Dad's great and all, but if you really want to get singer Lilly Hiatt excited, put her onstage next to Eddie Vedder.
Meeting the Pearl Jam lead singer is a bucket list item for the 33-year-old daughter of songwriter John Hiatt, and a reminder that even with the strong musical bloodlines, she's got her own style and influences.
A confessional songwriter who rocks out with a twang, Lilly Hiatt is getting a push into the spotlight by the influential Americana label New West Records. The CD "Trinity Lane," named for the street she lives on in Nashville, Tennessee, is out Friday.
Hiatt seems born with a musical temperament: She bares her soul through her songs onstage, yet is freaked out by the idea of someone hearing when she's practicing guitar at home.
Her songs are blunt and emotional. The memorable "The Night David Bowie Died," written the day after that event, quickly becomes a plea for forgiveness from a lover. "I'm sorry I was such a bitch that night in the city," she sings. "Baby, I want ya back."
"Songs are so important to me because I best communicate in that way, I feel," she said. "I'm not the best communicator in a two-way conversation. I've made a lot of apologies to people via song — 'here, listen to this!'"
Her song "Imposter" is a tender message of thanks to her father. Lilly's mother died by suicide when she was 1, a tragedy referenced in John Hiatt's own heartbreaking composition "Crossing Muddy Waters."
The pain never fully goes away. "It's definitely been a mysterious part of my life," she said. "It's hard to get close to people when you've been through something like that. You put up walls with people. The trust doesn't come easily. But I have such a deep sense of trust with my dad because of all that we went through together."
That's precisely what she sings in the song: "After what we both went through, I count on you, I count on you."
When she was finished with "Imposter," she emailed a recording to her father.
"It made me cry," he said. "Still makes me cry. Feels good to cry."
With a daughter in the business, Hiatt has to weigh when to offer wisdom and when to let her go her own way, even if it's something he wouldn't do.
"I'm sure I've made every mistake a parent can make in terms of giving advice or not," he said. "Lilly has made her own path. There was no silver spoon. That being said, we talk a lot about music and how to make it better, and I'm certain she listens to me at least half the time."
He pleaded with his shy daughter to put her face on the "Trinity Lane" cover, maybe even smile (she did, a little). She called him recently seeking a tip on intra-band dynamics. His best advice is simply to keep her focus on the music, she said.
It's easy in show business to get too high when a crowd is cheering and chanting your name, or too low when sitting alone and reading a bad review of your work.
"I can't place my validation on those things," she said, "because it's such a roller coaster."
She'd like her work to help her build a steady career in music. Kind of like dad's.
"It's really simple for me," she said. "If I can play decent-sized clubs or theaters for the rest of my life, I'll be fine. I don't have any arena aspirations — until I'm up onstage with Eddie."