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"Most Of All"


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Heather Horton: Interview

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Photo by Niva Bringas Concert Photography

Hawaiian born, Chicago based singer/songwriter Heather Horton is no stranger to the stage, having performed since the tender age of four. It should therefore be no surprise this self-taught violinist and guitarist, graced with a smooth, sensual voice, is said to be at her best while onstage.

With the release of her debut album "Most Of All" a thrilling, evocative mix of melodies, harmonies and styles, it seems Ms. Horton is destined to fulfill her dreams. "Most Of All" is an album that is vocally and instrumentally mature and varied enough to reach a broad audience while also hitting the sweet spot for her most ardent fans. We're excited to offer Cover Zone readers the chance to learn a little more about this dynamic artist.

TCZ: When did you first realize you wanted to make a career out of music?

Heather: I think one of the "problems" I've fortunately come to realize is that I never looked at music as a career, but without consideration, the only way to live my life...as an "adult" it has helped in my ambition to realize that it's helpful to recognize what I "do" as a business. Money has never meant a great deal to me, so it was strange when I first started getting paid to do what, to me, was like breathing.

TCZ: Perhaps as an early glimpse into your successful music career you were a self taught violinist by the age of four. Can you tell us how you discovered these natural talents and what if any influences your parents had on your music at that tender age?

Heather: Ha ha!! That was funny reading that! Actually, the order was, piano at 4, violin at 8, mandolin shortly after that and guitar was just 4 years ago...My first guitar I got at 5 was a red Sears special plastic childís guitar that I turned over and tucked under my neck like a violin...I had seen Itzhak Pearlman play and started begging my parents to play the violin...my sister was taking piano lessons at 8 and was 5 years older than me...I would sit down and imitate her lessons and play to our family stereo...though my parents fought for special permission for an instructor to take me at an early age, it wasn't until I was 12 that they understood that I was playing everything, including my lessons, by ear.

I had started taking violin lessons and 2 years later, my instructor figured it out. It had been my secret because I was so ashamed and thought that I just wasn't smart enough to read music. Even then, I was grounded and couldn't leave the house until I could tell them all the notes on the staff...in their defense, to this day they feel guilty that they didn't understand what they were dealing with. Being adopted, I was certainly the poster child for the difference between nature and nurture...my adoptive family had no natural music passion or abilities which was the only way I knew how to communicate.

TCZ: As such a gifted and talented child musically what were the pros and cons of recognizing your talent so early in your childhood?

Heather: It was just always so confusing to me that the rest of the world didn't communicate through music. My parents were very intellectual but had no experience with the expressive energy I exhibited...I was often punished for being a 'show-off'...I suppose that's when other parents would have been thrusting their kids onto Star Search...Ha ha!!!

It would be fair to say I was a bit repressed. I always felt that if I could only win a prize in the science fair or become a Merit Scholar like my other siblings, that I would be loved...(enter the tiny violins!!)...that was not going to happen. The pros, I would have to say are the obvious. I've always known who and what I am. Because I always had outlets (albeit, mostly in my bedroom with my stuffed animals), I have always had peace of mind about my well being, my soul, my values!

TCZ: How old were you when you composed your first song and what does it mean to you today?

Heather: I've been "makin" stuff up since I was 3, though I started "naming" and performing "stuff" when I was around 8. Today, I'm thinkin' that I really wish that I had those documented to look back on and analyze! You know, back then {and of course now!) I thought that I was fooling people with all this "talent"...I was like, "Man, these guys are EASY!" I was sort of like the house monkey when company would come over- my parents figured out that their friends were very impressed by me and would have me give "concerts" in our living room.

As I would play my "compositions" or whatever came to mind, I knew somehow, that everything I was playing was a re-arranged sequence of notes that I had heard somewhere before....much like how all musicians, whether they care to admit it or not, have been doing since the "dawn of music":)...

so coupling down to the next question, though I somehow scored "brownie points" with my parents, it is difficult for me to believe that I was special, or brilliant when it comes to writing or creating...just happy and relieved that I knew how to get "stuff" out of me.

TCZ: Do you remember the first time you performed your own music live in front of an audience and what do you remember most about that experience?

Heather: So again, though I was taught humility to a severe degree as a child, I will never forget the euphoria I had from the reactions I would get from our living room performances...it was before I started the violin performances that I would sing and dance for anyone and everyone who entered our home.

Singing is what I always knew I was supposed to do. It took me leaving home at 17 to admit to anyone that I would be a singer...that would have gotten me laughed out of town...where I grew up, you were either to become a lawyer, a doctor, a professor or if you were REALLY crazy a classical instrumentalist. I moved from Madison, WI to Minneapolis, MN to "claim" myself a singer. I never looked back!

TCZ: Can you tell us about your various gear and what is the single most important factor to you when purchasing a new instrument?

