Lilly Hiatt felt lost. She’d just returned home from the better part of a year on tour in support of her acclaimed third album, ‘Trinity Lane,’ and, stripped of the daily rituals and direction of life on the road, she found herself alone with her thoughts for the first time in what felt like ages.
“When you’re out there on the road, you’re just kind of living, and you don’t have the chance to stop and think about how everything you’re experiencing is affecting you,” says Hiatt. “When I got home, I realized there was a lot I needed to catch up on.”
So Hiatt did what’s always come most natural to her in times of questioning and uncertainty: she picked up a guitar. Over the course of the ensuing winter, she wrote a mountain of new music that grappled with her sense of self and place in the world, reckoning with issues that had been bubbling beneath the surface of her subconscious in some cases for years. The result is ‘Walking Proof,’ Hiatt’s fourth and most probing collection to date. Produced by former Cage the Elephant guitarist Lincoln Parish, the record walks the line between Hiatt’s rough, rock and roll exterior and her tender, country roots, exuding a bold vulnerability as she takes a deep and unflinching look in the mirror. What emerges is a newfound maturity in Hiatt’s writing, an abiding sense of calm in the face of chaos as she learns that sometimes, you have to let go in order to get what you want most.
“It’s crucial to live and let live, to be able to accept things for what they are,” says Hiatt. “Coming to terms with those sorts of boundaries has inspired a lot of growth in me lately, and I’ve realized that it leads to better outcomes in relationships and in art. Things seem to bloom if you can just get out of your own way for long enough.”
Things have been blooming for Hiatt in a big way lately. In 2017, she released ‘Trinity Lane,’ a commercial and critical breakout that helped establish her as one of the leading voices to emerge from the embarrassment of musical riches that is East Nashville. Produced by Shovel & Rope’s Michael Trent, the record earned Hiatt dates with the likes of John Prine, Margo Price, Drive-By Truckers, and Hiss Golden Messenger among others, and helped her secure festival slots everywhere from Pilgrimage and High Water to Luck Reunion and Wildwood Revival. NPR called the album “courageous and affecting,” while The Independent raved that it showcased Hiatt’s “gift for unpicking knotty lyrical themes in a personalised blend of countrified rock music,” and Rolling Stone hailed it as “the most cohesive and declarative statement of the young songwriter’s career.”
As rewarding as the album’s success was, the collection came from an emotionally challenging place, and Hiatt found herself frequently revisiting the hurt and struggle that inspired it as she spoke candidly to press about her painful breakup, her struggles with sobriety, and the overwhelming sadness of her mother’s suicide. Rather than succumbing to the weight of it all, though, Hiatt managed to emerge stronger and more serene from the experience, treating it as a foundation from which she could begin the essential work of re-examining her relationships with herself and the world around her.
“When I got that little gap in my schedule over the winter, it gave me the chance to appreciate some mental stillness,” says Hiatt. “I can be a pretty anxious person, but I found a sense of peace by deconstructing all of these interactions and emotions I’d experienced and reconfiguring them into songs. It helped me make sense of everything and learn to relax.”
By the time she headed into Parish’s Nashville studio in May, Hiatt had piled up more than twenty-five new songs, and with the producer’s help, she pared it down to a tight and cohesive eleven. After capturing the core performances live with her band over the course of roughly a week, Hiatt devoted the early part of the summer to finishing touches, which included contributions from friends like Amanda Shires and Aaron Lee Tasjan along with a guest appearance from her father, legendary songwriter John Hiatt, who joins his daughter on record for the first time here.
“The energy was electric in the studio,” says Hiatt. “Lincoln’s a very intuitive person, and the sessions just felt like a bunch of old friends getting together. We developed a sense of trust early on that made everything totally comfortable and effortless.”
That effortless comfort is apparent from the outset of ‘Walking Proof,’ which opens with the muscular yet dreamy “Rae.” A tribute to the impossibly deep bonds of sisterhood, the track showcases Hiatt’s deft ability to shift from gentle intimacy to brawny grit and back, and it lays the groundwork for a record all about the endless search for self. “Sometimes I pretend this isn’t who I am,” she sings early in the tune. “I throw caution to the wind and don’t give a damn / But I can’t get away.” The infectious “Drawl” locates the beauty in the simple things that define us, while the effervescent “Brightest Star” celebrates the outcasts and misfits who never seem to get their way, and the driving “Some Kind of Drug” tries to make sense of who gets by and who gets left behind in this world.
“I rode along with my sister some nights this winter helping the homeless in Nashville, and I met so many incredible people going through such hard times,” says Hiatt. “It made me think a lot about what we’re losing in this town, about who decides what constitutes progress and the pain that comes with it.”
Though the record does indeed grapple with hard times, it also makes plenty of room for joy and gratitude, and it stands undoubtedly as the most upbeat and optimistic work in Hiatt’s catalog. The breezy “Candy Lunch” finds comfort in accepting what lies beyond our control, while the searing “P-Town” responds to a bad day with wry humor and resilience, and the slinky “Little Believer” revels in the ecstasy of new love. It’s perhaps the bare-bones title track, though, that encapsulates the album’s spirit best, as Hiatt offers a lilting refrain full of empathy and faith: “I could tell you that it’s easy, but that wouldn’t be the truth / If you ever need to call me, well you know there’s walking proof.”
