Lilly Hiatt: Exploring Her Country Roots  

The second generation singer-songwriter shines on the excellent Walking Proof

Lilly Hiatt (Art: Ron Hart)

Lilly Hiatt’s had a hard time the past few weeks. While she was gearing up for a tour to support her newly released Walking Proof album, a tornado wiped out a street a few blocks away from her East Nashville home. Now, the Covid-19 outbreak has forced her to cancel her touring schedule. 

“The tornado hit Nashville pretty hard,” Hiatt said. “I’m lucky my neighborhood wasn’t touched. Putting off the tour sucks, but I can’t get angry about it and wallow in self-pity. Everybody is in this together. It’s bigger than any individual, but I’m ready to sing when the time is right.” 

Hiatt’s been singing and writing songs most of her life. “My dad (Americana icon John Hiatt) gave me one of his old guitars, a 1953 Martin – a nice guitar for a kid to have. He showed me some chords and I took lessons for a few seconds when I was 12, but mostly I learned from years and years of playing. I always wrote poems and wrote down my dreams. They became songs. I got a degree in psychology, but I think I did it so I could explore the emotions I wanted to write about.” 

While she was at the University of Denver, Hiatt started a band with people she met at the music school. “They taught me a lot. I’d done musicals in high school. I had some solo spots, but I was always scared. I didn’t know anything about performing in bars. I learned that in the band. They got me out in front of people and made me get over my stage fright. When I told my dad I wanted to make a living as a performer, he encouraged me, but told me to keep a realistic view of the horizon. He told me it was good I had a degree, just in case.”

Lilly Hiatt Walking Proof, New West Records 2020

The 11 tunes on Walking Proof show Hiatt moving in a new direction, delving into the sounds of country music that surround her in East Nashville. “My last record, Trinity Lane, was a bit raw and jagged, which is what I was aiming for. This one is more of a smooth ride. It’s more country and has a rootsy quality I’ve shied away from in the past. I’ve always been trying to hide my country influence. This time, I let it come out.

Trinity Lane was an autobiographical record. This time, I wrote from a different place. I went into my understanding of relationships, without talking about myself specifically. The songs are observations of the potential paths a life, or a relationship, can take. I’m not saying, ‘This is what I’m gonna do,” or ‘This is what’s gonna happen.’ You gotta choose your own adventure in life. The situations are all open ended. There’s a big dot dot dot at the end of the record. I think that’s what makes it intriguing. You have to fill in the blanks.” 

When she plays live, Hiatt commands the room with her quiet intensity. “There’s a visceral energy you feel when you’re playing live. We’ll play the songs from the album, but elements change every night. The adrenalin constantly pushes us to new places. I don’t play any lead guitar on the record, so one of my goals is to rip a solo live. I know I can do it, I just have to get confident enough to let go and let it out.” 


VIDEO: Lilly Hiatt Lost River Sessions 2020

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j. poet

j. poet has been writing about music for most of his adult life. He has contributed to the San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Express, Harp, Paste,,, American Profile, Creem, Relix, Downbeat, Folk Roots, New Noise and more national and international publications and websites than he can remember. He wrote most of the Musichound Guide to World Music (Visible Ink, 2000) and had two stories in Best Rock Writing 2014 (That Devil Music). He has interviewed a wide spectrum of artists including Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard and Godzilla. He lives in San Francisco. 

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