The Bird on Elephant: Holly Golightly

WRITTEN BY
SPIN Staff

By: Matthew WebberFor many Americans, Holly Golightly is merely a Breakfast atTiffany’s character, not a real flesh-and-bloodsinger/songwriter who dabbles in 60’s rock and soul. Ifyou’ve heard of her, it’s probably from her duet withthe White Stripes on “It’s True That We Love OneAnother,” the twee acoustic number from their latest album,Elephant.

For many Americans, Holly Golightly is merely a Breakfast at Tiffany's character, not a real flesh-and-blood singer/songwriter who dabbles in 60's rock and soul. If you've heard of her, it's probably from her duet with the White Stripes on "It's True That We Love One Another," the twee acoustic number from their latest album, Elephant.

The title of Golightly's new album, Truly She Is None Other, is a bold proclamation, but her husky-yet-honeyed voice makes for a convincing argument. In addition to playing music, Golightly, a former singer for Thee Headcoatees (a Billy Childish-produced British girl group from the '90s), likes to dance to old Kinks tunes, shoe-shop with Meg White, and collaborate with international pop stars. If Elton John and Tina Turner are reading this, she's waiting for your call.

Spin: How did you get your start in the music business?

Holly Golightly: I collected 45s, old soul singles, and was really into dancing. I got introduced to Billy Childish [a British songwriter] 'cause he played in a band that played at my local pub on the corner of where I lived, when I was fifteen. Gradually over the years I got asked to do a bit of singing here and there, and over time I had sort of been hanging out with the same crowd of people and they all played music. And we got asked, the girlfriends of the boys, if we wanted to do some singing, and that turned out really good. And we outsold them [laughs]. Well, we made a record and carried on doing it. It was the Headcoatees.

What would you say some of your influences are? I think some of them are kind of obvious listening to your music and your choice of covers.

What would you say? I'm curious.

Well, the Kinks, obviously, because you cover two of their songs. I would guess older folk and blues and rock records, maybe from the fifties and sixties.

Yep. I don't listen to much that was made after about 1960, I have to confess. I don't know very much about modern music. But certainly if anything interesting comes along, somebody's bound to make me a tape [laughs]. I don't go and buy records generally as a rule now unless it's something I've heard and I really, really can't live without, but it doesn't happen all that often. I probably listen to mostly old R&B. I would say, if there's got to be a general sort of playlist in the house, it's gonna be that. I don't listen to very much country music; actually I don't know much about it, or folk music. My renditions of old R&B songs probably lean more towards that because I do what somebody's who's white and British and middle class can do, as opposed to somebody who's black and comes from Mississippi. It's me bringing something to it that wasn't there previously, I think, is a nice way of looking at it.

If you don't listen to much modern music, how did you hook up with the White Stripes?

They listened to me [laughs], and we were on the same label for a while, Sympathy for the Record Industry. We played quite a lot of shows together, got along quite good, and we'd got a lot of similar references, I suppose. I'm good at shopping; me and Meg like shopping, and me and Jack like singing together. I'd been doing stuff with Sympathy for years, and then when they started putting their stuff out, he would send me their CD, and by the same token they'd get mine, and that's how we hooked up. It was quite a long time ago now; I can't remember [laughs]. I was living in San Francisco, so we played a couple of times on the West Coast.

Do you like the White Stripes' music, now that you've heard it?

Well, I've heard it from the beginning really. Yeah, I do. I have to say I like certain songs more than others. Some of it doesn't appeal to me so much as others do. I quite like it when they do the thing that's intimate, when they do the thing that is significantly different. I like the thing they do live, a lot. I like to see them play, and I like the closeness. I think that's something you can't audition people for a band to do. I think when siblings or partners or really close friends play together, it's a different thing. You can't really achieve that through audition. There's no real sort of intimacy in that.

When you perform, or when you write songs, do you strive for that kind of intimacy with your listeners? Or is that even possible?

I don't know. I don't know who my [target audience] is really. No, I think probably I do essentially because I like to play with my friends. I like to do the recording with my friends, and I like to play live shows with my friends. I think that's probably the only intimacy I'm striving for.

You wouldn't say you're part of any scene?

I don't know if a scene is something that you can profess to be part of. I think it's just a group of people with common interest and not really buying into something. I think if that's a scene, then it's a group of people I know that are all doing what makes them happy and not buying into the strategic element of playing music. They're doing what they love to do.

Would you contrast that with other, maybe more mainstream artists, who maybe aren't doing what they love?

I would think that everybody fundamentally is doing what they love to do. If you're making a living playing music, I think that's a wonderful thing. If you're making a living playing music that you really are happy with, I think that's even more wonderful. I don't know how many people can honestly put their hand on their heart and say that. When you're part of a collaboration with four people maybe in a band who all come from different places and want to be doing something different, I don't know how all four people can say, yeah, we're really doing what we want to do. But they're all getting there together, and if they're making a living doing it, well, I think that's a pretty good thing.

How did you branch out on your own and go solo? Is that related to those kinds of issues?

