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Holly Golightly
Interviewer: Peter Wenker

As a result of touring America eight times and releasing more material than bands who have been recording since the 1960's, Holly Golightly has developed an uncanny, often unconventional flare for doing things her own way. We hope this never changes, in spite of you know what with you know who. A couple hours before a practically sold-out show at Minneapolis's 7th St. Entry (RIP!) in support of her latest release, Slowly But Surely, Ms. Holly Golightly invited twenty/forty to join her for a bite to discuss the history of American-roots music, a really really expensive trip to the bathroom and why she desperately wishes Prince was just a few feet taller.

twenty/forty: Over the years now you’ve released a pretty astounding amount of material. What compels you to keep making it to the studio and recording?

Holly Golightly: If you work out how long I’ve been doing it and how much [material] I’ve actually put out, it only averages one album a year, which you could expect from anybody who writes songs. I mean if you can’t pull 14 decent songs a year out of the hat, then you know you’re in the wrong business. People who sit and play songs and write music all the time should be able to pick at least one a month for a whole year—and that’s what constitutes an album, doesn’t it? Sometimes I have a back-log and other times there’s been quite a long time in-between [recordings]. So it’s never stricken me as particularly prolific, but on paper it may look prolific, but I have been doing it for a long time. I’m compelled to record because I record at home. It’s just ongoing. I don’t necessary write for anything specific. [Slowly But Surely] is quite unusual. It’s the first time we’ve actually had two weeks solid to record and it’s all been written together. In the next couple of years I have some other ideas, but they might take longer to record … like a duets record. I suppose I just have lots of ideas.

t/f: I have this idea in my mind of Holly Golightly never being without her guitar and constantly recording. Is there ever a time when you’re not writing/recording music?

HG: I do a day job and I don’t play guitar at home, usually. I don’t listen to very much music at home since I don’t get a lot of time to. I suppose it’s just a continuous process. I’ll sit down and bang out a song and how I think it’s going to go and maybe make a cassette tape of it as a reference, and then as I go along, I just pick songs out from my notes. I don’t actually spent a lot of time playing guitar … as is clearly evident when you see me play live. If I played guitar enough, I’d actually get good at it, and I’m afraid that might happen.

t/f: While listening to Slowly But Surely, there’s something different about the recording. You’re voice is cleaner and crisper than usual. It still has the Holly Golightly grit and attitude to it, but …

HG: It’s the first album that Liam at Toe Rag actually has production credit for. So basically, I went to the studio with my material and recorded it as we normally would and he mixed it. So he has the production credit. It’s the only time it’s ever happened, and it’s the only time it will ever happen. But it was an exercise to do something different, really.

t/f: So, do you like how it turned out?

HG: Yeah, I mean, it’s not necessarily how it would be if I had the reigns, but that wasn’t the idea of the project. So that’s the basic answer. It was somebody else’s production.

t/f: Over your career, you’ve received an incredible amount of praise from both critics and your peers. In an interview, the Greenhornes even referred to you as a “bona-fide garage celebrity.” And you even did an interview with CNN.

HG: Oh yeah?

t/f: Were you scheduled between Bono and Nelson Mandela, or what? How does all that press affect you?

HG: When I first started, I didn’t do interviews or play live for years. The Headcoatees were still going when I was putting records out. I didn’t ever really think that people would be interested because, what would people ask me? I just do what I do and over the years I’ve gotten more confident at doing it and people generally tend to ask very similar questions time and time again. They want to know the same sorts of things time and time again, so once you’ve answered the question once, you just keep referring back [to that answer]. If things are written well, I’m glad for it.

t/f: On the other hand, there are plenty of critics and publications that are quick to use the standard label of ‘revivalist’ or ‘retro.’ Do you mind those references?

HG: If that is the only reference they have, then they should go buy more records. It’s clear from what we do, it’s obvious that I like old music. I’m not trying to disguise the fact that it’s pure plagiarism. I’m not really hiding that fact and I think what people probably assume I’m going to say is “oh hey, I just came up with that idea on my own.” What I like about what I do and what interests me about what I do is that I use a really familiar formula and very traditional instruments and lyrics. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It is what it is. People think it is ‘revivalist,’ but it never actually went away. This format has never gone away and as long as there’s old music that I haven’t got, I’ll be looking for old records. I don’t actually buy much modern music so it stands to reason that I’m not really influenced by modern music or modern bands. I’m not trying to hide the fact and I think that when people write about it, they think it’s going to be a revelation to somebody if they hear the fucking record and they read an article that says it’s revivalist. There’s no deceit involved. I’m completely open about it and if it makes people source the original if I do a cover, then that’s great. I know the original and I think everybody should. It’s just a way of spreading around what you like. It’s not a real tactic. I just do what I like. The bottom line is that it doesn’t really matter what people say, I’ll just carry on doing what I do, regardless.

t/f: What is it about that time in music that is so enthralling for you? Was it Mick Jagger in a suit with a smile?

