Built into the acoustic shake and echo of her guitar, Chattanooga-based musician Heather Leigh Holt’s complicated instincts toward the singer-songwriter aesthetic are as evident as the liquid melodies that bend and reshape themselves within the infectious tones of her voice. Much in the same manner of the ethereal songwriters of the late ‘60s, such as Linda Perhacs or Buffy Saint-Marie, Holt’s intense emotional invectives are grown from deep inside the chambers of her heart rather than adopted from some passing trend or fashionable sub-genre. Her work under the Heatherly moniker is inclusive and extraordinarily personal, possessing a kind of concentrated experience that’s highlighted by her ability to make the slightest whisper and movement reverberate with grand meaning and theatricality.
Spending her childhood in Atlanta, Holt would go on to attend the University of Georgia and graduate with a degree in music, specializing in percussion -- even now, she’ll never turn down the opportunity to sit behind some steel drums. Shortly after her graduation, she moved to Chattanooga to become an elementary school music teacher and soon began teaching herself to play the guitar. She became fascinated with the sense of communal experience that could be created between an artist and their audience, and so she started to visit local open mic nights in an effort to see where her singer-songwriter impulses might take her.
After a few years of soaking in the music scenes of the Scenic City, she began work on her self-titled debut EP, releasing a few songs in the middle of 2016 before sharing the full release in November. Marked by her astute observations of everyday minutiae and the creative and minimalist way she bent the sounds of her guitar to her needs, the 6-track EP firmly established her as a musician well-informed of folk music’s long history and poised to discover that there was still some corners of the genre left to explore. Drawing influence from artists like First Aid Kit, Laura Marling and Gram Parsons, she gently fashioned a unique and possessive perspective on the intersection of traditional folk, indie folk and pop music that resonated on a primal emotional level.
Off the success of this record, she began touring across the South, opening for artists such as Muddy Magnolias, Permagroove, Cereus Bright, Bradford Loomis and Aaron Lee Tasjan. And throughout those tours, her songs cast a web of mesmeric grace across the senses of her listeners, finding meaning and relevance even when confronted by crowded bars and noisy venues. By embracing the deceptively simple (though not slight by any means) aspects of folk music, she was able to draw near to the resolute spirit of the music, gaining purpose and determination in the unearthing of small and beautiful details within each of her songs.
Holt has the uncanny ability to balance a gossamer fragility with a fierceness born from the roiling emotions churning away in her heart and bones. She effortlessly pulls her audience into these powerful acoustic landscapes, dropping the pseudo-rurality of so many recent bands and commits to the rustic resonance that so fully inhabits her music. And where some musicians simply see these pared down arrangements as a place to heap unnecessary additions, she sees the virtue in working with stripped-down rhythms, placing no obstruction between the music and its intended audience. With each plucked string and vocal turn, she further reveals the weight and significance of these sounds.
But she’s not content to merely document the florid and pastoral experiences that so often cloud the history of folk music – she finds a true universal commonality within its borders. There are consequences in her songs, decisions to be made and emotions to pick apart. Holt doesn’t deal in lightweight feelings; rather, she uses the simplicity of her compositions to emphasize the importance of these delicate situations. Acoustic notes shimmer and tremble in the air before settling into their own gravitational pull, a circling pattern of realization and expectation that refuses to be classified or weighed down by peripheral forces.
Heatherly is Holt’s way of externalizing the internal forces that form the basis of her melodically complex personality. Beneath the superficial minimalism of her music is an ocean that rocks and upends itself through the examination of expansive folk sounds and intimate experiences. There are moments, though, when the rhythmic movement subsides, and she offers a quiet moment of reflection that can be devastating in its honesty and plainspoken insight. She is currently working on a new record called “Behind That Beautiful Guard,” which is due out later this year.
Words from the press:
The Local - Nooga.com by Joshua Pickard : "Heatherly is the moniker of Chattanooga musician Heather Leigh Holt, and through it, she finds an honest and open perspective on how folk and pop music run on parallel tracks, occasionally drawing from each other in a winding, circular progression. Her work is simple but not simplistic. There is enormous consequence running through her music, and she creates a bold and impressive folk landscape in which these sounds are set loose. Listening to her songs draws your mind to late evenings in the fall when friends gather around fires and send their voices up toward the horizon—the music captures a rare moment when the world halts its constant march to bend its ear toward a lilting autumnal noise.
On her new song, "Alright," she manages to imbue a starkly perfect song with a bottomless emotional weight—and all it takes are an acoustic guitar and Holt's mercurial voice. The lyrics sway around a golden melody that drapes sunlight across a bit of austere beauty. Her vocals come across as being both fragile and ferocious; the song demands that she inhabit these emotional worlds simultaneously. The song finds its roots in the singer-songwriters of the '60s and '70s but also conveys its own history and purpose. Everything comes together in a delicate balance of gravity and carefree longing, a difficult sound to approach and even more difficult to do well—but Holt manages just fine."
The Local - Nooga.com by Joshua Prickard : "Chattanooga musician Heather Leigh Holt (AKA Heatherly) looks for the minute and memorable details in her songs, the extended twang of an acoustic guitar string or the curling rhythm surrounding a specific couplet. Her work is grounded in a folk austerity but is given room to move through her particularly affecting voice and the corresponding melodies she invokes through it. Holt moved to Chattanooga after graduating from the University of Georgia, where she pursued an education in music with a special focus given to percussive elements. And though her music is generally the product of her own inspiration, fingers and voice, she has recently recruited singer Karmon French and guitarist Jesse Jungkurth to help fill in some open space within her songs.
On her new self-titled EP, Holt discovers the inherent force and power of simple things sung beautifully. These songs bleed, ache and refuse to be intimidated. The arrangements hew close to the singer-songwriters of the '60s and '70s that she so obviously admires, but she's evoking more than casual musical ghosts on these tracks. There's a stunning and revelatory tone that allows these words and chords to become more than just a series of songs to be heard—they become a connection to a far larger emotional viewpoint that easily submerges you as the music pours from your speakers. Holt has the kind of communal voice that speaks in universal truths while exploring smaller mysteries that haunt the edges of our periphery. The music is uncomplicated and gorgeous, and is just waiting for you to press play."