Jack White sure does love Holly Golightly. But for most White Stripes fans, the song "Well It's True That We Love One Another" was the first anyone had heard of her. Who was this tart little miss lobbing rose-scented rejoinders at Jack on the closing track of Elephant? Seriously. White didn't just ask her to guest on his joint; he wrote the frickin' song about her. He's got her phone number written in the back of his Bible.
Of course, more than a few people have heard of Miss Holly Golightly. (That's her real name, by the way--her mother named her Holly Golightly Smith.) And out of those, the ones who have actually heard her have made the English singer-songwriter into a legend of garage pop in her own time.
"I think it's more musicians who like me than anyone else," Golightly notes dryly, speaking over the phone from her East London home. (She's also appeared on albums by Rocket From the Crypt and Mudhoney.) "I mean, when I opened for the White Stripes I definitely got exposed to a much larger audience than ever before," she adds, "but who's to say if those people actually went to the trouble afterwards of buying one of my records?"
If they didn't, that's their mistake. Now, please hold off on taking that grain of salt. Holly Golightly is not one of those not-very-acquired-taste artists whom musicians regularly cite as influences and before whose altar of creative accomplishment critics prostrate themselves, and no one else can figure out why. She is not, for example, Einstürzende Neubauten. She's, like, totally accessible.
Since embarking on her solo career in 1995, Golightly has mapped out her own melodically poptastic musical terrain, which borders everything from country and rockabilly and Delta blues to the '60s-style garage rock of her old band, Thee Headcoatees, while sounding like nothing other than her jingly-jangly, fiercely girlish self. Perhaps the best analogy is to Big Star: Holly Golightly is a songwriter's songwriter, flaunting a seemingly effortless perfection of the form, a perfection even the scratchy recording of her early LPs can't disguise.
By her own admission, Golightly's 11th LP, the recently released Truly She is None Other, is more of the same, only different. The biggest change, she notes, is that thanks to Meg and Jack, this time there's a bit more sheen (read: money) in the production and a larger potential audience.
"Honestly, I just do my thing the way I always do," she asserts. "People have said to me that this record is more 'album-y' than some of my others, and I guess they suppose that was a strategy on my part, but if it's true, it's an accident. The whole thing was recorded in the same scattershot way I always work--an afternoon here, a weekend in the studio there, ducking in for a couple hours in the morning."
Hearing Golightly talk about her songwriting will leave most aspiring songwriters scratching their heads: Not only do her songs sound effortless, but her recollections of the making of Truly She is None Other don't leak any behind-the-scenes struggles or feverish late nights chipping away at writer's block.
"What's my process?" Golightly makes a sound something like an audible shrug. "It's pretty much always the same thing, I guess. I write on an upright bass--which is probably why my songs tend to be rhythm-led--put some melody on top of it, figure out who I want to play with me, show them what I've got in mind, we put it on tape and bob's-your-uncle. That's it.
"I don't have a regular band," she continues, "which I prefer, you know. I enjoyed being a Headcoatee, but it was a band, and a band has to be collaborative in a way that stopped being really interesting to me after a while. I wanted to make my own sound, and for that to happen I had to have more control." She laughs. "I'd probably record every part myself if I were musician enough. But, as it is, I have a stable of musician friends who I can count on to make things happen the way I hear it in my head."
On Truly She is... , Golightly's go-to guys included members of Cincinnati's the Greenhornes, fellow travelers in the White Stripes Midwestern garage-rock revival. Given that several of Golightly's early solo recordings came out on the Detroit-based indie Sympathy for the Record Industry, once home to the Stripes, you'd figure it might be time to pack up, move to the Rust Belt, jump on the bandwagon and get with the burgeoning scene.
Golightly bursts out laughing.
"Good Lord, I am so not part of a scene," she scoffs. "To be frankly honest, I don't really listen to contemporary music at all. I think there's enough music from the past to keep me going for a long time--you can probably get a sense of that from the songs I cover, you know, '60s pop tunes and old blues stuff and things like that. I listen to a lot of vinyl, and I listen to all kinds of music, but it's all old."
Golightly's autodidactic education in the classics has stood her in good stead: On Truly She is None Other, the bad-ass pop tunes she's written herself, such as "She Said" and "You Have Yet to Win," more than stand up to her take on Kinks obscurities "Time Will Tell" and "Tell Me Now So I Know."
"Ironically, I usually decide to cover a song because there's something on it," she says, "like a guitar part or harmony that I know I won't even try to replicate. I tend to pick songs out because I love them and like playing them live, but I play them like I wrote them myself."
She truly is none other, apparently. Whatever that means. Not that she wants to give the wrong impression: She may be some kind of songwriting genius control freak with the ability to make country, pop, rock and blues classics over in her own image, but it all comes off with the laid-back humility that best befits a cult legend.
And in talking about her upcoming U.S. dates, her voice springs to life over the phone line.
"Playing live is maybe where I get the most creative with things," she asserts. "There are some old songs I always do--they're like slipping on an old sweater, you know. I break myself in that way, and then there are songs I've recorded that, when I play shows, they're barely recognizable," she continues. "And that's what I love the most. Concerts, that's really the closest I come to having a band, and it is refreshing to have that energy..."
She trails off, but her enthusiasm seems to abide non-verbally. Holly Golightly, one gets the sense, is one of those musicians who'd much rather make music than talk about it.
"I honestly don't know how to do things any other way," she concludes, with another one of those use-your-imagination shrugs. "So I do things my way."
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