The Hippo


May 24, 2020








Heather Maloney

When: Friday, Oct. 13, 6 p.m.
Where: Currier Museum, 150 Ash St., Manchester (enter and check-in via Beech Street side door)
Tickets: $25/advance at ($30/door)

Side door spotlight
Songwriter kicks off Currier music series

By Michael Witthaus

 Whether recounting the pain of her parents’ divorce when she was 4 years old or questioning the choices of adult life, Heather Maloney’s songs are often personal and revealing. To step into the spotlight and perform them, however, Maloney needed to step outside herself.

Maloney didn’t set out to be a singer-songwriter. She studied classical vocals and music theory, hoping to become an opera singer, but paralyzing stage fright made that unlikely. 
In her twenties, Maloney set aside music to live and work at a Barre, Massachusetts, meditation center. There, journaling led to poetry writing; songs followed naturally. When the time came, she found that performing them for an audience was strangely undaunting.
Her experience at the center helped “make it really clear that it’s not about me at all; when I first brushed up against that reality I didn’t even need courage to get on stage,” Maloney said in a recent phone interview. “I felt like this is totally not personal. It’s not about proving anything or being liked; it’s literally about getting up and sharing something that seems beautiful or important.”
Holding confessional songs like a mirror to listeners is therapeutic for Maloney. 
“Seeing what comes back ... in a large way, that makes it not about you at all,” she said. “Your ego can be built on thinking you’re awesome, or thinking you’re awful and terrible things only happen to you. I think what talking and sharing experiences does is make you see that’s not quite true.”
Maloney is equally deft as a storyteller. The charming “Eighteen Fifty Five” tells of a couple waiting “a lifetime of days” before being photographed — a fanciful thought in this age of selfies. She manages to combine both on “Hey Serena,” written about reconnecting with a childhood friend and discovering she worked as a stripper. 
The woman, who moved away around the same time Maloney’s mother and father were uraveling, represented “sparkly childhood years that seem untouchable and perfect,” she said. “Discovering that she uses her body to make money in a sexual way it was ... such a juxtaposition.”
Writing it down exposed a myriad of conflicting emotions for Maloney. 
“There’s all kinds of empowerment that I can’t necessarily judge or even understand from woman to woman,” she said. “Basically, what I’m saying is I’m confused about why that’s empowering. It’s a super vulnerable song for me.”
But the questioning nature of “Hey Serena” isn’t uncommon, she added. 
“Most of my songs conclude that I don’t understand the world, I don’t understand myself, I don’t understand others,” she said.
Maloney has released three albums. The most recent, 2015’s Making Me Break, was more collaborative than the first two. Producer Bill Reynolds (Band of Horses) recruited the cream of the regional alt folk scene for the sessions. 
“My backing band  was a bunch of people from bands that I’ve loved for years, and I ended up with a record that sounded more or less like the bands I loved in many ways,” she said. “It was fun, but it was a lot bigger of a sound than I’ve had.”
A change of gears is planned for her next effort. 
“It’s really stripping down in a large way into something that’s a lot closer to singer-songwriter; I can’t say what it is, but let’s say I’m turning inward,” Maloney said. “I’ve been writing like a mad woman; there’s like 35 songs, so it’s high time that some of them get recorded.”
An upcoming Manchester concert, the first of the Side Door Music Series at Currier Museum, will showcase some of the new songs. Maloney will be accompanied by singer-guitarist Ryan Hommel. 
“We’ve worked out a really fun set that we’ve been touring the country with. It’s very harmony-rich,” she said. “We’re taking a lot of inspiration from duos we love like Simon & Garfunkel, Civil Wars and Milk Carton Kids. It flows in and out of intimate singer-songwriter moments, storytelling [and] hootenanny. .... It’s a fun, dynamic show.” 

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