Abbey Holden is from a rural upbringing in Tamahere, New Zealand. An up-and-coming singer/songwriter with a brand of catchy self-penned indie pop replete with frank lyricism that is fast gaining her a fan-base on the vibrant London music scene as well as here in the States.
Abby Holden is a refreshing musical voice and a delightful person. Her songwriting and singing is just as honest and authentic as she is personally. What you see is what you get. Here is our interview with one of our favorite Singer/Songwriters.
Thanks for doing this Abby you have been at this music thing for awhile – give us a little of the journey you have taken to get here and now?
It all started when I was little. I’d listen to anything I could get my hands on and I knew every song on the radio – singing into my Mothers ear from the back seat (I was probably yelling). I was lucky enough to learn piano at a young age and it grew from there. School shows, choirs, bands became a part of my life. The last band I was in before I went solo was called ‘Skyla’. We had some air play in NZ and Australia with the songs ‘Day by Day’ and ‘Believe in me’. Now I’m in London I’ve released a debut solo album early 2011, and my second album will be ready mid 2012.
I was taken by the fact that you came from a rural area in New Zealand. What is it that had you take off on the singer/songwriter road?
Growing up in rural NZ was amazing – so much space, a real close community feel which nurtured my love for music. My Dad was actually a singer before I was born so he filled the house with music from many artists. I listened to everything from classical to show tunes to Whitney Houston and Luther Vandross. I guess the songwriter thing has always been with me. I couldn’t wait to express my thoughts and emotions in a song like the artists I’d been listening to.
You have had some success in England – tell us about that.
Local radio stations have hooked onto my music and really helped me raise my profile. The DJ’s in the smaller stations are very cool and I get to hang out and chat, play music etc. Friday the 2nd of March I had an interview on Recharged Radio where it’s very chilled and they’ll push my new single called ‘Everything’. I’m yet to break the national stations…..but I’ll keep trying. As for the venues, I’ve played some dives and I’ve played some fantastic places. This week I got a spot at the famous Half Moon – brilliant sound there.
I laughed out loud when I read your blog about doing an open mic in New York. It doesn’t matter what city you’re in open mics are a meatgrinder and often the only place a new singer/songwriter/ can be heard. You had already pounded the international boards hard – why did you decide to do open mics?
You’re right, you never know what an open mic will be like. I took the opportunity to do some between my solo shows while in New York – mostly to see what’s happening on the unsigned scene there, and to meet other musicians. I’ve made some good connections from an open mic, but I do prefer my own gigs.
When I was young we had ‘showcases’ for label A&R folks – four or five acts doing a couple songs. The idea being that you wouldn’t be up there if you didn’t have your chops and have a big fan base. Your amazing effort spans continents. What are your thoughts about the way music business is done today?
Wow, I would love to be part of a showcase for a label. I know it’s not as easy to do that these days. The tools available as an unsigned artist these days are great for getting your music out there digitally, via web stores, Facebook, Soundcloud etc etc…the downside of that is there are millions of people doing the same so how do you stand out from the crowd to get noticed? I’m not sure artists are looking for that golden ‘record deal’ as much these days, we’re just trying to be our own mini labels. Of course if a label offered me that ‘perfect’ deal I’d jump at it.
I enjoyed your blog writing – in the past it was enough to make a record, do a tour, and have a few publicity shots. Now with the ’right now’ nature of the Internet it’s a whole new ballgame. What are your thoughts on where this will all go for the new and future Artist?
Hmmm, I think the record labels will only hold a handful of major hit makers, and the unsigned will market themselves via the internet. Artists essentially have everything they need to market themselves and distribute music…the problem is knowing the influential people. It is often who you know. So it’s the same old going to all the gigs you can, meeting everyone you can, building a fan base – with the added new game of the internet. You have to be the artist, admin, A&R, PR, marketing and management….but when music is a passion, you gladly take on the roles.
True enough. Let’s change tacks and chat about your CD. Tell us about it? Who are the players?
Debut album ‘Flipside’ was recorded both in NZ and London. Brad Morgan (guitar,bass,drums) and Adrian Hayward (drums) from Skyla played on it. As well as a friend I’ve known from age 3 = Angus Duirs (bass). Dave Rowlands in London (drums), Steve Harworth the engineer (bass, guitar) Rupert Coffey (guitar) and myself (guitar, vocals). It was a mish mash of a few musicians.
‘Push the playback’ is one of my favorites on the CD. It’s got a nice energetic ‘ live’ feel and the quick modulation pulls you in. I think artists are often bent and twisted by well intended others, for good or ill, but there are songs that are truer to the artist. Is this one? If I missed the mark completely which song on the CD is?
I enjoy ‘Push the Playback’, it’s a fun song. My favorite is ‘Undone’ – it means the most to me. I wrote it at one of those moments in life when you feel like you can’t breathe, like you can’t wait to get out of the situation you’ve found yourself in. Brad Morgan and I recorded the track ourselves. Brad played most of the instruments. We spent all night in the studio and are quite proud of what we achieved.
