As her name suggests, HT Heartache writes songs that tilt toward the dark side, with a voice that recalls the sultry tones of Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies. Relatively new to the world of songwriting, this L.A chanteuse has come out of the chute with an impressive debut album, produced by friend and musician Gus Black. American Songwriter chatted with the singer about her musical upbringing, and why geography doesn’t always necessitate one’s sound.
What’s the story behind the name HT Heartache?
I actually have a bizarre personal pact to not talk about the significance of the name HT Heartache. What I can say is that I wanted a moniker and this name just became it. There was never any period of deliberation; it just sort of arrived out of thin air.
When did you start writing songs, and when did you write the songs that appear on Swing Low?
About four to five years ago I had my dad’s guitar on permanent loan, and was beginning to tinker around and learn some chords. Around that same time the landlord of my apartment in Silverlake asked me to perform at the opening of her new bar, the Hyperion Tavern. I guess she had caught wind of some deranged notion that I was a musician. Two weeks later I had written my first song, “Hyperion Tavern,” and played my first show. Total set time: 2 minutes. Swing Low is a collection of my very first songs, roughly written between 2005-2008.
Swing Low has a consistent sound throughout from a production and instrumentation standpoint? Who produced the album, and what was that process like?
The making of Swing Low was definitely a grassroots effort. It was produced by my good friend Gus Black, whom I got to know through singing on his 2008 release, Today is Not the Day…, and Sam Johnson (from L.A.’s Shadow Shadow Shade). We basically set up shop in a rehearsal space in Glassel Park, and ate Subway sandwiches for a few months.
Your music seems to draw from a range of influences, from country to pop to soul. What was your musical upbringing like?
I have always loved depressing music. I was obsessed with [the Counting Crows album] Recovering the Satellites in middle school; I think that record set the tone for the rest of my life. My parents worshiped Emmylou Harris, which probably had a lasting effect as well. Socially, I had some music mentors who really influenced me in the direction of Motown and Lowrider oldies in high school. Smokey Robinson blew my mind. As a general rule of thumb, my favorite song on any album will be the slowest, saddest one.
For being from L.A., you sure sound like a Rainy Day Woman. Please explain.
I guess everyone is inclined to make the kind of music that they love, whether it is geographically appropriate for them or not. I would definitely characterize, not just my style, but my relationship with music as a rainy day one. When I’m happy, I don’t feel myself drawn to it much. It’s at my low points that I’ve always gotten the most out of it, both creatively and as a listener.
Your voice reminds me of Margo Timmins’ from the Cowboy Junkies. Who are some of your favorite vocalists?
Well, I do love the Cowboy Junkies, so thank you. The Trinity Sessions is one of my favorite albums. Stevie Nicks, Marianne Faithfull, Johnette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde are a few female singers that I really love. The most obvious common thread being that they are all super badass.
Having self-released Swing Low, how have you gone about marketing the album?
Well the record has been released digitally for a couple of months, and so far in that time I have just boldly and blindly been putting it out there, with no particular strategy to speak of. The last month has been spent rehearsing with my amazing band, getting ready for series of shows to promote the album. The official release show is happening April 21 at the Silverlake Lounge in Los Angeles.
Any advice for aspiring musicians out there that want to make music their career?
Not yet. Talk to me in 10 years.