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Halie Loren: Butterfly Soaring

R.J. DeLuke By

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Loren graduated high school at 17 and left for Nashville, bent on honing her writing skills. The town then was full of songwriters and she fell in with them. "I had some incredible experiences... I wrote with a long line of writers who had been making their living doing that for many years. Some of them had been exceptionally successful with all kinds of Grammys, people who wrote for Garth Brooks and had paid off the mortgage on their house," she says with a bright laugh. "Those Nashville success stories are pretty incredible sometimes."

"It was a great learning experience for me. In its own way, the writing that happened in Nashville that I was around was what I could imagine some of the Tin Pan Alley writing to be about, as far as experience. People being so concentrated on the craft of songwriting. It's a business. People make appointments and they have ideas and they bring all these ideas to woodshed, to see what sticks with the other co-writers and feeling what they can latch on to in that moment. It was amazing learning the process of how that works there. For me, someone who'd been writing in her bedroom for a short time. I'd only been writing for four years at that point. It was a great learning experience for me to see just how much attention to detail goes into the crafting of some of these songs that end up."

She formed friendships and writing collaborations still exist today.

"One very important figure in my life, someone I met there, was Larry Wayne Clark who I wrote numerous songs that ended up on my jazz albums," she recalls. "He and I wrote a ton of songs together. He was a huge fan of the American Songbook tradition and it showed in his writing. We connected over that. Unfortunately, he passed away two years ago. We have a big collection of songs I'm still trying to figure out ways to pull from and incorporate into what I do now."

After a few years, Loren returned to Oregon and went to college, but not for music. She had been performing professionally since age 14, and continued to do that in Oregon to help pay for school. She earned a degree in visual arts and has used it to create the artwork for her albums, as well as other graphic design work.

Back home, she was playing piano more. "I had this tenuous relationship with it, because there were piano lessons. I had always been someone who learns very quickly by ear. So piano was always frustrating for me. Teachers that I had off and on wanted me to read. I didn't want to read, I wanted to just hear it and play it and play around. I started to give myself permission to just do that: use it as an instrument of creation rather than emulation. That opened up a whole bunch of songs. they came to me within a year at the most. They all kind of walked in together."

In 2006, she had a collection of originals she decided to record, that became Full Circle. "That was my first foray into album making. It was a steep learning curve, but really satisfying. I was only 19 when I started recording an album. Considering it was totally do-it-yourself, with the help of a friend who knew a little bit more about production later on in the process. It was pretty cool to be able to just do that."

She's been recording steadily since, living in Eugene, Oregon, and occupying herself with west coast tours and forays elsewhere, her work receiving acclaim and drawing more and more fans. She says Portland and Eugene in her home state have strong arts communities.

Portland, considering its not a major city. It's a big city on Oregon's scale. It has a very eclectic and active music scene, for sure. It draws a lot of musicians. I think that's because there's something really attractive about Portland, and really Oregon in general. There are parts of Oregon that are very arts interested. Very accepting and supportive and appreciative of the arts. I think that kind of energy is great to be around. As an artist, it's nice to realize you have a place in this world. Not just in theory, but in your actual community," she says. "Eugene is smaller. For its size, it has a ridiculous number of musicians per capita. Its a thriving arts community with a lot of creative energy."

So in Oregon, she continues to compose songs and melodies. As a writer or poetry and stories, it used to be the lyrics would strike her imagination first. "I would often have to have an entire lyric before I would begin. I've definitely gone away from that now. I have tons of melodic ideas. Not only because of my many, many gigs performing and interpreting melodies on the fly, and improvising. But melodies are stacked up in droves, in my head and in my recorder. I have way more melodies in my trove than words that I could ever possibly come up with. So, I'm in a conundrum," she says chuckling. "I don't know what to do with all these melodies."

She tours Asia, Canada and the U.S. And has other things in development. "I have all of these songs I've been saving up for something a little different. I'm going to start digging into those more now and see what comes of that. I have a feeling that whatever project there is for me right around the bend is going to be quite a new phase for me, artistically. This most recent album, Butterfly Blue, dabbles in some elements I had long been wanting to do, but I hadn't taken the chance on yet. It's a bit of a left turn from where I've been. I think I've been really inspired by that. I think wherever that takes me will be the next step in that journey. But i don't know what it looks like and I won't know until I start getting there. I've got some songs I'm really excited to share with people."

Loren is also in a place vocally where her sound has moved away from influence and is her own. Emulating her favorites, and learning from that in years, are behind. Her phrasing and her presentation are seasoned. They move to unexpected places. It is Halie Loren's voice.

"The voice is the most personal of instruments. I know I've had a long line of influences, musically, that have been varied in their approach. But I feel like in the last five years I've come into my own voice in a way that I don't have to think about it. It just happens that way. It's the natural expression of where it wants to go. Now that I've done this for so long, I've finally come to a place in my life and in my music, where I can feel like what I am is what I'm meant to be," she says with confidence. "The way that I sing is the way I sing at this moment. I can change it later if I want to... but the overthinking thing is like this wall I've come up against at certain times in my life and in my creativity... just letting go and letting what happens naturally be OK is really interesting part of the more recent journey for me. The song becomes an experience rather than a crafted piece. It's like a conversation. You never know where it's going to go. And I like that."
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