Lisa Hillary had a high-school boyfriend whose entire family would play guitar and sing on holidays.
On the Christmas of her senior year at Rowland Hall, that boyfriend gave her a guitar so that she could play with his musical family.
But three weeks after Christmas, the boyfriend's father "one of my guitar heroes," she said was killed in a plane crash.
"Although I never got the chance to play with him, I felt an incredible urge to learn to play so that I could fill in for him in the song circle," said Hillary, of Canyon Rim.
Today, besides playing guitar, the 36-year-old writes songs, sings and dabbles on the ukulele. She has recorded her first album, "Edge of the World." Her music recalls the acoustic, confessional style of Ani DiFranco, Brandi Carlisle and fellow Utah native Jewel.
Why did you return to Utah after graduating from St. Lawrence University in New York?
I am a big mountain girl. Although New York has some truly wonderful attributes, I love the feeling of spring in the Wasatch Mountains. I felt lost without them. Utah is a unique and beautiful place and I have deep-rooted connections to my home.
What did you want to achieve with "Edge of the World"?
The title track, "Edge of the World," is written about my experience of having a family member addicted to heroin, and I was constantly waiting in limbo for him to turn his life around. Ani DiFranco said in her song "Fuel" that "people used to make records as in a record of an event. The event of people playing music in a room." I wanted an honest musical experience for the listener rather than a few catchy produced singles with filler songs. "Edge of the World" is a hand-crafted record in the truest sense. I set out to combine the songs in such a way as to take the listener on a journey of love, loss, heartbreak and wonder through creative lyrics and melodies.
Does being in Utah help or hinder music aspirations?
Utah is slowly coming out of the dark as a music scene. As a truly organic movement, you see bands like Marinade and The Zero Summers literally launching themselves as artists through creative use of the community and their fans. I recently played at Creative Unplugged in Ogden. It is a really intimate songwriter showcase that highlights local artists and allows them to find creativity and support from their peers. Utah is full of musical events, outlets and shows. The difficult thing can be to find them.
What do you remember about your first performance?
When you first perform, I think many of us picture our heroes and idols onstage, especially if you are a teenager. I really don't think I became a truly great songwriter until I could let go of wanting to emulate someone else. I still have a copy of that first performance and think about how much my stage presence has changed.
Describe a perfect day.
I love going on adventures. A perfect day would be hitting the road to play shows in the surrounding areas. Singing in the car to whomever moves me at the moment and stopping to hike the natural beauty of the West. There is something so beautiful about the sunset in the desert and the change from the heat of the day to the cool nights. It is almost like you can feel the Earth breathe. Finish the day by cooking a great meal for my closest friends and family and playing guitar around a campfire under the stars.
Would you rather go to a rock show or the symphony?
As a dancer, I love the idea of the symphony, [with] things happening in unison with precision. However, I love the showmanship and stage performance of rock. I find that rock shows tend to want the audience to be a part of the overall experience and it is more of a partnership between the creativity of the artist and the energy of the crowd.
Singer-songwriter Lisa Hillary will perform in the Twilite Cabaret, a fundraiser for homeless youth in Utah.
When • June 29
Where • The Grand Theatre at Salt Lake Community College, 1575 S. State, Salt Lake City
Listen • Hillary's music is available on iTunes.com . Tracks also are available on her website lisahillary.com, reverbnation.com/lisahillary, facebook.com/lisahillarymusic and Spotify.