HG: I don’t actually like 60’s music a great deal. There are some bands that I like, but it’s not what I listen to. The 60’s reference is due to the fact that there were a lot of white British artists emulating their heroes, which is all I’m doing. The 60’s is just a time when that all came to the forefront with The Kinks, the Stones, The Beatles and everybody else. All I’m doing is the same thing they did. I’m not actually trying to emulate them. I admire the stuff that influenced them, so I listen to their references probably more than they did themselves. I’m interested in the period of music between 1920 and 1950 because there was diversity [due to the fact that] people didn’t know what other people sounded like. They weren’t copying anything. So somebody on one side of the mountain didn’t know what somebody on the other side of the mountain sounded like. So everything was unique. There hasn’t been much interest in music for me, in terms of diversity, since then. Even though most people would say, “but it all sounds the same.” But it doesn’t. So, what I’m doing is the exact same thing as they were doing. That’s where the 60’s reference will come in. I’ve done some Kinks songs because they’ve written some great songs. But I’m actually interested in songs and songwriters rather than fashion. It’s more like the songs that I cover stand the test of time—they are as good as when they were written. It’s the same if I do a Kinks cover or if I do a Lee Hazelwood song. I do it because it’s a good song and I think I can do it with some conviction. But I don’t really listen to much white music at all. I just do exactly what they were doing. They found something they really liked, they ripped it off, and made something else. I’m doing the same thing (laughs).

t/f: So, during that time in music, there was a lot of what people would call American-roots music going on. Folk, blues, country….

HG: It’s an interesting thing. Historically it’s a pretty unpleasant thing for the ear. White-blues. But country-blues was the first real integration in music and I’m quite interested in that period in time. Possibly because of my politics and possibly because of other things outside of music that interest me. I think it was a time in music when it was possible for people in music to do things together or least for there to be some cross-over where there hadn’t been before in America

t/f: Were people in America not paying attention to ‘American-roots’ music?
HG: It’s not that people weren’t paying attention; it’s that it was fucking outlawed. White people couldn’t go to black-clubs and black people couldn’t go to white-clubs. Why would a teenage girl in the Midwest ever hear Howlin’ Wolf if she was White? It’s only when it became possible because of some of the pioneers, like Sun Studios, that things started to happen and made an exciting time in music. Nobody knew which way it was going to go. Everything was different from everything else. I mean, of course there were genres and they developed as it went on so you got your Motown sound and you got your, do you know what I mean?

t/f: yeah.

HG: Things sort of developed as they went on. In the early days no one knew what was going to happen, people didn’t know what it was going to sound like. So I think, if nothing else, it’s not that people weren’t paying attention to it, it’s just that there was no exposure for it. There was no outlet for it really into the mainstream. If all you were being served was Elvis Presley then you thought that he was the originator, do you know what I mean? But he so wasn’t. I don’t have anything against him, but if people were interested in sourcing his influences this all would have happened a lot sooner. The British Invasion would have happened 10 years earlier, possibly.

t/f: Do you think that you could make the connection that Elvis and the British Invasion bands were re-selling American music to Americans?

HG: No, it was re-packing it.

t/f: So they did have time to re-interpret it and make it their own?

HG: I’m sure Elvis found something that moved him and that he was fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who were talented and a studio that was willing to record them as an integrated group. The Beatles didn’t do anything other than that. All their direct references were the same. It was just 10 years later or so and they were in the fortunate position to go to India and experiment with sitars. You know, it’s the sort of all this integration that was interesting. That there was all this outsourcing and nothing was closed. Whereas, I think music now is entirely shut. Well, I think it’s dead. It doesn’t really exist to me. I try really hard not to listen to the radio and I don’t watch television, so I’m pleased to say it doesn’t infiltrate my life too much. It’s interesting actually because in Britain, we had first-generation Jamaicans. So we had an interesting period in time where people were finding out about blue-beat and ska. This was running parallel to when The Beatles were playing in one club and up the other end of the country in London there might be a blues going on. I think because we had all these immigrants at that time in Britain it was much more open than at that time in America. I only wish that it was the same now. That people weren’t so secular.

t/f: Do you think it will ever change?

