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It’s workin’ all right for me: A conversation with Lilly Hiatt

Lilly Hiatt. (David McClister photo) Lilly Hiatt. (David McClister photo)

At the core of all beloved singer-songwriters is this raw honesty and genuine compassion, to conjure the good, bad and ugly of the human condition, all in an effort to put forth solidarity to the listener that, regardless of what happens, tomorrow is another day to get out of bed and push ahead. 

That keen sense of self amid an intricate, vibrant lyrical aptitude is something Nashville troubadour Lilly Hiatt holds close to her heart. 

Daughter of legendary singer-songwriter John Hiatt, Lilly has carved out her own path as a rising act of immense talent and creative swagger, something continually proven onstage and in the studio.

When you listen to Lilly Hiatt, you find yourself with a little bit more of a kick in your step, where Hiatt will forever radiate the hard truths and hard-fought redemption at the foundation of what it means to be a human being. Hiatt remains a beacon of melodic light on the choppy waters of daily life — this timeless voice of vulnerability and eternal hope.

Smoky Mountain News: Whether it’s conscious or subconscious, I’d always admired the purposeful vulnerability of your songs — you’re someone completely open to the cosmos.

Lilly Hiatt: Thanks for saying that. My life is in my songs. And, that’s not to say there’s not some fiction in there, but [when something happens in my life], I have to put it in a song. My dad said something cool once to me, “Write your way into clarity.” When I’m going through something, that’s what I do. 

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SMN: Are you someone who’s actively open to the possibility of whatever is around the corner?

LH: That’s a cool question. Yeah, I think so, actually. I like to stay pretty open, especially lately, just go with the flow. And, the more I’m willing to do that, the more whimsy I experience in my life. 

SMN: Which is easier said than done sometimes, where the only thing you can control in life is how you react in a situation.

LH: You’re so right about that. And I’ve definitely learned many lessons about that, especially in the last few years. I’m 38, and I’ve really been working on kind of surrendering to what’s happening [in life], and to do your best in it, you know?

SMN: It’s one of those things, too, where I’m 37, and we’re both part of the last generation of the outdoor kids before the internet took over everything.

LH: It’s interesting, because I was thinking about that last night, about what that’s kind of done to us. I’ll just speak for myself, but I feel like we’re in this time to protect our peace of mind. I think for anyone, though, it takes quite a bit of effort because so much is available to investigate. So, in one sense, it’s really great to have access to so much. But, on the other hand, there can be a lot day-to-day, where it’s easy to let a lot of voices get in your head. I just want to be a kind person in the world, and there are different things that I have to do to maintain that.

SMN: Even though you do perform with a band, you also do a lot of solo gigs. And I was curious about what that setting is like for you, to just be up there all by yourself, guitar in-hand, in front of an audience?

LH: It’s definitely a different experience than playing with a band. But, I love playing solo because that’s how I started, just playing by myself a lt. And so, it feels way comforting to just have a guitar. Playing solo definitely made me a better guitar player and singer because there’s a bit more perspective [in the performance], and you have to really vibe off the crowd in that setting. With my band, you can vibe off the crowd, but you can also vibe off them. [Being solo], it’s me and the people watching, and I want to do right by them. I want to pull them in one way or another, to connect with them in a way where we’re engaged. 

SMN: You’ve written these personal melodies about love lost and love found. How has your definition of love changed or remained the same as you’ve gotten older?

LH: As corny as this may sound, a big thing I’ve realized about love is that if I can’t love myself, it’s really hard to be loving to other people in the way I’d like to be. And it seems kind of indulgent in a way, “Oh, when you love yourself, you don’t have to think about yourself so much and fixate on what’s wrong with you.” I feel more available to others [when I love myself]. It’s like, “Okay, stop hating yourself, so you can be kind to everybody else.”

SMN: And, as you get older, you start to let go of that stubbornness or unwillingness to commit. 

LH: Absolutely. Being married, I’ve realized to get to that place of the deepest love, you have to just be open, and there’s a letting go involved in that — it’s really exciting and it’s really scary. It’s easy to want to control everything, but you can’t. That’s not what love is. Love isn’t about control. It feels better, to me, to keep an open heart, and to give the benefit of the doubt when I can — to try to love and find empathy in there is something special.

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