Over the span of her career as a musician, Texas’ singer and performer Jolie Holland has released six studio records, was nominated for the Shortlist Music Prize by Tom Waits, made dozens of excellent musical contributions and collaborations, and was a founding member of folk-country group The Be Good Tanyas. Now, Holland is on tour in support of the release of her newest album, Wine Dark Sea. Read our new interview with her below as we have an in-depth discussion about the record.
AMBY: Hey Jolie, congratulations on the release of your new record Wine Dark Sea! What was the experience like recording it?
Jolie Holland: Thank you. I recorded this album with a band of seven people: nearly every song was recorded with all of us playing live in the studio at once. Two drumsets on every song. The drummers play together so well that its difficult to hear that there are two. I am honored that I got to work with two of the most beloved drummers in NYC- Dan Rieser (who played on the big Norah Jones hits,) and Justin Veloso, who is recognized as one of the greatest musicians of his generation. I’ve had the pleasure of playing with Justin since he was 23. He’s 26 now.
I played rhythm guitar or piano, sang the lead vocals, led the band, and produced the album alongside my co-producer Douglas Jenkins, who was also the main engineer. We were in a small studio in Brooklyn, and we spent about a week in there, sometimes cutting three songs in a day.
Aside from myself, three other guitarists are playing, so often there are four electric guitars playing live at once. Adam Brisbin and Indigo Street are only playing electric guitar. The great Doug Wieselman plays electric guitar, bass on a couple tracks, and all of the horns on the record. Doug, Adam and Indigo are all monstrously fabulous at what they do.
The main bassist on the album is the incomparable Geoffrey Muller of my hometown Houston.
Douglas Jenkins and I took the tracks back to his studio where he added some cello and I added some violin– I’m a violinist, but I rarely get a chance to play.
Douglas and I mixed the record with the great Larry Crane of Tape Op fame. It was an incredible crew to work with. I’m grateful for everyone’s dedication and skill.
AMBY: What is the significance behind the title Wine Dark Sea?
Jolie Holland: ‘Wine Dark Sea’ is a beautiful phrase of the blind orator poet Homer, translated from the ancient Greek. A lot of the songs on my record have references to the archetypes of Haitian mythology, the Lwa– my family is from New Orleans, and such mythos is present with those of us who have Caribbean roots. Many of the Haitian Lwa are the same as the gods of ancient Greece. My title makes a reference to the presense of this vast, unwritten literature of myth in the lyrical content of my work. Its the sort of thing that is probably an inside word to a few, yet it creates a inner structure to my work. To entitle the record thus is to point to the larger picture of the subject matter.
AMBY: When it came to the songwriting on the album, who were your biggest influences?
Jolie Holland: Asking about somebody’s influences is such a personal question. A) its almost like asking somebody about how they have sex and B) I don’t even know if most artists can answer this question in any kind of reasonable way. I don’t know if artists are really conscious of what has imprinted their work. Every single song on my record has different totemic parentage that I know of, and I’m sure there are a lot of influences that I don’t know anything about. Also, absolutely zero songs on my record have superficial influences, meaning, I wasn’t trying to directly copy anyone in any way.
For instance, the lyrics of the song Palm Wine Drunkard is directly influenced by the prose writing of Amos Tutuola, Maya Deren, Zora Neale Hurston, Dante Alighierei, Sally Ann Glassman and Heraclitus. The strongest inherent musical influences for my song Palm Wine Drunkard is Blind Willie MacTell’s version of “That Jordan River.”
AMBY: Which Jolie Holland lyric is your personal favourite?
Jolie Holland: None of my favorite lyrics are any that I have written. You can’t play favorites with the kids, you know. My favorite Blind Willie Johnson lyric (today) is
“My mother, she’s in Glory
Praise God I’m on my way
My father he’s gone too
And sister she could not stay
I’m on that King’s highway
I follow Him everyday
But I just can’t keep from crying sometimes”
I make an allusion to his lyric in my song “Dark Days” where I pair it with a phrase from the great New Orleans spiritual song “When The Saints Come Marching In:”
“I just can’t keep from crying and the stars refuse to shine.”
AMBY: Lastly, if you could curate your own festival, who would be part of the line-up?
Jolie Holland: We’d need miracle workers and a pack of saints to resurrect the lineup. I want to see Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, John Cage, and the original line up of the Velvet Underground. Amongst the living I want to see there, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Iggy Pop, No Means No, The Coup, Marc Ribot’s Trio, and Old Light.
Thank you Jolie Holland, for giving us your answers!
Catch Jolie on tour now:
June 27 – Burnstown, ON – Neat Coffee Shop
June 28 – Montreal – Petit Campus
June 29 – Toronto – The Great Hall
Interview by Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout