Earlier this year, back in April, I had the pleasure of working alongside Nashville’s own folk rock nerd indie darling Hetty. At that point, she told me the album (a concept album!!!) on which she was working was tentatively going to be released sometime this summer. At the time, I promised her, I would blog about the album when it was released.
This is where I keep my promise.
FIVE QUESTIONS (OR IS IT EIGHT?) WITH HETTY
JON: Good afternoon Hetty! Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we talk about your new album, “In Search of the Sea,” I have to ask… Why one name? Without Google I think I can only come up with a handful of female singers who go by one name — Shakira, Cher, Madonna, Kei$ha, Björk — now Hetty. Ooh, I forgot Beyoncé — can’t forget Beyoncé. Tell me about your decision to go monomynous.
HETTY: My first name is so unusual that I thought I could get away with it. But I have found out there is an Indonesian singer also named “Hetty” so our Spotify accounts are all mixed up together. I am trying to fix this.
JON: Thanks. Makes total sense. I wonder how the Indonesian Hetty feels about it. …Rihanna! Sorry. I remembered another one…. Okay, anyway, moving on…You told me at one point that day when I first met you how you came up with the concept for “In Search of the Sea,” but why don’t you tell my readers. And, two part question, why a concept album? And, three part question, which came first — the sea theme — or the idea to do a concept album about something?
HETTY: Yeah, the Indonesian Hetty is probably like, “who is this white girl trying to take my name??” Maybe we will have a sing-off one day. As far as your first and third question…
JON (interrupts): It’s not three separate questions — it was three parts of one question !!! Haha.
HETTY: As far as your first and third question… Many years ago I started noticing that many of my songs mentioned the sea so I decided to start doing it intentionally and begin writing towards a concept album.
HETTY (continued): The sea is such a big mystery and I think it symbolizes longing and adventure and maybe even calling. Also, there’s a painting by Robert Gonsalves — who unfortunately recently passed away — called “In Search of Sea.” I think it’s a great symbol for what the album is about and that’s where I got the idea for the title. If you haven’t seen it you should check it out. Why a concept album? I love concept albums. I’m a big nerd about story and I love for things to fit together and have beginning, middles and ends. Some of my favorite albums are concept albums, like The Decemberists’ “The Crane Wife” and “The Hazards of Love,” Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” and many of Sufjan Stevens albums. It’s hard for me NOT to think in terms of concept albums. I actually am writing towards three new ones, currently! I like having several projects to work on at once and when one gets “full” I’ll start thinking about recording it. Some of them are very loose concepts, the others more tight. I do the same thing when I’m thinking about a story, when it get’s to a certain point in my head, then I can start the writing process.
JON: I do that with my screenplays. I’m always thinking/collecting snippets for the next four or five. Once there’s enough that i can see all three acts (just as you like to see the beginning, the middle, and the end), they go on the “official” list, where I assign them a firm start date, and an intended completion date. The official list always has my next projects, in the order my brain needs to conquer them. And I am always writing whichever one is in the first slot. <><><> I have heard of Gonsalves, but not seen “In Search of Sea.” I will definitely seek it out when we are done here. <><><> The concept of concept albums have always fascinated me, and you’ve named some of the more recent best of the best. “The Crane Wife” is truth and art and everything. <><><> I love learning about how a person’s brain works, and their process — so your answer about the next three projects, was kinda in the neighborhood of my next question. The real (ahem) Question Number Three is this: Similarly to how you described how a collection of ideas becomes “full” enough to record that project, explain how for you, a song’s initial flash of inspiration becomes “full” enough to turn it into an actual Hetty song.
HETTY: As far as when a song is finished, I consider both the practical side: when the words, melody and chords are all there, make sense, and gel; and the more mystical side: is this song saying what it was meant to say? Is it accurately representing the emotional kernel that made me start writing the song in the first place? If I can say “Yes” to all of that, then it’s finished. My poetry professor in college explained the emotional kernel of a poem like a ghost in the room–no one else could see it so you had to throw some words on it like a blanket to reveal it to others. I really like that metaphor.
