Heather Eatman Plays in The Living Room: An Interview
by Jeanne Kalosieh
After all that’s been written about Heather Eatman and her music, no one fails to mention two things: the red guitar and spiky hair. Keeping the tradition alive, that big, bad red-lollipop-guitar and the spiked coif were on hand March 3rd at New York City’s cubicle of a bar, The Living Room. It was so packed that Eatman’s own manager couldn’t squeeze in.
Eatman played some new songs in the pop-rock-folk vein. Actually, Eatman mainlined some new songs in the pop-rock-folk vein. Tentatively titled Blue Roses, the new album is currently being recorded with a full band: Dave Tronzo on guitar, Mike Visceglia on bass, Bill Dobrow on drums, and Lee Feldman on piano. While trying to come up with a name for the band, Eatman figured if she named them “Fragile” or “Do Not Bend,” they could have stickers made up, courtesy of the post office. You can bet that punk rock wishes it had thought of that idea first.
Eatman admits trying to squeeze a novel into a simple pop song, and fairs well with songs like “On the Boulevard,” “Mine,” and the apocalyptic “Phone Call to Jesus.” Here’s a peek inside the spiked skull of Heather Eatman.
FEMMUSIC: Okay, so you mentioned “Blue Roses” as a possible title. Any symbolic connection to The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams?
Heather Eatman: Maybe there’s an unconscious connection — I’d actually forgotten there was that reference. I like Tennessee, but am more familiar with Streetcar Named Desire than The Glass Menagerie, but now that you mention it …
The idea to use that title comes from a song I have called, “Blue Roses” that I never quite finished to my satisfaction. The chorus is “Trailing broken hearts like blue roses …” I am still not 100 percent sure that I’ll call the record that.
FEMMUSIC: The sound a little more driven than Candy & Dirt. What’s the backbone of the new album, and where did the tremendous band come from?
HE: The new album is going to be much more about a band that plays together live than the last album was. I didn’t have a band together when I started to make Candy & Dirt, so we started with solo performances — me playing guitar and singing the songs. We then added drums, bass, lead guitar to that in a way that we thought best served the songs the way I had performed them.
This next record will be approached differently. The arrangements will be a direct result of me and the band working together to find the best way to tell the stories and support the melodies. I am very blessed to be working with these musicians!
It has been a long process to find the right players whose natural inclinations take the music where I want and need for it to go. If you have the wrong players, everything is a struggle — you’re constantly having to push people in directions they’re not equipped or necessarily willing to go in. With the right people in place, it’s still work, but it’s much more fun and inspiring for all involved! As far as finding these guys, it’s been trial and error mostly! But when you find someone who really clicks with the music you know right away …
FEMMUSIC: One really intriguing thing was when you mentioned Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow and how you’re a “solitary person who believes in the sacredness and the seriousness of the creative process.” It took strength not to stand on the table and shout “AMEN!!” Why do you suppose there’s such a want for co-writing among female singer/songwriters?
HE: Well, it’s not just female artists that are urged to co-write, and sexism is not the only thing behind it, but it is one of the elements. You know, that, “She can’t do it by herself, she needs help from a guy,” kind of thinking that a lot of record company people have. Bottom line is, they want hits and they don’t care how you get them, but the conventional wisdom is that two (or more) heads are better than one. I don’t necessarily agree, but I don’t think you can make generalizations (i.e. “no co-written songs are as good as those written by individuals,” or something like that).
I would say that the most important thing is that a sense of magic and inspiration be maintained throughout the writing process – whether alone or with a co-writer. If the writers aren’t emotionally invested in the song and are just greedily trying to come up with some piece of trash that will sell, I think the song will come across stiff and lifeless.
FEMMUSIC: Do you think songs “lose” something special for one (or both) of the writers involved? Can you still say it’s “your” song?
HE: It depends. I’ve been unhappy with much of the stuff I’ve co-written in the past. The songs have felt like bastard children I’ve wanted to disown mainly because lyrics got in that I didn’t feel right singing. With the new song, “Too Wild” that I wrote with my friend, Bruce Brody, I wrote all the words myself. That’s probably why I still feel very, very connected to it.
FEMMUSIC: A while ago, a certain rock star said something about writing a song with another person is more intimate than having sex with them.
HE: I don’t think it’s MORE intimate, but it’s pretty intimate — if you’re going to make the song all it can be, anyway. You have to be willing to be vulnerable and share ideas without knowing whether they’re crazy, stupid or brilliant. You have to give up some control and trust that whoever you’re working with is not there to judge you or laugh at you, but is someone who wants to write a great song as much as you do. Many times, it’s not a good match and the two of you don’t really click, but you’ll never know if you don’t try.
I think that, at very least, it’s a good exercise. The worst thing that can happen is that you can’t wait to get home and write a brilliant song by yourself!
FEMMUSIC: Who would Heather Eatman most likely choose to write a song with?
HE: Let’s see … The answer to this question would probably be different any day you asked me. Today I choose … John Lennon.
To keep tabs on Heather and her band, go to www.HeatherEatman.com. In the spirit of what FEMMUSIC stands for, here’s a new Eatman lyric to send you off: “This horse is much too wild to ride. The man who sold her to you lied.”