18.11.2009, Words by Ruth Saxelby

Holly Miranda: "It sounded like I was inside their heads."

Extraordinary NYC singer-songwriter who's no pushover.

The time for today’s interview with HOLLY MIRANDA, XL’s new signing, has jumped about a handful of times. It’s apparently hard to get hold of Holly and even harder to pin her down. That kind of thing usually sets alarm bells ringing but when she and guitarist Tim Mislock arrive at The Social where they’ll be performing later, photographer Julia and I are greeted warmly. Having just flown in from Italy – she’s been supporting THE XX on their European tour – she’s sleepy but smiley, recounting touring tales of late night breakdowns and homemade shepherd’s pie. She has a honeycomb speaking voice; it’s 40-a-day croaky (although I don’t think she smokes) yet sweet and fluid. Her easy laughter drops clues of the quite extraordinary tone and range we’ll hear later. It’s also present on languid debut single Forest Green Oh Forest Green (listen on the right), a lullaby of synthetic xylophones, lazy trumpets and treetops rustling in an electronic wind. All provide a warm and enchanting backdrop for Holly’s voice to dance over, recalling JEFF BUCKLEY’s melting vocals, SUZANNE VEGA’s storytelling and SPARKLEHORSE’s menagerie of sounds.

I’d read that she’d left home in Detroit to live in New York at the tender age of 16. Was that a pretty scary thing to do? “At the time it seemed really natural. I grew up in this really religious, very homophobic [environment] and at that time realised I was pretty gay…” she smiles wryly. “I’d played an open mic in New York when I’d visited my sister and they wrote up a little review of it. The guy actually mailed it my house in Detroit and I was so excited. I ran downstairs and I read it to my mother who was making soup. I was like, look mom, look. I read it to her and she said, “I think this soup needs more salt.” I was like, I have to get out of here now. So I just did it.”

When I transcribe the interview a couple of days later, I realise that not being listened to is a recurring theme throughout the interview. As a small child, her sisters used to made her lay down on the floorboard of the car if she was going to sing. Otherwise “it sounded like I was inside their heads.” Her schizophrenic uncle, someone she’s really close to, has been “shut up for most of his life, when he starts talking crazy, people try and keep him quiet, medicate him”. And then there was her first, Sopranos-esque brush with the music industry at 17, which resulted in her refusing to sign a dodgy contract. “They were like, ‘you’ll never work in the music industry. You’ll never make music.’ So right after that I made two records on my own, with my own equipment. Like, fuck you!”

That positive defiance saw her steadily make a name for herself on New York’s anti-folk circuit. At first through open mic gigs at Sidewalk Café’s infamous Antihootenanny night – alumni include Moldy Peaches and Beck – and then with her band, the Jealous Girlfriends. The solo thing came about again when the band decided to take a break. She laughs when I mention Kanye blogging about her. “That was just funny. He’s friends with Dave (Sitek). Everybody has their own opinion, comparing how I sound to other people, calling me little Feist. Really? Please.” She’s a tough cookie, this one. She has me in stitches with spot on impressions of Bjork and Shakira. It comes back to her instinct for sounds (“I love collecting lots of weird little instruments and emulating [them]”), something she shares with TV On The Radio’s Sitek who produced her album: “He’s been a friend of mine for a long time. This is a record that we kept talking about making together.”

If her spellbinding performance at The Social is anything to go by, it’s going to be a record that a lot of people keep talking about. Quite simply, she knocked me for six. There’s that formidable voice but it’s also a lot to do with her attitude. She uses two different microphones on stage, one of which distorts and fractures her words. There’s a rawness to her but it ain’t no bleeding heart show. She’s not afraid to show her scars yet nor does she revel in them. “I wanted it to be really positive or encouraging,” she says of the album due next year, currently titled ‘The Magician’s Private Library’. She explains the name came from her uncle’s description of what he thought ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ sounded like. “I went down to see him, he lives in a funny farm in Kentucky. I interviewed him and promised him people would hear it. I’m setting it to some music and then when we do the tour for the record, I’ll have it playing before we go on.” We’ll be listening.

Forest Green Oh Forest Green is out now.

Holly Miranda’s myspace

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