Singer-songwriter Heather Youmans has spoken to Headliner about her new single Worth It, her creative process and the kit she cannot do without in the studio.
Specialising in country pop and Americana-tinged power ballads, Youmans work has featured on the soundtrack for Flicka 2 and she has appeared on the first series of Fox singing show I Can See Your Voice.
Her new single Worth It, releases on October 15, follows her previous singles Shine and A Little Closer To Happy.
Here, Headliner speaks to Youmans about her latest work, staying productive through lockdown and her plans for the future.
Tell us about your new song Worth It
Worth It is inspired by iconic Martina McBride and Faith Hill power ballads from the ‘90s and early 2000s, but with a raw, emotional pop vocal like Kelly Clarkson or P!nk (especially the ballads on her I’m Not Dead album). The track is grounded in the idea that great love isn't easy but worth it, and chronicles the journey of two lovers, who despite their differences and life challenges, always find a way to make it work.
The music video features my real-life husband, who I wrote the song about and - ironically enough - was randomly cast as my love interest in another music video I put out 10 years ago. We first met at a recording studio when we were teenagers, and he was my guitar player and long-time friend several years before we dated. Fast forward to the present and we’ve been married for over six years.
When did work start on the new track?
Last Fall, I started doing open air writing sessions with Maria Gironas and Dave Marx in a Los Angeles garage studio. These were my first in-person sessions back, and Worth It was the first song we wrote. There was something so special about being together again in the same space, and I feel like the friction my spirit and relationship weathered in 2020 was completely necessary for Worth It to exist. It really is amazing what we can create under pressure and with great resilience.
Talk us through your writing and production process?
My creativity is driven by visual inspiration, so I write my songs in this little notebook full of pictures that speak to my soul or a certain feeling. Each page is different, so when I start a session, I randomly flip to a page and use that photo as inspiration. The one for the Worth It session was that iconic photo of an Afghan woman from National Geographic. Her eyes are so striking and she seems broken and resilient at the same time.
In some cases, I’ll also find inspiration in passages from books or movies. One of my favorite movies is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story.
Once a song is written, I usually send a stripped back demo to a producer, align on the vision and then begin tracking. Above all, my goal is to preserve the original sentiment and emotion from that first writing session throughout the entire process. I want listeners to feel that first magical moment in the writing room, but bigger and like I heard the song play out in my head. I cut my vocals in one session, maybe two to adapt the performance to other added elements. Also, I’m definitely a fan of tracking the rhythm section live and together in a recording studio.
Where was the track recorded? Did you work alone or with a producer?
My producer David Francisco and I tracked Worth It at various studios in Southern California - including both of our home studios. The drums (Steve Hass), bass (Sean Hurley) and most piano (David Francisco) and guitars (Jon MacLennan/David Francisco) were tracked live and collaboratively at Studio City Sound with Jeff Ryon and Tom Weir. The entire process was streamed live earlier this year and gives fans an inside look at how I work in the studio to achieve my vision for a song.
Do you have a tried and tested way of working?
When I’m in the studio, I have a whole process for the workflow and getting it all done. That just comes from spending my teenage years growing up in LA recording studios. I’m an artist, but session singer as well, so when I work with musicians on a project, I give them broad guidelines and then let them run with it. They’re in the room for a reason. I trust their instincts, creativity and musicianship. When you let a session musician respond to the music in their own unique way, that’s when magic happens.
The main part of the process that differed was lyric writing. I wrote several of the lyrics for Worth It in solitude, especially the verses, which are incredibly personal. That was new for me, but critical given I’ve never been this vulnerable and open about the darkest points of my relationship before.
How do you define the role of a producer?
The first word that comes to mind is collaborator. The producer is there to help realise my vision for the song - bringing both their own creative ideas and the music in my head to life.
What are your most essential pieces of studio kit?
For me, it’s my 100% my microphones. If my house was burning down, I’d save my husband and dog first and then my microphones. I’m a singer first, so mic sound is everything to me. It’s like my palette of paints for vocals.
Has the pandemic shaped or influenced your approach to making music?
So much of the writing and production process is remote now. I still prefer being there in-person for production and tracking, but I’m more open to remote work than I ever thought I would be. I track a lot of my own vocals from my home studio now, and the pandemic shifted my focus to vocal producing and that mindset, which has been both challenging and rewarding.
Is there more new music on the way?
I can assure you, there will be more singles on the way, but I also just started the writing process for an EP! The listener reception to Worth It will help determine the direction of the project, and whether it will lean more rock or country.