Heather Masse - Beautiful Dreamer

New York-based singer-songwriter Heather Masse is a member of the acclaimed Juno Award-winning Canadian band The Wailin' Jennys, and she has performed at hundreds of venues across Europe, Canada, and the states. She appeared regularly on Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion," where she shared the stage with Wynton Marsalis, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Arlo Guthrie, and Tom Rush. She has performed with the bluegrass band The Wayfaring Strangers on NPR's World Cafe, and at Boston's Symphony Hall with the Boston Pops Orchestra. Heather also performs locally with a Brooklyn-based collaboration, "Heather & the Barbarians." Heather grew up in rural Maine and began singing at an early age. With a degree in Jazz Voice from the New England Conservatory of Music, the jazz tradition informs her distinct approach to singing music of all sorts. Heather's rich, soulful voice elegantly moves through numerous styles organically and with sincerity — a quality learned from some of her early influences including Ray Charles, Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, and Chet Baker. Recently, she took the time to answer some questions about her musical background, appearing on APHC, and her new album.

What can you tell me about ‘Hold On’?  It's your second full-length solo project.

I recorded my new album 'Hold On' with Jed Wilson this winter when I was 8 months pregnant with my little girl.  We have been playing music together for almost 20 years and had never made a full-length album together. We had the songs, and a little window of time before Ida Rose arrived so we went for it! The album is mostly originals of mine. I wrote the title track ‘Hold On’ about trusting humanity and finding hope and peace amidst today’s chaos. The album carries this theme from intimate matters of the heart to holding the weight of these troubling times.

You will be touring with Garrison over the next few months before joining the cruise to Jamaica next March.  Might we hear any of the new music on the cruise since Jed Wilson will be joining you?  Do you have a favorite song to sing live from the new cd?
Definitely!  I really love singing the medley we do on the album. We put Nick Drake's 'Which Will' together with 'If I Loved You' from Carousel. I love both of these songs so much!

‘Beautiful Dreamer’ was released last year and features duets with Garrison.  It’s a mixture of standards and covers, many of which had been performed on "A Prairie Home Companion."  How did you go about choosing the songs for this record?
We chose some of our favorites songs we sang as duets on the show and revamped them. It was a really fun project.
My favorite is ‘Wild Horses.’ How did you discover this song? Did you bring it to the duets project?

Garrison suggested that we sing on 'Wild Horses' a show we did together with a faster bluegrass feel and it was a blast. For the Duets project we pared it down a little more and I think it turned out really nice!

What is your favorite song to perform from the record?
I love singing the Bob Dylan song, 'Tomorrow Is A Long Time.'
Listen to 'Beautiful Dreamer'

How did you get your start in music? 

I come from a very musical family. My mother is a classical pianist, music teacher, and church organist, my dad was the lead singer/guitarist for a country rock band for about 8 years in the 80s and I have 4 very musical siblings. So I was singing and listening to music very early on. My first experience performing was when I was about 8 years old. I attempted to sing a solo at church with my mother accompanying me on piano, but as she began to play the introduction, I suddenly got shy and ran downstairs crying. I'm still surprised when I think back to that awful morning that I became a professional musician! 

'Red is the Rose'

Who were your earliest influences, and where do your influences come from today?

My earliest influences came from singing hymns and folk songs with my family, and then later I became totally immersed in the singing of Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, and Bonnie Raitt, as well as the singing and songwriting of Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel, Neil Young and many more. These days so many artists influence me. To name a few: Lucinda Williams, Greg Brown,  Iris Dement, Leslie Feist, Nancy King, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Mississippi John Hurt, Gillian Welch, Eva Cassidy, Mahalia Jackson, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Bob Dylan, Chet Baker, and many musicians and teachers I met while attending The New England Conservatory of Music. 

'Light of a Clear Blue Morning'

Your group The Wailin' Jennys are known for the crisp vocal harmonies of the three lead voices along with great songwriting. How did you come to join the group?

I got a call from my good friend Aoife O'Donovan (who sings in the band Crooked Still). She told me about this great band that was looking for a new alto voice.  Ruth and Nicky are mutual friends of Aoife and they had asked her for recommendations. Luckily, Aoife recommended me! So I went to Philadelphia to hear them perform and have an informal audition — it happened in the World Cafe's handicap women's bathroom to be exact. I loved their concert and they loved the music we made in the bathroom so we called it a deal!

Do you have a favorite memory of performing on the show?

My grandfather Keith Clark was also a musician. He was a very esteemed trumpet player and always respected Wynton Marsalis' trumpet playing. I have so many incredible memories from performing on Prairie Home, but the one that sticks out in my mind was a moment while I was singing "Peel me a Grape" at Town Hall in NYC with Wynton Marsalis and the Shoe Band. There was a point in the middle of the song where time felt liked it stopped, and I looked around at the crowd and the unbelievable musicians I was playing with, and for a moment I felt my grandfather's presence looking down and smiling.     

Were there any experiences of singing duets with Garrison Keillor or performing with the program's other guests that stand out?

We played an hour and a half encore at Tanglewood one summer. It was a magical night and the encore brought an amazing feeling of unity through the crowd and on stage. There were so many great moments singing with Garrison and the sea of a crowd on a freshly rained lawn with the night just falling on us all. It felt like we were all one big family (as cheesy as it sounds)! 


What's next for you? Aside from the appearances with Garrison Keillor, will you be performing either solo or with the Wailin' Jennys? Tell us how to keep up with your appearances.

You can find my tour dates and updates about my music on my website www.heathermasse.com.


Purchase the MUSIC:

Beautiful Dreamer >>>

Hold On >>>

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