Haley Heynderickx’s ‘I Need To Start A Garden’ Is An Utterly Brilliant Folk Debut


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Haley Heynderickx’s debut album I Need To Start A Garden is more of a hymnal than the chore implied in the title. In fact, in Heynderickx’s world, starting a garden isn’t a need as much as it is a mission, a methodology that starts somewhere deep within, that must come to fruition in pursuit of growing and nurturing things outside herself. Raised in the heady green of Portland, Oregon, it’s no surprise that Heynderickx would be drawn to the quiet magic of the outdoor world, but what is surprising, perhaps, is the powerful way she translates those inspirations and impulses into songs that reflect an inner world rife with quiet revelations and deep-seated wisdom.

On “The Bug Collector,” bugs are naked creepy-crawlers who invade a perfect morning, and the melody prickles and crawls like an unexpected, scurrying insect. Garden‘s clear standout and centerpiece, “Worth It,” rages and blooms over seven minutes, cresting and crashing like a wave, unafraid to get wet in the depths it braves. Earlier favorites, like the sparse opener “No Face,” are half-lullabies, shot through with a longing that never gets a name, and never needs one. Heynderickx wields her voice like a weapon, going feathery, threadbare in a way that will evoke some of Angel Olsen’s best caterwauling, but she twists it rich and velvety when the moment calls for it, conspiratorial and close like Cat Power used to be.

All these gorgeous acoustics wouldn’t feel as generous if they weren’t supported by lyrics that pick up rocks to look underneath them, and phrases that plant seeds in unforgiving soil, only to hit you weeks later with their worth. On the nonsensical “Oom Sha La La,” Heynderickx runs through a laundry list of everything that she perceives to be wrong, either with the world or herself, before building into the album title’s towering solution, here, a proclamation: I need to start a garden! Spend enough time with this brief, eight-track record, though, and you’ll quickly see what she has been growing is more potent than anything the earth has produced — these songs come from the heart, and are so full of light they never touch the ground.

I Need To Start A Garden came out last Friday via Mama Bird Recording Co., and during Haley’s busy schedule leading up to the release she took the time to correspond with me over email, briefly, about her background as a songwriter, the songs contained within her debut, and how submitting to an NPR contest kickstarted her career.

It feels like your submission to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert last year was a huge part of coming into your own on this album, can you talk a little bit about what sparked you to submit?

Oh man, it was pure curiosity. The idea of sharing music outside of Portland blew my mind, you know, connecting with people around the world in a subtle way. I loved watching those Tiny Desk Concerts, you even felt a part of it by submitting. I think it was a small voice backed by an adrenaline rush of, “what if?”

Having watched lots of NPR Tiny Desks, I always liked seeing artists in their natural element, it’s inspiring. That’s where many of us start after all — the lonesome room. In my process at least, there’s a lot of solitude in creating. Now NPR took that to a whole new level by making it a recorded and shared process, and my gut told me I should give it a go.

And tell me a bit about the video, above, that you submitted, what was going through your mind when you set that up and recorded it?

Pure adrenaline, for the most part. Wondering if it would change anything. Wondering if it meant anything at all. Wondering if the twinkle lights in the background were overdoing it [in the 2015 submission, below]. Wondering if I’d ever shake Bob’s hand one day.

You’ve released one EP to my knowledge before this debut album, but when did you really start getting into singing and writing songs for yourself? Was your family musical?

My parents were always huge music lovers. Neither are trained, per say, but they happily bought their 11-year-old daughter a $20 Yamaha guitar from a garage sale. I still remember it. It had a hole kicked into the back, sharp edges too. I loved that thing. I started writing for myself in high school but never imagined sharing them in the way I do now.

At the end of “Oom Sha La,” the fervency of the line “I need to start a garden” that builds and builds at the end is so compelling and relatable. When I hear it, for myself, I always interpret it as like an encapsulation of all the things I need/want to do to take care of myself, but how that is such a struggle for me. What is your relationship to that process and what does it represent to you aside from the literal aspect?