Heather: What a great question! My 'gear' seems to grow every month...man is it getting HEAVY!

I play an electric violin by Zeta...the first one I had (in my trunk when my car was stolen) I got so that I didn't damage my more valuable acoustic violin. An electric violin can take a beating and is SO much easier to replace if you have to...My most recent purchases (Christmas and birthday gifts) have been upgrading my bows, a Fishman pick-up for my acoustic and getting rid of my Monster cables and replacing with working cables! HA!

I use a cheapo acoustic pre-amp just so I can get a more natural violin sound for the otherwise tin sounding tone of the direct electric...I play a Takamine acoustic guitar which I love...and use a basic Sure 58 when I need my own. I promised myself that now that I've been doing bigger shows again, especially with Michael McDermott, I would start using the single most important piece of equipment created...my Sensaphonics in-ear monitors...Michael Santucci, their creator, is my savior.

A few years back, I was "singing" (screaming) to make ends meet for a BLAST of a cover band named Quantum Leep, though our stage volume alone began the destruction of my vocal chords...it lead me to quit smoking, quit dairy, quit obnoxiously loud environments where I strained to talk...basically my beloved social life and infatuation with cigarettes ceased but along with my in ears, built my voice to where it's still growing stronger to this very day. Though it will sound oh-so-mellow dramatic, I know that I would find a way to die if I couldn't sing. So I thank Michael Santucci in everything I do, record or otherwise.

TCZ: Your music seems to reflect a wide range of styles and influences both, vocally and instrumentally- is that a conscious choice for you?

Heather: What a complimentary, humbling statement, I am a music frrrrrrrrrrrreak. I know a lot of people say this about themselves but man, I am embarrassing sometimes and find I can't even save myself from almost combusting with joy with the vast music I have sponged and sopped and sucked up in my lifetime, I am aware that I could explode any minute. I hope I don't today!

So yes...or no, I have no choice but to reflect the spectrum of music I've been exposed to. This consists of everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. This of course can be a curse in an industry that insists you have a very categorized sound, but you know damn well I wouldn't trade it for ANYTHING. For that alone, I consider myself the luckiest girl alive!

TCZ: In 2005 you released your debut album, "Most Of All" featuring just ten tracks, which you described as frustrating due to your extensive catalog of songs. Can you tell us about that process and which track selection was the most difficult for you and why?

Heather: Yeah, it's funny because somehow according to my bio, that 'extensive' repertoire is 50 songs, it's really more like 500! It's really more frustrating to know you have a budget. How I'd have loved to spend what we spent on the entire album on just one song:). Shania Twain's first record they spent 1 million bucks for the whole record, her second effort (with Mutt Lange) they spent 1 million on the vocals alone! This is one category where I have had to learn the "value" of money. I suddenly cared when it came to the quality of a musical effort and production.

Aside from that and much more importantly, if you speak to any songwriter, they will somehow impress on you that each song is like a child. So this is where it's devastating to have to leave any of them behind. I am very emotional when it comes to that. Well I'll admit it, I'm an emotional whacko on any front!

TCZ: Tell us the story behind the fan favorite and title track, "Most of All."

Heather: This song came after a looooooooong string of pain-stricken "you done me wrong" songs! I woke up one day and said, you know what? "I'm gonna make a list of all the things I love and make me a love song"! So I started with what reminded me most of my Gramma George, Tucson sunsets, the mystic energy of the Monarch butterfly (where I swear her spirit is), Fall, my 45 collection and sharing each morsel, driving long distances alone, wearing your lover's oversized shirt, getting 'dolled-up" and so on.

TCZ: Which track did you find the most difficult to perform live for the first time and why?

Heather: Each song evokes the same amount of vulnerability when "debuting", though there are two song performances that really stick out in my mind as shaking me beyond tears. The first was while performing "Most of All" at a show here in Chicago. The "Most of All" CD had been dedicated to the memory of three beautiful interns that were on the front production of the CD at Rax Trax in Chicago. Their lives were so tragically taken in a house fire that summer.

One of the boy's, T.J. had just come from an engineering school in Arizona and we had shared many love stories of Arizona. The song "Most of All" (which evokes visions of Tucson, AZ) was the first song we tracked and was when I bonded with this up and coming aspiring producer. I was starting the song one night when his mom walked up to the stage with a letter to me that had "T'J.'s Mom" written on the envelope. I was anything but expecting to meet her that night especially while playing T.J.s song. I couldn't stop choking while singing and almost had to stop the song altogether. Again this sounds like it's bordering melodrama, but it was really so inexplicably moving to me.

The other was at a sound check in Nashville. I was to be debuting a song I had written for the recently departed and most inspiring man I've met in this decade, Buddy Killen. Buddy was one of the most successful songwriters/song-plugger/musicians to come up in the golden days of the Grand Ole Opry. People in Chicago told me that it was a risky song to play because nobody would understand who he was much less the song.

