The New England Folk Scene & Hayao Miyazaki: Izzy Heltai's Musical Evolution

>> Based out of Northampton, MA, Izzy Heltai has found a home in the New England folk scene that connects Northampton's Parlor Room, Boston's Club Passim and Mass MOCA's Freshgrass festival. Still, he remains something of a nomad, living out of his car in order to spend as much time as possible performing. Check out our interview with this talented folk musician where we discuss inspirational narratives, classic folk icons, and the New England music scene.

How has New England's folk scene shaped the sound of your music and the trajectory of your career?

What has been incredible about living in the middle of nowhere in a small New England town, is the amount of history that goes along with the tradition of songwriting in a part of the world that has been hidden from sight. With the vast concentration of historic listening rooms in New England, it’s not uncommon to stumble upon and into dives that have seen the likes of people like James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt and Bob Dylan coming of age when they first started to cut their grit in the scene.

People come to these small town because the culture of music is rich and relevant, but you avoid the fast pace of living in a city.

Sticking to mostly small towns, and having had the honor of playing many listening rooms all across the new England area with attentive audiences, it has given me the self-awareness enough to cultivate a comfort with knowing I don’t always need to sing the loudest to really be heard.

If you could compare your latest EP 'Only Yesterday' to any piece of literature, which would it be and why?

My new record ‘Only Yesterday’, I would compare to the film, Howl’s Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki.

You can tell from the images surrounding my release that I have a deep love for illustrative work. I have always had a deep fascination and love for fantasy and children’s stories, world building that brings us far out of our own realities.

Howls moving Castle is a story about a living breathing house that is ramschackled together by an amalgamation of different parts.

This record, to me feels very much that way. It is simple and delicate, yet a combination of different disjointed parts then when put together, create something magical.

When was the first moment in your life where you really knew that you wanted to pursue music as a career?

I’ve been writing songs since I was sixteen and always knew crafting folk songs was a deep love of mine. I didn’t realize this was the trajectory I wanted my professional life to go in until I was eighteen and started doing my first tours.

My first tours were incredibly DIY. Playing wherever I could, basements, dive bars, coffee shops, a lot of places where either no one would show up, or no one would be paying attention.

What I took away from these experiences were the one or two people that really did pay attention, and deeply connected with the vulnerability we as songwriters exude just by showing up. These connections continue to make me fall deeper in love with what I get to do for a living.

Which folk musicians have truly influenced and inspired you the most and why?

Paul Simon and Carole King are the two greatest songwriters of all time. In Regards the influences that went into this EP specifically, Nathanial Rateliffs newest solo project (in memory of loss) influenced and facilitated the creation of these songs.

Where can you hear these influences on your latest EP?

Nathanial Rateliff has blown up into something of a superstar in his project with the Nightsweats. Not many people are aware of his phenomenal solo career.

He writes incredibly sad tender and emotive songs with just enough grit. The lo-fi recording and fragmented simple instrumentation that makes up this record really inspired the trajectory I knew I wanted my recordings to take.

There have been a great number of monumental folk festivals in the past century. If you could play any folk festival throughout time, which would it be and why? Is there a specific performance that you would have loved to be a part of?

Newport Folk Festival is the greatest festival of all time. This festival is not only steeped in history but also holds a special place in my heart. My father first took me to this festival when I was fourteen and it sparked my love for modern folk music.

Since then my mother and I go together every year. Being in the presence of the sheer concentration of incredible performers at this festival is mind boggling.

What types of messages and thematic elements are you following on your latest EP? Is it a series of stories or is there a general theme tying it all together?

I would say there are several general themes that are strung along through this record. A huge one would be struggling to find a sense of presence in day to day life. The songs deal with being wrapped up in situations in the past, or obsessing over the future and grappling with the fact that I know I want to enjoy here and now. These songs are also riddled with underlying themes of battling a debilitating downward spiral in mental health, and the constant struggle to find self-worth.

We've learned that because of your heavy touring schedule, you have made a home out of your car. How has it been living on the road and what have you done to acclimate to this new lifestyle?

At this point in my career I would define myself as semi-nomadic. I still have an apartment and home base in Western Massachusetts, but my real love is being on the road and I try to make my lifestyle as conducive to that as possible.

I make my living by sticking to small towns, small intimate venues in places I can find free camping, and I hike and explore during my days.

Love being out in nature and have never really found a point being in big cities. You find communities and towns that care so much more than if you were to play in a crowded bar somewhere in Brooklyn.

What in your personal life has been most formative in pushing your sound as a musician and supporting your career? This could be a person, a place, or even an object.

The road. My love affair with long drives on my own. I’ve always toured by myself, I’ve always felt a huge comfort in feeling like all I need in this life is myself. As much as I love connecting with people, there’s nothing that beats a solitary drive.

What can fans be expecting to hear from you in the near future?

A full length is definitely in the work. It can be expected in the next couple of years. Until I’m ready for that, I’ll be doing a lot of smaller releases, live recordings, videos, just some things to keep people aware that I’m still here, learning, growing and my sound is forever forming into what I want it to be. <<

Listen to Izzy Heltai HERE!

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