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

Pop Music Critic


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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.

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