Like most bashful women, there’s something endearing to everything Haley Heynderickx does and downplays immediately after. The Portland-based singer-songwriter twirls her way through beautiful folk numbers in her spare time while working as a teacher in an after-school music program. Both jobs position her as being selfless, caring, and curious—traits that shine through as being facts when we talk on the phone.
Though she only has one album out, her understated debut I Need to Start a Garden, Heynderickx has caught the eyes and ears of several critical outlets ranging from NPR to Pitchfork. The record sees her pen odes to the refuge of plants, the nurturing possibilities of strangers, and the unconventionality of spirituality. While she’s still shocked her album allowed her to stick a landing in the ears of Americans beyond of her backyard, Heynderickx’s hard work shouldn’t be viewed as a happenstance. I Need to Start a Garden took plenty of effort and patience. For one, she went through three different producers in a search to find the best sound for the record, including a stint where she recorded in a barn with horses and then scrapped the sessions because one of the horses passed away, a death she couldn’t help but believe was a bad omen. What got her through the recording process, though, was a stream of older women who offered and taught emotional support through words and actions.
“Luz Elena Mendoza in Y La Bamba was one of the first women who told me to dig my claws into the ground, to be grounded in pursuing what I love to do,” says Heynderickx. “She also taught me to put up a stop sign when negative thoughts come flooding in, to physically tell them to stop. That allows more room to let love in. My mom is a great figure of a strong, confident woman who goes about her day. I wish I could describe what I know is already a part of me now because of her. And there’s strangers, too: people in grocery stores, people at concerts, people at work.”
To get to know Haley Heynderickx a bit better, we interviewed her for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. With I Need to Start a Garden as the prompt, her answers show how gentle yet strong Heynderickx’s words are—an on-record sound you can hear off-record at the Sinclair this Monday.
1) “No Face”
DIGBOSTON: If you could permanently remove one of your facial expressions, which would you pick?
HEYNDERICKX: Wow, that’s a good question. Because I don’t know what kind of facial expressions I make, I’m not sure which to pick. My loved ones know what I look like when I’m lying or nervous. I don’t know what I would get rid of, but I do know that I can look silly. I’m really not that funny in my daily life. I get out the funny version of me onstage.
2) “The Bug Collector”
DIGBOSTON: Can you name three of your favorite bugs?
HEYNDERICKX: I would say the praying mantis, a ladybug, and a potato bug. I called them roly-polies as a kid, the little armadillo ones that turn into a cute marble when you pick them up with your hands. The praying mantis is one that is still translated as a weird spiritual bug in different languages. In German it’s called gottesanbeterin. It’s someone who prays to God. I don’t study bugs, but I just like them. So yeah, I like the inherent symbolism of the praying mantis, ladybugs just cheer me up when I find them on the street, and roly-polies just remind me of being a kid.
DIGBOSTON: How do you like your coffee?
HEYNDERICKX: [laughing] I like them in small doses when I’m stressed or need to stay awake. I would say with a friend, though, as that’s the best way to have your coffee.
4) “Worth It”
DIGBOSTON: What’s something you recently decided was worth the hype it gets?
HEYNDERICKX: It’s funny you ask. The day of my release show for my album was March 1st. I was moving stuff out of the house I was leaving forever because I was going to be on the road for five months. At my release show, I was tired from moving. The next day I was on the road. I worked at a music camp, so that’s where I began. I’m at the three-and-a-half-month mark right now. At the two-month mark without going home, my body was so tired and I was feeling very low. I wondered how many trains I [have] fallen asleep on, how many planes I’ve missed, how many cars I daydreamed out the window of. But now, because of friends on the road and having the band with me again, I’m feeling better. Getting to share these songs, even though I’ve played the same songs 70 times playing a similar set, it really is worth it. I love that at these shows I’m meeting 11-year-old girls and their mothers. There are so many different waves of people I wouldn’t have met if I stayed in Portland. So I feel a lot of gratitude for touring now.
5) “Show You a Body”
DIGBOSTON: Do you have any body positivity role models? In what ways do they influence or empower you?
HEYNDERICKX: Yes, many. I don’t want to call anyone out, but I can think of many close friends and women in my life who have had body issues in the past. I can’t think of any women in my life, actually, who haven’t experienced body issues. Especially when media facets are pushing at you, it can get to you. I’ve met some incredible women who accept what their bodies feel like. I’ve met a lot of people who care about health, good food, going out, and taking care of yourself. I don’t want to call out any friends like, “You, dear friend, are my body positive role model! I want the world to know it’s you!” because I don’t want to make anyone feel shy. But yes, the women I hold close to me are doing the best to take care of their bodies.
Maybe I’ll call out a friend, Johanna Warren. She just did a 40-show tour which was a medicine music tour. She went to 40 different towns, all on her own because her jerk of a tour manager bailed on her the day before the tour began, so she did all this driving across the US on her own—from Portland all the way to New York. She met up with different herbalists in each town, which takes a ton of emailing to gather locals, to open for her. She would have people in the community sell herbs or supplements they made themselves. That’s incredible. She was promoting health, body, and mind while traveling and playing music. She is incredible. Her music is beautiful and worth checking out!
6) “Untitled God Song”
DIGBOSTON: In your opinion, what’s the best argument proving there’s a God and the best argument disproving there’s a God?
HEYNDERICKX: I’d love a second to think on this one, because it’s quite big. These are very good questions. They’re clever. [hums] Proof that there is a God is that season where you jump into your first warm body of water near sunset time. Extra points if you’re naked.
Disproving God is … hm. Baby seals eating plastic in bodies of water? No, I should think of a better example. There are plenty of sad examples. This makes me sad thinking through options. How about the general proof that Mother Nature is hurting?
7) “Oom Sha La La”
DIGBOSTON: When is the last time you sang along to a song with nonsensical lyrics?
HEYNDERICKX: Ludacris’ song with “move bitch, get out the way.” For some reason, Ludacris has been haunting us these past two weeks of tour. Everytime I turn on the radio, “Move Bitch” has been playing. It feels good to finish a set and turn on the car and hear that, especially because we keep the volume too high [laughing]. Ludacris is haunting us, and it’s been a lot of fun. Even walking outside of the door, the car that drove by blasting music was playing “Move Bitch.” I’m not sure what it means, but it keeps happening. The early 2000s are still loud in song.
8) “Drinking Song”
DIGBOSTON: What are your top two songs to put on a jukebox when hanging out at a bar?
HEYNDERICKX: Man, I haven’t been to a bar with a jukebox in a long time. I can’t think of one. Could I change it to when I’m drinking at home with friends? Because if so, I would say “Atomic Bomb” by William Onyeabor. I really recommend that song if you haven’t heard it, as it will put you in a good mood. If I’m with really close friends, then I would put on Lomelda records. Whenever I’m at a jukebox bar, there are so many songs from the ’50s and ’60s that I can never choose one. I get too excited. At home, I’m more decisive, so picking for that is a bit easier.
HALEY HEYNDERICKX, NICK DELFFS, LINA TULLGREN. MON 6.18. THE SINCLAIR, 52 CHURCH ST., CAMBRIDGE. 8PM/ALL AGES/$15. SINCLAIRCAMBRIDGE.COM