A hank of wavy bronze hair falls across Heather Lose’s face, but even in the falling darkness of her living room at dusk, you can’t miss the blaze in her eyes. The photographer (an award-winning series capturing fireworks stands), instigator (trying to save WRVU), art director (most recently Nashville Scene), radio originator (WXNA, after losing the battle for WRVU), and rock & roll girl is talking “the scene,” when Elliston’s Rock Block and Cantrell’s were raging, The Metro covered all the local bands, and Lose was clawing her way through Hillwood High after stops at St. Cecelia and Franklin Road Academy.
“They’d say, ‘You’re such an artist’,” she musters, all these years later. “It was not a compliment. My mom made our clothes. My dad was starting a business, but they felt it was so important for us to get that early education.”
Lose got one, all right. Maybe not in the conventional 3 R’s and four-wall sense, but between sneaking into clubs, being where the bands were, and excelling at “commercial art” classes, the young woman emerging was able to insinuate herself into a Nashville scene that was bubbling with the White Animals, The Royal Court of China, Walk the West, In Pursuit, Bill Lloyd, and the Questionnaires.
“There isn’t that much difference between a 16-year-old girl and an 18-year-old girl,” she says with a shrugs and laughs. “And if you were a high school girl, and you couldn’t get into Cantrell’s, there was always a frat party at Vanderbilt to go to.”
Invoking a pair of trinities — the record store, the pop shop, and the game zone, and Rock 106, WKDF, and 91 Rock (WRVU) — the good-spirited girl who couldn’t speak in class found a cartography for her life. “91 Rock was a cry in the dark,” she explains. “It wasn’t in your face the way the more mainstream stations were. You heard Sisters of Mercy, The Cure, Replacements. It was all, ‘REALLY?! What was that?’ ”
If she lived on a diet of Circus, CREEM, TigerBeat “when I was young,” and Rolling Stone, it wasn’t long until she went pro. Working for Gus Palas at The Metro, where “all kinds of Bohemian people were passing through,” Lose found her calling. She also found her first adult foothold.
“I was living there, because there was a shower upstairs,” she recalls. “I was writing for them, laying it out, occasionally taking pictures. It gave this quiet kid who’d cry when the teacher called on her a place in the scene. I loved it.”
In 1986, Lose got a paste-up job at the Nashville Scene, as well as hosting the Local Show on Rebel 100.
Within three years, she’d worked her way up to art director. On fire with the music, she wanted more. It wasn’t long until the 20-something took off for LA with a buddy who’d sold ads.
Arriving in the City of Angels like so many dreamers, they got an apartment at the corner of Fountain and Orange where the Hollywood shadows tentacled toward new kids from the flyover. Within days, armed with her Scene portfolio, she had a job.
“I didn’t have a bed; I was sleeping on a camping pad — and driving over Laurel Canyon to work and back every day,” she says, beaming. “Waking up in the morning, you’d smell pavement. They were always paving. But HITS was music, musicmusicmusic. They were bringing in X, bands I’d never heard of, Tina Turner. You just never knew.
“And the art room was filled with everything: Raheem the Vigilante, Fine Young Cannibals, hard industrial music. We even had a Deadhead from Virginia. The music all mixed and flowed.”
HITS — with its marketing function and Global Satellite Radio partnership — was the insiders’ trade magazine. “Like taking the back off a clock and seeing how the gears worked, the bells chimed, I learned how promotion worked, why publicity’s different,” she says. “It was intense, and there was music.”
A rough-and-tumble place, founder Dennis Laventhal learned Lose’ name when she forged credentials — for the entire staff — to the Radio & Records convention in Universal City. Laughing, she remembers, “When he saw them, he wanted to know who was responsible. And when they brought me to him, turns out I wasn’t in trouble, he wanted to compliment my work.”