You should be. ‘Flipside’ as a nice edge and a catchy hook and I like the ‘Not taken any sh**’ nature of your vocal and lyrics. Tell us about how this song came about.
I think I must’ve been in a mood when I wrote this. It’s about telling those who bring a negative energy that you won’t accept them into your life.
‘Let Go’ surprised me. I love the arrangement. It starts out in a nice pop feel –then drops into a ska drop beat. Really? What was the thinking here – maybe a little nod to ‘Men at Work’? Tell us about this song from writing it to the finished cut.
‘Let Go’ surprised me too. I wanted to give it a reggae type feel and ended up with some kind of summer pop song. It’s one of those songs that you either love or hate. I wish it was as good as Men at Work. I kind of stumbled into the song and went with it. It came out kinda weird but sometimes weird works.
I think you are right – it can be an attention getter. “I’ll Be Fine” is my favorite, I suppose I’m hearing and experiencing the true singer/songwriter . Your playing and vocals are affecting and personal. Your songwriting and vocals work just as well with a band or solo – which do you prefer as an artist?
On recordings I prefer a band sound – live, I prefer solo so that I can change a song in the middle of playing it – I can make up lyrics etc. Plus it’s easier to travel with just me and my guitar. Sometimes I take a vocalist with me, or a cajon player. When it’s time to have a band that’s dedicated to my music – we’ll be tight enough live to ad lib on stage. Both are fun and exciting – right now I’m happy with my guitar.
Your solo work does moves me – what is the back story for “I’ll Be Fine”?
It was a song written for a friend. I could see they were struggling with something and I wanted them to know that they would be just fine. why didn’t I just talk to them and say all those things?..I find it easier to express myself with music.
Do you write differently for a song that you will do solo from a song you know will be produced with a band?
I don’t actually. Once I’m in the studio the rest of the band sound comes to me. A lot of the time I can hear the entire full band sound in my head – which is tricky trying to relay that to the engineer. I wish I could plug my head into the mixing desk, it would be much easier.
Give the readers the process you go through from when you write a song to it being produced.
Well, I hear the melody, then add music to it, then get the words. I often hear all the instruments in my head before the words come to me. I randomly sing out words until a theme comes to me and I develop it from there. Of course the song develops more once I think I’ve finished it – especially when I bounce the ideas off someone else and they open up the possibilities of where it could go. sometimes I think I should write lyrics before the melody, perhaps that would be easier.
One of the things I get about you is authenticity. You songwriting is clean and to the point – I would almost say conversational, but that would be limiting and inaccurate – your lyrics are real and endearing – maybe you’re just a tough cookie with a big heart? Do you put yourself in the song?
Did you just figure me out?! haha A tough cookie with a big heart – I like that. yes I can agree with that. Some of my songs are about me – most are about other people in my life. I write from what I think their point of view is. songwriting is such an exposing thing so writing about other people can be easier. plus I enjoy watching others and guessing what’s going on. It’s just as emotional as writing about yourself sometimes.
Give us a little workshop on how you come to write a song.
I hum a tune in my head and find a melody I connect with – then I add the music to the melody – then I squash some words into the tune. I tend to start saying random words until a full sentence comes out, then a theme emerges. I don’t sit down and think ‘I want to write about the local store’ or anything like that. The themes just come to me depending on what I’ve been thinking about.
As a songwriter what is needed in an Abby Holden song? As a singer? As a performer?
Heart, a sense of fun, the ability to say all the things you normally wouldn’t in conversation, a love of singing and connection with audiences.
Your career will definitely go places – so much of any career is about intent – how do you envision yourself as a performer in the future?
That’s so true, you are what you think. I see myself with a full band in stadiums in the future. To play your own music so loud through massive speakers and connect with thousands of people would be the greatest feeling. Writing for others is on my list of things to do – I believe there are others who would give my music a different feel that would connect with people it wouldn’t normally reach if I performed it.
I have asked this question before of artists from new Zealand , Australia and Europe – how are the audiences different in the US from other places you have played?
In the US they are more attentive and encouraging. In NZ and Europe there is a sense of needing to prove yourself before you gain fans. In America if they like you they like you, and they’ll support you from the get go. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing in different countries, they all have something to offer and it helps me improve as an artist.
Any new projects on the horizon?
Yes, my second album. I’m currently recording it here in London with Steve Haworth (engineer/producer). We’ve been working on it since late last year – the single ‘Everything’ will be released in the UK and America on the 1st of March. The album will follow in the next couple of months. I’m also making my first music video to go with the new single…should be interesting…
Is there anything we missed? Is there anything you want your fans and future fans to know?
I think you pretty much got it all. Thanks to all my fans right now for supporting me and buying my music – to those who will follow me in the future, I hope you like the new tracks I’ll put out and enjoy my weird sense of humor on YouTube.
Abby, thank you. Dave and I will be watching your career with interest.
“Abby Holden ‘Flipside”
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