Aside from her solo project Holly Holden is also a member of all-female vocal group Deep Throat Choir, who released their debut album Be OK in February. Holly will also be supporting Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit in March 2017. She spoke to Big Issue North about how years of travel and collaboration in Latin America and the Caribbean have shaped her music, which fuses tropical rhythms like reggae, rocksteady, salsa, bolero and cumbia with soulful RnB, pop vocal melodies. She plays Leeds Church, 25 March, and Manchester’s Gorilla on 26 March.
What informs your music/songwriting?
My life informs my songwriting. All my songs are short stories, inspired by people who touch me deeply in some way. And that applies to the music as well as the lyrics, I reference sounds I have absorbed by spending time in different places and with different people.
How have you evolved as a artist evolved over the years?
For many years it was just me and an acoustic guitar, I had a much more folky style, Laura Marling-esque I guess. After I graduated university I moved to Berlin and started to collaborate with lots different international musicians – an Italian jazz pianist, a Ugandan rapper, a funk/soul producer from Detroit. That year really broadened my musical universe and gave me more experience and confidence performing. When I went to Cuba for the first time in 2011 my mind was blown, music was such an integral part of life, people would burst into song in the middle of a conversation. The clave kind of seeped in through my skin, my songs became much more rhythmic and playful and I started incorporating Spanish in my lyrics. That was a big shift, suddenly it became clear I should be playing bass instead of guitar and that I needed a band to bring my songs to life. It took a couple of years for the right people to turn up but they did eventually. Now I’ve got Frank Clarke on guitar – he’s kind of a genius, so can make it seem like he’s playing two guitar parts at once, and New York drummer David Beauchamp, who I met playing with Johnny Flynn and who has this awesome Latin inspired, loose style. They also produced the EP we made, I’m very lucky to have them!
What are you up to at the moment artistically?
My six-track Tropical Soul EP is out on 7 April, so there’s been lots of preparation for that recently, shooting videos, artwork – lots of non-musical creative stuff. We’re going to tour the UK at the end of March, supporting Johnny Flynn, whose band David and I also play in, so we’re rehearsing lots in preparation for that and our EP launch party which is being held at Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston on 9 April. We’re also half way through recording our debut album which we’ll be releasing next year, so writing, arranging, recording – that’s the most exciting and rewarding part of the creative process for me and I can’t wait to get stuck into it when we’re back from tour.
What’s on your rider?
My guitarist Frank is tee total so we get a big ginger beer and then a bottle of rum for me and drummer Dave.
Tell us your most embarrassing or surreal experience.
In January 2015 we were invited to perform at the Port au Prince Jazz Festival in Haiti. We were the UK’s first ever representatives, so it was an incredible privilege to be a part of the event and I was pretty nervous. Right before the sound check of our big main stage gig my stomach started churning. It just got worse and worse really quickly and by the time we were called to the stage I could barely leave the bathroom. I struggled through the first half of the set and then started to sweat, I went all cold and my ears were ringing and I couldn’t hear anything properly. I had to cut a song short and then ask for a chair to finish the set. I walked off stage and collapsed. I was embarrassed not to have been able to give my very best on that occasion.
What song do you wish you’d written?
50 ways to leave your lover by Paul Simon.
What’s your worst lyric?
That I’ve ever written? My GCSE music composition was a sort of bolero-style, musical theatre ballad fantasy about a tall dark stranger and included the lyric – “take those roses right back, I’ll keep my hymen in tact”. I think I thought it was cool at fifteen to be so shockingly upfront but it makes me cringe now to think of the audience of parents in the church at the school concert!