The Heroine’s Journey of Heather Styka

What is the best thing that I love about my work? It’s so fulfilling and satisfying to connect with people through my music — very healing. When someone deeply relates to a song, my experience can benefit someone else, and they, in turn, benefit me. My very favorite thing is when an audience member tells me, “That song describes exactly how I feel… I could never fully describe it before, but you put it into words for me.”
What is my idea of perfect happiness? Perfect happiness is reading a good book on a sunny balcony or front porch, with a soft steady breeze, enjoying a strong cup of coffee.
What is my greatest fear? I think I used to fear being alone… over the years, I have come to love my solitude. I used to fear that my all my artistic endeavors would amount to nothing, but now I can say I’m satisfied with what I’ve done so far. Perhaps my fear now is that I may someday stop taking risks.                                                                         
What is the trait that I most deplore in myself? I’m very prone to excess — it’s often all or nothing with me. It’s very hard for me to read just one chapter of a book, watch just one episode of a show, or drink just one glass of wine. Which often leads me to staying up later than I intend, and having much more fun than I meant to have. Willpower is my downfall.
Which living persons in my profession do i most admire? Gillian Welch, John K. Samson, Gregory Alan Isakov, Anais Mitchell, to name a few.
What is my greatest extravagance? Lipstick, good whiskey… and I have quite a soft spot for curiosities such as fossils, crystals, and rocks.
On what occasion would I lie? It’s hard for me not to be honest when it matters — I rarely hold back information. But I have no trouble lying to strangers, making up stories, or stretching the truth as needed. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story!
What is the thing that I dislike the most in my work? Writing songs, for me, comes as naturally as breathing, and I take such great pleasure in performing for people. I struggle a lot with the rest of it — the emails and booking, the promotion and hustle. It simply requires so much energy to manage a music career.
When and where was I the happiest, in my work? Probably during some of the shows I’ve played at my favorite Chicago venues, such as Old Town School of Folk Music and City Winery. It’s a magic feeling when I get a room full of people hanging on every word and every note, and laughing at my stories and jokes.
If I could, what would I change about myself? I think I would eliminate my tendency to procrastinate… I’d spend less time thinking, and more time doing. But perhaps I wouldn’t change that — it would make me a very different person than who I am.
On second thought, I absolutely love to dance, but I usually have to be coaxed into it. I can be quite shy. So I’d like to be more bold, decisive, and daring in my dancing.
What is my greatest achievement in work? I’m very proud of my 2018 album, North, that I recorded in a cabin in the woods of northern Wisconsin, with The Sentimentals from Denmark. I’m fond of so many songs I wrote for that record, but also the sound, the vibe, the energy, and the production that we achieved is exactly what I hoped it would be.
Where would I most like to live? My longtime dream was to live by the sea, so I moved to Maine for a while, and got my wish. Of course, I’ve had daydreams of living in a charming old apartment in Paris, or a quaint cottage surrounded by an English garden, or any number of idyllic settings. As I tour, I fall in love with so many towns, and often consider relocating. I’ve always felt strangely at home in Canada. but for the moment, I’m proud to be from Chicago, and grateful to call it my home.
What is my most treasured possession? My houseplants! If one dies, I don’t exactly mourn — I understand that plants come and go. But they bring so much joy to my life, and I miss them when I’m on the road. I have mosses in terrariums, many small succulents, a few orchids, one pilea, and one jade plant.
What is my most marked characteristic? I’d say most people recognize me by my infectious laugh. I love to laugh.
What is my most inspirational location, in my city? Anywhere along the lakefront, but for me personally, Diversey Harbor has always been a place to get away from it all and think. I consider Lake Michigan my little freshwater ocean — it certainly looks like one — and I never get tired of seeing the skyline in the distance as I listen to the waves.
I also find a lot of inspiration at the museum of the Art Institute, and in the concerts and community at Old Town School of Folk Music.
