Interview: Lilly Hiatt

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Nashville songstress Lilly Hiatt, the daughter of legendary tune crafter John Hiatt, played music her whole life, but didn’t strike out on her own until she was 21.  “It was always in the back of my head,” she says of her musical aspirations, “but I went through phases of wanting to do other things.”  A few years ago, she decided to spread her wings and fly away from her hometown for a while;  “I went to Austin, it was a really fun time for me.  I literally only lived there for five months, but it put a lot of things in perspective for me, about home and about where I wanted to be.  It was good to get out of Nashville for a little bit.  I’m from here, and I wanted to check somewhere else out,” she explains. “I’d always been so intimidated by the competition in Nashville; the stakes are high, the music business side of things scared me.  When I moved away, I missed it, and I realized how important it was in feeding my motivation.  There’s amazing stuff happening everywhere, not just in Nashville, but I did feel like I was missing out on so much that was happening when I was gone.”

She made her way back to the Music City in the summer of 2013, and recorded her latest album, the autobiographical Royal Blue, with Nashville producer and friend Adam Landry.  The record was released this year via Normaltown Records, an imprint of label New West Records.

“It was an intense process, but I like intensity,” says Hiatt of recording Royal Blue.  “He’s super cool.  He’s just one of those people you feel at home around.  If you want to get out of he box, go knock on his door.  He doesn’t do the Nashville typical “play it safe” thing. He pushes it a little.  He’s not polite with his process, and it’s exciting. I work really well when someone’s like ‘come on, you can do it, just pick it up and do it!’ He would put guitars in my hands, he let me play synth on some of the songs, he has this approach and believes in you.  It opened me up, I really appreciate that about him.”

The pair’s time together produced a record that embodies a gritty spirit of freedom that is a shining example of all things good about Americana music.   Hiatt says that the album is a snapshot of what was happening in her life at the time: “There was a lot of change during that time for me.  I had moved to Texas, then back home.  I was 27, 28, I was growing up.  It was a time where I could either repeat the same things over and over again, or I could change them and deal with the reality of them,” she recalls.

Hiatt declares that she now views the competition that once intimidated her as a challenge to strengthen her chops, earning her a front row spot in the up-and-coming collective of young Nashville musical badasses (who, coincidentally, all seem to be produced by Adam Landry).  “Living in Nashville has spoiled me in the sense that it keeps me on my toes. You can pay $5 and see three bands in one night, and whether you love them or not, they’re all probably going to be good, they’re all going to be able to play well.  It’s helped me sharpen and define what I’m trying to do with my music. The music community is tight-knit here, it’s socialized me a little more,” she says with a chuckle.  She also acknowledges the profound influence her father has had on her music; “I grew up listening to him, we’ve always had a great friendship.  The bar was set high, but not intentionally so, it just is. He’s given me a lot of advice.  We listened to good music in our house, lots of good songwriters were being played.  He’s very honest; I’m glad I have supportive parents, but also ones who are honest and straightforward with me,” says Hiatt.  “At the end of the day, if there’s anyone’s thumbs-up I want, it’s his.”

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Susan Hubbard

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