The Washington Times calls Heather Aubrey Lloyd a “pint-sized powerhouse of a singer.” I’d have to agree – her singing is, indeed commanding. However, Heather’s talent goes beyond her vocals. She’s an incredibly gifted percussionist and rhythmic guitarist. Her songs are inventive and very clever. Her stage presence is warm and engaging. Heather came into my orbit when I first witnessed ilyAIMY (I love you And I Miss You) at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. They were a breath of fresh air and raised the proverbial roof at the festival, bringing a whole new era of folk music to the fans.
To learn more about Heather Aubrey Lloyd, check out her website.
For a peek at Heather as singer-songwriter-guitarist, here’s a video of her singing “To The Girl Who Shared the Siege with Me.”
For a peek at Heather as singer-songwriter-percussionist, here’s a video of her singing “Can You Love a Girl (Gone So Long).” Watch John Gorka and Cheryl Wheeler enjoying her performance at the Lounge Stage at Falcon Ridge.
Heather Aubrey Lloyd is playing at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on Friday, December 8, 2017.
Your bio states that you’ve had a wide range of experience revolving around the written or spoken word. Did you always have a love for the English language? Did you always lean toward storytelling — whether as a reporter or a poet — or songwriter?
I am obsessed with stories. I always thought of myself as kind of odd, and I consumed stories to show me all the simple things about being alive I didn’t seem to understand (rather than reveal that by actually asking someone to explain). In my formative years, this took the form of fairy tales (I have a massive collection). In high school and college, it turned to journalism and a focus on non-fiction. What did the experience of others have that might illuminate my understanding of being alive? I worked briefly for The Baltimore Sun and did some freelance work. The hardest thing about becoming a songwriter was shedding the most important rule of my journalism education: Don’t fill in the gaps with what you don’t know. It took me a long time to break the habit that everything had to be completely true, well-sourced or witnessed directly be me. Some of my earliest songs were drawn from news stories I heard. As a substitute teacher, I borrowed stories from my students. I started keeping a notebook, curating the best eavesdropped, unconsciously brilliant lines I’d overheard in public. A lot of them found their ways into my songs. And when I’d get burned out on songwriting, I’d head into Baltimore City and glory in the slam poetry scene, which brought a lot of rhythm and slant rhyme into my writing. I love it all.
When did music first start to grab you? Did guitar or percussion (or something else) come first?
Music predates memory for me. I grew up singing to the radio, and voice was the first instrument. Mimicry is where I started, like most. Could I sing as high as Mariah Carey? Could I match all the improvisations of En Vogue? I was in every choir my high school had. I picked up a guitar for the first time at 17, as a vehicle to accompany the voice. I learned Indigo Girls songs my father introduced me to. I took a huge leap forward four years later when I met Rob Hinkal, my bandmate in ilyAIMY. He expanded my understanding of the instrument by leaps and bounds, and opened the floodgates of my songwriting. It was necessity that brought me to percussion, which has become my soul instrument. We were playing a lot of bars starting out, and two acoustic guitars weren’t cutting it. We needed to rise above the noise and grab attention. We had a hand percussionist (Rowan Corbett, who is also a Carolina Chocolate Drop) in our band at home, but not on the road. I learned from him about a decade ago.
Have you been inspired by any musicians in terms of music and advice that they may have provided you with?
The first personal connection with a musician that made a defining impact on me obviously was my bandmate, Rob. He exposed me to such a flood of new music and techniques as I started with ilyAIMY. He also brought me to my next great influence: Brian Gundersdorf from We’re About 9. My bandmate, Rob, and Brian had come up in the same open mic scene in Baltimore as all the bands were forming. Brian’s writing was unlike anything I had ever heard, and the academic in me studied his songs like sacred texts. I decided there was a certain subversive quality to his folk that I liked and wanted to emulate in my own way. I attended one of his songwriting workshops, and I sought him out for advice as we first started touring.
You’ve toured as Dar William’s percussionist. Did that give you insight into the folk world in a way that you hadn’t really observed before?
The tour I did with Dar is an insane story: I played a disaster gig in Baltimore, where half the other band wound up broken down on the highway hundreds of miles away …. everything that could go wrong, ya know? We cobbled together a show. A couple months later, I get a phone call: A really good friend of Dar’s was in attendance that night, and thought of me when Dar said she needed a singing hand percussionist ASAP. Dar’s percussionist had contracted a debilitating version of Lyme Disease, and she needed someone immediately for a month. Management called and asked if I could be in Manhattan the next day for an audition. I went, figuring this would be a cute story I told some day of how I auditioned for Dar Williams that one time. We hit it off, and before long she was saying “when we” instead of “if we.” They overnighted me live recordings of the set, and I met the tour in Boulder two days later. No rehearsal. I met the rest of the band for the first time at soundcheck. It was a beautiful 26 days. She talked about Joan Baez taking her out when she was starting. I watched her deal with people and fame, and managing the expectations of fans. She does it with incredible grace, which was something I kept in mind after. Shawn Mullins was the co-bill on that tour, and on the tour bus with us. I remembered thinking of him as the one song he’d had on the radio. As a live performer, he blew me away. It was a good reminder: Success is incredibly relative.
You’ve been a member of ilyAIMY for many years. How would you compare your contributions to that group to your solo projects?
ilyAIMY was a great education for me. When I joined, I had written almost no songs. I had limited instrument and composition skills. I had never played with a band. I’d barely recorded in a studio. So, it got the gears turning for me. Rob and I don’t write together, but add to each other’s work after it’s considered done. For his songs, I add harmony and try to complement his very percussive style with slightly more sparse work on my percussion. That side of me has always been more rocking, including the songs I wrote for that project. I wanted a chance to play things that were a little more nuanced and sparse, maybe a little more folky and narrative. Tell the story not just with the words, but with the music. Serve the song instead of trying to find a part for every member of an existing band. So, I put out A Message in the Mess, finally, this year.
Tell us about your most recent album. A Message in the Mess. It’s an awesome recording that highlights so many of your talents. How did you come to record it with The Novelists?
I am incredibly proud of my solo CD. I went all the way to Reno to record it because of a friend, Justin McMahon, and how much I loved his CDs. The CDs were backed by a local band there, The Novelists. Joel Ackerson (who actually lived for a while in the Northeast and knew all the people I did!) pushed me vocally into neglected ranges and helped me arrange the songs and just go for it with ideas I worried were a little out there: using actual bubble wrap as percussion and a kazoo orchestra, for example. He also helped me unify the songs, which are a bit schizophrenic as a collection, hence “A Message in the Mess.” They were all the thoughts and stories I was collecting while touring the country with ilyAIMY … the ones I didn’t think fit in with the band. The time a girl gave me a piece of her tooth. The time I lost my voice and started thinking about all the ways nature’s singers express themselves without sound. My love of found objects. And a kind of aspirational recovery from a world-ending breakup. A lot of the songs were a kind of “fake it ’til you make it” of healing. I sang them before I had achieved them … before I totally believed them. They were the message in the mess: a collection of a little weird and little broken beautiful things that had a right to exist. “Good Heart,” which is undoubtedly the single, was actually written well into the recording process, having been inspired to find this new voice and this aspiration toward healing.
How would you describe your music in one sentence?
What happens when a weird kid finds her voice, trades her fairytales for news stories for songs, and completely sings her soul out to the listener (while sometimes banging on stuff).