An interview with recording artist Michelle Hilsman
By Melissa Peterson
Michelle Hilsman wrote most of the songs on her debut album, “Sapphire Blue,” while snowed in housesitting for her parents in the country. “All day long, every day for a week, all I did was write, write, write.” A year and a half later, a completed album was born.
From its opening song, “No Man’s Land,” Hilsman’s album feels like a lonesome, determined drive out West—a journey that rises and falls through a range of emotional elevations. Get out of town to the accelerating beat of “Pink Paradise.” Pause in a quiet roadside bar with the haunted, intimate beauty of its title track, “Sapphire Blue.”
Q: What is your songwriting process?
A: I usually start by singing little tunes when I’m alone. Sometimes I like what I hear and decide to find the chords. I decide if it sounds like a verse or a chorus. If it’s a chorus, I figure out what my verses are going to be. Then, every song needs a bridge. The song “Sapphire Blue” was written in the car on a drive.
Q: Where do you draw your inspiration?
A: On this album, a lot of things had changed in my life. Writing the songs was a way to process the changes that had happened over the past 12 years.
Q: What about Stevie Nicks inspired you to write the song “Stevie”?
A: I was painting while remodeling a house, and I was just imagining that Stevie Nicks wouldn’t do this. She’s been through a lot of loves and has always pushed and kept her dream number one. It’s easy to go forward in life because you have to, but then you worry about it being too late for things. I was just imagining, “How did I get here?” At the time I felt I had grown up too fast.
PUTTING TOGETHER AN ALBUM
Q: How’d you go from writing
songs to recording an album?
A: I booked the studio pretty quickly after (writing the songs), maybe within three weeks. I didn’t want to lose them. If you write a song and you don’t put it down somewhere, who knows if you’re ever going to remember it. Songs can just kind of go or be forgotten about. Totally refining each song took me up until recording started.
Q: What was the recording experience like?
A: Seeing the simple songs I wrote come to life felt larger than life. I couldn’t have done it on my own. That’s why I have to say a big thank you to Zach Zurn and the team at Carpet Booth Studios. Zach helped me a ton on the creative process, taking the song from what it went in as to a finished project. Percussions on the album were done by Garret Kolb. The collaboration was the best part about it.
AFTER THE ALBUM
Q: Do you feel like you’ve grown as an artist since putting the album together?
A: The exciting part of doing your first album is that it gives you a place to grow from. It’s the beginning of a journey. Going forward, when I write, I’ll think of it in a bigger sense than just me and my guitar. I’ll have more of an idea of how I want my finished product to sound. There are a lot of different directions you can go with one song.
It’s been that journey of trying to find myself and realizing I could do some things on my own. But the big thing I learned was that collaboration is everything. Writing helped me heal, and recording helped me process and move on.
Q: How would you describe your music?
A: I feel like the album has a real range. It has some folk, overtones of country. I’m curious what other people think about that.
Find Michelle’s album on Spotify.