January 22, 2018 | by Jocelyn Hoppa photo by Alessandra Leimer
"Face me, face me entirely" are the words that kick off lead track "No Face" from Haley Heynderickx's anticipated debut album I Need to Start a Garden, inviting the listener into a fragile, weary ode to the anxiety of lost connection. Her voice bends and breaks and also soars in all the right spots. To put a finer point on the singer's sapped soul, Haley stops short of the very last word of the song. One gets the sense this album probably isn't going to be an upper.
By track two, "The Bug Collector," you know she's also not afraid to throw down "fucker" and twist her folk sound into Bright Eyes territory with the help of a backing band (Alex Fitch of Typhoon on drums, and Lily Breshears of Big Haunt and Sheer on bass and backup vocals). The almost-eight-minute follow up "Worth It" dances around death, proclaiming "everyone is ready for their outline, everyone is ready for their call." The death of what is left up to the listener, and honestly that's how Haley prefers it.
Her answers to my questions on insights into her songwriting were a stumbling block, as she sees herself as a vessel to receive music rather than strategically constructing songs. Given her outlook, explaining how things happen in a song isn't something she feels equipped to do, and that makes perfect sense to me.
"Untitled God Song" is one pressing on age-old questions of faith, but if any resulting dialogue is evoked it's going to come from the listener's own interpretation. Even the title — "Untitled God Song" — speaks to the theme's universal ambiguity, a keen move on the part of the conduit.
Though there is candid anger and dismay, existential questions and exercises in self-awareness, all over I Need to Start a Garden — certainly enough emotional landscape to warrant repeat listens — the cool underscore to all the bleakness is a rediscovered strength only found in a reckoning. Whether doom or retribution, there's a sense she is still standing at the end (albeit possibly drunk via album closer "Drinking Song".)
Haley recently earn a spot amongst NPR's 2018 Slingshot Artists, which features eight "exceptional emerging artists." Stereogum also pegged her as an Artist to Watch just a few days ago. I Need to Start a Garden is out on March 3rd via Mama Bird Recording Co.
NO RECESS!: I read in your bio you had a dream when you were 11 years old that you were the female Jimi Hendrix. So, did you throw that “x” onto the end of your name because of that?
HALEY HEYNDERICKX: Haha... I really regret writing that awful bio several years ago and adding that. Oddly, my last name was given to me as it was! No extra flairs added.
NR!: How did your love of folk music take shape?
HEYNDERICKX: A mix of family influences, bluegrass influences of my hometown guitar instructor, college influences, strange circumstances that lead me to it.
NR!: What female folk artists do you draw upon for inspiration?
HEYNDERICKX: Yes, yes many, the list goes on and on. Vashti Bunyan, Connie Converse, Karen Dalton, Norma Tanega, local singer-songwriters in Portland like Edna Vazquez, Luz Mendoza, and many many others. Maybe not all of these women would consider themselves folk artists, but folk music to me is finding a root and sharing it and I find them all incredible at their craft of doing so.
NR!: What made you decide to go the route of putting together a band as opposed to being a standalone singer/songwriter?
HEYNDERICKX: Eventually, you get pretty tired of yourself, talking to yourself all the time. Getting to spend time with friends and work on these songs often feels much more rewarding than pulling teeth alone, though I do enjoy both somehow.
NR!: It seems as though the song “Oom She La La” is a bit of quirky doo-wop within this set of songs, almost a Brill Building ode. Underneath it all is a doubt we all experience from deriving meaning from our daily lives. Did you consciously pair something complex with a more simple or accessible sound?
HEYNDERICKX: Ah, it's a tad difficult to speak about the songwriting process. Others are much more elegant at knowing what the heck is going on. Each song is different. I just try to be open to the vessel of whatever is happening around me. Can't really describe it much past that.
NR!: Can you explain your desire to describe god in certain details in “Untitled God Song”? There seems to be a real wit underlying all of your best songs.
HEYNDERICKX: I leave this song to the listener — the song came out as it did and I am still trying to understand it over time.
NR!: For 2018, NPR included you in their Slingshot artists. Has this changed anything for you and the band yet?
HEYNDERICKX: It's an absolute honor yet makes me somehow more fearful of the future. Dreams are really happening? Touring is actually going to ensue? Nothing feels predictable anymore, which is wildly exciting and terrifying at the same time. I'm just going to keep writing and see how long society feels okay with me being a songwriter. My mother keeps encouraging me to go to nursing school if it all goes downhill, ha.
NR!: [Same, Haley. Same.]
Check out the haunted and holy "Untitled God Song"