It’s the Saturday night after Thanksgiving in Ashburn, Virginia, and kids are out with their parents in the shopping center parking lot, getting horse-drawn carriage rides from Santa. Meanwhile, Heather Aubrey Lloyd is tuning her guitar in the center of Parallel Wine and Whiskey, preparing to set the place ablaze.
“I have a hard time reducing her to a sound bite,” said a fan who would only give his name as David. “She is the type of artist who you don’t find often. So, I come to hear her play every time she is here.”
Lloyd started her set with Springsteen’s “Dancing in The Dark,” using a set-up that is as basic as it gets: a mic on a stand, amplifiers for her vocals and acoustic guitar, and a little sound board. If the DNA of Melissa Etheridge, Carly Simon, Janis Joplin, José Feliciano, Anthony Kiedis, Cass Elliot, and Joni Mitchell could be blended together and injected into a spark plug with curly black locks, you might come up with something like Lloyd strapped in behind a microphone.
Lloyd is far from a newcomer to the world of music. She co-fronted Baltimore’s ilyAIMY (i love you And I Miss You) for 15 years, playing everything from bars to bait shops to clothing-optional resorts nationwide, according to her website. After a solo stint backing Dar Williams, Lloyd started work on a solo CD that was released earlier this year.
“I’m in the midst of an existential crisis about music a little bit because the industry has changed,” said Lloyd during a set break. “I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make a living in this day and age of music. There was a time that you could make a living with CD sales, but now things have gone fully digital. So, I am going to have to explore Patreon and other platforms to continue to be a working musician.”
The restaurant has filled up with the late dinner regulars who have come to enjoy the live music at Parallel. Like David, many have come just to see Lloyd.
“I used to work here for four years so I used to see Heather all the time,” said Nick Bishop of Ashburn. “Not only do I love her music, but we share a common love of gin. Her music is the best though. That’s why I’m here.”
Lloyd refers to herself as a recovering journalist. She majored in the subject at the University of Maryland in College Park, graduating in May 2002. The previous year, she ran into a group of musicians in a café near campus with whom she struck up a friendship, which evolved into a professional collaboration. She taught herself percussion and guitar, and started to write lyrics. Now, fifteen years later, about half of her sets are her own songs.
“I was a choir nerd when I was young. I did a lot of singing, a lot,” said Lloyd. “So, even though I paused to be a journalist, I was always a performer.”
While she was at Maryland, Lloyd worked as an administrative beat reporter and summer news editor at The Diamondback. She worked for The Baltimore Sun as a reporter for a summer following graduation and was published 19 times.
“There are some things that never leave you. I remember that when I first started songwriting very avidly, I had a really hard time writing something that was absolutely explicitly true. It took time to break myself of that and express myself poetically,” said Lloyd. “I find myself fact-checking my songs.
“I recently wrote a song about wall with graffiti on it in Aleppo from an image that was circulating the Internet. And, I wrote a very clichéd line that alluded to the fact that they never see snow there. But, then, the journalist in me had to fact-check to see if it ever snowed there. And, of course, it does. My education paid off. Journalists make good song writers.”
With that, Lloyd released her infectious, joyous laugh. It was almost time for her to start her second set.
The music business is constantly changing and the changes are coming faster than ever before, said Lloyd. Nevertheless, she says her future looks bright.
“I am looking forward to recording more original music and diversifying my offerings,” said Lloyd. “I wrote a poetry book a few years ago, and I am going to digitize it. I am also going to invest in more merchandising. These are the things you have to do in order to stay relevant and viable in the business. But, the music is always first.”
Howard Fletcher is a journalist and podcaster who lives in Silver Spring, MD.
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