Lilly Hiatt Has Returned to the Scene of the Crime
by Holly Gleason | Photograph by Gina Binkley
Dose on Murphy Road, an aesthetically minimal coffee house that stresses the quality of brews, is where the raven-haired young woman with the nose piercing sat with producer Adam Landry. They talked about making what would become Royal Blue, a dozen songs that smear the Pixies, Liz Phair, and Joy Division with hints of Jason Isbell, Ryan Adams, or Sturgill Simpson’s postmodern rock/country.
“He likes raw garage rock and wasn’t afraid to take me there,” Hiatt says, settling her cup on the ledge. “When I listen to his Deer Tick stuff or the Diamond Rugs, you hear T. Rex and the Rolling Stones without overpowering. It’s recorded on tape, 8 tracks and no frills. But it’s amazing how full it sounds . . .
“As a producer, Adam has a sense of smaller things. I’m a little rough around the edges, but he didn’t step on that. He was into that raw stuff. ”
Royal Blue converges 80s synth and old school steel guitar, vowels that stretch and stall, and beats that are crisp but spare to offer an unflinching look at a woman who won’t buckle, who’d “rather throw a punch than bat my eyes” as she caws in “Your Choice.” Hiatt is a candid writer, whether the throaty recrimination of the broken up “Far Away,” the perky power-pop “Get This Right” or the slithering come clean of “I Don’t Do Those Things Anymore.”
“People are too afraid to be vulnerable,” Hiatt muses. “To me, that’s the whole point of making music. It’s the place I feel safe to do it. It’s a haven for vulnerability in the world . . . I’d like to think this record’s teetering between all hope is lost and there’s gonna be a revolution.”
A psychology major from the University of Denver, Hiatt is studied in the art of studying emotional grounding. Laughing she admits, “I wish I could be more cryptic: some of the characters are amalgamations. But I’m watching—and I’m a pretty observant person. So, if you mess with me, you could end up in a song.”
She doesn’t name names or seem interested in evening the score. Like “Girls”’ Lena Dunham, it’s more about telling the messy, inconvenient truth as it exists. To hear her sing “Somebody’s Daughter,” a cockeyed bit of Laurel Canyon country that sways and saunters, it’s a declaration of independence designed to own her roots and her own perseverance.
I’d like to think this record’s teetering between all hope is lost and there’s gonna be a revolution.
The somebody she’s daughter to is iconic songwriter John Hiatt (“Memphis in the Meantime,” “Thing Called Love,” “Riding With The King,” “She Loves The Jerk”), a soul man who applies swampy funk and off-kilter details to ground his songs. Beyond raising his daughter on the road and giving her a worldly perspective, he’s a good sounding board.
“He’s a smart businessman,” she concedes, “but he’s always said, ‘Put the music first, and the other stuff falls into place.’ The thing about Dad: he’s very true to himself; he always stayed true, leading him to a noble, truer place in his career.”
Realistic about today’s music business, Hiatt’s planning her own tour, doing much of her own promo and emotionally investing in making it happen with West Coast indie New West partnering with Normaltown Records.
“People don’t see the emotional energy that goes into it. It’s not for the faint of heart. People are like, ‘Why didn’t I make it?’ Simple: ‘You didn’t work that hard.’
“At the end of the day, we’re just scraping by . . . But these guys [in her band] love the music. They haven’t lost that, and that’s what lets us come together the way we have [on Royal Blue].”
Lilly Hiatt’s album Royal Blue is available on March 3. See her live at the Stone Fox on March 4 at 9 p.m. For more about her visit www.lillyhiatt.com.