Local songwriter Lisa Hillary had a boyfriend in high school whose entire family would play guitar and sing on holidays.
On the Christmas of her senior year at Rowland Hall, she received a guitar from her boyfriend so that she could play with the family. But three weeks after Christmas, Hillary’s boyfriend’s father — “one of my guitar heroes,” she said — was killed in a plane crash.
“Although I never got the chance to play with him, I felt an incredible urge to learn to play so that I could fill in for him in the song circle,” Hillary said.
Now 36, the resident of the Canyon Rim Township in Salt Lake County has recorded her first album, “Edge of the World,” with her music recalling the acoustic, confessional songcraft and style of Ani DiFranco, Brandi Carlisle, and fellow Utah native Jewel.
The songwriter, singer and guitar-player (who also dabbles on the ukulele) answered questions about returning to Utah from college out-of-state, what she remembers from her first performance, and whether she would rather see a rock show or a symphony orchestra performance.
Why did you return to Utah after college graduation from St. Lawrence University rather than stay in New York?
I am a big mountain girl. Although New York has some truly wonderful attributes, I love the feeling of spring in the Wasatch Mountains. I felt lost without them. Utah is a unique and beautiful place and I have deep rooted connections to my home.
What did you want to achieve with “Edge of the World”?
This is my first record and I am truly proud of it. The title track, “Edge of the World,” is written about my experience of having a family member addicted to heroin, and I was constantly waiting in limbo for him to turn his life around. Ani DiFranco said in her song “Fuel” that “people used to make records as in a record of an event. The event of people playing music in a room.” I wanted an honest musical experience for the listener rather than a few catchy produced singles with filler songs. “Edge of the World” is a hand-crafted record in the truest sense. I set out to combine the songs in such a way as to take the listener on a journey of love, loss, heartbreak and wonder through creative lyrics and melodies.
Does being in Utah help or hinder a music career and aspirations?
Utah is slowly coming out of the dark as a music scene. As a truly organic movement, you see bands like Marinade and The Zero Summers literally launching themselves as artists through creative use of the community and their fans. I recently played at Creative Unplugged in Ogden. It is a really intimate songwriter showcase that highlights local artists and allows them to find creativity and support from their peers. Utah is full of musical events, outlets and shows. The difficult thing can be to find them.
What do you remember about your first performance?
When you first perform, I think many of us picture our heroes and idols on stage, especially if you are a teenager. I really don’t think I became a truly great songwriter until I could let go of wanting to emulate someone else. I still have a copy of that first performance and think about how much my stage presence has changed.
Describe a perfect day.
I love going on adventures. A perfect day would be hitting the road on a road trip to play shows in the surrounding areas. Singing in the car to whomever moves me at the moment and stopping to hike the natural beauty of the west. There is something so beautiful about the sunset in the desert and the change from the heat of the day to the cool nights. It is almost like you can feel the Earth breathe. Finish the day by cooking a great meal for my closest friends and family and playing guitar around a campfire under the stars.
What is the most musical thing in the world?
The human heart. The emotions that can drive us to the edge over love, lust, heartbreak and loss. I love words and using them to paint new and creative imagery for the emotions we all share.
Would you rather go to a rock show or see the Symphony perform, and why?
As a dancer, I love the idea of the symphony, [with] things happening in unison with precision. However, I love the showmanship and stage performance of rock. I find that rock shows tend to want the audience to be a part of the overall experience and it is more of a partnership between the creativity of the artist and the energy of the crowd.
Lisa Hillary’s music is available on iTunes.com . You can also listen to tracks on her website www.lisahillary.com, www.reverbnation.com/lisahillary, www.facebook.com/lisahillarymusic and on Spotify.
She will be playing in the Twilite Caberet, a fundraiser for homeless youth in Utah, on June 29 at the Grand Theatre at Salt Lake Community College.