Interview: Lilly Hiatt Opens Up About Her New Album, ‘Trinity Lane’
"I put it all out there because it's all a part of the record."
"Writing gets me through it all," she quickly admits to The Boot. "Writing and my family, it all helps me pick up the pieces. Not to sound overly dramatic, but I had to love myself through that frail portion of my life."
The portion of her life that Hiatt is talking about revolves around what she calls a "pretty difficult breakup" that resulted in her moving out and living on her own. Where a younger version of her might have turned to drinking as a means of recovery, Hiatt as she is today — several years sober — had to find healing elsewhere.
"I was really trying to take care of myself during that time," Hiatt says. "I was quitting smoking and all sorts of stuff, too. It was a depressed time, but it was all necessary."
Hiatt's writing was spurred by a tour with her good friend John Moreland. Following a West Coast run of dates with Moreland, Hiatt returned home to East Nashville and wrote Trinity Lane.
"That tour was amazing," she says, with a smile on her face. "John is someone I really admire, and the West Coast is just so beautiful. I feel some connection there, you know, since I was born in California. It was wonderful, but it was all so transitional for me, too. I left at a transitional time, and I came back to that same stuff that was shifting in my life."
When her life shifted, Hiatt decided to isolate herself to focus on her writing. As she reflects, she tells The Boot, "These songs were written in a more concentrated amount of time than previous albums. When I'm writing, I take a bunch of time for myself, and this time, I took a lot of time for that."
Fans who have been anxiously awaiting the release of Hiatt's third full-length album likely have already caught wind of some of the personal, intimate details of what's happening in the songwriter's life. When Trinity Lane was first announced, Hiatt was forthcoming about her struggles, openly discussed her sobriety, and she even reflected on the suicide of her mother, Isabella, one year after Hiatt was born.
I opened that door on my own because I was at a place where I was ready to talk about this stuff and be honest about it.
"The label asked me to write a synopsis about the record," she explains, "and, initially, I wrote this really vague thing about it. I read it to my boyfriend, and he said it wasn't very compelling, so I wrote this huge chunk about it where I addressed all of those personal things. I opened that door on my own because I was at a place where I was ready to talk about this stuff and be honest about it, especially because if someone was facing the same struggle, I wanted them to be able to relate to it.
"This was something I wanted to share," she goes on. "It is kind of weird to have all this be a known thing, but I put it out there, so I'm prepared for what comes with it."
Even the title of the album is personal to Hiatt, as it names the street where she lives in Tennessee. But as personal as that might be, she hopes people can find their own Trinity Lanes wherever they're at.
"It's my home, but Trinity Lane can be anywhere," she says. "It can be wherever you want it to be."
Hiatt is obviously aware of what it means to be an artist, to have fans consume every word she sings as they attempt to find their own personal relationship with the music.
"I want to instigate change, and I think there are subtle ways of doing that," she says. "If I tap too deeply into the culture, I can get this nihilistic viewpoint on things. Getting to a dark mental space is not hard for me, so sometimes I have to scale back and look at the flip side, which is my immediate neighborhood and the people around me. How are these people treating each other? How do they treat me? And then I get really inspired by that."
Hiatt also finds a lot of support and influence from within her family, particularly in her father, the legendary John Hiatt.
"We have a really close relationship," she tells The Boot. "He's been my biggest supporter, and not in the way that everything I do is perfect, but more in the way that he really believes in me and pushes me to work hard. I confide in him, I seek his advice, but I also want to learn how to do my own thing — and doing that amidst his success has been a journey."
In addition to those around her, Hiatt gets inspired by the conviction and voice of one of her all-time favorite bands, Pearl Jam.
"Eddie Vedder says you have to stand by your ideals," Hiatt explains matter-of-factly. "You really do. You have to stand by what you think is right, no matter what the popular opinion is. I admire that, and I plan to do that."
You have to stand by what you think is right, no matter what the popular opinion is.
With such a personal record, some might think Hiatt would choose a close confidant to be with her in the studio, or maybe even that she needed to produce Trinity Lane all on her own. The reality, though, is that Hiatt got connected with someone with whom she had no prior relationship, but quickly trusted.
"I didn't know him very well," Hiatt says of her producer, and one-half of Shovels and Rope, Michael Trent. "I immediately felt very trusted and felt like I could trust Michael. That's key for me — I have to work with people I can trust emotionally, musically, all of that. Michael is a wonderful listener, and he's a very empathetic guy, so it was easy to share these songs with him. He added so much to the process, but first and foremost, he really slithered to me ... Everything I wanted to do, he let me do it, and then built upon that."
Trent didn't spend all his time producing, though. On "Everything I Had," Trent and his wife Cary Ann — the other half of Shovels and Rope — contributed background vocals.
"She has such a strong voice, so to have her imprint on that track means a lot to me," Hiatt says.
As she prepares to hit the road in support of Trinity Lane — "We have over 40 shows coming up," Hiatt says. "I've never had that many shows in a row" — Hiatt doesn't seem too concerned about what's on the horizon.
"I'm not looking ahead to another album," she notes with a hint of relief in her voice. "Sure, I've started to write, but it's fun to be in this place I am right now because there's no pressure."
With no pressure, Hiatt imagines who might be a dream songwriting partner — second to Eddie Vedder, of course.
"I would love to write a song with Lucinda Williams. I feel like we would have a great time together," she says. "I met her once, and she is such a kindred spirit. I feel like we're the same kind of girls."
Until then, though, Hiatt will keep penning her own songs.
"Right now, I'm writing here and there, with the reality that people may never hear these songs," she admits. "And you know what? That's actually kind of liberating in a way."