“You have no idea what this has done to me lately,” Lilly Hiatt sings in the chorus of the title track of her new album, Lately. It’s a timeless lyric, but one that takes on new meaning as the world continues to deal with and learn from the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The experience we’ve had, individually and collectively,” Hiatt tells The Boot over the phone, “it is something we’re going to be reckoning with for quite some time.”
Much of Hiatt’s own reckoning over the last year and a half has come in the form of writing new music. After releasing her last record, Walking Proof, on March 27, 2020 — as the United States reacted to the earliest stages of the pandemic — Hiatt began to record demos of new songs. Her intention wasn’t necessarily to put together a full album, but for an artist like her, that was inevitable.
“I don’t think I really had a plan until we had about seven or eight demos,” she admits. “At that point, I started thinking we could really make this into a record. To be honest, I really just wanted to start recording because I was bored and sad. And then it became more than that.”
“More than that” turned into Lately, a beautiful collection of 10 songs that finds Hiatt at her most honest and mature, with her lyrics leading the listening experience like never before.
“I’ve never made an album like this before,” she explains. “I kind of did this over the late fall and early winter, even into the spring. I did it in layers. I started out just making demos with my guitar and vocals at the studio with [co-producer and engineer] Kate Haldrup, and then we added drums and bass, then we added keys, then we added pedal steel. We did it in waves, jumping off of the demo tracks, really.”
Hiatt admits that it was a unique experience for her because, usually, she does her vocals last in the recording process. Instead, with Lately, her words and voice served as the beacon for the rest of the band to follow.
“My vocals set the tempo,” she says, “and that was pretty cool.”
She pauses for a moment to think about that, and adds, “Writing this record was the only thing I had to do that made me feel okay.”
With Hiatt’s writing as the foundation for the rest of her band, Lately stands out as a forceful document that represents the current times while pointing forward to all that’s possible. Though there are moments of somberness throughout, Lately is more concerned with hope than anything else.
“I don’t want to bum anybody out,” Hiatt admits. “It means a lot when people connect to a song. I talk to a lot of people, and everybody’s shook in one way or another, but they’re moving forward.”
Hiatt finds herself moving forward, too, not just in her recorded music but in her live music, too. Since the summer began, she’s been on the road, and she has dates scheduled well into 2022. After being away from touring for so long, she’s found new life in playing for real, living, breathing crowds once again.
“It was difficult to face the loss of touring and all of that, but now that I’m kind of back on the road a bit, I’m reminded what this brings out in my spirit,” Hiatt says. “I did miss it a lot. Not just the road, but the experience of connecting with people constantly. That’s really invigorating, and it hasn’t felt weird to get back to playing live shows. It’s felt good. It’s an overwhelming joy.”
That joy — more than any loss, pain or sorrow — reigns supreme on Lately. Because of that, a lyric such as “You have no idea what this has done to me lately” becomes more of a reason to move forward than to dwell on the past.
Hiatt considers the power music — not just hers, but all music — has by being able to provide hope and glimpses of wholeness.
“I hope,” she says, “this album is good for the soul.”