In Pound for the Sound, Phoenix New Times gets technical with local music community members about what "gear" they use to create their signature "tones" in our community.
Lauren Hillery, keyboard player and background vocalist for the Edisons, is a Phoenix native and a virtuoso on the keys. She began playing music in fourth grade when she followed her best friend into taking piano lessons. The friend quit, but Hillery stuck with it and moved into other musical activities through high school, including choir, musical theater, and playing bass in a band.
Hillery paused her musical ambitions while at college in Tuscon, but sitting out got the best of her, and she began her quest to get back into music once she returned to Phoenix. About five years ago, she began playing in bands, first in a group called the Valley and now in her current project, the Edisons. The band is about to release Carriers, their third EP in three years, this Friday, September 7. On top of all of that, the enthusiastic Phoenician just opened a new store in the new Churchill building called Gather that aims to celebrate the love for community and local arts.
Lauren, and the rest of the Edisons, have their EP release this First Friday September 7 at Last Exit Live. With all the happenings going on for her, New Times was able to get some words in with Hillery via phone and email about her gear, shop opening, and her band's upcoming show.
Phoenix New Times: What's the secret weapon of your sound? And how did that help you find your "signature" tone?
Lauren Hillery: Goodness. I’ve honestly never even remotely thought about it that way. I guess I’ve always been drawn to a lot of pop or pop-inspired sounds and artists. I didn’t realize it was such a prominent part of my music vernacular until recently. I realize that I pick up on and gravitate toward the small, but powerful "earworm" moments and hooks in a song. I feel like I try to keep it simple, but feel out those pockets within a song or phrase of a song that can either be filled out by some root or, equally, some spark of a little ditty. I’m always singing the harmonies I think should exist in the songs I love, which I think you’ll pick up on more in the latest record.
What's your favorite piece of gear in your collection and why?
Honestly, I wouldn’t say I have much of a collection, but my Mason and Hamlin pright grand cherrywood piano at home that I’ve had since junior high means so much to me. My whole family pitched in to make it possible — the gift that keeps on giving.
For performance gear… again I keep it simple. I play a Roland FA-06, which I bought used at Guitar Center. There is still so much to explore on it, but I would say my “signature” sound is probably my pitch bar. I really dig the dynamics it adds to a song.
Just listened to “Escaping By the Moment.” Great song, love all of the indie pop sensibility all around and great work on the keys. The licks fluttering in and out were great and added a strong dynamic. How did you go about recording your parts for this song and dialing in those sweet, smooth tones?
Escaping by the Moment is an interesting song on the record for me because I loved the idea from day one, but really struggled with my piece of it for quite some time. To the point where I was ready to give up on it and I think the others, by proxy, were too. Come to think of it now, I think allowing myself the security to approach it much more simply was a game changer not only for the song, but for the album; I think it gave me the confidence I needed to really help take our songwriting to the next level. The tone itself, I’m absolutely obsessed with, so much so that it’s becoming a prominently used tone in a lot of music, which I hope doesn’t come across as me getting lazy. I’d like to think of it as becoming a bit of a signature sound. It’s so versatile and has a unique quality that plays with, and yet cuts through, Nick’s more rockin’ guitar distortion.
You just recently opened a retail shop in The Churchill building in downtown Phoenix called “Gather,” selling handmade crafts and home furnishings created by local Arizona artists and independent designers. Can you expand upon what the intentions of your new store front are?
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Well, I’m an Arizona native, but spent 30 years of my life really hating on this desert city and dying to leave. I think it was being part of the music community, and wanting to support it so fiercely, that really was a 180 for me. I think I’ve always had a desire to build something of my own; the fact that it’s a retail shop is a total coincidence. The intent of the original concept of Gather was to create a multi-purpose “gathering” space for those who don’t have their own place to gather — part coffee shop, part semi-private meeting space, part event space and happened to get connected with The Churchill guys through Mike at State Forty-Eight. Gather, in its current 160-square-foot form, allows us to gather local makers who don’t have much of a presence elsewhere in the community. We care deeply about continuing to help grow our local community through mindful retail and thoughtful events. Just as a side note, it’s a really yummy smelling and good vibey feeling little tiny shop that I just really love being a part of.
The Edisons are releasing Carriers, their third EP in three years, this Friday, September 7, at Last Exit Live. Any words you wish to share with readers about your upcoming show?
First and foremost, we love, Last Exit Live; they are really great there and treat us well always and sound is great and we’ve collected some bands we really love hearing ourselves. Carriers is a reflection of a moment in time of growth and changing expectations for us collectively as a band and individually. It also happens to be my dad’s 65th birthday, and he is our biggest and most dedicated fan. Playing live is really what we live for, and we are just so full of excitement to get back on stage and send these soundwaves out into the anyone else’s ears but ours.