Interview with Singer/Songwriter Holly Long

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holly long
Holly Long

Interview by Scott Preston

Cincy Groove: What was the inspiration behind your new album “Frequency”?

Holly Long: My manager/producer and dear friend, Anthony JW Benson, made a suggestion to me years ago that I should make a 70’s inspired record. After hanging with me and my music for a couple years, he thought I might want to work in the medium that inspired me as a kid. I took to the idea immediately- having gotten a lot of my songwriting/musical influences from the 70’s– from the radio pop singers like Jim Croce, Roberta Flack, Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Elton John, to bands like Chicago, Fleetwood Mac, etc. I also really dug the notion of working with a horn section, and adding a number of new keyboard sounds for me. This is the first record I’ve made which has absolutely no acoustic guitar- played by me or anyone else- and not one lick of me on the piano. Though the germination of all the songs began on those two instruments, the playful production required that I move away from those sounds. Truthfully- it was really really fun.

The title came from looking at the collection of new songs that were in the running to be included on this new 70’s experiment, and discovering that they all revolve around this axis of connection- people connecting to each other, or wanting to connect, wanting to be moved by the same vibration of energy, or frequency. I as an artist in general really resonate to that idea. So, this notion of using the word “frequency” as a title made all kinds of sense. First, in terms of conjuring up the memory of finding the frequency of radio station you wanted to hear on your old portable 70’s radio player, and then as an efficient term for my current theme of connection.

Cincy Groove: Who produced the record? was was it recorded?

Holly Long: Anthony produced the album, as he did my last Americana inspired record “Leaving Kansas.” Tom Tucker mixed. We recorded it at the old Flyte Time Studios just outside of Minneapolis (which is how we got Tom on there.) The space is now this phenomenally state-of-the-art music engineering school owned and run by Tom. I got lucky and drew the live room to do all the recording in. Huge, beautiful space. Fantastic room, board etc. We had some student assistance here and there, though the most notable “knob turners” were Andy Keech who masterfully engineered the recording, and Ross Harvey who did a great job of assisting Tom in the mixing process.

Cincy Groove: Did you have any special guests on the cd?

Holly Long: It’s hard not to call everyone special. Maybe that’s gooey and obnoxious sounding, but it’s how I feel. Everyone on this record contributed to this cool funky sound we found.

The Hornheads were the amazing Minneapolis- based horn section I was lucky to procur. They work with everyone from Justin Bieber to Prince. Sue Orfield- the fantastic tenor sax player, and horn arranger- is not a hornhead and came from Wisconsin to work with them. It was fun to watch all those horn/flute lines emerging and being tweaked with during the recording process. Surely a communal act.

Jason Craft was dominant on EVERY keyboard part. A killer player. I brought back Noah Levy on drums (he played on Leaving Kansas) because he is my favorite drummer now to work with and listen to. Period. My longtime collaborator and friend Nicholas Markos did all the great guitar work on this record– he came out from Chicago. I had some of the great backup singers I had worked with previously, notably the amazing Jennifer Grimm- and some new stellar voices for me- Kathleen Johnson (who has worked with EVERYONE) among others. Steve Yeager added some cool vibraphone (who uses the vibes nowadays?) and did some great arranging too. Tom Peterson on bass- new for me- great guy- great player. All in all a phenomenal cast of characters- even those few I didn’t list by name.

Cincy Groove: What were some highlights for you in 2010?

Holly Long: Aside from making this record, which was pretty amazing for me, we bought a small vacation home up in Ojai CA early in 2010, which is just an incredible area of the country. Not only is it a beautiful get away spot, but there’s a rich indigenous history there, and a lot of spiritual centers. You can feel the energy pulsing up there. Being such a city girl through and through, I am humbled and happy to be able to connect deeper with mountains, trees, wildlife on the weekends now. I hope to actually do some live recording and maybe some live house concerts in this home up there among the huge live oaks- it’s certainly enriched my soul and access to my music. (I shot my first video for the demo version of the song “Summertime In Your Eyes” up there. You can access the video on YouTube and on my Myspace page.)

