SXSW Music Interview: Haley Heynderickx

Portland songwriter waters her garden with anxiety and heartache

Photo by Alessandra Leimer

“When the right person says the right thing in an awkward moment, I definitely grab what they say midair,” Haley Heynderickx explains in her quiet, gentle voice. “I keep a notebook for that.”

The Portland, Ore., advocate of tiny details excerpted some ripe entries as the bulk of her startling debut, I Need to Start a Garden. Released earlier this month, the album bundles Heynderickx’s deft guitar picking, poetic writing, and her swelling, cracking voice. Guitarist before singer, her approach, she explains, involved an interest in rock but access only to a classical guitar.

Both with the breeziness of gentle folk songwriting and electrified, plugged-in rockers, Heynderickx writes songs that are simultaneously celebratory and heartbroken, strikingly relatable but stunningly stated.

“The connecting thread is that a lot of these songs came from periods of needing to go through something, and needing to grieve or needing to move through a new part of adulthood or heartache,” elaborates Heynderickx.

Written in private moments due to Heynderickx’s shyness, often in basements, a contemplative darkness seeps into Garden’s compositions. There’s a palpable air of Joni Mitchell. Heynderickx makes music expansive and ponderous, built on the imagery of a world littered with bug collectors, honeycombs, rotten olives and sour milk, self-doubt, even the shapes God takes.

Asking big questions hasn’t gotten her any closer to the answers.

“I’ve accidentally opened a couple more doors that I didn’t know about, so I feel like I know even less than when I started, to be honest,” she admits. “Which makes me a little anxious – I use that word too much – but it makes me more thankful to be here.”

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Haley Heynderickx, SXSW Music 2018

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