to speak to me before her concert.
LH – Lilly Hiatt TL – TwangriLa
TL: We’re good to go. So thanks again for doing this. I really appreciate it.
LH: Oh, my gosh. Of course. It’s my pleasure. It is my total pleasure.
TL: So I’m gonna start off a little differently.
TL: Because I saw you gave a shout out to your mom a couple days ago on Facebook.
TL: Nancy, Who adopted you when you were two.
TL: And I thought it was great. I thought it was awesome.
LH: I felt like she deserved it, because people ask me about my dad (John Hiatt) a lot. And I totally see why. But she’s a big part of everything, too, so I thought she deserved it.
TL: So what was the greatest life lesson you learned from your mom?
LH: I think from my mom, just to treat people kindly, and to motivate others with positive reinforcement. It’s a nice Mom lesson.
TL: So just treat people good.
TL: I think it’s a great—I try to live that way. So I think it’s a great life lesson.
LH: Absolutely. Me, too. It’s a good way to be.
TL: It’s much easier, it takes less energy to be kind than it does to be mean.
LH: Exactly. It’s such a headache to mistreat people. It’s not worth it.
TL: So your new album, “Trinity Lane,” it’s been out for about a month now?
LH: It sure has.
TL: And it’s getting a lot of praise.
LH: Well, good. (laughs) I hope so. It’s exciting.
TL: You must be proud of it.
LH: I’m really proud of it. I’m always proud of what I’ve done anything I’ve seen from the bud to the finish. It’s always nice to complete something.
TL: But it’s really good. It’s one of the best for this year.
LH: Thank you so much. That means a lot to me. So thanks for saying that.
TL: My pleasure. So most of your songs on Trinity Lane are full disclosure, open kimono. You bared your soul.
LH: Yeah, pretty much. I did.
TL: Was that hard to do that?
LH: No. It wasn’t hard because that’s kind of how I deal with things –writing songs about people or events. So that part wasn’t as hard as the part, the time period that kind of led up to that. That part was harder. But the songs came to me pretty easily for the most part, actually. They had to happen so I could move on.
TL: So, a form of closure.
LH: Yeah, exactly.
TL: Just the end of one chapter and the beginning of another one.
LH: Exactly. Pretty much.
TL: Some people aren’t able to share their souls like that. I think it’s difficult. Just being exposed, like being naked almost.
LH: Yeah. I don’t know. I feel like that’s the place where I feel at liberty to do that, more so than any other arena in life – Is via songwriting, thank God–or else I’d have a lot of things bottled up in myself.
TL: Well, I agree. Just writing reviews and doing my website has been my therapy.
LH: Oh, I’m sure.
TL: Being able to sit down and write. It’s escaping for awhile.
LH: Absolutely. You’re right.
TL: It saved my life.
LH: Yeah, no, I completely relate to that. That’s awesome. I love hearing that, how writing has healed other people. And their own journeys with it.
TL: Yeah. I used to be so afraid of other people reading what I wrote. Then I got over that. And now, it’s just like, I don’t care anymore.
LH: Yeah, whatever. You’re just letting it out, and you’re being true.
LH: And if it resonates, it does. And if it doesn’t, fine. But you’re getting what you need from it.
TL: If you don’t like it, fuck it. (laughs)
LH: Yeah. Fuck it. Exactly.
TL: So I guess you have the same approach.
LH: Yeah, I do.
TL: I sense the honesty and the emotion. I think it’s wonderful.
LH: Well, thank you so much for saying that.
TL: Oh, you’re welcome. So do you think in the future you’ll go in the same direction as far as songwriting?
LH: You know what? I don’t know. I think the candor will probably always be a part of things. But I don’t know. Writing evolves, as do we, so it’s hard to say what it’ll look like in a few years. But I like writing about places a lot. My brain thinks a lot about the places I’ve been and seen, so I’m feeling that will keep peeking out of songs. The geography in songs.
TL: And people, experiences.
LH: Absolutely. People. Anyone in my life is, you’ll make your way into a song soon (laughter).
TL: I would be incredibly honored. Are you ever somewhere and you come up with a song idea and you have to record it right then and there?
LH: Yeah. I do that a lot of times. And then a lot of times I never listen to those again. But if it’s worth pursuing, it’ll stick with me on its own.
TL: So I became aware that Pearl Jam is one of your biggest influences?
LH: They definitely are. Absolutely are.
TL: So what is it about them that draws you?
