Holly Golightly Smith was indeed named after the main character in Truman Capote’s 1958 novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but that’s pretty much where the similarities between the London-born singer and the wanna-be Manhattan socialite end.
Smith is currently celebrating her 20th year as an independent garage rocker, first with the all-girl Thee Headcoatees, then as a solo artist and now with longtime partner Lawyer Dave as Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs.
Despite collaborations with the White Stripes and Rocket From the Crypt, as well as inclusion on the soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers, Golightly is best known for her DIY aesthetic, her unchanging lo-fi sound and her encyclopedic knowledge of rare and hard-to-find songs. Her latest offering, No Help Coming, is the fourth she’s recorded with the Brokeoffs and makes almost 30 in her career.
Golightly moved stateside a few years ago, to a farm in the Georgia backwoods, and that’s where she was when we spoke recently, shortly after she finished with a slew of morning chores.
Scott McDonald: It has to be a change, living on a farm.
Holly Golightly: I actually grew up on a farm -- I trained horses. That’s what I’ve always done as well as play music. It’s what I do for money. It’s my real-life job. So it’s nothing new at all.
SM: Do you have more than horses on your farm?
HG: Yup: goats, chickens, geese and dogs. It sounds strange, but in many ways it’s a lot easier than music.
HG: Well, the only thing that’s really labor intensive is feeding them, and that really only takes a bit more than 15 minutes a day. So it’s not very difficult at all, really. Everything else can fit around whatever else you do. But it has always been difficult to balance the two together. Working with horses and playing music aren’t obvious companions, because one is very late night and one is very early morning. But we’ve worked it out. We have a system in place, and it works, but it’s taken careful planning, and it came to a point where I had to leave my home country to do it. It’s just not possible to have the two things going at the same time if I’m based in the UK.
SM: And you’ve been doing music now for 20 years.
HG: It’s funny: When I first started out, I had no idea I’d still be doing it 20 years later. I fell into it completely by accident and saw it as a hobby. I guess I’m still at it because I consider it a real privilege to go out and play, and have people want to come and see me play and still buy the records after all these years. It’s a privilege, but I’ve also worked really hard at it. I have two full-time jobs. But all of that said, I don’t gauge anything in years, really. It’s just gone in through momentum. I never once sat down and said, “Oh, look at all that I’ve done.” I just get on with it. You know what I mean? I’m very lucky that people still care, but I never started out with this purposely.
SM: What keeps you going?
HG: Well, I have a theory about that. I still enjoy doing all of the things that I do. And I have not been under pressure, because I’ve never been heading to the top at any time. I’ve never been ambitious to get there or anything, but never been anything but content to be doing what I’m doing. You know what I mean? When you join the circus full time,and are under the pressure to make records that sell, that spoils it for a lot of people. It certainly would for me. It’s been quite easy because no one’s telling me what to do. It’s always been at my pace, and that’s why I’m still here. Well, that’s my theory on it anyway.
SM: You also haven’t messed with the formula that much over the years.
HG: I know what I like. And I have a strong, developed opinion about music. So it’s just kind of inevitable that I’ve been doing the same thing, really. I tend to hit the nail on the head the same way all this time. I don’t feel the need to expand just to try and impress people. Especially when my expertise is limited. I really haven’t learned to play guitar any better than I have in the last 20 years. It’s not a lie at all. I play it proficiently enough to play rhythm guitar live and write songs, but I am not a guitarist by any stretch of the imagination. And I have no desire to be one, either. The tools I have to do what I do are old ones, and they’re tried and tested. I just get on with it as I need to.
SM: That sounds quite practical.
HG: Well, there is quite a myth surrounding it all, which I dispel entirely. You can either do it or you can’t. Also, I don’t think you ought to take it very seriously. People take it far more seriously than I ever could, and that would take the joy out of it for me. I have just been thrilled as I go along, all the way from that first time that I said, “Oh, wow, so that’s what I sound like on a record.” It was exciting, but I got used to it, and now I’m a bit blasé about it. But that doesn’t mean I enjoy it any less than I ever did.
SM: What does the future hold for you?
HG: Well, it’s still really fun for me to make records. And it’s still really fun for me to play live. And as long as I feel like that, I’m going to keep doing it.
Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com