Article by Stephanie Escobar
I always get excited learning about new talent emerging, especially when they’re from my neck of the woods. Heather Mall is an up and coming artist from the Chicagoland area who’s leaped to put her name in the industry. She grew up singing the moment she knew how to talk, creating songs along the way. Being surrounded by a family that loves music, she was exposed to different genres and artists, all playing a part in her future. Her grandfather was a jazz musician in a band when he was younger, and her grandma loved to sing and dance. Since the get-go, Heather Mall had music living within her and I was able to ask her some questions just as she embarked on the very beginning of her journey.
Heather has been taking voice lessons for 15+ years and has surrounded herself with being creative. She first became aware of her talent when her first-grade music teacher had every kid sing a section for their Christmas concert. “I was shy when the moment came so I sang very softly, but she asked me if I would sing one of the solos for the song, and I said I would only do it if my best friend, Alyssa, could sing with me. I always felt more comfortable singing with someone at first because it helped me get over my performance anxiety and I genuinely love singing with other people,” Heather shared. This was her first experience facing stage fright and she added “There was a point though where Alyssa and I had to sing the song in music class to practice and I got so nervous that I puked. Thankfully, I don’t do that before performances anymore. If I could puke in front of my whole class, getting over the fear of performing in front of others was definitely easier ‘cause I thought nothing would be more humiliating than that.”
Getting past her first case of stage fright, Heather was able to garner confidence as she got older. Along with her voice lessons, in high school, she fell in love with musical theatre. “Growing up and taking voice lessons, I always just sang the song but never truly SANG the song with an emotional connection.” This opportunity allowed Heather to grow as a singer and gave her a whole new world of possibilities when it came to performing. Maybe, one day we’ll even catch her on the Broadway stage.
“Music becomes universal when there is the intention behind it, and an emotional connection that allows any listener to understand and feel what the artist is feeling, and that is definitely how musical theatre helped shape me as an artist.”
The musical theatre had such a big impact on her that she originally had gone to college to study it, but eventually switched to pursue her path in obtaining a music degree. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She became very involved within the music department being part of several ensembles and also being part of Downtown Voices A Cappella. “I really found my voice when I sang with DTV and I cherish the 2 years I was able to perform with them. When we sang at ICCA (International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella), the moment I stepped on stage and started performing, it confirmed my love for performing and I knew I had to pursue it no matter what.”
Heather performing at Davenport’s
Photo credit to Sareh Maani
After Heather graduated in December 2019, the whole world shortly fell into a pandemic that has affected millions worldwide, including Heather. I asked her what song she wished she would have created, and shared a song that helped her get through the loss of a loved one. “I WISH I would have created the song “Chasing the Sun” by one of my favorite musicians ever, Sara Bareilles and Jack Antonoff. That song helped me get through a lot during the pandemic when I lost my grandma to COVID-19, and I had heard the song prior to then, but when I listened to it in April, the meaning of the song meant so much more to me and I realized how profound it truly is...The line ‘and the gift of my heartbeat sounds like a symphony played by a cemetery in the center of Queens’ brings tears to my eyes every time hear it.”
As many navigate to look at the bright side of being in quarantine, Heather has managed to find a silver lining. “The one good thing about quarantine was that I had the time to really think about the music I wanted to make instead of just rushing into it”. She was able to clear out her basement with the help of her family to create an at-home studio to create music. “Once I finally finished the room, it helped me stay organized with songwriting and recording. I tend to write lyrics on several pieces of paper, in my phone notes, or I use my voice memos when I have an idea that pops up in my head. Having the music room has helped me stay focused and it helps me stay creative cause I have all of my favorite albums in there too, to inspire me,” Heather shared.
Heather performing at Davenport’s
Photo taken by Sareh Manii
Heather has made several covers of her favorite songs and has shared them online to put herself out there. Now she’s taking one of the most important leaps of faith to release her original music. As she started recording her music she was influenced by many artists but wanted to make sure to create her sound.
Her first original song “Lucky”, had its conception in 2016, with Heather having the verses written. “The only thing I ever felt confident about back in 2016 were the verses, I knew they would work well in a song, but at that time, even though I had been studying voice for around 10 years, I didn’t know much about actually writing music. So I had the lyrics written down on paper, then I printed them out on a document to always have them in case I needed them.” As she was able to get more experience, in 2019 she began working out the chords for the verses, and the chorus of the song.
Although challenges arose, she gained insightful feedback from her classmates, family, and professors all helping her make her first single a success. “I’m not gonna lie, it was definitely stressful getting this song where I wanted it to be at times, especially in the beginning when I didn’t know how to create what I heard in my head until I learned about it in school. But with consistent practice, trial and error versions of the song (the first version of the song is so awkward to me now that I listen back on it), and by taking breaks from recording helped me overcome the challenges,” Heather shared. Yet more challenges arose, she added “ I went back to listen to it, one of my vocal lines was completely distorted and I had no idea how it happened or how to fix it. It was frustrating cause I thought I could never replicate the take I had done, but once I took a break from it for a few minutes, I went back to it feeling better about the new take. The creation process has its ups and downs but it is amazing to hear it once it’s done and realize that you’ve created something that someone else might relate to.”
Heather describes “Lucky” as a “song about the different stages of love and eventually falling in love with someone.” Each verse showcases a different experience of love; wanting someone, falling for someone, and imagining a future with someone. Soon enough, Heather will make sure she has everyone in their feels.
As we anticipate the release of her new song Heather was very reflective and looking forward to the future of her music career. “After learning a lot about myself and my music this past year, I would say, right now, my musical style is singer-songwriter, pop meets a little bit of indie. Creating my own sound has been really fun because it has hints of the style’s of some artists that I love, while also showing my own take on how I imagine my sound to be. I do want to venture out into several styles at some point in my musical journey, because I listen to so many genres and I think it would be an incredible experience to try different music styles other than my own.”
We can expect so much more from Heather, as she is currently already thinking about her debut album and even has ideas planned for it. She hopes to collaborate with her friends on several different projects and continue to share songs with others. Some of her dream collaborators include Sara Bareilles, Jon Bellion, Ben Abraham, and several others.
Kickstarting a career in music is not easy, but one common denominator amazing artists share is; Passion and Drive, and Heather has both. We’re hopeful that as soon as live shows can happen again, we’ll be able to catch her playing a gig at a local Chicago venue and even headline her first tour one day. Just as she started covering some of her favorite songs by artists she loves, I have no doubt someday we will see others covering “Lucky”. We will continue to see Heather create music that many can emotionally connect to, create memories through, and overall bring happiness to others.
Some advice to other fellow musicians and artist from Heather Mall:
“Write down every lyric you think of, record every melodic line that pops up in your head. Yeah, you might think something is cheesy or you might think that the line isn’t the best, but you never know what you might create from it. Also, if you want to create music, you don’t need fancy, incredibly expensive equipment. Music is everywhere, it’s using silverware on glasses, it’s a cappella, it’s in nature, it’s everywhere if you look close enough. Don’t be afraid to create music, it will always be worth it if you love what you’re doing. Before the pandemic, I would always tell my voice students, “tell your story through song” and that’s what creating music is about. Tell the world your story through art!”