LH: I’m just so impressed by their integrity, their musicianship, their writing, their sincerity—–They’ve been a band for a long time now.
TL: Almost 30 years.
LH: They work together. Exactly. That’s crazy, you know. And here they’re still going strong. They’ve always stayed true, and they’ve never catered to what others expected.
TL: That’s true. That’s nice.
LH: All of it. I mean, I could go on for literally hours about them. But I won’t.
TL: You can.
LH: I’ll save you the time.
TL: No, no. It’s fine. I asked you the question. So besides Pearl Jam, who else inspires you?
LH: So many people. I love Liz Phair, and you compared me to her, so I was really touched when you said that. I love Lucinda Williams. I love my dad (John Hiatt), Neil Young, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, so all those people. And a billion more.
TL: The interesting thing, the first time I heard your dad was “Slow Turning” 1988. I was working in a record store. And I’ll admit, I didn’t know anything about that genre. I used to follow the Grateful Dead, and I thought that was all there was to music.
LH: Yeah. That’s awesome.
TL: But then when I worked there, I heard “Slow Turning” and I used to listen to it every single day.
LH: Yeah. That’s an amazing album. Well, that’s the kind of album you can listen to every day. It’s like a soundtrack to life.
TL: It was that, and “Copperhead Road” came out right around the same time.
LH: That’s a great album. That’s a good combo, too.
TL: They’re kinda similar.
LH: Yeah, they’re, totally. They got their roots and kind of snarliness but different sides of the coin.
TL: Definitely both just really inspired me at that time, and I realized that there’s more to music than just the Grateful Dead.
LH: Yeah, although the Grateful Dead are amazing. They’re definitely one of my top bands, too. It’s cool that you love them. But I know what you’re saying. It’s nice to branch out, right?
TL: Yes, and I got the opportunity to hear things that I never would have heard otherwise.
LH: Yes. Totally.
TL: So that had a big impact on me, that album.
LH: That’s awesome. That’s really cool. Such a great album.
TL: It really is. So if you could share the stage with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
LH: I would definitely share a stage with Eddie Vedder or Lucinda Williams.
TL: Those are good answers. So what are your five-year goals as far as in the business?
LH: I’d like to be playing little theaters and filling them, and be on a tour bus. So that’s what I hope for.
TL: A troubadour.
LH: That’s right. Yeah, exactly.
TL: Go from town to town. You’re well on your way.
LH: Yeah, and I hope so.
TL: I saw your touring schedule. You guys are very busy through the end of the year.
LH: Yes. Which is good, because you gotta spread the word, and this is the way to do it.
TL: Well, you’re opening for the Old 97’s.
LH: Yep. That will be really fun.
TL: Have you ever played with them before?
LH: No. I played with Rhett Miller. And it was great, actually. Philadelphia, I opened a show for him there.
TL: When he was solo?
LH: Yes, and it was a blast. But other than that, no, so I’m super excited. We’ll have a good time.
TL: I’ve seen them 10 times. They’re amazing.
LH: We’re gonna have fun.
TL: And they’ve been together 25 years.
LH: Yeah, that’s incredible.
TL: All original members.
LH: That’s impressive. Somebody’s doing something right.
TL: Yeah. I think they’re all just good guys and no egos.
LH: They seem like good guys. It’s a big deal.
TL: I met them. I got to meet them, most of them, and they’re all really down to earth.
LH: That’s awesome.
TL: Rhett’s a family man.
LH: Yeah, Rhett is so sweet.
TL: So that’s good. So I’ve seen a real turn in the way Americana is perceived in the last couple of years. Have you noticed it? I think a lot of it has to do with East Nashville.
LH: Yes. I mean, I definitely think Americana’s become more of a hot word to say and use describing things. Americana Fest has gotten really big. And it’s certainly become a genre that I’m not exactly sure what it means. I don’t think anyone is. But I think that’s the exciting thing about it.
TL: To me, it just means good music.
LH: Yeah, it’s a haven for some—you know, I feel like it’s good music rooted in song writing.
TL: And honesty.
LH: And some honesty. Yeah. It’s cool. I’ve definitely seen that grow.
TL: Do you see a lot of similarities between East Nashville and Seattle in the late ‘80s.
LH: I’ve heard—somebody was telling me that Nashville’s not that different from the Seattle music scene in the 80s/90s. Which I wouldn’t know, because I’ve only read about it. I’ve been to Seattle, but I haven’t ever been a part of the music scene there. But I could see, being tight knit.
