While working on material for her second album, Royal Blue, Lilly Hiatt ran some of the tunes past her dad, acclaimed singer-songwriter John Hiatt.
His advice, in a nutshell, was that she should forget about using fancy chords and just be herself.
On Royal Blue, released in early March on Normaltown Records, Lilly Hiatt shows many sides of her musical self, mixing genres and sounds throughout, including 1990s alt-rock and 1970s-flavored punk.
Medleyville.us: You’ve likened songwriting to a “healthy coping process” — that it’s easier to say something in a song than in real life. I’m curious: Are you a diary/journal type of person? And if so, do you use such private writings to get started on lyrics? Or do themes hit you more spontaneously, then from there you refine things to express certain feelings and thoughts?
Lilly Hiatt: “I have not kept a journal in quite sometime, although I think it is a great idea. I did when I was younger, and I think it’s a smart way to purge and sift through some stuff, but I don’t do that much these days. Occasionally I will open my computer and write down all the weird thoughts in my head, but those rarely translate to lyrics.
“The songwriting process seems to work a bit differently for me. Sometimes an idea comes from a period of reflections, sometimes from a slight observation. It’s fun because I feel like they kind of write themselves. The ones I like most at least seem to work that way. When I am forcing lyrics, I end up hating what I’m writing.”
There’s a wide range of sounds on Royal Blue. Were you, anyone in your band or the folks at Normaltown Records ever concerned about the album’s eclectic nature making it difficult to promote and market in this climate?
Hiatt: “No, we weren’t really worried about that. We went into the studio wanting to make a record with some balls, for lack of better terms, yet I didn’t want to make something that sounded contrived or forced.
“Luckily my bandmates and I have good understanding of one another musically, and we all share a variety of influences. I think everyone was encouraged to be themselves in the studio, and bring to the table what they do best — and everyone seems to have a real strong suit. There is a trust there, so the guard came down, and Adam Landry, the producer, truly understood and refined the vision. We had a blast.”
Have industry people expected you or your songs to be a certain way just because you’re John Hiatt’s daughter? And what’s the best piece of advice he’s given you about how to make a living in this business?
Hiatt: “I don’t think anyone has really expected my songs to be one way or another. I suppose if my writing were really terrible, fans of my father may think, ‘Oh, too bad,’ but I have really had a pretty warm experience with all of that.
“Yes, everyone wants to ask me about my father — understandably so. And it doesn’t really bother me, because I love him. Luckily, since I am a female, there is enough of a difference with just that; I don’t run into too many comparisons other than complimentary ones. I am grateful for his fans who have also been loyal to me. Who can complain?
“The best advice he has given me is to put the music first, work very hard and be myself. Also, ‘Tune!’ (laughs)”
Pretend for a minute you’re a tour guide for the Nashville area: What clubs would you recommend for someone who’s not necessarily a big fan of country music?
Hiatt: “I would say go to the Basement or the Stone Fox. There are all kinds of shows going on there, different types of bands and people. They don’t lend themselves to one specific scene.
“Nashville is pretty musically diverse these days, so most of the music clubs here, aside from lower Broadway (which is a very special place), host bands of all kinds. 5spot and the East Room are lots of fun, too. The End and the Springwater can get punky. I love them all really.”
Finish this sentence: At this year’s SXSW, I will …
Hiatt: “ … crush it — and eat lots of tacos. That’s a typical tourist answer, but I mean it.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
Lilly Hiatt at SXSW 2015 (schedule subject to change):
* 12:50 p.m. March 18: Austin Independent Radio day party — Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co., 1305 W. Oltorf
* 4 p.m. March 18: KDRP party — El Mercado, 1302 S. 1st St.
* 11 p.m. March 18: Normaltown party — Velveeta Room, 521 E. 6th St. (official SXSW showcase)
* 1:30 p.m. March 19: Twangfest party — Broken Spoke, 3201 S. Lamar Blvd.
* 5:05 p.m. March 19: New West day party — Threadgills, 301 W. Riverside Drive