“…And you are reminded of just how strong this medium is and yet also how little it has to do with you.
You realize that it’s not just about you.”
~ Halie Loren
There are few things more beautiful than an artist who has come into her own. Unapologetically and undiminished by outside forces convinced they know better than she what’s best for her career, best for her “success.”
When Halie Loren comes out on stage and stands before that mic, she shimmers.
It doesn’t matter the size of the venue, or whether the dress she is wearing that night is short and flirty or flowing and romantic. Some artists spend their entire career trying to define themselves and make themselves unforgettable. Loren accomplishes this with the first notes of the evening, low and sultry and stretched-out, as if savoring the slow, sweet taste of each before she relinquishes them, note by note, to her audience.
No wonder that The Jazz Station here in town booked The Halie Loren Trio (Matt Treder on piano, Sean Peterson on bass, and Rob Birdwell on trumpet) for their two back-to-back Valentine’s Day concerts, the first of which became immediately sold out.
Recently, Loren took time to sit down and chat with me about the evolution of her most recently formed band, Halie and the Moon, as well as what it was like starting out as a young woman of eighteen and nineteen who dared to eschew advice from a male-dominated music industry, choosing instead to dream up and forge her own path, in an environment that continues to be ever-changing, evolving, and even volatile.
INTERVIEW WITH JAZZ-POP SINGER, SONGWRITER, HALIE LOREN
Eugene, Oregon ~
On the evolution of Halie and the Moon:
“I definitely do a variety of things with my group, but with Halie and the Moon it’s all original jazz-pop music.
Daniel [Gallo, Loren’s partner and the band’s guitarist] and I started making music and writing songs together all the way back in 2012, and eventually formed a quartet, but we didn’t truly fall into our sound until 2015, when we added the cello part.
We thought, wow, we didn’t know exactly what was missing when we were just a quartet, but it seemed rather obvious when we crossed paths with [the original cellist] Katherine. It was really her talent. Besides being an amazing musician, she is just a lovely person.
The cello has now become a pretty intricate part of our arrangements. Once we added it, we wanted to use it as much as possible, because it is such an emotive instrument, and the songs just wouldn’t be the same without it.”
The nature of our music is one that takes on the quality of dreaminess and lushness. To me, nothing really speaks to that sort of dreamy, lush quality quite like the cello.
One of the things about performing is that it’s so in-the-moment. It’s like this ephemeral thing. It’s a total presence-of-mind.
On the Collaborative Process:
“Daniel, our guitarist, has been the primary songwriter. So he and I will often play around with the songs, beginning with a point where they’re mostly just guitar and vocals. From there, they get flushed out as we take it to the rest of the band. And then everyone transforms the song.
The process is quite organic. Daniel, or sometimes it’s me, or both of us, whoever the songwriter is, often has a very strong idea of what kind of feeling we are trying to evoke. The song comes through with a very specific vision and we try to honor that.
But other times we have more of a blank slate and initially play the song for the band in its simplest form, and then the rest of the band starts adjusting the song and sometimes the vision emerges in this very democratic process with everyone contributing their part of the song.
Sometimes the rhythm section transforms the song from Daniel’s and my original composition, and we even like that song better.
I would say that for me it’s a blend of both the very internal experience of just wanting to express what I’m feeling inside, but also as the lead vocalist for the group.”
Connecting with an audience:
I feel strongly that a big part of my role is as storyteller, and so my song also needs to be received. For me to feel like I’ve done my song justice, for people to understand what it is I am envisioning, I always want to evoke a feeling…create something tangible, sharing something that moves me with the intent of hopefully connecting with and moving somebody else.
How the present cultural climate Influences their music:
We are a product of our culture, so I don’t know whether the music we are making is a response to our more cynical culture, or that we are actively seeking to make honest music and are not super concerned if we’re seen as a hip band. It’s actually ok if we’re seen as tragically un-hip in our earnestness. I think we’re a group of good-hearted people, writing and recording and performing for the love of music and beauty. We’re very aware of the power of music in terms of its power for good.
She began singing as soon as she could talk.
“I have vivid memories of even at age three, being completely enthralled by music, and constantly making up my own songs. My parents noticed it when I was very young, but I didn’t consider it my life’s calling until I was a little older, like ten, and saw the difference between singing for my personal enjoyment versus singing in front of people. How different a way that is of experiencing music.
I started taking it seriously as a possibility for my life’s path by age fourteen.”
Singing became Serious Business.
I was torn because I loved performing and singing so much. But even at that age, I was aware of the possible pitfalls of making it a career and the anxieties of trying to make a living creating art. I was afraid of that overshadowing the joy of making music. So it wasn’t until I was in my 20’s and realized I could potentially make my own path and not necessary adhere to the path others thought I should go down, that I decided I’m going to live where I want to live and make the music I want to make, and if that doesn’t work out, well, then I would consider plan B, but until then, I’m just going to see what happens.
“I recently moved back here from living in Nashville, where I lived for two years just out of high school.
