Heather Kelly is making music her way
She started with a band and now records as a solo artist
Fort Dodge native Heather Kelly is a prolific singer-songwriter who started in the music scene back in 2006. With more than 20 years of experience in the music industry, Kelly has released four albums as the lead vocalist of the group HipKnosis, formerly known as H&K, and many singles as a solo artist.
When describing the very beginning of her career, Kelly said “In 2004, I was invited to play violin with the Blue Canoe Band based out of Humboldt. That is when I met lead guitarist, Erick Hovey, who is my longest adult friend to date. At some point Erick saw some potential in me and he took me to Junior’s Motel Recording Studio”.
It was then that Kelly met Kirk Kaufman, with whom she would form H&K. Kelly said “the minute Kirk and I met we connected immediately.”
H&K would release their first album in 2008 titled “Catch a Rainbow.” The album would feature Kelly on vocals, piano, violin, and percussion while Kaufman played bass guitar, kick drum, and did vocals as well. This would be the only album under the H&K name as they would transition to HipKnosis with their second album, 2010’s “HipKnosis”.
Kelly and Kaufman were later joined by Melvin James on lead guitar in 2008. Dave Hearn would join and provide new music and piano in 2010, and Jon Passow joined on the drums creating the complete lineup of HipKnosis by 2012. HipKnosis would go on to release the remaining two of their four albums before disbanding in 2015.
“We disbanded in 2015,” Kelly said. “And you know, a lot of people may think when you disband it’s a bad thing. But there were no harsh feelings. Kirk had aspirations and things he wanted to finish, as well as some of the others.”
Kelly added “I started a solo career, just Heather Kelly music. And what’s interesting about how HipKnosis disbanded, I am now a solo artist, but everybody that was in HipKnosis is playing on my tracks. So I mean it’s kind of full circle. They’re all great to play anytime I need them.”
Kelly is very appreciative and grateful towards all the musicians she has been able to play with. All of the other members of HipKnosis have been inducted into the Iowa Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and were able to lend their experience towards Kelly’s growth as an artist. Along with her former bandmates, Kelly is currently writing music with Hearn who played with the Fort Dodge band The Hawks alongside Kaufman. Kelly has praised everyone she has had the privilege to work with, especially Kaufman, whom Kelly said has “had my back and supported my every idea or project I’ve had over the last 17 years.”
HipKnosis had a more pop rock sound while Kelly’s solo work takes a more varied sonic quality.
“One thing I don’t do is I don’t try to create music that’s trending,” she said. ” I want to create my own sound.”
While Kelly doesn’t necessarily approach music creation with a genre in mind, she also stated ” I think what I really liked is just indie music, alternative, pop, rock. You know, right in there. That’s kind of what I like.”
” I typically write on the piano,” she said of her approach to writing music.” And I’ll kind of start writing something and then I’ll actually get it to a point where there’s a verse and a bridge and a chorus, you know, and I feel the structure coming together. At that point, I sit and stare at the paper, with my pen in my hand until words seem to make sense. Well, then, once you think you’ve kind of got it you do a basic track, you record a basic track so you can start kind of building around that. And when I say build around it, that’s when I have Dave, Kirk, or Melvin or anybody else put their parts in.”
Kelly continued saying “piano is my go to writing instrument so I usually come up with what I call a ‘ditty’ on the piano. And then when it starts to form itself, that’s when I start putting lyrics to it. I have a tendency to write kind of ballad-like songs myself, but then when I explained it to the band, how I want it with Melvin with ‘OK, now here’s where I heard this this big guitar’, you know, or heavy bass here and drums, you know, then I can start producing it as I see fit.”
While Kelly releases her solo work, she also hosts a podcast for Fort Dodge Radio called The Indie Music Room. The podcast started on June 15, 2019, with the 40th episode releasing on Nov. 1 of this year. The Indie Music Room is a podcast where Kelly brings in upcoming artists to showcase some of their music and discuss their creative process.
When talking about her mission statement for the podcast, Kelly said ” I know every aspect of trying to promote your music and booking and then the writing and the recording. So I just thought I would open up a platform where people who may not have had the chance to be heard, can submit to me and with their independent music.”
“I just feel like I want to help those people spread the word and I will share my knowledge with them and, promote them and help them as much as I can,” she added. “I don’t make any money doing what I do, but I do it because I love it.”
The submission guidelines can be found on their page on the Fort Dodge Radio website.
When prompted about what advice she would give for new musicians, Kelly said “I would tell them to be patient.”
” I would tell them to never try to appease people,” she added. “Be true to yourself, authenticity, because people sometimes don’t know what they like until they hear it. You’ve got to stay true to yourself. You’ve got to work hard. This isn’t an easy business. I’m definitely not getting rich off of it. But I’ve enjoyed the entire ride and still continue to do it.”
“I would say reach out to other people that are independent artists and see what they do to get ideas as far as marketing and promoting,” she said.
Kelly’s years of experience in the music industry is something she is hoping to share with many upcoming artists in the future.