In the spring of last year, Portland’s own Haley Heynderickx released her full length debut album, I Need to Start a Garden, garnering the attention of critics across the country with its sensitive songwriting and folk-inspired instrumentation. On October 30th, I had the opportunity to see Haley Heynderickx perform at Mississippi Studios downtown.
Heynderickx’s guitar playing is unique; a hybrid fingerpicking style that was seemingly influenced by John Fahey, a pioneer of a style now known as American primitive guitar. Much of her unique sound also stems from her eclectic use of various guitar tunings, some of which are very unusual. Although known to play on both acoustic and electric, Haley played the entire show on an electric guitar, stopping after every other song to change her guitar tuning. These intimate moments between songs were filled with playful jabs made by bandmates Lily Breshears (keyboard and backup vocals), Denzel Mendoza (trombone), and Philip Rogers (drums). The accompaniment of her original band that recorded her first album allowed for the live performance to echo the perfection of the studio version, only with slightly more passion.
Grounded in folk tradition, Heynderickx continues to cover her influences, from Bob Dylan to Jackson C. Frank. But it’s Haley Heynderickx’s lyrics that remain a cornerstone of her talent, ranging from themes of relationships to feelings of self-worth. A distinctive feature of her lyrical style is how her lyrics often blend surreal images with tangible descriptions, like on the song “No Face,” a nod to Hayao Miyazaki’s character from the film Spirited Away:
“Tell me what’s wrong here
Is it the bridge of my hair
Or the back of my skin
Is it the pole of my hips
That you couldn’t fold in
Is it the bridge between worlds
That makes you feel alone
Well I wish that I had known
Well I wish that I had known”
Heynderickx’s haunting voice perfectly fits her somber and cryptic lyrics. But every song of gloom is matched by an equally playful and optimistic one, such as the nonsensical “Oom Sha La La,” and a bittersweet favorite of mine, “Thoughts of An Anxious Twenty Something.” If you haven’t, I recommend you give Haley Heynderickx a listen. While it may take a while to get acclimated to her musical style, over time I’ve learned to appreciate her songs more and more.