HEAZZA Delivers a Soulful, Transformative Performance on "The Dark" (premiere + interview)

Photo courtesy of the artist

Chicago-based vocalist HEAZZA blends pop and neo-soul on her new single "The Dark". She discusses finding a song's emotional core.

HEAZZA is a Chicago-based vocal sensation who will issue her self-titled debut EP on 4 October via the Audible Paint imprint. A recipient of the Windy City's 2018 Individual Artist Grant, HEAZZA has crafted a spell-binding EP that accentuates her vocal and compositional prowess.

Though R&B, pop and jazz are woven into her stylistic backdrop, HEAZZA is at times also reminiscent of vocalists such as Jarboe and Myrkur, performers who commit to deep emotional intensity that transcends the traditional role of vocalist and melody while never sacrificing the pure connection the listener finds with the human voice and a searing narrative/song.

On "The Dark", culled from the upcoming EP, she works with jazzlike piano figures, marrying them to tendencies that wouldn't sound out of place on a Radiohead recording. The deeply emotional tune, she says, was the slowest among the record's material to develop. "I couldn't figure out the bridge," she recalls. "I kept coming back to it. I had the line, 'I hold your hand in the dark', but I didn't know what that meant. I thought of a peer of mine who overdosed on heroin. There was an epidemic of overdoses in Chicago for a period of time. I thought about the person holding hands with the drug. It was fun and first, but then it overtakes you."

The tune became an obvious one for video treatment as HEAZZA contemplated its meaning. "I really wanted butterflies in the video because they go through so much change to become what they are, only to live such short lives," she says. "I thought that would be a good representation of the song's different phases. It could be a love song or a sad song. Some people might hear it as a religious song, with God holding their hand and walking them through life. I like to leave things open to interpretation."

The road, as she sings, may have no clear end but with a tune such as "The Dark" lighting the way, we can find some sense of comfort, even hope.

Did you have a lot of formal training as a singer?

I guess you could say I've always been singing. I'm like a little jukebox. I started singing as soon as I could talk. I started taking classical lessons when I was 14 and did that almost until I was in college. I was accepted into Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan for classical singing. But I didn't want to be poor my whole life. But here I am today, still doing music! [Laughs.]

How often do songs begin with you just singing a line around the house?

All the time. I don't know if this is a cliché for songwriters, but I wake up in the middle of the night all the time with a lick in my head. I'll think it's the greatest thing I've ever heard. I'll sing it into my phone when I'm half awake. When I wake up in the morning, I'll think, "That's bad!" [Laughs.] Or I'll hear it and say, "I like where that's going." But sometimes I'll hear other songs and come across a chord change or a phrase and start singing in the same key and change it up. Occasionally I write whole songs like that. "Winding Forward" happened because I had this line for the bridge. I wrote that in an hour or two, the rest was done in about 10 minutes.

I just heard this old interview with George Jones, and he was saying something about singing a song 100 times if necessary to find out what it was really about. It struck me that he was thinking about it as an actor might think about his lines. I wondered if you approach singing as something where you're really trying to find an emotional core in that way.

Yes! If I don't connect emotionally, then I don't sing the song well. I don't sing at all like Celine Dion, but she can make anything sound more emotional. I just did a cover of "Rhinestone Cowboy" the other day. The lyrics are actually super deep. It's such a fun, poppy song. But to me, it's really about a sad, washed-up man who isn't making it. He wants fan letters and calls to get bookings, but he doesn't have that. So, yes, I have to have a connection to what I'm singing.

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