That irrepressibility was contagious. When her roommate got a job at Chameleon Records doing promotion, it wasn’t long until Lose was interviewing to be noted producer/ engineer Chuck Plotkin’s assistant. With her hair in corn rows — “I’d gotten a bonus, and that’s’ what I did” — she talked Camper Van Beethoven, X, and Red Hot Chili Peppers with the A&R chief, and was hired.
“It wasn’t an assistant’s job,” she explains. “But that was all that was in the budget.”
Suddenly the girl who loved music was sitting at the Roxy, talking to songwriters and finding artists like Dan Bern, Rage Against the Machine, Ethyl Meatplow, Kyuss. “I was filing session reports, keeping things together as a project manager, the not sexy part of it.”
In her heart, though, Lose remained a Nashville girl. Successful and poised to ascend, things turned dark. “Magic Johnson got sick, the riots happened, and three people we know and loved from HITS dropped dead, 1, 2, 3,” she recalls.
Lose came home for Thanksgiving in ’93, went to the Gold Rush and realized, “What the hell am I doing in LA?” The path is well-trod. Many go West, they always come home.
Lose’s home, with the giant back window looking out on a sprawling woods filled with foxes, deer, and other fauna, is filled with art. Found art, folk art, her husband John Reed’s art, and her own photos and paintings. With a BFA degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a master’s in professional media practices from the Journalism Department at Southern Illinois University, Lose is skilled at evoking emotions, narrowing focus, and creating visual content that defines her subject. It’s everywhere you look.
Since arriving back in Nashville — and moving from Lightning 100 to Thunder 94 as music director — she has been a relentless member of the creative and music communities. She has taught classes at Watkins, The Art Institute of Tennessee, learned Illustrator, Quark, and Photoshop, “moving from the X-Acto knife and waxer to modern technology.”
During her time abroad getting her master’s, she worked for high-profile photographer Sandro Miller in Chicago and community radio in Cairo, Ill. Located in a corn field in a small college town, WDBX was the home of Lose’s Honky Tonk Jukebox, a mix of classic country, new stuff from Todd Snider and Tommy Womack, along with X, Social Distortion, and other punk bands for a true mix up.
“That’s where my passion for community radio really comes from,” she offers. “I’d come down to Grimeys, get some delights for the ears of Cairo — and one day, I realized I’m turning a community on. The college kids come and go, but people in Carbondale have been on the air there for years. It’s all about their passion.”
That passion carried Lose, who realized a civic vision through the Community Darkroom, to getting active in filling the RVU gap. “My understanding is (the school) thought radio was a tired media and teaching kids radio wasn’t a good career path,” she says. “But I think you learn so much more when you host and create your own show, things that aren’t soft skills: poise, time management, taste, the reason you’re making decisions.”
Upon learning the FCC was creating a window for low power FM frequencies, she was among the core group who spearheaded the drive. “I have learned so much about paperwork, about construction permits, having a board within 10 miles of the location,” she says. “We raised the money, found the place, got the gear, hired an engineer.
“We were called the Magnificent 7,” she continues. “Once we were on the air, it went from seven people with a dream to all these people who were on the air, volunteering, listening. All of them were part of the dream, too. And I think community radio really stands at the crossroads of people actually talking and connecting.”
It is dark now. The woods are still. Like a cat, Lose stretches, takes a glass and stands. To her, it’s not heroic work, but continuing to grow from the young girl sneaking into shows and mimeographing fanzines. “Growing up in Nashville, I saw so many shows at Memorial Gym: the Pretenders, Iggy (Pop), the B52s. That’s part of the tradition, part of what RVU gave us. Laura Powers, one of (WXNA’s) cofounders, said it best, ‘Music is how you find your tribes.’
“We live in a musically astute town. It’s more than the business — and radio’s highest purpose is to serve a community. When you’re talking to everybody, you’re talking to nobody; when you’re talking your passion about artists, you’re creating a bond. That’s how I grew up here, and it’s why Nashville is in my bones.”