Louisville Magazine

MAR 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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52 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 3.19 "Career-wise, I'd really love to have a steady creative gig that involves music. I don't really care about being recognized in the street. I'd just like to be able to spend more time doing the creative part," Hill says. "Normally, I'm looking for work and doing the business part every single day. I can't take a day off or ever just leave my phone at home, because I might lose a gig." e "jammed with…" list on Hill's website includes 103 names (A-ha, Enya, Cyndi Lauper, Randy Newman, Moby, Mavis Staples), and she says she hasn't updated that list in a long time. During our first meeting in the early fall, I asked what Kanye West was like. Her response: "What do you think Kanye would be like?" She toured with him for three years in the early-to-mid-2000s, playing harp in his backing orchestra during every- thing from stadium concerts to the BET TV special e Education of Kanye West (during which she appears at the edges of the screen). "Offstage, we'd be standing like this close to each other," she said that day in the fall, moving about three inches away from me. "In three years, he never said one word to me. Basically, anybody else, I've had better experiences with." Lauper? "I love her." Scandal actress Bellamy Young? "A real sweetheart." Scott Pilgrim vs. the World actress Alison Pill? "MacLeod and her are best friends." Hill refers to herself on her website as a "rock harpist, pop harpist, jazz harpist, Celtic harpist, and singing harpist." "It's a double-edged sword because, on one hand, I don't know anyone else who plays the styles that I do on the harp and sings," she says. "e other part of it is: Nobody thinks there exists a harpist singer." Her New York gig harp is called V'ger. "I don't want to tell you more about it in case there's anyone out there who hasn't seen the first Star Trek movie," she says. "I don't want to give anything away." Ruby and Hazel are her two Celtic harps, named after family members. Her stain- less-steel studio harp is Klaatu (from e Day the Earth Stood Still). "She looks like Gort, but I made her Klaatu," she says. Her harp in Louisville is Ylla. "When my dad was sick and in the hospital, he was basically in a coma and they didn't think he would come out, (but) he did," she says. "I brought Ray Bradbury and I was reading him our favorite stories. And Dad would tell me 'Ylla,' so I thought Ylla would be a good name for her." Her love of science fiction is part of her DNA, a primordial ooze in her veins inherited from her father, who would take breaks from poker with friends to watch e Twilight Zone. Hill's father, a chemistry professor at Indiana University Southeast who was known as "Superfecta Hill" at Churchill Downs, kept metic- ulous bookshelves crammed with old sci-fi monthlies. Before Hill could read, her father would retell her these tales, and always did so in the car. "My dad's memory was like a steel trap," she says. "He was my Memory Alpha." (A Star Trek reference, if you're not in the know.) As a child, Hill would sit in her father's office and pull titles from the bookshelves' tightly packed rows and create her own stories from the cover images — aliens with ray guns, classic flying saucers crushing antique cars on the highway. She still does this when writing songs. "Giant Mushrooms," off 2012's Girl Inventor, is an almost Bowie-esque psychedelic rock song with the added mysticism of the harp, and it's a direct nod to the ob- scure Bradbury story "Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!" Songs will also come to Hill while she dreams. She says "Meredith Moon," also from Girl Inventor, is the result of waking up in the middle of the night and recording a melody onto her phone. e lyrics came later: "Last night I dreamed an undiscov- ered Twilight Zone." (Hill financed Girl Inventor through a Kickstarter campaign that raised $35,000 from 303 donors.) One story Hill shares is of her dad's retelling of Bradbury's "Kaleidoscope." Astronauts float away from each other after debris or an explosion shreds their rocket into metal confetti. One astronaut falls toward Earth and, upon entering the atmosphere and incinerating, appears as a shooting star. "As Dad told it, back on Earth (the astronaut's) wife and little boy (see) a shooting star," she says, her voice shaking and her eyes reddening. She drags her fingertips across her eyes, wipes away a tear. "Sorry, I just miss him so much," she says. Her father died in 2013 at 80. Hill purchased this home not long after. Each corner holds memories: fresh strawberries dipped in powdered sugar each May for Derby; her dad mixing Grog rum drinks for guests with mint from the garden; learning pool on the green-felt table, next to the television where she'd watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the couch next to her dad. Her parents divorced when she was seven, and Hill's younger sister, Heather Arielle, lived with their mom. "It was just me and my dad," she says. Hill was sitting at a piano before she could walk. An over-exposed photo shows a six-month-old Hill in white tights and a white dress, open-mouth singing with her right hand on the keys of a baby-sized teal piano. Her dad gifted her a wooden recorder, and, unlike ba- sically every other fourth-grader, she has not abandoned the instrument; she still plays it during performances of the Beat- les song "e Fool on the Hill." "It's fun to bend notes and do vibrato," she says. Hill can play the flute, upright bass, electric bass, fiddle, hammered dulci- mer, mandolin, banjo, trumpet, clarinet, all matters of percussion (tambourine, cowbell — anything you shake to make noise). She picked up the saxophone at 15 to replace the synthesizer her teenage band had been using and learned the guitar for a role at Walden eatre. When asked at an audition if she played drums, she said yes — and immediately booked drum lessons. She played the duduk, a double-reed instrument, until MacLeod got ahold of it. "It apparently tasted quite delicious," she says. "And that, my friend, was the end of my duduk-playing days." But for Hill, none of these compares to the harp. At her piano teacher's house when she was eight, her eyes jumped away from her head like cartoon hearts at the first sight of a harp. "e harp was like a universe of its own," she says. "I remember being immediately fascinated with it — how does this work?" Hill's mom worked seemingly endless hours at Hawley-Cooke Booksellers, and a large chunk of each paycheck went toward Hill was sitting at a piano before she could walk. An over-exposed photo shows a six-month-old Hill in white tights and a white dress, open-mouth singing with her right hand on the keys of a baby-sized teal piano.

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