It’s been about two years since Lilly Hiatt put out a record and in that time, she’s done a lot of living.
From tours with bands like the Drive-By Truckers to jaunts of her own — like the one that will bring her to The Open Chord in West Knoxville on Friday night — she’s soaked up each experience and encounter with a writer’s eye for minutiae. Along the way, she told The Daily Times recently, she’s gathered material for a new record that’s in the mixing stage.
“I can tell you I’m really excited about it; it’ll be just a little second (before it’s released), but it’ll be worth the wait,” said Hiatt, who worked with Lincoln Parish, formerly of the rock band Cage the Elephant, on the new effort. “I think it explores some new terrain. There are a lot of different things that I’ve observed these last few years, and it’s been hectic for me. I’ve seen a lot of change, and I’ve spent a lot of time with artists and friends, so there’s a lot about others on this record — a love for cities I’ve seen and the people in my life, and the changes that have gone along with that, internally and externally.”
Given the scope of her last two albums, 2015’s “Royal Blue” and 2017’s “Trinity Lane,” expectations are high for Hiatt, who’s a member of a Americana roster of outside-the-mainstream Nashville heavy hitters. She counts among her peers women like Amanda Shires and men like Jason Isbell, and despite her famous last name — her father is Americana icon John Hiatt — she’s established herself as an independent voice who can hold her own with swaggering guitar and a visceral delivery.
She started playing guitar around the age of 12, formed her first band in college and released her first album in 2012. It was “Royal Blue,” however, that put her on the map as a rock ‘n’ roll kid who draws on banging guitars and driving percussion for a sound that’s reverb-drenched gold and takes its cue from everyone from Lucinda Williams to Loretta Lynn.
She upped the ante on “Trinity Lane:” The title track is a starkly honest tale of her time on the thoroughfare that gives the album its name, a gutbucket garage rocker that’s runs on high-octane ferocity. The second track, “The Night David Bowie Died,” is a plodding, Crazy Horse dirge that stems from the personal loss she felt when the rock icon died in early 2016.
The entire record, in fact, was made during a period of personal turmoil, but the next one is a glimpse at life on the other side, she said.
“The last few years, a lot has happened in terms of my career, but also in terms of my life,” she said. “I’ve been on a lot of tours with different artists — our tour with Drive-By Truckers really changed my life. But it’s also about being in love and being in Nashville and growing up a little more. I’ve had a lot of life-changing moments the last few years.”
Perhaps more than any, she’s found a comfort zone in being on the fringe of Nashville’s mainstream sound. It’s not a lonely place, given the critically acclaimed and fan-worshipped peers with whom she surrounds herself. If anything, she added, it’s a place of enormous freedom and the ability to plant a flag of her choosing.
“I absolutely feel akin to my peers, but essentially to any misfit on the fringe,” she said. “I relate to those folks, and I think they relate to me, and we all relate to each other, all those people who are kind of not sure of their place. That’s the beauty to me — the beauty of not living up to anybody else’s expectations.
“First of all, who knows what those are? You have the liberty to kind of dabble in all these areas that you’ve wanted. You get to try new things and meet people and try new experiences. I can dip my toes in whatever I want, because those fringe folks, we do have that adaptability.”
And by not being beholden to record label focus groups or industry executives, she can speak her truth. It won’t be with the sharpened blade of a band like the Truckers, but it will be entirely her own.
“I’m not out here screaming Donald Trump’s name, but you’ve got to stay true, whatever that means,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of messages in the music about morality and femininity and humanity and socioeconomics, woven in an everyday manner rather than some blanket stance. I try to say my part in a way that evokes thought rather than shuts people out. That being said, I have a strong moral compass, and it does mean a lot to me.”