"We need a coffee shop. My neighbours like coffee, I do too. But they’re not building a coffee shop for us" In conversation with Lilly Hiatt
If you don't know Lilly Hiatt then you might know her dad John. But you really should know Lilly in her own right. With her third album, Trinity Lane, out in 2017 in the US and just getting an official release in the UK it's about time she got the attention she deserves, so we had a chat with the Nashville dwelling singer.
Hey Lilly, so are you at home at the moment then, or are you out on the road?
I’m actually in Missouri. We’re just about to go on the road with the Drive-By Truckers. Our first show is tonight, in Kansas City.
That’s cool. Have you been on tour with those guys before? Or is this the very first show?
This is the very first show, so we’re super excited.
So I wanted to talk about living in Nashville. What was it about East Nashville that made you choose to make that part of town home?
It’s funny because I’ve lived in Nashville a long time. I’m from Nashville. And I went to college in Denver, but I moved back right after college. That was 2006, so a while ago. And I lived on the west side of town for a long time. But I always loved the east side, I went over there a lot, I had a lot of friends there, and that was the place we hung out, you know.
I briefly moved to Texas, really briefly, in 2013. And when I came back I was just like “you know, I need a different side of Nashville. I need to re-create my Nashville. So I’m going to live on the east side now.” I’d always wanted to, and I just wanted to see things, the city, from a different angle. And I felt like it was the place to be.
Has it kind of been everything that you expected it to be? Has it given you that different take on the city?
Oh yeah. It really has. It’s a special place. And it’s interesting, because a lot of people are moving to Nashville, they’ve been right to east Nashville, and it’s kind of like all they know of the city. That kind of bums me out because there’s more to Nashville than just the east side. But that being said, there’s a very vibrant, creative music scene on the east side of town. I mean, it’s all throughout Nashville. But that’s a hub, for the misfits, kind of. So it’s cool.
It does kind of feel like there’s the Music Row central bit of Nashville, which is very mainstream, and very radio-focused. And then there is east Nashville where there are so many cool and different artists hanging out and putting on shows. It feels like there’s more of a community aspect to that part of the town.
There certainly is. There’s a lot of cool neighbourhoods in Nashville. Two of the guys in my band, they live in totally cool parts of town. I always said that the east side is the gathering place, so all the kind of weirdos are celebrated over there. So that’s a neat thing about it.
To change tack, it’s called Trinity Lane. That’s a place in Nashville, right?
Mm-hmm. It runs from east to…there’s an East Trinity Lane and then there’s a West Trinity Lane. It kind of runs, you know, in a horrible direction. But it runs from east to west, and I live on the east side of it. And it’s a really cool street. It’s the kind of street that probably thirty years ago a lot of people would say "Don’t go to Trinity Lane." It’s a little, you know... it’s in the process of being gentrified right now. So it’s just an interesting place. It’s very traditional at the moment.
Has it still got some of the old bits that made it interesting, but it’s got some of the new developments and that kind of thing? It’s quite a mix, then?
It’s such a mix. And when I moved to my neighbourhood, it’s just a scrappy little neighbourhood. It’s really cute but it’s the kind of place you don’t walk around at night. And even since I’ve been on tour, I’m watching it change. You’ve got these little dumps next to these huge topped up, giant houses and it’s so weird. It’s like it’s only a matter of time before they come for my house! [laughter] Where I live seems to be one of the last portions of East Nashville that hasn’t been ripped up, but it’s starting to happen.
How do you feel about that? Because some people are kind of unhappy about that, and they feel it’s ruining some of what made Nashville special. But there’re also people who think well, this is natural progress. When a town or a city becomes successful, that’s just what happens.
Yeah. I think that…I definitely have strong opinions on that. Part of me, yes, I understand natural progress, but what really bothers me is that the development happening in Nashville doesn’t seem to be geared toward the people in the neighbourhood that they’re tearing up. They put a new brewery across the street, you know. Is that for the people in my neighbourhood? I don’t think so. It’s for the people moving in.
So my biggest bone to pick is, I wish there was a way for the community and the existing community in a specific part of town to have a conversation with the people moving in, changing it. Because on one hand yeah, I’d be okay with getting a little coffee shop down the road. But I would want it to be the kind of coffee shop that’s for the people in the neighbourhood. Not for the people that want to chase us out. Because you know what? We need a coffee shop. My neighbours like coffee, I do too. But they’re not building a coffee shop for us. You know what I mean? So that makes me angry. But, it is kind of how it goes. I do think if there was a little more thoughtfulness to some things, it would make a world of difference.
And do you think it’s changing too much, too fast, Nashville as a town?
Yeah, but you know? It’s changed, it’s definitely changed. And it’s pretty weird. But that being said, Nashville is still a small town. And it’s still always going to have that charm and that small town…it’s so embedded in that. It’s never going to get taken away from us. I look at a city like Austin. I love Austin, but they’ve taken and changed it. It’s not what it was. And I mean no disrespect, it’s a fun place. But it’s a brand new place now. I don’t think that’s going to happen in Nashville.
