Singer-songwriter Courtney Leigh Heins is building a name for herself in the music industry.
Performing two years in a row at a couple of the nations top festivals have helped, and becoming an overnight pop sensation in Poland didnt hurt either. Either way, Heins, a Fort Wayne native turned California Girl, is beginning to see her music propel forward since she decided to look back at her Midwest roots.
Heins has earned two award nominations from the International Music and Entertainment Association for her recent album, Bright Blue World. IMEA is a non-profit organization whose mission is to support individuals and other organizations that are in the entertainment industry.
Filled with nostalgia, the album offers an array of snapshots of Heins life in Fort Wayne and moving away first to Boston College, and then on to Los Angeles, where she currently lives. Heins released the album in January.
Bright Blue is a song about leaving Fort Wayne and the song Good Times is about my life in Fort Wayne, she says during a phone interview from Los Angeles. Sometimes you have to let go of those things and reflect on what you gain from those experiences.
Heins combination of Americana roots and pop melodies has her up for the best country album and best country song for IMEAs inaugural award show Nov. 2 in Ashland, Ky. Online fan voting, which helps determine the winner, ends Tuesday. Fans can vote at www.imeaawards.com/vote.
It feels really good. It feels like progress. Im definitely not where I wanted to be, but its a vote of confidence, she says.
Bright Blue is Heins third studio album and a return to an authenticity she says was missing in her second album, Hot Coffee. She worked with two producers, who are also close friends; one took the helm of her folk, bluegrass sound, while the other helped her implement some pop music elements. Jordan Higgins and Bryan Dobbs are nominated for best producer for their contributions on the album.
I think I just wanted to make something better than my last album, she says. As long as I can continue to do that, Ill make albums. When the latest one is not as good as the last one, Ill probably stop.
Influenced by her parents record collection, Heins says she grew up in a musical family. Heins father, Bill Heins, was a choir director for 30 years. She says that he would compose music at home, and she remembers being in the next room listening to him work. One track on her album, Dream-a-Bubble, is a completed version of a song her father wrote in the 60s, which adds a nostalgic bubble-gum pop feel to the record
Another song, Fear, comes from a more grave experience when Heins realized her biggest fear after hearing about her fathers heart attack. Her father has since made a full recovery.
I have never lost anyone close to me outside of grandparents, and it was really jarring to me, she says. I felt kind of helpless being so far away from my parents. I cant fathom a world without them. I know there will come a time when I have to, and thats really scary to me.
As a teenager, Heins found an interest in musical theater. Graduating from Snider High School in 1994, Heins pursued a degree in theater from Boston College. Heins says she was at a theater camp at Glacier Point Park in Montana when she got into country music. She was cast in a country musical to play Naomi Judd and Linda Ronstadt.
The music of show inspired her to write songs while in college. Heins says artists such as Bob Dylan, Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson and the band Wilco are some of her inspirations.
The best songwriters write country songs because they know how to tell stories and paint a picture, she says. But I like the tone of pop music. It immediately induces a feeling whether its a driving or party song.
Moving straight to Los Angeles after graduating college in 1998, Heins began booking roles as an actress. Living in the entertainment capital, Heins says she realized she wanted to really pursue her music. She began taking guitar lessons so that she would be able to accompany herself on stage.
I was getting into a lot of musicals and I thought, Why dont I do music? I much prefer music. I dont have go to through the pain of auditioning, she says.
Heins has played in legendary venues like the Viper Room and the Rainbow on the Sunset Strip. She has also been invited to perform at the Sundance Film Festival and the South by the Southwest music festival twice. Her music has been used in U.S. TV shows and films, and she has won a number of grand prizes and top placements in songwriting competitions nationwide. One song, Angel, was used in Polands No. 1 TV drama. Heins says that fans of the show began to disperse her song through YouTube.
I started to get all these hits from Poland on my website and I was like What is this? Fans of the show had started posting the song on YouTube. It was kind of cool. Its just a simple lullaby, she says.
Heins says she wants to continue making music for TV and films, and perhaps even a hip-hop album using her poetry in the future. She also would like to work with songwriters in Nashville, which has become the capital for country artists trying to make it in the industry. She says she has considered moving to Nashville, but she is sure she would miss the California beaches too much. Wherever she lands is still a mystery, but she is content in knowing her career is taking off.
I dont think I have any fears about the awards show, she says. Its great just being recognized. Its brought about something positive even if I dont win. Im getting a positive response from the album and Ive been in touch with a lot of old friends.