TL: Exactly. Tight knit. Everyone there knew each other. They played with each other. Nirvana played with Mudhoney and Pearl Jam.
LH: Which is awesome.
TL: Sound Garden.
LH: I would have killed to be around during that time. But yeah, so I totally see why people would compare the two.
TL: I see a lot of similarities, and it seems like it’s not competitive. Everyone sort of inspires each other, which is nice.
LH: Totally. Everyone’s definitely championing their neighbor.
TL: Yeah, it’s really good. So I want to talk about two songs from your album.
LH: Go ahead.
TL: That you play live. “Everything I Had” and “Different, I Guess.”
TL: They seem to be two of the more emotionally charged songs on the album.
LH: Probably so.
TL: When you play them live, do you, do you ever feel like you need to decompress after a show?
LH: The thing is after shows, at this point, I’m directly going and selling my merch. So I don’t have a lot of time to just come down. But it’s really nice, because it switches my brain into a different mode. There’s certainly been times after I’ve sung things on stage, where I’m like, “Whew! That was heavy. I really felt that. I was really locked in there.” It can take a lot out of you. But in a good way. It feels good to put that out.
TL: I guess I’d compare it to an actor that gets into the character. And then they go out of character, and it probably takes them some time to get back to normal.
LH: Totally. No, that’s a really good point. And definitely, that has happened with me before. Sometimes after I play, and then I sell merch. And then we drive to wherever we’re gonna stay the night. Sometimes I just need to be quiet—and then usually I do all of my expenses on my computer, and so now I’m focused on that, and try to be quiet for a second.
TL: That makes sense. Because I think it, you do put everything into those songs.
TL: It’s very emotional, for the audience, as well.
LH: Exactly. Sometimes you’re like, “Ugh. I don’t feel like fronting all night after that.”
TL: I can totally understand that. You’re also very open about your sobriety. I think it’s great.
LH: Thank you.
TL: How long?
LH: I quit drinking when I was 27.
TL: Five years? Six years?
LH: I’m 33. So almost about six years.
LH: Yeah. Thank you. It’s been good, and it’s a good change in my life. So necessary for me.
TL: I totally understand. Do you find it hard—I mean, you play in bars and clubs. Does it make, is it difficult for you?
LH: It’s not hard for me to not drink, because I just don’t want to, and I haven’t in awhile. But it can be hard to be around drunk people when you’re sober. That’s not a lot of fun.
TL: That’s true for me, too.
LH: Right? Most people don’t like being around really drunk people unless they are also really drunk.
LH: So that’s the only time when everyone’s getting really messed up. But that doesn’t really happen that much, so it’s okay.
TL: So my opinion is, if your head’s in a good place, it really doesn’t matter.
LH: That’s right.
TL: Just keep your focus on your goals, and your goal is to be sober and not drink. I’ll equate it to losing weight. If I’m in the right mindset and I wanna lose weight, someone could be eating a whole pizza next to me, and it won’t even bother me.
LH: No. Totally. Because you know what you want, and you know what you’re going for.
TL: I’m in the zone.
LH: You’re in the zone. And no one can stop you. So that’s awesome.
TL: So you’re in the zone?
LH: Yeah, totally.
TL: That’s great. So what’s next for you?
LH: Let’s see. You know we’re touring a lot. I’d love to write songs. I haven’t found a ton of time for that lately, but I feel them needing to happen. So I’m really looking forward to just touring really hard but finding little pockets of time to write.
TL: That’s great. So where can people get “Trinity Lane,” your brand spanking new album?
LH: They can get it online. Or they can get it on iTunes or Amazon. Or they can get it in their local record shop, hopefully.
TL: Yeah. We gotta support the record stores.
LH: Those are my favorite places to get records.
TL: I found one two miles away from here. It’s a guy from Nashville. He opened a shop here. The shop is half oddities and half records.
LH: That’s a great combo. That would be a fun experience.
TL: You can buy a deer head and “Trinity Lane.”
LH: (laughter) Perfect.
TL: On vinyl at the same time.
LH: What a steal! Get two great things in one spot.
TL: And then when people want to find out where you’re playing, they can go to your website?
LH: Yes, www.lillyhiatt.com. On my website. And my Facebook says it, too.
TL: Well, that’s all the questions I have. I wanna thank you, it’s been such a pleasure.
LH: Oh, my gosh Harry, it’s a pleasure talking to you.