We here at JazzMonthly.com would like to thank Dave Wilkes(www.davewilkes.com), an icon in the music business for introducing us to Heather Pierson.
Heather Pierson is a rare artist that has essentially mastered all Genres of Music.
From beautifully improvised Musical Meditations on piano, to being #1 on the Folk radio charts. Exciting live Jazz performances one night... genuine acoustic original music with her trio the next. Captivating arrangements and stunning three-part vocal harmonies will only cover a portion of the endless ability and talent of Heather Pierson.
Please welcome... Heather Pierson.
JM: You are truly an accomplished artist that can write, sing, and perform all styles of music. When did you sense that you have this unique talent? The everyday musician simply does not achieve what you are doing in music.
Heather Pierson: I was really lucky to grow up in a household with parents who loved and enjoyed many genres of music. There was always a record on the turntable, and the selections were all over the map—Allman Brothers Band, Cat Stevens, The Beatles, KISS, Kansas, everything that Eric Clapton ever did (Dad was a huge fan), and then later in the evening, the more eclectic choices would come out of the cabinet—Mom loved her Mario Lanza and Luciano Pavarotti records, and Dad cherished his Pete Fountain and Stan Getz records. And I just absorbed everything, and later discovered my own favorites, which included greats like Joni Mitchell and Oscar Peterson. I've always said that music is a language that is spoken in many dialects, and I enjoy speaking it in as many of those dialects as my skills will allow!
JM: Most artists play one instrument. What instruments do you play and how did you evolve from one instrument to mastering multiple instruments.
HP: I'm infinitely curious about musical instruments, and eager to try my hand at just about anything that'll make a pleasant noise! Piano and voice are my primary instruments. I also play acoustic guitar, tenor banjo, ukulele, melodica, and percussion. While I am most comfortable at the piano, I wouldn't dare say I've mastered it! The stringed instruments are really more vehicles for songwriting, especially the guitar. I still play the old Gibson that was my father's, and the one on which he taught me all the open chords. The tenor banjo in particular came as surprise in my 30s, when I started spending a lot of time in New Orleans, and I fell in love with both the sound and the role of the tenor banjo in traditional jazz music. Some dear friends got together and gifted me with one some years ago, and I'm so grateful that they did! It has connected me even more deeply to the New Orleans jazz traditions in a way that has really inspired and delighted me!
JM: You can write so many different tunes masterfully. Do you have a specific instrument when writing? Where does your creativity lead you first... melody? Chord progression? Lyrics?
HP: I don't really have a tried and true method of songwriting, just an overall discipline to always have my radar up for ideas! I do often begin with a piece of sung melody, without words, or just a single line with a bit of melody, a germ of an idea that eventually grows. Sometimes I find that working out chords on a guitar or uke works best for me, even though I'm much more accomplished at the piano. At the piano, I get overwhelmed by choice, whereas with a guitar in my lap, my focus is much narrower, which can, in a strange way, be very liberating. To my sensibilities, chords support melody, not the other way around, so if a song can be strong and exciting to me with just simple guitar chords behind it, then I know I'm onto something, and I can (or perhaps not, depending on stylistic choices) bring it to the piano for the more complex harmonies or arrangement.
I do write every day, whether it's journaling, working on lyrics, or fiddling with some bit of melody that has come to mind. Like anything else, writing is a practice that needs to be maintained.
JM: You not only perform as a solo artist, you perform as a duo and trio and have some very talented artists in your group. Please tell us more about them and how you developed this exceptional musical blend.
HP: The Acoustic Trio features Shawn Nadeauon bass and harmony vocals, and our friend Davy Sturtevant, who is a sideman extraordinaire—he sings like a bird and can play just about anything with strings on it, which in the context of the trio most often includes mandolin, dobro, guitar, and fiddle. He also plays cornet, and that addition has brought so much of my trad jazz repertoire into fuller life! We can also transform ourselves into quite a rockin' group, with Shawn on P bass and Davy on electric, and our friend Craig Bryanon the drums. This four-piece was the basis for a lot of the songs that appear on 'Lines and Spaces.' Shawn, Craig, and I also have performed a lot as a jazz trio, and I released a record in 2014, 'Motherless Child', with this trio, which includes both jazz standards and originals.
JM: What is your recording process? Take us through a Heather Pierson recording session.
HP: In recent years, I've done most of my recording at a small project studio in Maine called Baked Beans Recording, owned and operated by my longtime friend Alan Bean. I've known Alan since I was a teenager, and he's a dear friend and fine engineer. He and his wife Kim live at the end of a dirt road with a beautiful view of the mountains, with several rooms for recording, great gear, and a beautiful, fully restored Mason & Hamlin. Ideal conditions for creating!
Every record has been different—sometimes, I'll record everything live with very few overdubs. Other times, a grid is laid out and every track is recorded separately. I love experimenting with different methods, figuring out what's best for each song as we go along. I'm convinced that there isn't just one correct way to record, and it's fun to discover all the ways that do work, depending on what each song calls for.
JM: You arranged a broad musical mix to you recent release "Lines and Spaces." What was your concept behind this project?
HP: This record is the most personal one I've done. Every song is in some way autobiographical. Because I have so many passions, musically and otherwise, I wanted to represent each of those passions and ideas and still maintain a cohesive and honest vision. There's sass, there's humor, there's heartache, and there's also celebration and hope. Overall, I hoped to convey the most honest representation of my life so far, in a meaningful and accessible way.
HP: The song is about my childhood piano ('the big brown box') and it's also a story about my relationship with my parents, and about how learning the piano navigated me through some rocky seas growing up. It's about lessons learned, both at the piano and about life, and the music does as much of that storytelling as the lyrics do.
JM: Everyone describing your sound says something different. What is the Heather Pierson sound?
HP: What I aspire to is: 'good music played from the heart.' I leave it up to the listener to know whether or not I've achieved that.
JM: What have you enjoyed most so far about your career?
HP: I've really enjoyed being an independent musician. I don't know if it's the stubborn, only-child, 'I can do it myself' streak in me, but I've really enjoyed creating this music and this career on my own terms, and finding and surrounding myself with folks who share my values and are willing to work as hard as I do to create something meaningful. I've also equally enjoyed the opportunity to share this work with others, and to connect with friends and fans all over the world who find joy and meaning in what I do. What could be better than that?