Interview: Holly Humberstone releases “The Walls Are Way Too Thin”
By: Annabelle Nowak Bråberg
My first memory of Holly is braided into a dusky walk home, post therapy session.
Shuffle -> “Falling Asleep At The Wheel” -> A sense of peace. I felt like I wanted to sit in the back of a bus with my head tilted towards the window, observing the colors of the world blend together with speed and the muted ballad of warm bus engines. We talked about that - Holly and I. The rawness of a commute, what it can mean. Amongst other things.
Hey Holly! Where are you right now?
Hi! In a little airbnb in London! Covid made me move back home with my parents, in the countryside, but their wifi is really terrible. I had to come to London, where I’m currently having a busy week.
Now I’ve heard there’s more things haunted in your parents’ home than the wifi signal... Titling a song of yours - “Haunted House” - has made quite a name of itself. How’s the house holding up?
There’s all sorts of problems with the house. It’s a weird one - the same week I wrote Haunted House [August 2020] we were told that we had to move out soon - the foundations were discovered to be unsafe to live with. Then - the same week the song came out - construction started and people began dismantling the place. It feels like such a weird coincidence that all of this happened together with the release of the song. I’m grateful to still be able to be there, but who knows for how much longer.
Glimpses of Holly’s childhood home revealed in the Haunted House music video
Tell me more about your experience growing up in this filmic environment, is it true that your friends used to make excuses to avoid sleeping over?
Yes! That is true. I’ve heard all sorts of stories. I think - because I’ve lived here since I was two or three - I’m used to it. Usually I’m scared of all sorts of things but my home feels so natural. There’s creaky floorboards, window paint falling out and definitely ghosts. My best friend Scarlett, her mom, is a clairvoyant and when she came over she was like “it’s full of ghosts here, people have definitely died here before”. I guess I should be scared, but I feel so connected to it - the house feels like a sacred place. Watching my sisters and I grow up, the ghosts must be nice ones. But yeah, my friends used to freak out when they slept over.
"Bringing up four daughters
Made the house a fortress
Dirty knees and honey bees
And nowhere else would sting as sweet
Can't believe we're turning off the lights"
Lyrics from Haunted House
You’ve described the house as a creative mess. Whilst you sat by the piano, your dad - a big poetry lover - put books in front of you to inspire songwriting. Was there a poem that stood out?
I have lots of them, even with me at the airbnb I’ve brought poetry. Leonard Cohen’s “Twelve o’clock chant” is one I remember writing to in particular. That was my favourite one, it really stuck in my brain. Being surrounded by poets all the time at home, they really inspired me, along with my parents’ amazing music taste.
In your latest song, the spatial narrative shifts from the eclectic fortress; The Walls Are Way To Thin transfers the listener into a shared city flat. Chronologically, what happened in your personal life amidst these settings? After school I went to uni in Liverpool for about a year. There was something about moving away from my parents and my sisters (whom I’m very close to) that made me more introverted. I found it very hard to make friends ‘cause I was in a foreign city. I remember finding university a little alianating, staying in my room quite a lot. Then I dropped out because I was coming to London so much more, really enjoying doing music and writing full time rather than studying. I moved to London and found myself in a similar situation as before: I became very introverted and didn't really make a lot of new friends. I was stuck in my room quite a lot of the time.
I think about it as rather funny because I was so desperate to move to London. I never visited - nor met any of the people I turned out living with - before I moved into the shared flat. I moved on a whim, so spontaneously. When I got to the flat it was terrible. The walls were very damp and moldy, I didn’t realize that it was going to be that bad. The mattresses were all gross and the fridges were full of mold. There was lots of broken glass everywhere, things like that. I remember thinking “Oh my gosh I signed a contract to live here for a year - and on top of that living with people that I don’t know, in a place I don’t even know”. It was really scary. The Walls Are Way Too Thin is about that situation: feeling claustrophobic and that you’ve got no privacy, feeling lost and not really knowing who you are.
The cover for The Walls Are Way Too Thin
Which lyric of The Walls Are Way Too Thin is the most worthy of a tattoo?
Oh, I’m not sure. That’s a thing I said for my first EP - all songs had to be with tattoo lyrics. Can I say all of the lyrics? Is that alright to say about your own song? I quite like “How come it rains inside”, part of the second verse. Because the walls were really damp - literary gross - yet at the same time metaphorical for London. The city is always going to rain, but I had my room to hide in, where I still felt like rubbish.
For your upcoming EP, pre-pandemic train rides functioned as creative summits. What’s it like - writing songs on trains?
I took a lot of train journeys in between Liverpool - where I was at uni, London - where I was doing a lot of music, and home - in the East midlands. After I’d been out partying with friends I'd come up with song ideas during train rides in the mornings. You know when you’re really, really tired - or really, really hungover - you’re so vulnerable, you have the best ideas. For me, I couldn't filter what I was thinking, apart from that it was really raw. I’d write notes or record ideas on my phone.
Editorially selected songs, based on what Holly would listen to on the train
Any tips in order to keep material like that organized on your phone?
[Laughing] I’m so disorganized, I feel like when you have an idea you don’t really have the time to structure it up. There’s hundreds of hundreds of notes in my phone, ideas that I really like get lost for sure. Other ideas are really terrible, mostly the ones I wake up recording in the middle of the night. No one’s ever gonna hear that.
Before we say goodbye I’d like to compliment your production of ear-melting harmonies. How do you do it?
There’s no pattern! I just listen to a lot of music with them, loads of harmonies. Especially for my next EP I was listening to so much Fleetwood Mac, HAIM, Prince, together with a whole bunch of music from the eighties. I feel like eighties music has so much to give when it comes to harmonies and added vocal bits. I really just stack them up. Sometimes the clashy ones are the best. Also one-note harmonies, they always work.
Ready for a zoom photoshoot?
Yes let’s do it!