Friday, December 8, 2023

‘I Didn’t Take An Intentional Break, I’m Just Incredibly Good At Procrastination.’ How Are You Today, Hollie Smith?

It’s been five years since Hollie Smith last released an album and that’s a time period that has covered a whole heap of events, both in her life and in the world. Her fourth album, Coming In From The Dark, comes out today and Hollie talks to Capsule about creativity, the financial realities of being a touring artist in a lockdown and the coven that kept her sane during the pandemic.

How are you today? It’s always quite an interesting question to ask someone at this stage of lockdown.
I’ve been great…this week’s got a little bit tougher, I must say. The last couple of weeks, a few realities are sinking in, which is a bit… well it’s throwing my motivation to do anything completely out the window [laughs] but it’s not too bad. I can’t really complain, I’m pretty lucky.

This must be quite an interesting time to be releasing an album – how’s the juxtaposition of lockdown and then that album-release excitement going?
It’s pretty anxiety driven, to be honest. I’ve been planning this album for quite some time; I had it finished at the start of this year and then we were looking to do a mid-year release and then there were several elements that meant we had to push it back. So yeah, it’s interesting now finding myself in this situation [laughs]. I mean, there are positive parts to it – there’s the potential for people to be engaging a lot more on social media, because it’s not like they’ve got a huge amount of other things to do [laughs].

This is my fourth record and I would really, really love to get a number one record because it would be my fourth number one record. That’s my main goal – I don’t quite know what else to achieve with it!

This is my fourth record and I would really, really love to get a number one record because it would be my fourth number one record. That’s my main goal – I don’t quite know what else to achieve with it! But I hope that people like the record and that they get the chance to hear it. In the moment, with releasing music, there’s a lot of noise and a lot of music everywhere so to cut through that can be quite difficult. All of my albums have been released with significantly different strategies, just due to the ways that the landscape of the industry has changed – and changes daily – so keeping up with that is quite interesting. I’m feeling very middle aged. Just going ‘What are these kids doing? How do they do it?’ [Laughs] But we’re getting there.

I’ve done this for a long time and whenever you release something, you’re always like, ‘…Is this going to be the one that doesn’t work? Is this it?’ It feels a bit like stepping out onto a tightrope and seeing if it snaps.

When you finish a creative project and then there’s a delay in getting it out, is that frustrating? Or is it like ‘It’s out of my hands, so I won’t worry’?
It’s been a bit up and down. Sometimes your mental capacity is ‘Okay, well, it’s outside of my control. It’s something that I can’t do anything about and it’s through no fault of my own.’ And you get on with things and you change your strategy. It’s been a good test of resilience, in regards to getting on with it. But then there are the moments where you sit there and feel completely sorry for yourself and you’re like ‘WHY ME? I’ve been working so hard! What can I do?!’ And that’s life. I’ve done this for a long time and whenever you release something, you’re always like, ‘…Is this going to be the one that doesn’t work? Is this it?’ It feels a bit like stepping out onto a tightrope and seeing if it snaps.  

Where did this album, Coming In From The Dark, start off for you?
I didn’t take an intentional break, I’m just incredibly good at procrastination. Between procrastination, laziness, life and then Covid-19… that’s an easy five years. I’ve been writing songs over that whole time period, so it does span quite a long period. There’s some social commentary aspects – the song YOU, which is the last track on the album, that was written when Trump was running for president, so that gives you the timeline on that one.

There are lots of glimmers from across the past four years that have turned into these songs.

That was also when the Syrian refugee crisis was happening and there was that sense of overwhelm and helplessness of seeing all of these things… the open world exhaustion. Damage Done is in relation to the defensive discussion around the #metoo and Black Lives Matter, when the conversation quickly turned to “All Lives Matter” and “Not All Men” and it was like “You’re missing the point!” It was about trying to accept the damage has already been done and learning from it. And Billy was about a friend of mine that passed away, and then there’s some relationship stuff in there, which I’m not normally so direct about. There are lots of glimmers from across the past four years that have turned into these songs.

Has your creative process changed over the years, when it comes to songwriting?
I don’t think anything significant has changed, I really do write songs the same way – quiet place, quiet time, play around with a guitar or a piano and sing over the top until something kind of makes sense… and then agonise for weeks over the lyrics [laughs]. I think there are a lot of subconscious influences; I’ve definitely written songs and gone ‘this is so good!’ and then gone ‘oh, no, this song already lives, I’ve heard it a million times before and that’s why I like it,’ [laughs]. I think when you listen to my music, my signature sound runs through all of it – I don’t think anything has changed hugely.

