KST Connects with SUNSTAR Heather Kropf
Heather Kropf has been singing since she was barely out of the womb, now she’s thinking about her legacy and hoping to bring tears to people’s eyes. Kropf, 37, of Pittsburgh recently released her third CD, “Hestia,” and is slated to perform at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater’s inaugural SUNSTAR Women in Music Festival.
The piano-playing folk chanteuse shared with writer Michelle Massie & KST Connect some of her inspirations, influences and insights into how she creates her indelible sound.
Genre: Singer/Songwriter; Acoustic, Pop, Folk
Current project: Just released third album “Hestia.” Previous albums are “What Else is Love” and “Sky.”
Web site: www.myspace.com/heatherkropf
MM:When did you become interested in music, and who were some of your earlier influences?
HK: As the story goes, when I was 2 my mother came in to my room after my nap and found me singing to myself, so I guess I liked music from the beginning. But because my parents limited my exposure to pop culture — I was allowed access to public radio and public television — the world of popular song was a later discovery. Early pop influences include Simon & Garfunkel, Sting “Dream of the Blue Turtles,” Joni Mitchell “Court & Spark,” Kate Bush’s debut album, “The Harder They Come” movie soundtrack and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Favorite albums include Miles Davis “Kind of Blue,” Simon & Garfunkel “Bookends” and The Replacements “Happy Town.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
MM: Which artists are you listening to?
HK: I get in artist “ruts” where I listen for years to a certain artist or album. Right now I’m interested in Mindy Smith and Kathleen Edwards. But Me’Shell Ndegeocello “Peace Beyond Passion,” Lizz Wright “Dreaming Wide Awake,” The Replacements, and David Sylvian “Dead Bees on a Cake” isn’t ever far from my CD player. I recently re-discovered Susan Werner’s album “Time Between Trains.” She’s an amazing writer. Recent albums/favorites include Corinne Bailey Rae, Rebecca Martin and k.d. lang.
MM:What inspires you? Moments of transition, moments of reconciliation, all the stuff that happens in between the lines and spaces. Acts of altruistic kindness inspire me, as does the shadow of longing and melancholy. Our deeply human nature. MM: What is the importance of recognizing women in music? So many things are important in recognizing women in music, but I think the most important thing is that the female gaze and voice is so necessary to enjoying a balanced and thriving culture. I think when we celebrate the outstanding work of women we are bringing wholeness to the world.
MM:What have you learned as a working artist that has helped you in your career?
HK: Even as you seek the attention and approval of an audience, hold that desire lightly. Money is arbitrary and in the end doesn’t denote value. A large crowd or small crowd doesn’t mean you are better or worse. Follow your muse. No matter what. Give yourself a break. You are not what you do. How important is it that you write your own material? It used to be much more important than it is now. I have found that songs have come slower as I have gotten older. I don’t know why that is. Maybe that will change in a few years, I don’t know. In the meantime, there are so many great songs out there, and I’m finding I love learning them. Someday I hope to have a huge repertoire of songs under my skin. And rather than write banal songs just to keep writing, I’m perfectly content to let my own work simmer along until something surfaces.
MM: How would you describe your creative process?
HK: It works in a lot of different ways. I’m a pretty reactionary writer, in that I often find I get ideas when I go out and see live shows. Some lyric or musical idea will resonate with me and I’ll immediately get a spin-off concept and run home after the show — or leave early — in order to jot it down. I often write when I’m driving, especially on long road trips. Those are great for working out words and melodies without the limitations of my style of piano-playing. Sometimes I’ll get the music first, when I’m noodling at the piano. I also keep a box of paper scraps with words or little phrases that come to me throughout the day. When I’ve got a music idea but no words I often rummage through to see if something will catch my attention, and build from there. I’ve done some writing on GarageBand. It’s good for working out arrangements…especially for building from the bottom up. My writing takes on a totally different direction when I focus on rhythm and texture first. But that also has limitations, so I use it sparingly. Any new projects on the horizon?
MM: Can you tell KST Connect about them? Well, I’ve just released my third album “Hestia.” It’s a project I embarked on mostly because of significant fan requests for something more like my live performances…meaning something without the band. It has 11 songs, both old and new, and I’m really surprised at how well this album wears. I wasn’t tired of it when I was song mixing it, which is extraordinary. So my project this year is mostly booking lots of shows, trying to get album reviews and radio play, and such. My next project is already percolating. I’m hoping to keep a lid on it until I give my best effort to helping “Hestia” get into people’s hands and on their iPods. In terms of performance, I’m hoping to pare down my band and maybe introduce some new players and instrumentation. I am also working with my producer/bassist on a side project of Bossa nova influenced tunes, cover tunes as well as arrangements of my songs. We may or may not record some of that. Secretly (not so secretly now) I’ve always thought Bossa nova is the perfect style for my voice so I’m really excited about working on this, in a way that I’ve never been excited about anything else.
MM: What can your fans look forward to from you in the future?
HK: I suppose a little bit of everything. I usually follow my nose when it comes to making music. I hope to put out a really lush, soulful Neo soul project someday. I also want to continue exploring ambient acoustic approaches to arrangement. I also have a small, but growing, collection of straight-up pop rock songs. I do hope to travel and perform more and get out of western PA. I also hope to do more painting, and make good on my B.A. in Fine Art. 🙂 Some people have bugged me about sheet music, so I might release a score of a few of my songs and make that available.
MM:What would you like your legacy to be?
HK: This is a crazy question, and a good one. It may be lofty but my hope is that my songs create a sanctuary of beauty in sound and space, and that in the space of my songs one can find solace. The most meaningful feedback I receive is when someone tells me a song helped them cry about something they needed to cry about, or gave them courage and comfort, or helped them remember something about their own life that they had forgotten. Songs can be a doorway, and if my legacy can be that my songs are a doorway to the courtyard of the Self, then I’d be pretty grateful. Yikes.
Heather Kropf appears at SUNSTAR March 5, 2009 w/ Joy Ike, Bianca Atterberry & Boca Chica.