The Bittersweet Tapes

by Heather Styka

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Rich Larson
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Rich Larson Sometimes the best songs are the ones that quietly rise up from nowhere and suddenly you find them locked inside your brain. Favorite track: Sugarcoat.
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    This limited edition pressing comes in a matte finish digipack case, with photography by Abby Nierman. If you would like your copy signed by Heather, please put a note in the instructions (ie. to whom you would like it signed, or just a signature).

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  • Full Digital Discography

    Get all 5 Heather Styka releases available on Bandcamp and save 30%.

    Includes unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality downloads of North, The Bittersweet Tapes, While This Planet Spins Beneath Our Feet, Travel and Teacups, and Lifeboats for Atlantis. , and , .

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Liner notes: "When I decided to record this batch of songs on an album, I wanted to keep them as raw and intimate as the day they were written. So I went down to Tulsa and recorded with John Calvin Abney in an old brick bungalow using the four-track recorder my father bought for me when I started writing songs. The resulting session is honest, unedited, and humming with that familiar analog warble. My thanks to you, dear listener, to friends old and new, and above all, to my family."


released February 16, 2016

All songs written by Heather Styka
Produced and engineered by John Calvin Abney
Heather Styka: vocals, guitar
John Calvin Abney: acoustic and electric guitar, pedal steel, percussion
Assistant engineer: Kyle Reid
Mastered by Peter Andreadis, All City Mastering
Photo credit: Abby Nierman


all rights reserved



Heather Styka Chicago, Illinois

Though rooted in folk and Americana, Chicago singer-songwriter Heather Styka's songs are as fresh as they are memorable, chronicling the human cycles of despair and redemption, and analyzing the importance of places and relationships. Touring nationwide and having received airplay globally, Styka is a familiar face in the Chicago music scene, at venues including Schubas and the Old Town School. ... more

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Track Name: Singing 500 Miles
Singing 500 Miles

I am tearing it down
Your pictures from the wall
I’m burning it all
Whatever I can’t pawn
And I am throwing it out
The letters and the books
If you ever try to look back
You’ll find that I am gone

Five hundred miles
My mother sang that song
Singing five hundred miles
You’ll know that I am gone

I am packing it up
A suitcase full of dresses
All my plans and messes
I’m headed out by dawn
And I am clearing it out
The cobwebs from the corners
The curtains frayed and worn
And you will find that I am gone


Lord I’m one, Lord I’m two
Lord I’m three, Lord I’m four
Lord I’m five hundred miles
from the one I tried to love
And there’s no amount of miles
That can get him off my mind
Lord, we’re one, two, three
forever entwined

Five hundred miles
My mother sang that song
Singing five hundred miles
You’ll know that I am gone
Singing five hundred miles
Lullaby and so long
Singing five hundred miles
You can hear the whistle blow
a hundred miles
Track Name: Sugarcoat

You said a lot of things
and we made a lot of plans
and when the bottom fell out
I landed on my feet
‘Cause I come from a long line
of women who are kind
Who’d do anything to help
another soul in need

Tell me what you’re thinking
Tell me what you’re really feeling
I will listen and I will always be on the line
You don’t need to sugarcoat it
Bring me all your pain and hope
And when the world turns upside down
We will still get by

I’ve been called a lunch pail poet
‘cause everyday I go to work
But when you’re singing for your supper
some nights you go hungry
As for love, I’ve known lots of it
Not often the kind you keep
I’m well-versed in letting go
when they let go of me


Who can compare the weight of two hearts
I have watched my friends weather unimaginable storms
These blizzards with no two snowflakes alike
Piling up in new patterns against our doors

It’s a hospital visit
It’s another totaled car
It’s out of your control
And it’s right where you are
The crucible of each morning
makes you stronger than you know
You will bend, but you won’t break
‘cause you are made of gold

Track Name: Oklahoma

Tonight I’m remembering how you took off your hat
And blushed when you first asked me to dinner
I was a professional at loving and losing
Babe, you make me a beginner
They might say I should know better
Everyone always knows better
If you let that stop you, you’ll never know love
You and I are reckless dancers
searching everywhere for answers
You’re the question I most often think of