I felt so strongly about this song, I wanted to literally scream to Heaven to Buddy if he was the only one to hear it. After my sound check a woman with tears in her eyes asked me who wrote the song about Buddy and could I get her the lyrics. She was the wine supplier for the venue ( 3rd and Lindsley) and was friends with Buddy's widow, Carolyn. I had actually printed out lyric sheets to the song and made scrolls as gifts for the audience that night, just in case even ONE person "got it." The woman asked if I would sign a copy and my hand shook as I wrote my most humble wishes to his widow. I could have ended my music "career" on that "note" alone.

TCZ: Were there any staples you avoided or vocal exercises you practiced to protect your voice while recording?

Heather: I am so lame! As I stated before, I quit everything and anything in order to give my voice more durability, strength or longevity ( that means even no chocolate and cheetos my favorites). The only thing that gets me today because it ALWAYS catches me off guard is TALKING TOO MUCH...phone talking -especially in my loud car- is very damaging. Talking over any noise will thin your voice out, this is a HUGE problem for me 'cuz I get so excited about talking with people, it takes a real friend to turn my off switch and shoo me out the door, off the phone etc.

TCZ: With such an eclectic choice of sounds and styles on your debut CD how did you choose the track listing and why?

Heather: This makes me giggle...I wish I had a more exciting answer here, but all I did was examine which were slow, medium and fast(er) songs and tried to mix up the tempos in the order...boooooring!

TCZ: How does your extensive versatility both vocally and instrumentally enhance your stage show ?

Heather: Waaaahooooey! I can only put it one way, it gives me more ways to "get down". I am a very visually emoting performer, I was designed to emote. Better put, I am an emotional freak with a very tight grip on my own reigns. Any way I can find to express myself, is a bonus. The guitar has been HUGE for me though people seem to be more interested in the violin since it's more rare to see on stage. I've always "sang" through the violin before I got the guts to claim myself a "singer"!

TCZ: If you could pick just one track off "Most Of All' that you feel represents Heather Horton the musician the most, which track would that be?

Heather: I think that that's a song that changes from day to day, cuz after all, I am a chick WAAAACK! I'm pretty proud of the violin solo and production in "A Million Tomorrows", from the pizzicato to the screamin violin interplay with the guitar solo. But as far as playing any of the tracks live, it's different every show. What tends to be a "crowd pleaser" is not necessarily indicative of what the most difficult or technical song is.

TCZ: Give us a thumbnail description of Heather Horton the musician.

Heather: A complete hack, because I have had the "luxury" of my ear, it has made me lazy and I don't ever practice. But because of this, ironically, makes my ear stronger and only allows me to be genuine and more spontaneously passionate.

TCZ: Who are the greatest influences in your life today and why?

Heather: Musically, if you mean literally "today", I would say Michael McDermott, Keith Urban, Mary J. Blige and Patty Griffin. In day to day life, my yoga instructors, my animals and anything or anyone that will make me laugh-like Ellen Degeneres or Conan O'Brien. Otherwise, I'd have to say my family and friends, right?.

TCZ: From your long list of influences which performer if any influenced you the most, who would that be and why?

Heather: O.K. just the meanest thing you can do to me is make me narrow that down! As a PERFORMER or as I say the WHOLE reason I do what I do today, I give equal credit to Elton John, Freddie Mercury, Elvis Presley, Robert Plant and Prince. They all possess the ability to be wild with abandonment, being so comfortable about bringing out their true design from within. Absolutely no holding back. Absolutely no fear. Extremely colorful.

TCZ: There are a number of ways fans can experience your music on-line. Can you tell us about that?

Heather: I just found out from a 12 year old that I'm on iTunes and doing rather well! I only know that cdbaby.com has "Most of All" and has siphoned out the songs to a million other servers! All great news to me as I am the worlds worst self promoter...do you know a good manager? HA!

TCZ: What does 2007 have in store for Heather Horton fans? Any upcoming tours? Videos?

Heather: I recently started splitting my time between Chicago and Nashville. I have a place there now and spend 1/2 the month there. I'm doing all that I can to meet as many people as possible-musicians, industry folk, the whole shabang. My selling point is my live show. To get people to your live show is a humbling and brutal task. I've decided to really "go for it" and face all my fears by throwing myself in and not giving in. I've already made great strides in Nashville. It's been very exciting, scary and CRAZY...and like the saying goes...."if it were easy, everyone would be doing it"...though in Nashville it does sometimes feel like everyone is 'doing it'! HA HA!

TCZ: Is there anything we haven't covered that you would like to add?

Heather: Itís very humbling to have people ask questions about you. I am always so extremely stunned to know that there are people out there who actually are interested in me and where I "come from". This is no exception...thank you so much in supporting the "undiscovered" and shedding light on their dreams and journey.

Interview by GWGS © The Cover Zone March 2007

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