Early on in the pandemic – when we were all a bit naïve about how long it would last – there was a real conversation around creativity and that idea of ‘Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague, what will YOU do with your creative energy’, blah blah blah. As a creative person, was that true – or was it just overwhelming?
I think that’s still relative in this lockdown; some friends and I, we’ve kind of got this coven – well, we call it a coven – it’s Anna Coddington and Anika [Moa] and Julia Deans and MC Tali and Tami Wilson and Reb [Fountain] We have this support network. And we’ve all been in exactly the same boat, which I think made us all feel a bit better, because I think it’s the energy shift in these lockdowns that really gets you… there’s no energy to draw on.

It’s really hard to get motivated because everything is just so slow and lethargic and just that sense of ‘ughhh… when is this going to end?’ Not knowing how the future lies – especially within the industry, when it comes to things like hospitality and performing, it’s hard to get motivated to focus. Like when it comes to preparing for the tour, I’m finding it hard to exercise and practice because it’s like Is the tour even going to happen?’ That ambition of achieving something is a little bit more difficult when there’s no timeline to feel like you’re moving towards.

How have you looked after your mental health in this lockdown?
I started that off very well and the last week and a half it’s gone completely out the window [laughs]. I’m not normally a routine person – even though I always feel better when I am – but I was exercising a couple of times a day and taking the dog out for a run, and I had some work, where I was doing some online teaching for Wintec Hamilton, and that kept me in a good routine. I know that all of those things help but I’ve also been in the position where when things get tough, all of those things you should be doing suddenly get very difficult to achieve. But mostly I feel very lucky – I feel very lucky to have the financial support of my partner because I’m now a bit out the gate. I know that a lot of people are in a far worse situation, so then I feel incredibly guilty as well [laughs]. It’s just a very strange situation.

It’s interesting that you bring that up, because a lot of the lockdown chat focuses around the hospitality industry on behalf of the business owners and what not and I think that the reality of how hard this is for people who work in the entertainment industry, who are reliant on live events and gigs, gets forgotten. Because Aotearoa isn’t America, or even Australia, when it comes to making money – performing artists here are not getting paid what people might expect they are.
That’s a bit of a misconception with New Zealand artists because there really isn’t that much money – unless you’re doing those massive tours, everything else becomes quite logistically and financially difficult to achieve. Last year, pretty much my entire year got cancelled – I was lucky to pick up some gigs later on in the year, but then this February I was expecting to release [the album] a lot sooner, so I wasn’t doing any performances so that I could get prepared for the tour. And then that got delayed.

Last year, pretty much my entire year got cancelled

So I feel like I haven’t performed in forever and I’m getting a bit nervous, thinking ‘Well, if I haven’t sung in eight months, it’s probably going to take me six months to get back to normal.’ So I’m struggling with that aspect of it – and the aspect of how is the future going to roll-out? We’ve got our tour dates in place and we’ve got contingency dates but realistically, we’re now going to be putting Plan #19 in place. Tours are incredibly logistically nightmarish and in New Zealand, we’ve got shortages on specific sized venues and there’s only certain routes you can take… it’s Tetris, essentially.

Finally, you mentioned your coven and I wanted to ask more about it, because I love the word coven so much. What does it mean to have that kind of incredibly supportive female network around you?
I’ve never really had one before [laughs]. I can’t remember how it all came about but it’s nice to have – Reb is in the same boat with me because she’s just released an album and now she’s trying to plan a tour, and Tami had to postpone a tour. You can talk to people and they can appreciate that it’s tough but having people who are able to really relate is very helpful. Just being able to say whatever you want and you won’t be judged [laughs]. Everything does feel a little… bit fucked.

A bunch of people [from the coven] have been trying to support the vaccination cause and the bullying and the backlash we’ve had has been really awful. So we’ve been emotionally supporting the fact that we’re trying to do a really good thing and engage in articulate conversations with people and then they just get really awful and then the death threats start. But then Tami turns around and says, “I wrote a song about this and it’s called Get Fucked,” and we’re like “PLAY IT!” We were all in absolute hysterics. I hope you all get to hear it at some stage because it’s so brilliant and funny, but it meant we all left with a giggle and on a high note.

Coming In From The Dark, Hollie’s fourth album, comes out today

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