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Hamilton artist profile: Heather Valley

Growing up and attending high school in northern Ontario, Heather Valley spent hour upon hour in the forest training to become a national level cross country skier.

Music, her constant companion, opened up a world of expression and perspective that she otherwise didn’t encounter. The voice of Matthew Good and, later, Jason Molina shaped how she viewed the world and eventually inspired Heather to make music — once she felt she had a message worth sharing.

“When I was younger, I was extremely shy. I didn’t think I could be a performing artist,” Heather admits. “Instead, I went to school and became a lawyer. While in practice, I lost my shyness, but, as a very empathetic person, it was an emotionally difficult career path. I leaned heavily on music, as a listener, to cope.”

That was when a man from the United States introduced himself and convinced Heather that he was the love of her life. After a period together on and off for all sorts of reasons, he moved to Buffalo so he and Heather could reunite. Everything was perfect until his arrest at the Canadian border.

“He was a fugitive with an extensive criminal past. There’s more to the story, but the upshot of that stress and heartbreak was my having a breakdown and leaving law practice,” says Heather.

“Since then, the only thing that has seemed noble enough to be worth doing is to create beautiful music out of my experience. It took me three years to begin to feel better.”

Heather reinvented herself as an independent singer-songwriter and fans of traditional storytelling music genres like Americana, folk, country, as well as alternative country and indie music are listening. Heather’s debut album, Desert Message, was named ‘Best Album of 2019’ by Hugo Vogel of altcountry.nl.

“The album was reviewed in the Philadelphia Inquirer and my cover of ‘How I Got to Memphis’ was played on the CBC Radio 1 program ‘In the Key of C’ in September,” says Heather. “Desert Message reached number five in Canada on the !earshot roots chart and the track, ‘Lovejoy’, features in Go Fast: Pull Up, a documentary about the life of superstar BMX rider Jimmy LeVann. My songwriting also has been praised by Canadian music writer and radio broadcaster Alan Cross.”

To top it all off, Ron Saint Germain, the renowned American producer of Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, U2, Duran Duran, Sonic Youth, and Tool, among others, said of Heather: “She has a natural gift for performing, a formidable singing voice, and, as a songwriter and lyricist, the potential to become a world class artist.”

During COVID-19

Heather was on a writing retreat in West Virginia when Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the border would close. She promptly drove back to Canada and self-isolated at a friend’s southwestern Ontario farmhouse. “After the initial fourteen days, I decided to stay and wait out the great economic pause. It was certainly lonely, living by myself on 200 acres with only cats for company and one friend who dropped off groceries over the subsequent four months. But I structured my days and finished several artistic projects.”

Heather’s home-recorded album Wildflower Radio includes “Emily“, an original song about summer memories like “going to the lake, exploring your grandparents’ garden, and driving in the country with the windows down.” The rest are covers of favourite songs “reimagined in my gentle and thoughtful Americana style,” explains Heather.

Respected musicians contributed from their own home studios in Philadelphia, Toronto, and Hamilton. “For example, Nimal Agalawatte of Basement Revolver contributed upright bass to a few songs, and mixed and mastered the entire project.

“I moved back to Hamilton as things are opening up. It’s such a treasure to be back in this vibrant arts community and to see people again, albeit from a social distance. I’ve been working through a series of original songs, and then writing at least one new song each day, as I return to the studio to record. I’ve been excavating my personal experiences and the next album is going to be very real and raw.”

On October 23rd, Heather participated in a virtual panel discussion ‘My Album is Done – Now What?’ as part of the City of Hamilton’s Musician Entrepreneur Conference series.

The third anniversary of Heather’s heartbreak and departure from the field of law was in August. Her newest single, The Last Song, dropped earlier this month. Give it a listen below!

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