No, not really. I think I got some free recording time at Toe Rag [Studio] when I used to do their bookkeeping. This was years and years ago in the old studio.I got some time at the end of somebody else's session. Another friend was recording, and I just happened to be there because I was doing the books. I had a couple of songs I'd written and a couple of covers, and we just did those on the off-chance? just because there was everybody there and we all had a bit of time to spare. That was on the end of a cassette that was being sent to a label who had put Headcoatees records out. The reel-to-reel was just taped onto a cassette. They ended up with it, and they wanted to put it out. So, no I didn't... It was a mistake [laughs].

It that the word you want to use? Maybe "coincidence" or "luck" or something like that?

It was a set of coincidences. I had free time at the studio. I wouldn't have paid for it. I mean, I did some home recording before that on a four-track, but that was just with friends around having a drink and a barbecue just for something fun to do. No, the first thing that ever went out to a label was a mistake 'cause it was the end of the tape. And they heard it, and they really liked it, and they said we'd do an EP; it would be four songs. And then as soon as they put one out, then somebody else wanted one. And so it goes.

Are you well recognized in England?

Within certain factions, I would think. I'm possibly completely oblivious [laughs]. I don't know, as I say, who my [target audience] is. I don't play here [in England] all that often.

Is the American audience important to you? I guess the question kind of goes back to the White Stripes and being on their recent album. Do you think your audience will grow over here because of that, and is that a goal of yours, to increase the audience here?

Well, I wouldn't say it was my personal goal, no. I think it's sort of inevitable. The track that's on the White Stripes album ["It's True That We Love One Another"], again, was a bit of a fluke, because I didn't know that they would actually be using it [laughs]. They were just here, and we had some time at Toe Rag, and that's one of the songs that we ended up doing.

In terms of whether I think my audience will grow in light of that, I think more people will have read my name [laughs]. I mean, that's certainly a fact. Whether that track on the White Stripes album will make more people come to shows, I don't know really how you quantify that. If they're curious, I mean, certainly there's going to be a group of people who have bought that record and thought that was the best thing on it. And then there'll be a whole group of other people who think that was the worst thing on it. Do you know what I mean? Because it's so different from the rest of their record. It's an acquired taste, and somebody will either like it, or they won't like it. If they like it, and they come to my show, then they're not going to be disappointed, 'cause it's much closer to what I do than what the White Stripes do.

The song does almost sound like a joke, just thrown on there at the end.

You're telling me, yeah [laughs]. Yeah, no, I had no idea. The first I heard was that the album had been pressed and they needed me to sign to say it was all right to release it. That was the first thing I heard about it being used.

So now I assume you're going to have Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue and Justin Timberlake and rappers on your albums, right?

I'm do hope so. I'm hoping it's gonna move in that direction, obviously.

Could you write a song for them? Is the type of music that they make like the type of music that you make?

Yeah. I'm much better at writing songs to order than anything else.

Who have you written songs for?

Well, people have done covers of my songs. Some bands have done covers of my songs, a lot of bands that nobody's ever going to hear, and also some bands that people will hear. I did a Mudhoney song, and I did a Pavement song, and I think by the same token they might have done one of mine when they played live a couple of times. Rocket From the Crypt did one of my songs. Odd combinations of people who you wouldn't think really had any reason to dig it. [Pause] You're astounded [laughs].

No, I'm not. I'm just curious.

I think in terms of collaborations, I mean writing stuff and doing it with other people, I think I'll do that when it comes up. I haven't got anything I need to do for order right now. But then having said that, I think writing songs for Tina Turner or Elton John tomorrow, I could probably write it between now and when the conversation finishes.

What's your overall goal, then, if you have one? Or, to you, what would be the ultimate sign of your success?

It's funny, I was just talking about this with somebody earlier. I quite like the idea that nobody will ever know who I am but lots of my music will get used in films. That's probably the epitome of it for me. Because I can carry on doing what I do and getting a kick out of doing it for my sake, not being under any pressure from a major label to deliver anything. And over time a nice steady flow of film use would suit me fine.

I think the word you used earlier was "oblivious." So you do like being able to walk around and not get mobbed.

[Laughs] I think I've been recognized twice in the street in England, and neither time was it for playing music. Has anybody ever come up to me and said, "Oh, you're that Holly Golightly bird?" I said, "Yes," both times.

You've probably told this story millions of times, but what's the story behind your name?

My mom was reading [Breakfast at Tiffany's] when she was pregnant, and I think? She can't actually remember what time I was born but she knows it was after lunch and before dinner, to give you some indication of where she was at, at the time. You have something like six weeks to name a child in this country before it's illegal [laughs]. If you haven't named your child within six weeks they come after you. She had to think of something quick, and I suppose six weeks flew by like a day to her in those days. My mom was fairly active right up 'til the minute I was born, so I don't think she had much time to think of a name. She was just reading the Truman Capote book at the time.

Is that your first and middle name, or is that your??

Yes, and I have a family name, a surname.

Could you share that with me?

It's Smith.

Smith?

Yeah. I'm very proud of it.

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