"I can lose hours, sitting at the piano or on my guitar, just writing or playing my songs, and it feels like a deep place of meditation and safety for me.”
Freya Josephine Hollick, cosmic country singer-songwriter, jumped onto the scene with her first album, The Unceremonious Junking Of Me, in 2014. She brought a new style of country that mixed the old and the new with sharp wit and unique lyrics. Now, she's back with her third album, The Real World, and a clear goal in mind; to do away with stigmas attached to the genre. It's a goal that Hollick is more than capable of achieving, especially considering her vast love and knowledge of a wide range of musical eras.
“I was really lucky to have parents who listened to a broad range of really awesome stuff. A lot of soul music, everything from Sonic Youth to Beastie Boys. Etta James and Elle Green. We were very fortunate to grow up in a household with parents that were a bit cool. I mean they're not actually cool people but they had cool taste in music,” she laughs.
“I came to classic country stuff quite a bit later on. It was the free-flowing sort of country music that I listened to in my teenage years. Stuff like Heartworn Highways, Velvet Underground. It was in my 20s that I got into artists like Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson - the hallmark greats of country music. We were lucky to grow up with the cool stuff.
“I think the fact that we listened to music so much in the home when we were kids, probably lent itself to us having a passion for different styles of music, and writing different music," she explains.
The new album, The Real World, has massive range, while still keeping in the confines of country and Hollick's unique style; a feat for any artist trying to make a lasting and interesting body of work. Flicking between the heavy tones of Nobody’s Better Than No One or the upbeat swing of Me & Mine, Hollick stands her ground and has made a record that gives country a new ‘cosmic’ meaning. Hollick attributes her ability to create music that’s a little left of centre, to her love of spirituality and the connection it has with her creative side.
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“In the process of doing that creative thing, whether it is painting pictures, or writing or playing music, you enter a space of meditation and bodilessness when you’re in the process of creating. I think that they [spirituality & creativity] are intrinsically linked. Anyone that is creating art from their soul, is going to be entering that kind of metaphysical space. So for me, they go hand in hand. I can lose hours, sitting at the piano or on my guitar, just writing or playing my songs, and it feels like a deep place of meditation and safety for me, for sure.”
The only time that process changed was when she was pregnant with her daughter and found herself unable to write, and uninterested in playing music. Eventually, the levy broke and Hollick was able to get back to her passion, but interestingly doesn’t harbour any malice towards that time, confessing that she thinks being a mother makes her a better songwriter.
“I was working to time constraints a lot more, because I was a working single parent and I was finding that the time that I did spend writing was a lot more productive and I had to get the full force of the emotion out in a short amount of time, which forces you to be a bit more concise or a bit more real.
“When you have a little person relying on you, it changes your approach to your art. It makes you really appreciate the moments when you get to be on tour and get to be playing shows, but when you’re home, you have this role of being a parent and being that person’s person. It brings a certain level of grounding to the whole thing. You would kind of be okay with all of the music stuff falling away if it did - like it did through COVID. You kinda think, ‘Well, I'm required here in the present moment to be here with my child and the music will happen when it happens.'”
Hollick was right, the music did happen when it happened. Writing the album over three years, she was lucky enough to travel to California and work with a group of revered musicians in the famed Rancho de la Luna studio.
“It was Lucinda Williams’ band - the guys that have played with her for maybe 20 years. Dave Sutton, who played with greats like Dolly Parton and all sorts of different country musicians and contemporary bands. Stuart Mathis, who is the guitarist for The Wall Flowers, which is Bob Dylan's son's band. Butch Norton, who was the original drummer for the Eels, and then Greg Leisz, who has played on literally everything. He’s played with Father John Misty and Beyoncé. The next time he will be out in Australia he'll be touring with Jackson Browne.
“It was an all-star band, but the record really was shaped and turned into what it is by the Australian musicians that are in my band and the guys that I work with. They took the bare bones that we laid over in the states and really made it into what it is now. They’re really to thank for how it sounds.”
While chatting about the experience, Hollick sounds grateful but also a little conflicted, commenting on how the lack of time she had to record in the states led to an inability to connect and have a creative atmosphere. A problem that left her with mixed feelings about the entire process.
“I think that, because we were on time limits and it was the first time I’ve met them, there was this degree of like... at the time I was 30, so I’m like this 30-year-old girl, that they haven't met before, and they have an idea of how it should sound, but because it’s my music, I have a very good idea of how it should sound.
“When there were things that I was like, ‘Hmm not really sure, I think that's too fragile or too whatever,’ there were times that they were negotiating with me on how they thought it should sound - which was fine because we were under time constraints and we just came back here [Melbourne] and fixed it in post.
“There are a couple of songs that we had to completely re-record because they weren’t quite the vibe of how we wanted it to sound. Vivian, June, Dolly and Jolene was one of those songs where we just had to scrap the thing that we did in the states and just rebuilt it with my Australian band.”
Nevertheless, Hollick came out the end with an album she was proud of, filled with plenty of weird and wonderful tracks just like you would expect. Although, when asked if she’s thinking of touring the record anytime soon, she hesitates.
“We have some festivals coming up through October and further through the year. The plan will be to sort of follow the festival circuit at the moment, mostly because confidence is not really there yet after the lockdowns and everyone getting COVID again. So we're trying to be as sensible with it as we possibly can. Kind of wait till summer and the warmer months to do a bunch of shows.
“Touring, I now think about really differently, like you just have to be sensible about it. You have to think, is it worth doing an East Coast tour and losing a bunch of money that could go towards the next record, or is worth doing a big show, not knowing if there’s going to be a COVID spike, and no one is going to be able to come and everyone wants a refund. Major acts are pulling shows left right and centre, so we're just trying to watch and wait and see what's going to happen over the next couple of months."
You can keep up with upcoming Frey Josephine Hollick gigs here.