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Interview: Hollie Smith

Hollie Smith

New Zealand Multi-Platinum winning jazz artist Hollie Smith has returned with her third full-length album ‘Water or Gold’. The the kiwi musician has worked with Trinity Roots, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Detroit dance legend Recloose, and NZ legend Don McGlashan on the ‘Bathe in The River’ soundtrack. She chatted to us about the struggle of writers block, what the industry is like for young artists, and told some great stories which inspired tracks on the latest solo album.

So how did you get started in the music industry?

I was pretty heavily involved in gigs and stuff from the age of thirteen, singing a lot of jazz. Just started working with bigger names and spent some time in Wellington. Started recording music and ended up on a track called Bathe In The River that was written for a movie soundtrack, which became one of New Zealand’s highest selling singles. And from there released my first record about a year after that which did particularly well!

You started very young! Do you think there are any risks with entering the music industry at a young age?

No, not really. I mean I was pretty motivated with what I was doing. I was involved in the jazz scene, it wasn’t very rock ‘n’ roll. But, I don’t think that would have made a difference. I only ever really did music, I’ve only ever known music. I think if I had an option B, I probably would have taken option B.

Did you know from the start that music is where you wanted to be?

Well I mean it was as obvious as it was at three, four, five years old [I was] singing before I could talk and sitting around making up songs about like toys.

So with regards to songwriting, you’ve spoken in a few interviews about moments where you just didn’t feel like you had it in you. Is there a secret you’ve found to overcoming writers block?

No I’m pretty bad! I find I just go through phases really. Most of it comes down to getting into that headspace and doing it all the time. If I don’t do it for a while it’s kind of like fitness, going for a run, or to the gym. You just fall out of the routine and don’t go for a few weeks, or a month. So, it’d really hard to get back in there and you procrastinate hard out. It’s kind of much the same idea as that so I try and get in my actual room everyday, and I write quite often. But, if I leave it for a while I end up just trying to put it off.

So how did you go about creating your latest album ‘Water or Gold’?

I’d written a couple of songs that came to me quite quickly, and then I actually went back through, because I always put little voice memos down on my phone, and stuff like that. So I kind of ended up going back through a couple of ideas. I just wasn’t quite feeling inspired as I have been in the past, and ended up finding some really cool little ideas that I just completely forgot about. So that got me back into the zone again. But yeah, they’re just a collection of songs over the last couple of years really. Some of them have come really easily, and others needed a bit more development.

Is there a story behind the album’s lead single Lady Dee?

It was actually two different kinds of stories which I ended up melding. I found the first verse that I’d written ages ago, it was basically about someone who I thought was abusing their relationship with somebody else and sort of seeing that in the sense of that person, and being frustrated by not being able to do anything about it. But you know, just really wanting to be there for them regardless of what they were going through. That ended up developing into a similar situation with another friend who was in an abusive relationship, and I could do what I could, but it was up to them to realise how to let go, and for them to do that for themselves. So it was more just about just being there for these people, and allowing them to make their own decisions.

You’ve worked with some pretty iconic artists in New Zealand, do you have any dream collaborations that you’d like to do in the future?

Well there’s like a thousand billion of them yep! Yeah I mean I’d love to work with Chris Martin, but just about anyone really. I’m pretty open to working with other people. In the immediate future though I haven’t really thought about it. Maybe something for the next album.

How have you found collaborating with others? Have you found that it’s changed the way you work, or affected your music in any way?

Yeah it does, although I haven’t done a solo project since 2010, so that’s been a bit of a stretch but I’ve had a couple of other collaborative projects in that time. The first one was with a good friend Mara TK, he’s in a band called Electric Wire Hustle, which is really amazing. So working with him was really great, he just sort of went off on tangents and different things. It was interesting processing how he did things, and the way we put that together. Whereas, the second one was with Anika Moa and Boh Runga, which we did a little writing project together. I was playing guitar in that, which I hadn’t really picked up in years. So that definitely put me back on the guitar trip a little bit. And then when I finished what had been a lot of the songs on this record I’d written on guitar, which I think kind of dictated a different sound.

What would you say your favourite aspect of being a musician is? Creating or performing?

It’s funny because you love and hate all those processes in the same way. I mean there’s things I love about all those different things, there’s two sides to every coin. I love touring, going on the road, performing, that would probably be my favourite. But then along with that comes the pressure and the stress, lack of sleep, and the not seeing family and friends. So there’s ups and downs to everything. I do love writing music, but I think a favourite bit as well would be taking it to the band and finally click into the arrangement you want to hear, and seeing it transform into something, as opposed to just jotting down lyrics and tapping away in your bed room. But yeah all of those things have ups and downs, but I think performing would be my favourite.

If you were to walk into a record store right now and pick up three albums, what would they be?

Like ones that I don’t have, or ones that I do and would pick up again? I’ll leave that one up to you! Mmm I’m going through a hard-out Cat Stevens phase, so I’d have to say ‘Tea for the Tillerman’, Marlon Williams and Kendrick Lamar.

Great choices!

Quite a range in there!

Finally, if you had any advice to 13-year-old musicians looking to start out, what would it be?

I think it just comes down to confidence and determination really. It’s an incredibly difficult industry. I’m talking about real music here not talking about people who want to be pop stars, and famous – it’s a different music area. But, if you’re doing real music and you’re doing it for the right reasons you, you know that you’re good, and you have the confidence and determination to do it then nothing really can stop you.

Like I said before I never really had a plan B, I didn’t go to university, I didn’t look at getting another job, I didn’t get wrapped up in anything other than what I was doing, and what I had in front of me, and took every opportunity I could. So I think music will dictate you if you’re in it for the right reasons and it’s hard to get away from. So just have faith in yourself and have confidence, and don’t let anyone tell you you’re not good enough, and just keep going.