Holly Throsby – Interview
July 17, 2008 § Leave a comment
Published: The Vine, July 10, 2008.
Holly Throsby – Interview
Since creeping onto the indie scene at the start of the 00s, Sydney songstress Holly Throsby has made a beauteous art of whispered vulnerability. The stunningly fragile and minimalist acoustic vignettes of 2004’s On Night and 2006’s Under the Town – both recorded on the south coast of New South Wales with visionary home-studio producer Tony Dupe – were sketches of yearning and heart-torn sorrow.
But third album A Loud Call proves a different creature entirely. Recorded in Nashville under the gaze of producer Lambchop’s Mark Nevers – with Dupe adding extra arrangements later – the album shimmers with delicate pop nuance and new melodic vitality. Throsby’s ever-personal lyrical craft also finds a more optimistic and romantic footing. Put simply, it’s a remarkable transition.
We spoke to the 29-year-old about her newfound confidence, her creative relationships, and learning to embrace life’s happier times.
I guess your work has always had a strong emphasis on lyrical intimacy rather than elaborate musicality. A Loud Call definitely seems to add more textures and layers to the mix…
Yeah, I actually felt really proud of that. I’ve always been really obsessed with lyrics and that’s always been where I’ve come from, and I always felt more like a songwriter than a singer when I was growing up. When I was in high school and stuff, I had bands but I would write the songs and someone else would sing them. Basically because I was really unconfident about my voice; I just never thought it was any good.
I kind of spoke my way through On Night in a lot of ways, and Under the Town. It wasn’t to do with the vocal performance as much as the songs to me. In this one it felt like it had a huge amount more to do with melody, and that was really exciting to me.
Pardon the cliché, but it really does have this sense of you coming out of your shell and exuding a lot more confidence…
Yeah, I think so. About two tours ago I just started really enjoying being onstage. I acquired this really great band who I feel really comfortable with. Playing solo can be such a sort vulnerable and exposing thing to do, whereas playing with a band and having that dynamic actually brings me out more. I feel like I’ve got this great backup, you know, and I’m sharing the stage with friends as well, which is nice.
And when it came to the recordings, we all did it very live and I’d play guitar and sing at the same time and all that sort of stuff…the performance was very important. We didn’t do that many takes of things and we didn’t do lots of corrections; we kind of left it, which sort of says something about that confidence.
I remember seeing you support Hayden at the Empress years ago, and you seemed so small and shy…
I know (laughs), I definitely felt that way. I was the support band for so long – I was always the support band – and when you’re the support band you often feel like the best thing you can do for the audience is get off the stage (laughs).
I guess the last few years have been about becoming comfortable with that role as the headline band. It really is quite different. Although I still get that feeling sometimes, like, ‘You people really don’t want to be here do you? You probably want get home to your loved ones’.
It’s just this ongoing inferiority complex (laughs). Most people I know are neurotic messes, myself included.
What was behind the decision to record in Nashville with Mark Nevers?
I’ve always seen that thing of going away to make a record really important. I really don’t want to just record in Sydney. We did some of the tracks for this record at BJB studios here, and that was great, but in terms of doing a whole album and going through that whole process, I don’t want to do that in the place that I live because I don’t want to finish the day and then go home, and then wake up, and then go back again.
I just like that thing of staying in the hotel afterwards and feeling like you’re in another world. It gives you this totally different focus and you become completely obsessed. Which is fine, because you always become obsessed, but you don’t become annoying by going home and complaining to your family. You complain to the people who are also obsessed with it at the time.
So going away is very important, but I went there for Mark, not for Nashville. I was so in love with Master and Everyone, that Bonnie Prince Billy record, and I’m a big fan of Lambchop as well. I mean, I love Kurt Wagner’s lyrics, but I really love the way those albums sound. And it was for those albums that I went over there to work with Mark.
The record still has some of the lovely Tony Dupe-isms – the rambling arrangements and so on – that featured on your first couple of albums…
And that was so important to me because, obviously, the sound that Mark gets is so different; it’s so live and so rich and just this really full-bodied sound to the vocals and the guitars. He had these beautiful organs at the studio and it just has this really lush sound to it, which was just really effortless to get without using that many elements to get the size of that sound.
But I came back and I just missed Tony so bad, and I just had this handful of songs that were really important to me, and these particular songs that I knew Tony would have an opinion on. I feel like his work on this album is just beautifully economical. Like, on the first track he did this amazing arrangement with this pizzicato cello, which just totally makes that track for me now. It just kind of feels like 50 per cent stronger than it did without that.
Tony and I can just talk a song inside out, like standing on the balcony of his place at Kangaroo Valley, him in his silk pyjamas, smoking a rolled cigarette in his slippers (laughs). We’d just look out at the mountains and wistfully discuss the third line and what that meant for the whole album, and how instruments could come in and dance around. Where Mark was so not like that. He was like, ‘Yeah, I like the third track’. But it was so nice to have the combination of those two people involved.”
Tell me about the genesis of this record in a thematic sense. ‘Now I Love Someone’ and ‘One of You for Me’ are very candid, sort of romantic songs…
I think it is a very romantic record and it is a lot more positive than the albums I’ve made previously. It feels like a more grown-up album as well – it’s sort of more resigned in terms of sad things and more hopeful in terms of good things, whereas Under the Town was just really dark for me.
I wasn’t particularly happy when I was making that record and I wasn’t particularly happy when I was making On Night either. I remember Tony telling me about how the trumpet player from On Night told him that she thought I ‘articulated a very particular kind of feminine despair’ (laughs). Which I thought was a great compliment, because I felt like I was experiencing a very particular kind of feminine despair at the time.
This record feels a little more celebratory to me and a little less scared and subterranean, which is nice. I think that is why it is more melodic and it feels like the people in the songs are stronger and more vivid than before.
Sadness and despair and confusion is such wonderful fodder for writing when you’re in your early 20s…
Yeah, it is, because you’re just fucked in your early 20s. You really are. You think you’re fucked as a teenager, but you’re nowhere near as fucked as you are when you’re in your early 20s. Maybe it’s about not being so interested in happiness at that point in your life; not remembering to prioritise that as something you should be aiming for. And that that’s the only thing that actually matters all that much.
My favourite band throughout my early 20s was Arab Strap…
There you go! How are you supposed to cope (laughs)? I mean, it’s obviously always interesting to explore that stuff. Happiness isn’t all that interesting in a lot of ways. I think the only way to make it interesting is if you look at it from a different angle, which is hopefully what this record does.