I love leaving that line up to interpretation, especially hearing what it means in your words. It’s been difficult for me to dominate a particular thought for the title of the album… but, to give it a try, this line signifies growth to me, but it also involves doing the work to create that growth. To give broad examples, I’d say it involves asking for help when you need it, being active within a community, studying your dreams, practicing trust both in yourself and others.

On “Bug Collector,” I loved the paranoia you imbue in the other person in the song. Can you talk a little bit about the impetus behind writing that one and conveying that, along with your own desire to help smooth it over?

I had a crush at the time. I didn’t know where to place all these thoughts. One day, before work, these feelings had manifested as images of catching bugs around the house so my crush would not have to — I took my guitar to work and finished it up on my lunch break. The song is about the little details in which we can show our love for someone.

Who would you cite as influences, musically? Did you listen to a lot of folk music growing up? I think the way you use your voice, letting it warble and flicker in and out is something that it might take a lot of courage to begin doing. Was that a process for you or did you find it easy?

Hmm, that’s hard to say. I’ve been trying to act well-read when it comes to folk music but the obsession didn’t hit hard til college. I grew up in a small town where pop radio dominated the airwaves. I know an embarrassing amount of early 2000’s R&B that I still love. My dad showed me some ’60s stuff here and there, but how my musical style all tangled together is still a mystery to me. Right now, I could tell you I’ve been listening to a lot of Connie Converse and Mimi & Richard Fariña.

When it came to fleshing out the song with a full band, did you take them from bare-bones folk songs written on your own and add other collaborators, or did you have other players you were working with?

All the songs I wrote on my own first and then built them out with the band over the years. Two tracks were experimented with and created in the studio, but the rest had a steady direction.

How did you get involved with your label and the studio guys who helped you mix and master the record?

It’s a long story, but mostly involves the pure chance of the right people being brought together at the right time. I knew about Mamabird Recording Co. ever since I was 18. A friend suggested I should send them an email and offer to open for some of their local acts (they didn’t email back, ha), but I stumbled across those guys many years later and our friendship felt serendipitous.

Zak Kimball and I were brought together by mutual friends, I knew immediately he’d be the right producer for me. He’s incredibly thoughtful and it felt like we were speaking similar languages. He even mixed the darn thing even though it was driving him mad — I am deeply thankful for his attention to detail. Timothy Stollenwerk and Adam Gonsalves mastered the final tracks and they’re the best in town! Portland is lucky to have them.

You mentioned in an old interview that one of your songs is about your parent’s first date, which track is that and what is the story behind it?

“Fish Eyes!” My parents met in a Christian Pen Pal service. My mother was working in Hong Kong and my dad flew out to meet her. Their first meal together was soup. My mother ordered fish head soup and nervously slurped up the eyeballs in front of him which freaked him out. They get shy when I tell this story, haha.

You also mentioned wanting the album to feel like it was live, and as intimate as that, like a tattoo. Why does music feel that way for you, how does it function in your life?

A live take to me feels honest. If it were up to me, I’d prefer to just tour and share the songs live. I was very intimidated by putting tunes into a permanent format, a way where you couldn’t read people’s facial expressions. Also, the extra frills are mighty tempting in a studio setting, and that just feels silly after a while to me. I don’t want to spend several weeks of my life debating tones for noises I couldn’t make live to a group of people. I don’t want to be hiding behind anything, I want to serve the songs to you as they were created. It’s been a joy weaving each one together.

I Need To Start A Garden is out now via Mama Bird Recording Co.. Get it here. Uproxx is throwing a showcase for Haley this Friday, 3/9 at the Ace Hotel as her first live show in Los Angeles with Vikesh Kapoor. Doors are at 7 PM. For more info email RSVP@UPROXX.com. Stream the album below.

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