HG: No, I think people just like what they like, and they like fashion. They’re interested in what’s current, and what’s fashionable, and what’s new. Everything’s pretty disposable, in terms of music. If you think about something really significant in the last 30 years, I mean I wouldn’t be the one to ask and you’d probably know better than I do, but I can think of occasionally things come along that change everything: punk rock, hip-hop for example. These things do happen.

t/f: But it’s so quick to be co-opted.

HG: Yeah, then they become commercial and they become just the product. They just become another musical product. So, I think that’s really what trashes it all. It’s that people are doing it to sell it and not for the love of doing it. I can’t think of one person, probably in the last 10 years, that springs to mind. I can think of punk rock or people in the 70’s, but what happened in the 80’s? Duran-Duran? It’s like the lowest common-denominator in music. Do you know what I mean? Nothing really happened. During the 80’s I was just going to see punk bands.

t/f: But then finally, something like Sonic Youth came along.

HG: Yeah. At the end of the decade something will happen that changes everything, but it’s few and far-between. [It was better when] people weren’t actually trying to sell records.

t/f: Do you enjoy touring in the U.S.? Eating at Cracker Barrel at every stop?

HG: I nearly left home to start a new life working at Cracker Barrel. But then I realized what my work-mates would be like. Because I understand that they didn’t employ gay-people or black-people until about 10 years ago, it was in their policy.

t/f: Word on the street is that you had an unfortunate incident happen in New York during the last tour. What was it?

HG: We had all our merch-money stolen. We had about $10,000 stolen. It was taken from Bruce [Brand] on the street. So now you can ask Bruce why he was in the street with $10,000 cash?

t/f: Bruce, why were you in the street with $10,000 cash?

Bruce Brand: hmmmmmmmmm.

HG: He had to go back to the restaurant to take a shit.

BB: I was waiting for you.

HG: You weren’t waiting for me.

BB: I was left to my own devices.

HG: It was very bad luck, but we’re still convinced that someone in the club knew about it.

t/f: Are you going back to New York?

HG: Yeah, but not Brooklyn. The best you can hope for is that they bought so much coke that they over-dosed. It was probably the best night out they ever had and probably the last one. I wish them nothing but happiness.

BB: I’d love to see the look on their faces.

HG: I’d love to see the look on their faces. They probably thought they were getting, like, a load of records.

t/f: I recently interviewed a Minnesota artist named Michael Yonkers and Sub-Pop just recently released an album he recorded in 1968, but you wouldn’t know it without reading the liner-notes. So, now he’s supporting his album at age 59. Is that something you’d be interested in. Still playing and touring at 59?

HG: If it can be dignified, yeah. If people are still coming to shows and I’m still interested in doing it, it’s just as likely that I won’t be. I think that if you can do anything with dignity then it’s alright. I’d go and see Emmylou Harris.

t/f: So are you excited for Nancy Sinatra’s new album?

HG: I actually was given [the record]. I played some records on the BBC just before I left home and they gave me their copy, which says a lot. They obviously didn’t want it. I just got it the night before I left, so I haven’t heard it.

t/f: Are artists still relevant past a certain point in time?

HG: Well, they’re relevant to somebody, aren’t they? It’s very presumptuous to assume that it’s just the kids that have their finger on the ball. One of my greatest moments was meeting one of my heroes [Lee Hazelwood] and it wasn’t until he was 70. [Music] is ageless, there’s no formula. But it’s different if you want to be on MTV. You have to look good. But if you want to sound good, then it’s immaterial, isn’t it? Are you 18 and cool? 25 and cool? Or are you 35 and cool? Who’s standard do you [follow]? If it ever gets me down, like if I’m sick or too tired to do it, that would stop me. But I’ve never had a strategy, so I’ll do it until I don’t want to do it. It’s only ever going to go the way I want it to be. I could just as easily train horses and not want to play music anymore, which is the most likely outcome. There’s something really un-dignified in seeing the Rolling Stones, there’s no excuse for it. There’s something in really bad-taste about seeing somebody who can barely breathe being wheeled onto a stage in Vegas. There’s something not really pleasant about that and I’m sure it’s not good for them. If I was ever in a position, it’s not likely to happen, but if I was in a position where people were writing to me and [asking me to come out on tour], then I’d consider it.

t/f: Since we’re in Minneapolis, and you mentioned you’re interest to do a duets album, would you ever be interested in collaborating with Prince?

HG: That’s right! [First Avenue] is the venue where he filmed Purple Rain! I don’t think he’d be really into what I do. I think he’d be frightened of me because I’m so tall. Maybe he’s writing to me right now and I could be wrong.

t/f: Prince, if you’re out there, give Holly a call.

HG: If you think you’re big enough

Live photography by Peter Wenker. Thanks to Jennifer and the rest of the Tag Team Media crew.

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