Oklahoma, I’m pushing through
But I’m still betting on you
Oklahoma, we’re a gamble, it’s true
But I’m still betting on you

Now I’m listening to songs covered in your fingerprints
In every single note I hear your voice
And of course the rain is pouring and whispering old letters
you sent me from Rock Island, Illinois
You mailed me treasures and buttons
that you picked up off the street
and photographs of our incandescent faces
Bursting with the promise of vanquished lonely days
We came so close we had to back away ten paces


We’ve got our own highways to run
but there are only so many roads
and they’re bound to cross sometime
I know we’ve only begun
Oklahoma, I hope someday you’ll come find me

And you’ll take off your hat
And you’ll ask me to dinner
And we’ll try it all again
Babe, you make me a beginner
Lord, you make me a beginner
Track Name: Blue Vintage Dress
Blue Vintage Dress

I kept that stone that you gave me
on the night we danced together
Polished flat and smooth
in some Yukon river
And it was good to dance
above the bar, out of the weather
before sunrise, in a small room

I know the kind of lonely man you are
Playing lovers like you play guitar
But I confess
I knew what I was doing
in that blue vintage dress
Before sunrise, in a small room

Now I rarely trust a man
in a fedora or a vest
but every man wore one
and it seemed you wore it best
It was good to drink cheap wine
and put our limits to the test
Before sunrise, in a small room


He falls for a song
She falls for his arms
They have a taste for whiskey in common
I’ve heard this one before
Been danced ‘round this floor
Sometimes a girl wants a love that feels common

You thanked me half a dozen times
as I headed to leave
You didn’t say you’d call
Didn’t bother to deceive
Well, it was good to hold you
And it was good to leave
before sunrise, in a small room

Track Name: Not Your Rose
Not Your Rose

I am not your rose
though I unfold sweetly
You don’t have one good reason to love me
I’m just a passing song
And you don’t know the melody
You don’t have one good reason to love me

Who I am in your eager imagination
is all that you want to see

Sing me the shortest song
I don’t have long before I leave
And you don’t have one good reason to love me
You don’t have one good reason to love me
Track Name: Disappearing

Twilight makes me fall in love
with every ordinary thing
The peeling painted shed
The oak trees overhead
The sky cools into darkness
I’m seventeen again
I’m seven
I’m counting down to before I began

This tree stretching over me
first fell down as an acorn
no bigger than my eye
in 1765
The little girl across the street
will strain to remember me
when she has children of her own
In a blink she’ll watch them grow

Oh my dear
It’s now, we’re here
Isn’t that a good enough reason
Singing songs of summers gone
Please keep holding on
Dance me ’til the last star’s disappearing

I went to the mountain
to ask so many questions
but the mystic, he replied
Put your questions aside
Somewhere deep inside
I keep asking myself
Without my questions who am I
What’s left when I’m satisfied


You are not the answer, my love
You are not the question
You are not a cherry tree
You are one who once loved me
A moment come and gone
Only a fool would still hang on

Track Name: Prodigal Child
Prodigal Child

It’s been half a year now
What do I have to show
Six days turned to six months
Spring rain turned to summer turned to snow
When new friends become old news
And pass like strangers in the street
And I can’t buy the next round
When I’m barely managing to make ends meet

I had to go
But who could bear coming home the prodigal child
I swear I’m learning something out of all of this
But I’m not quite through with running wild
I’ll get it right this time
But I’m not done running wild

Long ago I took for granted
A bed to rest, a roof over my head
These days I long to make plans
But I just work to make rent instead
Once I talked a big game
And every path was open as the sky
They told me I had what it takes
But lately I’ve been wondering if they lied

I know I’m not the only one on fire
With a feeling I can’t even describe
Everyday we try to tame it
but we can’t even name it
We wonder if there’s more to our lives
We go to work, we drive home
Spend time together and alone
Most days we act like everything is alright
That restless flame burning like a girl in love
Pure and eager and bright

