By Sara Fullerton
Last Thursday, March 1, Portland musician Haley Heynderickx released her first full-length album, “I Need to Start a Garden.” She chose this title because she wanted a “slogan that would make me laugh by the time I’m 60, 70 , 80 — if I’m lucky,” as she told opbmusic.
Heynderickx’s style is folksy with an edge. Haunting vocals pair with spare use of the electric guitar. Her instrumental accompaniment is steady and mostly tempered, but sometimes breaks away like a wave cresting and crashing, building into a guitar solo that softly unleashes itself.
I first saw Heynderickx last December at a Friday night Governor’s Cup show. Alone on the stage with a big electric guitar and a bigger voice, she commanded the crowd when she sang. Even the bartenders were compelled to wait to shake cocktails until the last note of a song hung in the air.
I was hooked by Heynderickx’s voice and her quirky, gentle, powerful stage presence, and have since ventured over to Portland to hear her play. Although she’s touring nationwide right now, she is sure to be back to play local shows again soon. Her shows are a hit both for her musical artistry, and her warm, humorous banter between songs.
Heynderickx has a sound similar to Regina Spektor, and finds inspiration in a range of musicians, from classics like Bob Dylan to acoustic guitar icon Leo Kotke. She has the sort of voice that can repeat a line and infuse it with renewed, evolving feeling in each return.
She told opbmusic that her biggest challenge in producing an album was the one-sidedness of it. She treats live shows “like a conversation,” and wanted to ensure that her record would build the same intimacy. She resolved to record her vocals and guitar live, and produce from there, which lends the album a stark honesty that many others lack.
Delivered through at once powerful and vulnerable vocals, Heynderickx’s lyrics are accessible in both their emotional resonance and simplicity. Never stale or predictable, she paints dynamic images with her words, like, “My name puffs in colors with people I know.” Other moments build visceral impact, like the elegant line, “Is it the pull of my hips that you couldn’t let in?”
The album begins in a soft murmur that builds into a louder, passionate refrain. The first track fades innocuously into the second, naturally transfiguring into a quicker tempo guided by an intricate finger-picking pattern on guitar.
As a writer, she retains a childlike sweetness alongside keen insights into matters that loom large with us all. She masterfully traverses emotional realms and playful ones alike. Her crowd-pleasing single, “Oom Sha La La,” features delightful descriptions of commonplace things like sour milk, olives on fingers and gaps in teeth. She sings that her existence “essentially is a comedy,” and moans, “I’m tired of my mind getting heavy with mold.”
“Show You A Body,” by contrast, is acutely impactful. She creates a chilling atmosphere with descriptions like, “Fate is a sundress ripped at the thigh,” and “a body like a cluttered garage.” An echo of piano notes fall like the contents of a rainstick, and lead into the piercing refrain, “I am humbled by breaking down.”
My personal favorite on the album is “Untitled God Song,” a piece that I think effortlessly captures Heynderickx’s humor, breathtaking vocals, introspection and creative eloquence as a storyteller. Musing with her listeners about God, she builds a vivid character through suggestions like, “Maybe my god has a trot in her walk and her Coach bags are knockoff.”
Whether you’re needing sonic catharsis or a lighthearted melody, Heynderickx is sure to offer it with refreshing earnesty.
The album can be found at local record stores as well as iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.