The first thing that comes up when you google Hollie is “I challenge you not to love her”. We concur.

WORDS JENNY RUDD PHOTOS SHAWN ROLTON / ANI FOURI

Hollie posted this on Facebook. It’s a beautiful example of what she’s all about. Gentle-hearted and strong-minded. Vulnerable and raw.
“Last night after my gig in Queenstown someone posted a photo saying my gig was amazing but that I was ‘off my head.’ It made me sad. Their comments were totally harmless and they also said very nice things. Sometimes I do have a drink before going on stage but I always keep it to a strict minimum. Last night I didn’t drink anything at all.

“I am socially quite shy and awkward anyway. If I’m not talking much or seem tongue-tied, it’s because I’m nervous or not feeling like I’m connecting enough; my music isn’t something I am able to have an alter ego with. It’s just me up there. Just me (and my amazing band).

“Last night was the first time on stage since my best friend, Helena, died. I found it pretty hard. The crowd was amazing. It was a later gig and they were quite rowdy which was challenging as I’ve been reclusive since my friend’s death. I always go on stage trying to give my best performance and don’t finish without leaving my all out there.

“Unless I say, ‘Hey, I’m actually feeling a bit drunk’ and have a laugh with it (if it’s that type of show), trust me, I’m not.”

Tiki Taane says of her: “Hollie is one of the greatest singer-songwriters around. Although she is a great friend and we spend lots of time chatting and laughing together, it still floors me when she opens her mouth and sings. She is able to pull from those demons we all have inside, so when you hear her sing, you feel it too.

“I listen to Hollie sing for two reasons: because it’s incredibly enjoyable to hear something so heartfelt and because I admire her ability to do it.”

MAMA
Hollie juggles her music career with family life. “At the moment I’m pretty full on; I’m up early with Taimana a couple of days a week and getting him ready for school but I’ll generally be up at that time regardless.

“Then follows a period of procrastination with cleaning or any other distraction I can drum up for as long as humanly possible. Eventually I kick my ass out the door and go for a run with the dog then it’s into the studio or office until I find myself staring at the wall with my eyes glazing over.

“I make dinner and have a glass of wine. If I have Taimana I’ll be doing homework and honing my lego-creation skills. Other evenings, hopefully the wine works and I’ll get back into the studio and try to get into bed by midnight. Monday to Thursday that’s pretty much it. I’m away nearly every weekend with shows and don’t have days off. It’s all very glamorous and exciting. Some mornings I even put pants on.”

WELLINGTON LONG-SOUND
“Playing professionally is all I’ve ever known. At school in Auckland I played in the Northcote College Jazz Band which was great for that big sound. I formed a jazz combo and performed in places like the Birdcage at 14 years old. I got approached quite a bit and decided to move down to Wellington for the rich music scene.

“Trinity Roots took me under their wing when I was recording Home, Land and Sea. The weather sucks in Wellington which is good for productivity. Because everything is so condensed geographically, if someone’s playing a gig, the whole musical gang will turn up and it would often turn into a bit of a jam session. I suppose that’s how the Wellington long-sound developed, which suited me just fine with my jazz background.”

REBUILDING
This will be Hollie’s third album. Expectations are high because of her clear talent and longevity in the music industry. At 32 she says she doesn’t have the same bullet-proof-attitude as her 22-year old self who, having been picked up by iconic American jazz label Blue Note, lost everything to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Corporate buyouts and cutbacks shoved Hollie to the back burner. Contractually, she was held by the balls. She had a Long Player, all ready to go, and couldn’t do a thing; she couldn’t release or record music anywhere outside of New Zealand until the legal issues were resolved.

“It rocked everything; I’d never encountered failure. I have always been very switched on legally and in business, and felt side swiped by what I saw as an utter breach of contract. It affected my confidence terribly. By the time I got back to writing in 2008 I was pretty gun-shy and found it hard to trust people in the industry. It has changed the way I write music.”

She has been described in previous interviews as small and bolshy. That kind of misses the point of Hollie. She is quietly determined, playful and cheeky. A healthy cynicism of the often exploitative music industry is countered with enthusiasm and love for those whose creative skill supplies the rest with dollars.

“The New Zealand industry is supportive; whenever you meet fellow writers and performers, there are plenty of knowing smiles and friendly nods of understanding. Everyone answers the phone to each other and I have been on the receiving end of plenty of welcome, sage advice.

“Dave Dobbyn, Don McGlashan, Tiki Taane, they all encourage the same path: get on with what you want to do, and don’t worry too much about anything else.”

LOVE AND LOSS
This year, Hollie lost her best friend to breast cancer. The next single to be released from her album is called Helena, in honour of her friend.

“Helena’s husband, Chris, had a scrunched up piece of paper in his wallet with little poems and anecdotes about Helena which he’d added to throughout their relationship. I used them to write the lyrics for a song to be performed at their wedding as a surprise for Helena.

“She insisted that I record it for my album but at that point I had no plans to. As part of her bucket list, she wanted to direct a video so leant on me with characteristic enthusiasm to make it happen. We applied for NZ on Air funding and were excited to be successful. It soon became obvious we didn’t have much time left with Helena. I pushed hard to get it finished so she could hear the recorded track. Roundhead Studios in Auckland kindly donated time to us to record with my hastily assembled back up singers: Laughton Kora, Julia Deans, Annie Crummer and Tama Waipara. Not too shabby a group! We got in there on Tuesday evening and I got to play it to Helena on Wednesday. She passed away the same day.”

THIRD ALBUM
The first single from the album was released in September. Lady Dee is about watching friends in damaging relationships and wanting to help them whilst understanding all you can do is stand by them and support them when it all falls apart.

Fallen was written after the Christchurch earthquake. “I performed it down there for the student volunteer army and then didn’t do anything with it for such a long time that I couldn’t remember it properly when I next went to play it. A few years later I found it on a hard drive when I moved to Tauranga so yay! That’s in there too.”

“Dream was written for Taimana. Older and Younger is all about when you are young you want to be old and when you are old you want to be young.

“Water and Gold is about making the choice. Which is more important in your life?”

TOURING
The rest of this year is filled with gigs to promote the album. Then it’ll be off to New York in early January to mix the album. That’s the final process.

“I have been to some interesting spots with my work: Brazil, France, Germany, England, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, Canada. They are all beautiful spots I’d like to see more of instead of dashing in and out for work. I’ve been to the States a fair bit and even had a stint in Colorado when I was about 17. I lived in a tree with a bunch of Rastafarians. It wasn’t all strictly music but we did have a guitar.

“I have had some other great moments like the Rugby World Cup in France, the Olympics in London and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. I didn’t compete in any of them, although I’m rather hopeful for selection for Rio.

“I really want to travel more and be able to stay in each place a bit longer than two breaths. So I have put in some strategic, fail safe methods to make it happen; Lotto is one. The other is the possible genealogical lotto of some wonderful human naming me as their sole heir, leaving me a big old lump of cash. Either way, I’m pretty sure I’ve got it covered.”

holliesmith.co.nz