“Going in, we said ‘lets make a bad ass indie rock record with a sound as big and dynamic as we can, without compromising one single heartfelt lyric."
Singer-songwriter Heather Maloney did just that on her newest LP, Making Me Break. Working with Grammy-nominated producer Bill Reynolds (Band of Horses, Avett Brothers), the two crafted and delivered on an artistic vision to merge Maloney’s folk roots with indie rock.
“The sounds I love in indie rock are so lush, and textured, and intricate, like someone spent a lot of time on this, so they must really care,” Maloney explains, citing influences such as Ben Howard, The Shins, and Io Echo. “And as a singer-songwriter raised on folk, I am drawn to lyrics that that are meaningful, intelligent, tell a story, paint pictures… that care. So I just wanted to make an album that cared musically and lyrically. Some sort of a bleeding heart meeting a distant, unaffected, sparkly rock band. That was the goal.”
Maloney’s new music has a definite edge, but it also has a classically trained voice that delivers well-crafted lyrics over a technical arrangement—a combination we’ve recently seen getting mainstream appreciation once more. Suddenly, the term “singer-songwriter” carries serious weight again. Chalk it up to a revival of everything 90s and Maloney’s influence from “those bleeding hearts,” as she calls them, referring to artists’ like Fiona Apple, Tori Amos and Aimee Mann.
“We wanted to make something more relevant, in a new zone.” Maloney wasn’t kidding – she teamed up with producer Bill Reynolds (who moonlights as the bassist for Band of Horses) and an all-star group of players with extraordinary talent, including engineer Jason Kingsland (Iron & Wine, Delta Spirit), guitarist Tyler Ramsey (Band of Horses), and guitarist and sax player Carl Broemel (My Morning Jacket).
Throughout the new musical heights and depths on this record, Maloney’s voice and lyrics remain center stage, truthfully articulating the insights and emotions of growing up, without clichés nor quirks for their own sake.
Maloney’s journey to finding herself as a singer-songwriter took some unexpected routes. She studied classical operatic, improvisational jazz vocals, and music theory for several years in New Jersey, in addition to a brief stint studying classical Indian vocals with a tutor. “My first shows were jazz, in New York City. I love jazz, but it didn’t feel like where I belonged. Neither did opera. I was grasping to find what felt like home,” she says. “I needed to do something kind of radical.”
Maloney found herself at a silent meditation retreat center in Central Massachusetts. She lived and worked there for nearly 3 years, taking vows of silence from seven to ten days at a time. The silence, oddly enough, became conducive to finding one’s true voice. "The biggest motivating factor in writing was probably the experiences I was having in my meditation practice… There was the difficulty of it, the suffering of it, and wanting to channel that into something creative, and on the positive side, the insights that came out of my experiences. In my cottage away from the designated silent area, I just sang, and wrote, and cried. And for the first time, I felt I was using my voice in an authentic way.”
This was the breakthrough Maloney had been waiting for, the first moment she had a reason to get up on stage. Armed with guitar and her fresh sense of purpose, Maloney traversed across the northeast – playing coffeehouses, libraries, and even meditation centers – before eventually getting signing with celebrated independent record label Signature Sounds (Lake Street Dive, Josh Ritter). Maloney’s self-titled label debut followed in 2013, launching her from the small stages of New England to nationwide audiences, sharing stages with renowned musicians like Rodrigo Y Gabriela, Shakey Graves, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Anais Mitchell, among others.
In 2014, Maloney released a collaborative EP with Boston quartet Darlingside called Woodstock, on which she covers Joni Mitchell’s anthemic “Woodstock” - and absolutely nails it. A video of the session ended up on the New York Times website and gained momentum with praise from Graham Nash, who was among the first to cover Mitchell’s “Woodstock” in 1970. The ensuing nation-wide collaborative tour with Darlingiside gave birth to new experiences, emotions, and perspectives. Maloney began to find moments in the van, in hotel rooms and on days off at home to write the songs that would eventually become Making Me Break.
Maloney feels this record is the closest she’s ever been to the sound that’s truly herself. “As an artist I’m constantly changing. But I think we cracked the code on blending the two worlds here,” says Maloney. For now, her distinctive voice has soared a long way from the silent confines of hushed meditation, and into a natural equilibrium of progressive Indie-Folk. Mission Accomplished.