JON: Ooh, that’s good. #BlanketTheGhost — I love that. Inspiring. Which leads to my next question. Since I’m a film guy, I have to ask. There are literary references/inspirations sprinkled throughout “In Search of the Sea,” tell my readers about the first one that comes to mind–but then talk about a film reference or two.
HETTY: When I was writing “The Sea is Calling Me” I kept thinking about Legolas’ obsession with the sea in The Lord of the Rings but I couldn’t remember what exactly he said about it. I started googling around and found “Legolas’ Song of the Sea” which he sings after the Battle of the Black Gate. That’s where I took the line “I will leave the woods that bore me…” I especially loved and resonated with that line because I grew up in the woods in a log cabin, so it felt very true to my story. Although unfortunately I am not a wood elf. And then just the other day I was reading the Bible and the verse of the day was Matthew 19:29 where Jesus says, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” And I just loved that he mentioned leaving fields specifically, which is very similar to the next line in my song, “I’ll forget the fields behind.” So there’s an example of a quote that came first and I wrote it directly into the song and then a reference that I found after I wrote the song but that seems to fit right in as if I had planned it.
I love film. When I’m writing a song or a story, I’m often picturing it in my mind’s eye like a movie. As far as film references go, I do quote “The Sound of Music” in my song, “Monk.” The story of “Monk” is very similar to Maria’s story in The Sound of Music. It’s kind of this idea of wanting to be a nun and give not only your life to God but also the chance of romance. But Maria falls in love, which she realizes is a calling in itself (or that’s how I perceive it). I guess “Monk” is the other side of the coin: it’s the girl singing to the monk-in-training, “Hey, I’m not trying to make you stop being a monk but give a life with me a chance.” I think that idea is really endearing, merciful, and also pretty dang funny.
JON: Totally funny. Okay, the final question. Ready? I’m requiring you to dig deep into your inner-Hetty for this one. I’ve read a ton of positive feedback online about the new album, and I also know when you play live you receive instant accolades in the form of applause. I’m sure both types of recognition of your artistry are appreciated sincerely. So talk about the difference between the two — in terms of emotionally and/or psychologically — how each form of praise makes you feel.
HETTY: That’s a hard question. I think it’s difficult to answer because I haven’t actually played a lot of live shows. Also, being in Nashville, it’s been difficult to find a venue that isn’t country-centric. My songs are very lyric heavy and if you aren’t listening then you probably won’t “get” them. But when the audience is listening and really into my songs, that’s the most fun thing ever! I actually really like performing, even though I do get nervous, because it’s just so immediate and immersive. It’s like being on a roller coaster — which come to think of it, I actually hate. However, reading positive comments about my album has been so encouraging. I think at this point in my career I feel like my album better represents my music than my live performance. I think that’s simply because I’m still figuring out how to perform my songs live, what instruments to use, etc. All of that is part of the learning process and I welcome it. This next year I hope to really focus on performing and play at least one show a month and find some friends to play with me and sing backup. I long for other musicians to collaborate with, I think that’s a great way to grow and learn.
JON: What a great inspiring note on which to end this interview — encouraging growth through collaboration. I love that. Thank you for opening up and indulging my questions, Hetty.
HETTY: Thank you, Jon–they were insightful and fun to think through.
BONUS CONVERSATION SNIPPET:
Hetty recently released her first full-length video in support of “In Search of the Sea,” for the song “Hey Annaliese,” so I asked her to tell me a little about that song.
HETTY: The song [“Hey Annaliese”] is about the sea–it’s about Annaliese having sailed for seven years and she is coming home. So it’s just the opposite of most of the other songs about leaving and going on an adventure, but it is “sea themed,”
Watch “Hey Annaliese” by clicking here.
Purchase “In Search of the Sea” here.
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