What is my favourite place to eat and drink, in my city? My favourite cocktails are downtown at Chicago Athletic Association on Michigan Avenue — it’s a beautiful old building. As for food, I’m partial to Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba (a Spanish Tapas cafe) and the Chicago Diner (Vegetarian/Vegan comfort food). Everyone who comes to town wants to know about the famous hot dogs and deep dish, so my choices for that, respectively, are SuperDawg and Lou Malnati’s.
What books influenced my life and how? I’ve always been an avid reader, and as a child I especially fell in love with fantasy novels such as The Chronicles of Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. In more recent years, I was totally struck by All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. His prose is magnificent, and it’s a beautiful story. I was moved by Walt Whitman as a teenager, which gave me a love of poetry that deepened in college and has continued to this day, influencing my songs.
Who are my favorite writers? Walt Whitman, J.R.R. Tolkein, Thich Nhat Hahn, Pema Chodron, Dava Sobel, Erik Larson, J.K. Rowling, Douglas Adams, Marie Howe, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Phillip Pullman, Cheryl Strayed, Bill Bryson… It’s hard to choose!
You Only Die Once. What music would I listen on my last day? Erik Satie’s “Trois Gnossiennes,” Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending,” and a healthy amount of Ella Fitzgerald, Hank Williams, and Leonard Cohen.
Who is my hero or heroine in fiction? I have many, but when I’m in need of inspiration to persist, I often think of Frodo. I’m pretty hobbit-like, and I usually think if Frodo can take the ring to Mordor, I can face any challenges in my day. I also have an affinity for Amelie (from the film Amelie) and Dorothy Gale from Wizard of Oz.
Who are my heroes and heroines in real life? Hmm… Thich Nhat Hahn and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Also, anyone who has trained to be an astronaut!
Which movie would i recommend to see once in a lifetime? I can’t imagine going through life without seeing Casablanca at least once!
What role plays art in my life and work? Honestly, art has been the most important, all-consuming thing in my life — making the decision to be a touring musician has meant that I am chasing the muse full time. I’ve prioritized art (in particular, music) before everything in my life. In the past year or two, I’ve been working to find a healthier balance. I want to structure my life so that my art is my retreat and my passion, and not a chore, not my taskmaster.
Who is my greatest fan, sponsor, partner in crime? I feel fortunate to say that honor probably goes to my parents, over the years. They’ve been patient and encouraging since I was just a kid trying to play shows. I also have a couple friends to whom I send most of my works in progress via text — Blake Carlson, a poet friend from my college days, and Erik Bleich, a songwriter based out of Toronto. It’s important to me to maintain a community of fellow artists who can weigh in on my work.
Whom would I like to work with in 2019? I’m working on finding the right fit for a classic country band, for shows in the Chicago area and Midwest region. I’m also looking to find compatible musicians to do programming for a sort of dreamy indie-pop project.
Which people in my profession would I love to meet in 2019? Jeff Tweedy, Gillian Welch, Paul Simon would probably be my top three dream people to meet. More realistically, my desire to collaborate more means that I’d love to meet more musicians whose vision aligns with my own.
What project, in 2019, am I looking forward to work on? I have two separate upcoming albums I’m working on — the first will be full band, classic country. I’ve been writing quite a few songs that feel like a throwback, and they belong together with some classic instrumentation. The other project will be much more atmospheric, lyrically driven and mellow — I’d like to explore more synth possibilities as far as instrumentation goes.
Where can you see me or my work in 2019? I’ll be mostly playing shows in the midwestern United States through the rest of this year, and will likely do more distant touring in summer of 2020. Of course, you can always hear me on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and any other streaming or download service!
What do the words “Passion Never Retires” mean to me? As I’ve been talking about finding a healthier music/life balance, I’ve had some friends concerned that I will stop writing songs, or stop performing. That’s hardly a concern; it would be simply impossible for me. Although the reasons I create music have evolved over time — I hope to get to an internal place where the elusive ghosts of money and fame no longer matter in the slightest — the songs themselves are a part of me, and always will be. The art itself is not work, it is passion.
Which creative heroines should Peter invite to tell their story? I have many other songwriter friends who might be a good fit… it’s so hard to choose!
How can you contact me?

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