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Singer/songwriter Heather Maloney has something to say

  • Musician Heather Maloney poses for a portrait in her Northampton home on Tuesday, February 12, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Musician Heather Maloney poses for a portrait in her Northampton home on Tuesday, February 12, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Musician Heather Maloney sings one of her songs in her Northampton home on Tuesday, February 12, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Musician Heather Maloney sings one of her songs in her Northampton home on Tuesday, February 12, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Musician Heather Maloney poses for a portrait in her Northampton home on Tuesday, February 12, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Musician Heather Maloney poses for a portrait in her Northampton home on Tuesday, February 12, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Musician Heather Maloney plays one of her songs in her Northampton home on Tuesday, February 12, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Musician Heather Maloney plays one of her songs in her Northampton home on Tuesday, February 12, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Musician Heather Maloney poses for a portrait in her Northampton home on Tuesday, February 12, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Musician Heather Maloney sings one of her songs in her Northampton home on Tuesday, February 12, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Musician Heather Maloney poses for a portrait in her Northampton home on Tuesday, February 12, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Musician Heather Maloney plays one of her songs in her Northampton home on Tuesday, February 12, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

Folk, pop, rock, indie, Celtic, soulful. Try to describe the musical style of singer-songwriter Heather Maloney and you’ll likely get tongue-tied. Filled with harmonies, intimate lyrics and a unique blend of influences, Maloney’s music belongs to a genre all its own.

Growing up in New Jersey, singing along to her mother’s record player, Maloney says she knew she was meant to sing, but did not yet know precisely what. Ironically, a few years spent at a silent retreat was the key to finding her voice and the confidence to make some noise.

Since the release of her first album, “Cozy Razor’s Edge,” in 2009, her lyrics have been praised as “terrific” (Huffington Post) and as having the ability to “go beyond surface level and penetrate the core of humanity” (Times of Trenton, Trenton, N.J.). Now, in her fifth year as a singer and songwriter, Maloney, 27, will release her third album, the self-titled “Heather Maloney,” on March 12. She and her bandmates, bass player Ken Maiuri and drummer J.J. O’Connell, will have a release party on March 16 at Shea Theater in Turners Falls.

In a style she calls “adventurous folk,” Maloney draws from a variety of genres to fill the album’s 11 tracks. She calls the record’s mood “a little world-weary,” and says it revolves around themes of impermanence, uselessness and indecision. But, she adds, the tone is not dreary, but rather a “surrender type of joy. ... There is a difference between giving up and surrendering,” she said. “It’s about acceptance.”

The album is Maloney’s first since signing in 2012 with the Northampton-based Signature Sounds.

“It’s been really wonderful to have the support and to be associated with Signature Sounds,” Maloney said in a recent interview in her downtown Northampton apartment. “It’s kind of a dream.”

Alone in her room

Maloney wasn’t always an avid songwriter and performer.

Raised in Sussex County, N.J., by her mother, Kalo, Maloney says she didn’t have an average childhood. While most of her generation was growing up to Nickelodeon shows on TV and Nintendo video games, Maloney was in her room carefully placing the needle on her favorite tracks on her mother’s vinyl ’70s records. With no TV or other form of electronic entertainment in the house, artists like Joni Mitchell and the Beatles became a staple of her younger years and largely inspired her career in music.

“The biggest influence from my household was the record player,” Maloney said.

As a child, Maloney would often ask her mother to pull out her guitar (a 1970 Alvarez) and sing with her. “My mother wasn’t particularly musical, but she taught me how to harmonize,” she said.

Maloney practiced music with a variety of private teachers and eventually went on to study music at Morris County Community College in New Jersey. With a semester left before graduation, Maloney said, “It was time to go.” She had heard about a meditation center that was hiring from a friend and decided to try it out. In 2007, Maloney was employed to work as a vegetarian cook and live on the campus of Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre.

It was there, Maloney says, that she found her passion and inspiration for songwriting and her desire to perform.

Before her time at IMS, Maloney said her songwriting lacked a “sense of urgency.” However, her three years at the silent retreat center, which is loosely based on Buddhist practices, “inspired me to feel like I had something to say,” Maloney said.

Nothing’s permanent

The center’s core values spoke loud and clear to Maloney; especially the Buddhist reflection of impermanence, which inspired songs like “Dirt and Stardust,” which appears on the new album. In the ballad, which is about a woman who is so aware of impermanence that she distances herself from everything, Maloney sings, “Don’t want these walls to wall me in forever ... so please make my castle out of sand.”

By fusing these newfound principles into her songwriting, Maloney says, she gained the confidence to get up on stage.

“I don’t really want to be seen,” Maloney said, “but if I have something to say, it’s like I have something to stand behind.” Maloney said her years at IMS instilled deliberateness in her music writing.

“There is an intention there to do whatever your job may be with mindfulness and presence,” said Maloney, who describes her writing process as a “spiritual experience.”

“It’s so faith-based and mysterious to me,” Maloney said. She says her song ideas usually begin as a “feeling like something needs to happen.”

Though she prides herself on having a unique style, Maloney says she is not offended by the many comparisons to other artists, like Regina Spector, Ani DiFranco, Dolores O’Riordan of the Irish rock band “The Cranberries,” and her childhood favorite, Joni Mitchell.

“I honor and expect that influences are going to come through in my music,” she said. “In my style of writing I can hear the Beatles ... and I listened to tons of Joni Mitchell, so she has to be coming through.” But, Maloney most appreciates when people recognize her as simply sounding like herself. “The best compliment I’ve ever gotten was that I sound like Heather Maloney.”

Onstage

At a recent show at Black-Eyed Sally’s restaurant in Hartford, Conn., Maloney arrived early, and took her time greeting fans and introducing herself.

She calls meeting fans “the best part of performing. ... It feels like more of a friendship.” Though she only started performing her own tunes on stage in 2009, Maloney says she’s mostly “gotten over” being nervous.

“It’s always the idea of performing that is more scary than the reality of it,” she said.

Depending on her audience, Maloney pulls from her varied musical repertoire to create a fitting set list. For her Black-Eyed Sally’s performance, she showcased upbeat numbers, like “Broken,” which got the audience clapping and stomping from the first beat, and “Time and Pocket Change,” to which fans grooved on an impromptu dance floor.

For more intimate shows, Maloney says, she likes to focus on her ballads, like “Dirt and Stardust” her favorite to perform,” “Flying on Helium,” a break-up song, in which lyrics like “we were high on hope and low on cash,” illustrate the inevitability of what she calls “the fall.”

A Black-Eyed Sally’s audience member, Kahquan Ahmed, 42, of Bloomfield, Conn., described Maloney as having a “charming awkwardness” and “a nervous energy. I love it!” he said.

Fellow audience member Mara Lee, 41, also of Hartford, said she has been a fan of Maloney’s for a while, and finds her music to be “a little rockier than the typical singer/songwriter.”

As for her future, Maloney says she’s happy with the path she’s on.

“In five years, if I’m in a similar place, but maybe a little more financially stable, I wouldn’t mind at all.”

Heather Maloney and her band will perform what she calls the “biggest show we’ve had yet,” at a record release party March 16 at 8 p.m. at Shea Theater in Turners Falls. The Connecticut-based roots/Americana band Poor Old Shine opens.

Tickets cost $12 and are available on the Signature Sounds website, www.signaturesounds.com.

Maloney’s music is available on her website, www.heathermaloney.com, on itunes and at local music stores.

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