Interview: Lilly Hiatt Turns Restlessness Into New Album ‘Walking Proof’
In Nashville parlance, Lilly Hiatt is a unicorn: a lifelong resident of Music City, which in recent years has exploded in both population and popularity among tourists. She knows and loves the city, but when she returned home after spending much of 2018 on the road, she felt ... well, a bit restless.
"I was kind of still, and I was feeling pretty manic from having that kind of pause in my schedule and having been on the go. It's really weird to just come to a screeching hall," Hiatt, seated in a bank building-turned-cafe in Nashville's Inglewood neighborhood, tells The Boot. "I had a lot going on internally, just having taken a bunch in while touring and being around a lot of people and being in a relationship and then, well, not."
But Hiatt's unsettled mindset, coupled with a change in seasons -- "[Winter] is always weird, but in a way I can kind of get into," she muses. "Everything's quieter" -- and an introduction to her soon-to-be producer, ex-Cage the Elephant guitarist Lincoln Parish, proved fruitful. Although she'd been writing, having a plan to record and a deadline by which she needed songs gave that work a purpose.
"And I felt inspired just by people, really," Hiatt adds, "even people beyond just my own internal struggles."
Hiatt's new album, Walking Proof, is, indeed, a look both inward and outward, made with and inspired by friends, family and herself. Producer Parish is a newer friend, but Hiatt calls him a "kindred spirit."
"For the first time, I was able to spend the time on vocals that I wanted to. And Lincoln really spent that time with me," she recounts of the recording process. "We did those in two or three weeks rather than, like, three days, which is something I've done a lot, so I had time to sing the songs and get to sing them the way I wanted to."
With all things Walking Proof, Parish encouraged Hiatt to take that time and "polish things a little more than I'm used to," she shares. He isolated Hiatt from her band for her vocal takes, allowing her to tap into a power she didn't fully know she had.
"I felt a little more liberated to just, like, unleash my voice in a way that I hadn't," Hiatt says. "You know, I'm still shy ... I think a lot of it gets internalized, but sometimes, when I feel the effects of that on my body, I'm like, 'Wow, I'm still incredibly nervous and anxious getting on this stage.'"
Musical buddies Amanda Shires and Aaron Lee Tasjan are special guests on Walking Proof, while Hiatt collaborates with her father, the iconic John Hiatt, on "Some Kind of Drug." The song is the father-daughter pair's first, ever, together.
"I just knew that it was something he would understand," the younger Hiatt says of working with her father on that specific song. "Nashville is the city we all cut our teeth in, and I'm from here, my sister and mom are from here, my brother is from here, my dad moved here at 18, so we've seen a lot of change in this city, like in like multiple cities. And it just made sense: I had to have him on that song 'cause I knew he would understand."
"Some Kind of Drug" reflects on Nashville's recent growth, and the gentrification that's come with it: "Strangers in my town just wanna tear everything down / And I know it's everybody's dream / But I swear to God, I can't hear a heartbeat," Hiatt sings. A self-described "idealist," Hiatt wants her city to be a place in which everyone feels welcome.
"I think with change comes both heartbreak and joy, and Nashville's expansion has been beautiful in ways that -- you know, dreamers are always coming to the city. There are all different kinds of people that live here now. There's a lot to do," Hiatt says, "but also ... when tourism is such a focal point, or a specific demographic of people are, it's like, 'Who is getting catered to?' A lot of people get left out of that ...
"I'd love to see the priorities rearranged a bit," she adds, "but I also love my city, and I'm proud to be from here."
Walking Proof, Hiatt's fourth studio album, is out now. Visit LillyHiatt.com to learn more.
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