Name: Lilly Hiatt
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current release: Lilly Hiatt's Lately is out via New West.
If you enjoyed this interview with Lilly Hiatt, visit her official website for more information. She is also on Instagram, and Facebook.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I feel like creating often because it keeps me happy. If I can focus on something and derive any sort of story from it, melody, or chord, I’m in a good spot.
Relationships with others, imagery and social temperament definitely have a lot of influence on me. But anything can spark an idea. I just have to be open to it.
Staying in that state and being able to receive the message is the mission on my end. It’s not always possible but it’s available if I let it be.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I don’t plan much. I usually start with melody. If that is happening, it’s ready to set sail.
If I can’t find a melody, I’ll stop and try again when I can.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
There isn’t really a prep stage, but I do appreciate a quiet space to make something. I’ve learned how to find this in busy settings. I need a nook, and I’m good.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I love coffee and incense!!!! They definitely add to the experience!
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
A lot of times I’ll record on my voice memos and just sing stuff. Sometimes that’s how I get the first line and I’ll shape it up from there.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
I think lyrics and melody and music are all one in my songs. My words definitely need a melody and music behind them to come to life.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
Lyrics are good to me when I can hear the voice that is singing the lyrics mean what they are saying. Simple or complex, I just want to believe what I’m hearing.
My ambitions with words change. Sometimes I want to use less words to say more and other times I feel like brushing up my vocabulary or searching for something abstract. It’s fun to explore words and cadence.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
It either is happening or it isn’t. If I get a song down I like, I want to play it again. Over time the melody gets refined but there is something I really like about the initial sound of a song when I record a demo. It’s not overthought, and something is felt in that place for me.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I like to see where the song takes me. I never know! That being said, there are times where I’m searching for a certain feel or line and I’ll have to work to get there in moments for sure.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
This does happen, and when it is, I go with it. One of my favorite things is when a chord will surprise me, and I think, alright let’s take it there!
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
It is definitely a spiritual thing. I feel most connected and at peace in this place, even when I’m toiling over something! I’m into it.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I’ll record it into my phone then write it into my journal or computer. Once those two things have happened, it’s a song!
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
If I want to play it again, I will probably record it. I can feel when I’m being lazy usually, so if a chorus isn’t up to par or a bridge could use some work, I’ll get it to a place where I can feel better about it.
Some songs live in my journal or voice memos and will never see the light of day, and I’m ok with having those, too. If I keep writing, songs I like emerge. And then there are the times you just have to get them out.
It’s a real journey that involves both discipline and awareness in my experience. Then there is the ever evolving muse! The most important part.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I love this part because it is like giving your songs the cool clothes to wear. I’ve had the fortune of working with great producers who have let me sit alongside them and taken my ideas into account as they worked their own magic.
I love collaborating and the production and mixing and mastering is a real chance to do so.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Playing the released album live really helps. Also, I like to just move on and write more stuff.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Great question. I think a good cup of coffee is art (former barista here!) as well as a good song. Heart goes into both. Anything with heart spreads love.
I like expressing things through song because it is where I am able to say the things I can’t in conversation. For that, I’m grateful.