Heather Pierson dives full time into music career

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

CENTER CONWAY, N.H. — At 34, Heather Pierson is the happiest she’s ever been in her life, ever since she was a young child. And the reason is simple,

WORDS CAN’T DESCRIBE — At her Oct. 27 CD release show at the Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, Heather said “you could hear a pin drop” as she sang to the standing-room-only crowd. “There really are no words to describe the night — awesome, incredible, humbling, inspiring, exciting: these words come close, but they don’t quite grasp it,” she wrote on her blog.

even if the journey to get there was not:

“I’ve found my voice,” she said. “I’m living my life a lot more honestly. I really feel I have found my voice, and now I’m going to let that guide me.”

Gone is the little girl of age five, sitting at the piano at her home in Hebron, struggling to read music under the encouragement of her father. Emerging is the self-assured singer-songwriter who’s gone from exploring music over the past three decades to exploring herself through her music — in her new, edgy, at times intensely-personal 16-song CD, Make It Mine.

Emerging is a woman who knows that her destiny is to sing and write and perform, and is embracing that destiny for all its worth. She’s become a one-woman self-promotional whirlwind, making connections at open mics, doing gigs almost nightly, anywhere she can. She spends late nights on the computer sending out digital press kits to national radio stations, and is taking to the road more and more to explore musical venues outside Maine and New Hampshire.

This week, she’s on a road trip to Arizona, visiting friends and making the musical rounds.

“I feel like I’m right on the cusp of something awesome. I don’t know what it is yet. It’s like being right on the edge of a cliff — but in a good way,” she said in a recent interview.

No longer out of reach

It all started to come together this past spring, when she left a bad relationship and moved to Center Conway, N.H. It had been seven years since her last CD, Between Lives, was released. She’d left her job the previous summer as the children’s librarian at the Naples Public Library, a job she’d held for six years. More importantly, she left a bad relationship behind her.

“I was settled for a while. And even though I knew it wasn’t the right thing, I kept thinking, well, at some future point, things are going to get better. And then I realized that’s never going to happen if I stay in this situation,” she said. “It’s always going to be just out of my reach.”

She was sitting on all this “stuff,” and her community work in music — as founder of the nine-years-running Norway Open Mic, singing at the Naples Library for the kids, as eight-year choir director at the Norway Universalist Church — while still rewarding, didn’t provide an outlet for her inner life.

So she did what she always does when she hits a wall: she began writing songs.

These songs felt different. Instead of hope-filled lyrics about the way she wanted herself and the world around her to be, she began drawing from her actual experience, exploring hidden places. She started writing stories — some intensely personal, some not. She started weaving hope and hopelessness, pain and joy — and let her passions fly.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done musically,” said Heather. “I’m a much stronger person, I’m much more honest, much more self-aware. And I’m aware of what music can do and how to reach more people.”

She produced the CD with her longtime friend, Alan Bean of Harrison, from his Baked Beans Studio. They started out with 22 songs and settled on 16 that “went together somehow,” she said.

As a classical music student at age 14, Heather was shy about her voice, shy about improvising. It was Bean who encouraged her to try new things, when they were playing together in the band Garajh Mahal. The icing on the cake was getting Bob Ludwig to master her new CD at his Gateway Studio in Portland. Ludwig has worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry, like Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones.

“It was kind of pricy, but it was worth it,” Heather said. She said he was impressed with her music; Heather not only wrote and sang all the songs, she did all the instruments — piano, drums, bass and electric guitar.

“He told me if there is anything he can do to help me, just let him know. I don’t know if he expected that from a Maine girl,” she joked.

Baring her soul

Finally it was time for her CD release party at the Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield. Heather said she “shamelessly promoted myself” in the months leading up to the show, or her Facebook page, her blog, at all her gigs, and on her website for her self-produced record label, Vessel Recordings.

Sitting at her piano, before a standing-room-only crowd of over 150 people, she began to bare her soul.

“I play music because I have to. It’s like breathing for me. I swear it’s in my cells,” said Heather. And now, here she was, on stage, only in a way so much more vulnerable, more honest, than ever before.

“And it was so quiet. You could hear a pin drop. I started to wonder, are people enjoying themselves?”

Heather needn’t have worried.

Her friend Sandra, after the show, told her she was mesmerizing the audience. That’s why people were so quiet.

“I don’t even know how to take something like that,” she said. She later blogged, “Whether it’s two people or 200 people, when I let go of my inhibitions and just let the music find its way, nothing but good comes of it. It’s a very Zen-like place to be — in the moment, eyes closed, fingers moving, voice singing, ears engaged.”

She refers to her music on Facebook as “happily defying all categorization,” although some compare her to such songwriters as Joni Mitchell and Paula Cole. Heather finds it interesting that “everyone seems to have a different favorite song” on the CD. “I was trying to touch on a lot of different emotions.”

The title track, Make It Mine, has made it onto the regular rotation for airplay at Conway’s WMWV 93.5 FM, based in part on the many requests for her music that have been called into the station. The lyrics on that song aptly describe her life now: “Isn’t it a miracle to be alive — to feel that spark of passion along your spine?”

She’s also had her songs played on WBLM, and has submitted them to WCLZ, both in Portland.

“It always helps when people call and request it,” she said.

She and her boyfriend plan another trip this spring to the South, particularly New Orleans, where they will stop and hit all the open mics and mingle with other musicians. That’s what they’re doing this week, during a 10-day road trip to Arizona. By hanging out with other musicians and trying out new material, “You see how people respond, and learn how to shape the songs.”

Heather says she doesn’t focus on making it big in a conventional sense, like getting a major record deal. Of course, it would be nice.

“I’m working toward whatever will allow me to play my music for more people. Even if I end up doing everything on my own,” she said. “I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.”

A fellow musician, Harry Peet, wrote recently on her Facebook that from all the gigs she’s been doing — at the Wildcat Tavern in Jackson, N.H., the Red Parka in Glen, N.H., and 302 West in Fryeburg — it looked like she was having a blast.

Peet wrote, somewhat wistfully, “In me younger days, been there, done that myself. Now I go to sleep early, don't sleep, and feel like a space cadet most of the time. How I ever manage to find a minute to strum on the old guitar I'll never know.

“By the way, before I forget why I wanted to comment, it does look like you're the center of attention… and having a great time… that's what counts! Great. Let your spirits fly!”

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