I'll be glad to see them
The childhood friends and the folks back home
I'll tell stories of my new life
But I'll omit the parts where I'm lost and alone
We put on the brave face
It's some part of the truth
And we focus on the good days
Cause that's the only way to make it through
Track Name: Great Plains
Great Plains

You were headlights in the distance
I could see you come my way
The closer you approached in the night
you were all I could see
We are bodies in motion
We always knew someday
You'd go the opposite direction of me

Do I hold on ’til your train leaves the station
Do I buy a ticket too
Some people say they'd do anything for love
But I've got a feeling that's not me and you

I’m driving across the Great Plains
Through deserts, and oceans of wheat
In each town I pass through
I wonder if someday that’s where you’ll be
Our intersecting long roads
have only this point where they meet
I’ve seen the end of your line
and it’s not in my trajectory


In my daydreams
we hold tight and tethered
Find common ground
Grow common roots
But even in dreams
I can’t keep us together
Got dream places to go
Dream things to do

Now I’m crossing all the mountains
Every river to be by your side
But when I get home
How will I know you’ll be waiting for me
You’re my safe house in a dark field
The place I go to hide
But soon the foundation will turn into wheels
As you turn to leave

Track Name: Spilling Poetry
Spilling Poetry

I’ve got this heart that wants to be taken
but when it is held, it wants to be free
I’ve got these feet that wanna keep walking
But it don't take long before they grow weary
I’ve got these hands that wanna keep busy
they mostly do nothing, cause there’s too much to do
I’ve got this smile covering me like a blanket
so I won’t notice I’m still thinking of you,


I’ve got these arms so strong and so able
to carry these burdens but I’m letting go
I’ve got these shoulders that once were slumped over
Now I’m standing tall though I’m feeling low
I’ve got this gut that fills up with stones
when I hear your name and when you call
I’ve got these ears that hear you in the pine trees
hear you in the raindrops, hear you in it all


I’ve got these eyes searching for beauty
but they only find it when they are closed
I’ve got this mind that wants to be quiet
but it keeps repeating all it thinks it knows
I’ve got this throat so parched and so thirsty
but when I start drinking, I'm likely to drown
I’ve got these lips, they were spilling poetry
But everything’s small talk, now you’re not around

Track Name: Sweet Weakness
Sweet Weakness

You rolled into town selling snake oil and love
Oh, I bought it and I drank it by the spoonful, mm hmm
I hung my hope upon your words and on that crooked smile
Believing you could cure my heart of every ill

My sweet weakness
I don't think I'll ever be immune
How tenderly you break my heart again
Without ever meaning to

You read me poems about a riverbed and you read me a story
about a man who asked a girl to marry and she said yes
The man fell asleep in some orchard, and she watched him
Knowing she'd never love another again


It's not that I just need someone, oh I can be alone and happy
I can be alone and happy, I can be alone
You're in my blood, you're in my skin
It's you alone that I am missing, you alone that I am missing
I'm missing you alone

So if I am your weakness, if you still think of me each night
It's not too late for us to take a walk together sometime
And if you asked me to take you back, if you asked me anything
I don't think I'd hold out too long to answer

Track Name: Afterthought

I'm an afterthought, I'm a memory
I'm that time you drove all night just cause you could
I'm every summer day spent listening for the train
I'm that pothole town you planned to leave for good
I'm that first New York show you played and no one came
And I'm that single soul listening to every note with kind eyes
I'm that long road home, with new stories to be told
All those passages you thought could make you wise

I'm the old carousel, that old wishing well
I'm those old songs that your grandmother would hum
Those crisp autumn days
change was something you could taste
Cold and sweet and eager on your tongue
Every wild desire seemed within your grasp
Before you learned what it means to choose
I'm that movie star you posted on your wall
I'm that small town girl you knew always knew you'd lose

You're an after thought, you're a memory
You're the journal that I kept beneath my bed
I guess you loved me well
From here it's hard to tell
Sifting through the sweet nothings you said
Once you thought that I would stay right by your side
We'd be waltzing till our weary bones gave way
I thought the same of you
Now you're a memory too
The sort of dream we all outgrow someday

I wanted only you
Now you're a memory too
The sort of dream we all outgrow someday

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