I came back to Oregon where my family was living, and took a bit of a break for about a year. I had a good long think about what role I wanted music to play in my life, and I started trying out different things.
It became clear to me that my personal definition of music success was different from other people’s.
I wanted to keep my joy of music at the forefront. And I’ve been pretty much able to do that ever since.
It was around the time I was recording my first album, which was around 2006, so I was 21.
I don’t think it was a conscious choice as much as an internal shift. I didn’t set out to rewire my brain. I think part of it was that I had been around enough people and heard enough stories through my teen years and in my early 20’s.
A lot of people had lost their joy through trying to achieve other people’s vision of success. I knew I didn’t want that to be my life.
[quote]”Music is a tough career for pretty much every musician I know, but I think that the most tragic stories are the ones where people have lost sight of why they got into music in the first place.”[/quote]
“I didn’t want to fall into the trap of seeking approval from those in power in the music business. And following trends and following the advice of other people rather than honoring my own creative process.
In Nashville, there were constantly people, sometimes with really good intentions, but I was only nineteen, eighteen years old, and people were telling me how to figure out how to get signed on a record label in less than a year or else I’m going to be less marketable. That I had to get signed on while I was still young.”
Agism in the Music Industry:
“There’s definitely an ageism in the music business, especially in that town. There were all these teen acts that were being signed left and right. It was kind of like pop music, where it is all about youth. And [the people advising me] wanted me to be successful because they thought that this would be my ticket to a golden career, but to me it felt like prison, that I had this expiration date on my music, and it was too much, and it made me really depressed.”
“I thought, this can’t be the death of my music career: me turning twenty or twenty-one! It can’t be that that’s how the music world has to work. But of course that attitude is pervasive. But when I made the decision to try to do it a different way, that really freed me to not only enjoy my music more, but to be more comfortable with myself. And I began to see that those boundaries are just constructs; they are flexible, and you can work outside of them.”
Music in a Volatile Marketplace:
“I think that for one thing I was coming of age in an era where things were changing drastically at every turn. The old way of getting music out to an audience was suddenly crashing down with the advent of music printing and the age of the internet and independent musicians being able to directly access their fans and potential fans. It was this burgeoning thing. It was like the Wild, Wild West, right?
We still don’t really know. It’s constantly changing. That was definitely the beginning of a new era, an exciting but challenging time to be an independent musician and still have a successful career. I think that if someone’s going to be able to find their niche now, there’s going to be a lot of hard work involved. Everyone has to forge their own path these days, which is both exciting and daunting. There’s a lot of risk, and sometimes there’s a reward. and sometimes there’s not a lot to show for it.
On Self-Managing a Music Career:
I know I can still grow a lot and explore other paths toward growing my career, even as there’s no certainty. There are more tools out there now, so anyone who’s willing to experiment with the technology available as an independent artist has a much better chance of making it over someone who’s kind of waiting to be discovered, because that just doesn’t happen any more. The music industry has become very artist-driven. A lot more is expected of artists now; we have to be our own promoters, often times we self-record, produce and sell our own music. A lot of artists self-manage.”
The best part of having a successful singing career?
“Getting to travel to all these fantastic places in other parts of the word, in particular with my jazz pop band. I’ve only been with Halie and the Moon for a relatively short time in comparison.
And I don’t think anyone has ever been prepared for the reality of what it’s like when someone comes up to you after a show and tells you, in a totally vulnerable way, how much a particular song meant to them, or that it comforted them, or reminded them of something very powerful, and they start crying, and they want to hug you, and you are reminded of just how strong this medium is and yet also how little it has to do with you. You realize that it’s not just about you. The music has only so much to do with you as the creator of it; it’s just as much about how its received by someone else, and the alchemy of their internal experience that creates the song. How music can connect people in this extremely heart-to-heart way, and the mystical power of that. I mean, even without words, music can connect people who have language barriers and cannot communicate with each other any other way, but can share the same feeling with this song. Just how beautiful that is, and in moments like this, I guess I realize just how much we all need music.”
Halie Loren is an American jazz singer and songwriter from Sitka, Alaska. She has recorded nine jazz albums, three of which reached number one on the Billboard Japan Top 20 Jazz Albums chart. Her debut album, They Oughta Write a Song, won best vocal jazz album at the 2009 Just Plain Folks awards, and in 2010 became Japan’s second highest-selling jazz album.
Butterfly Blue, released in 2015, was Loren’s seventh jazz release and second number-one Billboard Japan jazz album. In a 4 1/2 (out of 5) star review, All About Jazz reviewer C. Michael Bailey noted that “Loren brings that voice, her compositional and arranging skills, and a damn good band,” and praised her daring choice of standards.
NPR reviewer George D. Graham cited it as one of the best albums of 2015. From his review: “If you are looking for an appealing jazz-influenced female singer-songwriter, there are a lot of outstanding chanteuses from which to choose on the music scene these days. Halie Loren’s new album underscores her place in the ranks among the best of them, and the variety on her new album provides extra appeal.
Loren tours with her trio and performs with orchestras and big bands in Canada, Japan, China, Italy, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Haiti.