Bugs, Gods, and Gardens: Catching Up With Portland Songwriter Haley Heynderickx

Interviews, Local Music
09/26/2018
Dusty Henry
photo by Niffer Calderwood

There’s a phantasmagorical quality to Haley Heynderickx’s songwriter. The eight stunning songs on the Portland-based musician’s debut album I Need To Start a Garden tell tales of bugs, coach-bag toting gods, jam jars, honeycomb, hornet nests, and – of course – gardens. Each word Heynderickx sings spills out into decadent images, giving new life to the everyday, overlooked images of life and nature. In doing so, she also reveals a good bit about herself and her feelings about the world she traverses.

And she’s done plenty of sojourning lately, taking these haunting and beautiful words with masterfully finger-picked guitar on the road virtually non-stop since the album’s release in March (and sometime before that as well). Whether it’s with a band or traveling alone, Heynderickx has wandered across the globe and left a trail of her wondrous musical tales behind like a veritable breadcrumb trail. Now she finds herself back in the Northwest, making the comparatively quick trip up to Seattle this Saturday, Sept. 29 at Ballard Homestead. Ahead of her performance, we caught up with Heynderickx about the words she uses, the music that inspires her, and the unique way (and she notes, we all have our own unique perspectives) she observes the world.

 

Your latest album I Need To Start a Garden came out about six months ago and you’ve surely been living with and working with these songs long before that. Having taken these songs on the road and having the music out there, how has your relationship to the music changed? Do the songs connect with you differently from when you first wrote them?

The relationship changed as most human ones do – you get familiar with each other's tendencies and pray you keep the spark long enough to still get along. They’re completely different than when we had first met, but I find new perspectives I can appreciate.

I love the language and verbiage you use across the record. There’s something fantastical about your lyrics, yet you find a way to ground it so well in personal experience. What draws you to the imagery you use?

I believe we all have imagery we gravitate towards without thinking. We never see the same tree in its exact form, some will notice the color, the smell, the touch, some just want to feel its shade. I did my best to highlight imagery that felt comforting and funny, and I’m unsure what force helped lead me to those instances.

There’s a really lovely literary and poetic quality to your writing. Are you big on reading? If so, what are you reading right now?

Would never argue that I’m someone who is well read, but right now I’m reading a fantastic book called The Body Keeps Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk.

 

Gardening and nature are obviously big themes on this record. What about tending to plants inspires you so much?

Tending plants to me represents intentional time, moments where you leave yourself to take care of another. There are many tasks we’ve got to take care of in a day, but it also feels good to be present within the tiny details.

Many of the influences you’ve referenced are from the 50s through 70s, like Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Vashti Bunyan, and Connie Converse. Do you feel like you have a taste for older music? What are some of your contemporary influences or modern artists you admire?

I love me some 60s and 70s, but there are plenty of bands I geek out about these days. Y La Bamba, Lucy Dacus, The Weather Station, Big Thief, Bedouine, Sheers, Black Belt Eagle Scout, and the fellow homies on the Mama Bird record label.

I have to admit, I actually didn’t know who Connie Converse was until you mentioned her in an interview. Her story is so sad and mysterious. How did you come across her work?

My friend Brandon and I were on our first European tour together, driving through the Alps and Connie captured a time and feeling I couldn’t shake off. She is/was a very inspiring tune maker. There’s a chance she could still be out there.

 

You’ve done tours both with and without your band. Aside from the obvious, how do you feel this change of dynamic effects the music? Do you prefer one type of performance over the other?

Being alone and waking up alone, traveling alone can be romantic the first two days, but nothing beats being on the road with friends. Phil, Lily and Denzel help me feel more human, especially when I’ve been living in my head too long from those solo bits.

You’ve also mentioned singing karaoke at family parties. What’s your favorite karaoke song to sing?

Oh nooooo, where did you hear that?! The secret about me is I can’t do karaoke, unfortunately. I love that it’s a big part of Filipino parties to sing karaoke together, but I’m very bad at it. It makes me too nervous. I’ll always be happy to pass the mic.

I hear you’ve moved to a new home and are going to have some time to stow away this winter. What are you most looking forward to with your time away from the road?

To catch up on all the sleep lost and see if the road returns to me.

Do you have any vision or ideas you’d like to explore next with your music?

I wish I could tell you – it’s going to be a surprise for me as well.


Catch Heynderickx this Saturday, Sept. 29 at Ballard Homestead. Tickets are available now. Revist her whole KEXP session from 2017 below. 

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