Talking about the album, then, you’re touring in the UK in April... is that a bit weird for you, talking about something you probably recorded a year or so ago now? I suppose what I’m asking is, do you ever want to talk about something different?
Oh, I’m quite happy to talk about it. Because honestly this record, I’m still trying to get people to hear it. It came out but it’s not like it… to critical acclaim and things, it’s still growing. So it’s by no means time to be like “I’m on to the next thing.” It’s like “no, I’m playing these songs, I’m learning how to play them real well, with my band.” Maybe I’m not in the same spot as I was when I released it [in the US], but I’m in a different place and I’m relating to them in a different way. In a more victorious way, kind of, you know? And taking them out to people. I’ve been writing some stuff here and there. But it’ll be a hot second before I’m on to my next album. So let’s make the most of this one, you know?
I mean it’s full of themes and stuff that seems pretty personal. Like you were saying, does your relationship to those songs change the more the more you live with them? Or do some of them just feel as raw as when you wrote them and recorded them?
I think a little bit of both. It’s not hard for me to go back to, I’m an artist, I can be a dramatic person. So it’s easy to go back into the place I was at when I play. I can channel it and be like “I remember all the way I was feeling when I wrote that song”, and getting into that character of the song. Even if it’s not who I am today. In the moment it’s someplace I’ve been, you know? Yeah. It’s really fun to do that. That’s part of the fun of performing.
Is there any one of the songs that is particularly difficult for you to play live, that brings back memories and feelings that, not that you’re uncomfortable with, but you’d rather not experience again?
One that is pretty hard to get through sometimes is Different, I Guess. It can just be changed a little in multiple ways, but it’s pretty intense and I felt pretty desperate when I wrote it, you know. So that one can be tricky to revisit but it’s also fun to play live.
And the song Records I really like and I was reading an interview you did with Rolling Stone where you talk really passionately about music and your relationship to it. Do you get a chance to listen to stuff that influenced this album when you were writing it, or when you were making it?
Oh yeah. I listen to so much music. I mean, I always listen to a lot of music. And during that time, I was just cranking it in my house because all my roommates were on tour, and I had all the house to myself all the time. So I worked at a coffee shop where we are allowed to play and pick whatever music we want. So I was just like cranking it all day. And honestly, coupled with personal experiences, listening to music is the other most inspiring thing to me.
Is there anything in particular that you were listening to at that point that changed how you thought about recording the album? Or was it the whole experience of being able to listen to what you wanted to in the coffee shop and at home that influenced it overall?
I think it was the whole experience. I’d go through all these different phases in the coffee shop. Sometimes I’d be like “we’re having a Miles Davis day.” Sometimes I’d be like “we’re having a Kinks day.” I would go running a lot and listen to Kendrick Lamar doing Good Kid Maad City. That was my running album. And that was kind of a dark, haunting album to me. Then, I don’t know, there are so many different things to me. Bob Dylan, I listened to a ton of Bob Dylan, is so therapeutic. I listened to Nashville Skyline a lot. I’m sure I listened to some of my dad’s music. I listened to Leonard Cohen. I mean, I could go on and on.
I know you worked with Michael Trent on the record. I’m a big fan of Shovels And Rope. How was that working with him? And did he bring something different to the record that you might not have had if you had a different producer?
Michael’s amazing. And I think Michael is very gifted and he’s a great listener. He’s an easy person to drop your guard with. He’s got a gentle nature to him. But he’s got fantastic ideas. And we had a lot of the songs. For the most part we had the songs kind of in a general direction of where we wanted to go with them. But Michael puts things in a very tight package. He’s very good at refining and sharpening what you’re doing. So it was really cool to work with him because he kind of let us figure them out, as a band, before he started inserting himself into the mix.
He was quite hands off then was he? You had a bit of time to have a go at things as a band and figure out what sounded right in the studio?
No, he was hands off until he wasn’t. Basically the system was, we were all in a room together. Him and the engineer Andy would watch us. We stood in a circle and we would play him a song. He’d watch us play it, and he’d maybe have us play it two or three times. After that, he would listen to anything I said. Then after that, he would start putting in what he thought. And so it was pretty cool. I mean, and he had a ton of ideas on that record. And played on almost every song. He played organ or Mellotron and maybe a little tambourine. He just put a lot of himself into that record without imposing in any way.
Did you know Michael beforehand?
I’d just met him really briefly and I liked his vibe, but I didn’t really know him. We talked on the phone a little bit before I decided to go out there.
Is that quite difficult trying to get to know somebody whilst you’re making a record, or is that actually a nice thing to just have that brand new fresh page experience with somebody?
With him, like I said, we’d had a few conversations. So I knew he was cool. We’d had some legit chat. And then I didn’t feel like I knew him well. I also got the sense, there was a time where I was like “maybe I’ll just make my record in Nashville instead of going out there, getting stranded with someone I don’t really know, who’s probably cool, but…” We had another really good talk, and I could tell he wanted to make the album. That was compelling to me. I was like, “he wants to work on this with me.”
To find out more about Lilly you can visit her website, follow her on Twitter, like her on Facebook, or see her on Instagram. Her album Trinity Lane is available to stream everywhere and buy - which you should do - from all decent music selling places.