Lilly Hiatt’s not feeling so lost these days, and with ‘Walking Proof,’ she’s crafted a roadmap to share with the rest of us.
Daughter–her first album in four years–marks the triumphant return of Lydia Loveless, and documents a period of personal upheaval, including a divorce and an interstate move away from her longtime home. Left feeling unmoored and adrift, Loveless worked to redefine herself, both in her own mind and within the context of the world. Written with her characteristic candidness and razor-sharp wit, Daughter is a self-aware journey into independence.
In 2016, Loveless released her third record Real, which built on the success of her 2014 breakout Somewhere Else. The albums were embraced by critics and listeners alike, with her fanbase growing to even include some of Loveless’ heroes like Lucinda Williams and Jason Isbell. Those luminaries would become tour mates as Loveless and her band lived out of suitcases, working tirelessly in support of the releases. It was a time filled with many exciting firsts like TV appearances and performing at festivals (CBS This Morning: Saturday Sessions, Stagecoach Festival, AmericanaFest), but this strenuous time on the road wasn’t without its costs.
Loveless returned home exhausted, feeling she could no longer function at such a demanding level and longing for an overdue break. The next few months were marked by intense change: Loveless parted ways with her husband, who also played bass in her band, and moved away from Columbus, Ohio, which had been her home for years. She was left feeling disconnected from herself and everything she thought she knew. “I felt frustrated with myself for going straight from my tumultuous teen years into a marriage so that I could feel safe, and right when I was getting out of the situation, people around me were settling down and having kids. I felt lost and inexperienced,” Loveless explains. “Meanwhile the political landscape was turning even more bleak. Many men were coming around to feminism because they had just had a daughter. I’d see billboards on the side of the road imploring people not to hurt women because they were somebody’s daughter or sister or mother. And I was living as an individual for the first time, and don’t have maternal desires. My family was in turmoil so defining myself as a daughter or sister didn’t give me much comfort.”
Relocated in North Carolina, Loveless began to focus on herself. With her band hundreds of miles away, she set up a home studio to figure out how to make music in a more isolated way than ever before. The songs didn’t always come easily, but Loveless found unexpected inspiration in learning to use new techniques and gear (including analog synthesizers and a drum machine), as well as writing on piano more than guitar. The process helped her stay out of the way of her songs: “I had to make do with what I had to get the sounds I was looking for,” she says. “When melodies are coming to you frantically while you attempt to program equipment you don’t have a real understanding of, it frees you up lyrically as well. I got to really know what I wanted to say.”
Still unsure if these new songs would become an album or not, Loveless traveled to Chicago, Illinois, to record with Tom Schick (Wilco, Mavis Staples, Norah Jones) at The Loft. “For the first time I felt completely insecure about what I’d made,” she explains. “But recording brought things back into focus. I couldn’t back out of playing and explaining my songs and vision.” Her longtime accomplices–multi-instrumentalists Todd May and Jay Gasper, and drummer George Hondroulis–eventually joined her in the studio, with Loveless playing bass on a few songs for the first time in 10 years, and piano on a recording for the first time ever. The album began to take shape over three sessions and Loveless, working closely with Schick, pushed herself to chase the new ideas, sounds, and directions that make Daughter a revelation.
Throughout Daughter, the anguish, hope, regret, and even wry humor of Loveless’ self-reflective journey is palpable. The hallmarks of her music—that unmistakable voice, an incisive way with melody, and an unrelenting willingness to cast the first stone inward—are still present, but there’s also a newfound sense of space and experimentation across the album. Songs like “Love Is Not Enough” (which she calls “the closest to a political ditty I’ve been able to write thus far”) or “Wringer” and “Dead Writer” (which most directly address the fallout of her divorce) expand on Loveless’ core sound, while the title track centerpiece is one of her most meditative songs to date and finds Loveless reckoning with how her place in the world is defined, singing: “What is my body worth to you without your blood in it?” “I was talking to my friend at lunch a few days before we went into the studio about how sick I was of women only having worth if they were someone’s kid/sister/mother, not just because of being a human,” Loveless recalls. “I told her I wanted it to be the focal point of the record, but I hadn’t written it and she said something like ‘Well, you’re going to write it today and call me when you do.’ I went to practice that day and started playing it for the band. It all fell out.” On the somber “September,” the sparse, piano-led arrangement features cellist Nora Barton as well as guest vocals from Loveless’ friend Laura Jane Grace, while the haunting “Don’t Bother Mountain” is built on drum machines and keys; both illustrate an evocative, adventurous side of Loveless’ songwriting while recounting dark moments from her past. Elsewhere the atmospheric “Can’t Think” struggles with conflicting desires as it builds to a heady, cacophonous end, and the deceptively upbeat “Never” details the regret-filled fallout of a relationship over a foundation of synths (a sonic choice born out of what Loveless refers to as her “George Michael phase”).
In the end, Daughter captures Loveless at her fiery best, with her songwriting stronger and exhibiting an even keener insight than ever. The album showcases Loveless’ willingness to push beyond her musical and lyrical comfort zones to find a previously untapped sense of self. “I took a break because I was exhausted. But it was also out of the necessity of trying to learn who I was,” Loveless says. “I spent the last 10 years as a ‘growing up on the farm country gal,’ and felt like I needed to think about who I am now.”
Daughter is Loveless’ first release on her own label, Honey, You’re Gonna Be Late Records.