Heather Leigh Holt is a familiar face in Chattanooga’s music scene, where she can often be found performing at Tremont Tavern’s open mic night, playing with her band at the Revelry Room, or interviewing musicians for her podcast, the Open Mic Spotlight. Her love for music began early in school, where she transitioned between the clarinet, flute, and eventually landed on percussion through most of high school. She took private lessons and performed in the drumline and drum corps through high school and college, graduating from the University of Georgia with a major in Music Education. Heather picked up the guitar during her nine years of teaching elementary school music and began attending open mic nights, where became interested in writing her own music. Only six months after she started writing and performing her own material, she booked her first gig and now plays regularly around Chattanooga.
Whose music would you say inspires you most?
Heather: I used to be embarrassed to say this, but now I’m proud to admit that I was obsessed with Ani Difranco, this powerhouse woman who has molded her music career all on her own. Her music is very percussive, and she has her own music label. These days I listen to First Aid Kit, Elliott Smith, and Connor Oberst. Bands like Radiohead and the Shins inspire me because of their chord progressions and how they seamlessly move through a song.
How did you start your band which is named Heatherly?
Heather: I was already going by Heatherly for my solo performances, so I started looking for a bass player. Jesse Jungkurth, a local musician that also owns a practice space in town, volunteered his services. I didn’t know him at the time so we got together to practice and I realized fairly quickly that he knew what he was doing. This project snowballed into something bigger that resulted in a website, merch, and music up on iTunes and Spotify. Recently I’ve been on a hiatus to refocus myself and clear my mind. Because I devoted so much of myself to my band pretty early on, I quickly felt burned out and disappointed that it wasn’t growing as quickly as I wanted it to. I needed time to rekindle my love of music.
What does your creative process look like?
Heather: Usually I don’t have a lot of time between my full time job, creating the podcasts, and performing to write but when I do, I like to sit down with a big chunk of time where I can just write. Throughout the day, I’ll jot things down that mean something to me or resonate with me. When I do sit down, I’ll read those bits and pieces again and piece them together based on what I want the song to look like and match that to music that will help get that message across. I’m writing one song that has an upbeat tune but is juxtaposed with some adult themes to create that intriguing balance. I want to make my feelings clear when I sing my songs.
Tell me more about the Open Mic Spotlight Podcast. Why did you see a need for this in Chattanooga?
Heather: When undaground began a year and a half ago, I wanted to help out. They asked me to create content for their site; specifically, they asked me to create a podcast about open mics because I went to Tremont Tavern every Tuesday night. That was my thing. I saw that there was such a big talent pool that performed there who weren’t widely known around town. Some of my other friends who aren’t musicians don’t even know about them. The show idea came from my desire to connect those two worlds of mine.
After I did the first episode, I realized the magnitude of what would have to go into this project and how little I knew. A few months later, I met with Brett Nolan at the Soundry and asked for his help. He ended up sponsoring me and helped me get this project rolling. I would set the interview lineup and he would do the rest in terms of recording, editing and mixing. Eventually I got my own gear and created a studio in my house. I do everything but mix the podcasts. Trenton Romanini does that for me now. It’s crazy because I’ve released an episode every Tuesday without fail since September.
You never anticipate the benefits of starting a project like this. The artists I interview have taught me so much about music styles and ways of playing that I’m not used to. What’s been successful for some people hasn’t been successful for others. Getting to know so many people has been awesome because it creates opportunities to collaborate with artists you may not have heard of before the podcast.
I have partnered with Kristy Graves, who helps to organize the Chattanooga House Shows, to feature some of the bands that she’s brought in from around the country. I’ve hosted podcasts with Ben Sollee after his concert at the Camp House, Muddy Magnolias, and Roots of a Rebellion. Roots of a Rebellion was a great band to see, and even better to interview because I got to record a live interview while they performed at the bed and breakfast they stayed at, En Route House.
What new projects are you currently working on?
Heather: Ryan Oyer and I are doing a cover album that I think we’re going to call, Under the Influence. This project doesn’t have a concrete timeline, but every couple of weeks we will take turns recording in my home studio; Ryan will come over and record his part while I’m doing stuff around the house, I’ll record my part in later, and then we’ll send them in to be mixed. There’s no pressure to get things down. We’ve also talked about doing a small show to commemorate CD launch. It’s good to do fun little things like that to remind you of why you love music.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to make music their full time career?
Heather: Know what you’re good at. Can you write about music in an appealing way to draw readers in? Can you mix music really well? Do you feel more at home on the stage? Find what you’re willing to spend a lot of time, because ultimately that’s what you love.
Photo Credit: Ray Soldano Photography