“Most Philippines families own a karaoke machine in their house,” says singer-songwriter Haley Heynderickx. Her mother coerced her with Kraft singles and Chuck E. Cheese tokens to belt ballads by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston — often in competition with other children — but “I was never proud of it,” she says. And, while there’s little diva influence on Heynderickx’s debut, full-length release, I Need to Start a Garden, the musician is definitely growing her talent and influence.
Heynderickx and her band will perform at The Grey Eagle on Saturday, June 30 (it’s an early show, at 6 p.m.). The show is part of her first tour across the U.S. Based in Portland, Ore., Heynderickx has done two solo tours in Europe but before this month had never traveled through the American Midwest or seen the East Coast.
Perhaps surprisingly, the journey has connected her with her roots: “I’ve been meeting more and more Filipino people from across the U.S. on the tour,” she says. “In the Philippines, I haven’t found a lot of folk music similar to what I love, but in the U.S., I’m starting find more Filipinos who like this music, and it gives me an adrenaline rush.”
It’s not only those who share her ancestral homeland who are discovering Heyderickx’s music. When NPR announced its inaugural Tiny Desk Contest for 2015, the singer-songwriter says she felt like it was an omen: “When a friend posted it online … I got tremors just reading it. I felt like I should do it.” She sent in videos for her lilting “Drinking Song” in 2015 and the heart-rending “Jo” in 2016. But it was her video for the prettily subversive “The Bug Collector,” submitted in 2017, that caught the ears of the judges. While Heynderickx wasn’t named the winner, she was included in a roundup of “10 More Tiny Desk Contest Entries We Loved” by NPR staff. She was also invited by the broadcaster to pen an essay about her experience, and she opened for 2017 Tiny Desk Contest victors Tank and the Bangas when that band traveled through Portland.
“I feel like a giddy high schooler when I talk about, to be honest. … I’m very grateful they believe in me,” Heynderickx says of the support she’s received from those working with the radio show. She mentions, with obvious awe, that she shook the hand of “All Songs Considered” host and “Tiny Desk Concert” creator Bob Boilen, “and he was very nice.” NPR partner stations, too, have been receptive to Heynderickx’s songs, helping to broaden her reach. She also signed with a label and met her producer and bandmates since (and, in part, because of) her video submission to the Tiny Desk Contest.
“I think it’s easy to engulf yourself in music because you can love it so much, but sometimes the sharing part is the scary part,” Heynderickx says. “[NPR] always motivated me to push myself a little further … as in it would help me grow and meet new people and bring more joy through creating music.”
But releasing that initial video and subsequent visual projects has not been easy. When asked if she and her band have scheduled their own Tiny Desk Concert, Heynderickx reveals that it’s in the works. But for her, what could have emerged as onstage panic “bloomed in a different part of my brain where, if a huge camera is in front of me, if there’s two cameramen and a lighting guy … and an audience of people staring behind the cameras, my body shuts down. … All of my stage fright that could have gone toward performing [on] the stage, [translates] itself into videos.”
Happily, the same is not true for studio recording. I Need to Start a Garden includes Heynderickx’s Tiny Desk submission songs along with other gems. “No Face” is a late-night confessional, personal and aching, with the vocals raw and close. The spookily titled “Show You a Body” brings in a flutter of piano notes and waltzing verses. It’s otherworldly: dreamy and haunting. And “Oom Sha La La,” which lends a line to the album’s title, mixes a doo-wop-style hook with a Moldy Peaches vibe — at once self-reflective and absurdist. It’s in this song that the usually shy Heynderickx releases a primal scream that conveys the hand-wringing frustrations of multitudes.
It’s not that lashing out alone that landed the singer-songwriter the opening slot for a number of Ani DiFranco’s June tour dates. Heynderickx isn’t exactly sure where her crowd overlaps with that of the noted activist and shero. “The Ani crowd [has] a large queer population, having a party, having the best time ever,” Heynderickx says. “I’ve never brought that many queer people out. I get excited when that happens.”
But, as she explores new-to-her parts of the country and tour life, Heynderickx is content to seek out quieter thrills, too. “I should take up a hobby in the car. … I’m going kind of mad, not being able to write [songs],” she says. “Maybe I should start crocheting.”
WHO: Haley Heynderickx
WHERE: The Grey Eagle, 185 Clingman Ave., thegreyeagle.com
WHEN: Saturday, June 30, 6 p.m. $15-$20