I also totally redid my website to reflect the new record- using mostly images from an on location downtown shoot that my dear friend and artist/photographer Jennifer Biagiotti shot. Somewhere on the site there’s a hilarious picture of me looking a bit like a 70’s female pimp-slash-“That Girl!” Marlo Thomas impersonator in a parking lot. In the background are a half dozen cops with their guns drawn on someone in a car. This was one of those priceless scenarios that Jennifer and I just lucked into. I got out of her van having just put on my clothes for the first set of the shoot- we were looking around for a good location to present itself, and suddenly helicopters appeared over our heads, and cops descended upon the parking lot. Jen wanted to move away, but I said- no no- keep shooting. Just keep going! There’s another shot of me moments later– same pimped out me– with a number of men in the background looking through the bars of some basement level in the high-rise parking structure next to us. They’re looking at the cops- but the way Jennifer has it angled- it looks as though they’re caged fans looking at me. It’s fantastic. (no one got hurt, btw- evidently we found out later the perp was a car thief who had taken the car across state lines…so it wasn’t as grim as it looked initially.)

Back down to reality– I also took a trip with my family last year to London. Having never been. Didn’t go to work- just to vacation and see the sights. As well as loving the thriving city- my husband and I caught some amazing jazz just outside Chelsea in this tiny underground club. The kind of club where your knee will rub up against the upright bass if you’re not careful, and you’d better not be spilling your drink on the microphones. So intimate, dark, cool. I’ve always loved great jazz- again- the communal connective aspect of it. Maybe sometime in my later years I will get back to developing my chops so I can sit in and play with some of these amazing musicians.

I did a really fun acoustic weeklong tour with a new friend named Mark Croft out of Madison, WI. Great guy- fantastic songwriter. He and I happened to create our newest records with the same production team, in the same location, last year a month apart from each other. Our music is compatible in sound, and so we hopped in a car with a mutual friend Carrie Miller, who helped book and promote for us, and did a couple dates together in the midwest last fall. It was beautiful to drive through Wisconsin in autumn and see dairy country with the rolling hills and the leaves turning all shades. Being a midwestern girl, I miss that part of the country. (Though I certainly don’t miss the Fox News blaring from every gas station, motel and truckstop….But that’s the same here in the rural parts of sunny California too- so…)

Other than that- I turned 40 (shhhh….) which is a big milestone. I had a number of song placements in a TV show called “Miami Medical” on CBS last spring. One of which was the song I mentioned earlier entitled “Summertime In Your Eyes” which I made a video for to coincide with the airing of the show. The fully produced version of that song is track 6 on “Frequency.”

2010 was a good year. I can’t imagine 2011 being quite so busy but you never know. It’s still January.

Cincy Groove: Do you think Twitter and Facebook are good for music?

Holly Long: I am currently engaged in an online promotional campaign for Frequency with a company called Ariel Publicity out of NYC.. They’re very streamlined and they keep the price point low. Mostly they can do this because they teach you how to DIY a lot of it. Which means lots of time on Facebook, Twitter, Reverbnation, Myspace etc etc.

Now, I have always had an ambivalent relationship with all this social media. On the one hand- my entire career is essentially online. I do play live shows (though less and less now) – though unlike other musicians who are gutting it out on the road to make a living- I am a mom and basically have made the choice to stay home with my family. Do my music- which is essential to me- on a part time basis. But because of that I am almost completely dependent on the internet to keep any sort of relationship with my fans going, and to obtain new ones. So I am grateful and happy that Facebook, etc are out there. I am on these sites constantly- promoting my shows, music, podcast interviews, etc and continuing to try to figure it all out. Right now, I’m in the process of creating a blog on my website, and will be producing more regular material to share there- like home video diaries, rudimentary recordings of songs in the works, candid pics of me, etc.

Tweeting I just can’t get down. And maybe because it seems to perfectly embody the other half of my ambivalence– the part of me that doesn’t cotton so well to all the massive amount of continual, ever-flowing non-essential information being produced and shared and consumed at such rapid rate. It’s like we’ve forgotton what it’s like to eat a meal of information- say- a book, or even a complete film or (god forbid) an ALBUM. We love the Fritos. We love the Big Gulp. We love the constant access to small tasty sugary bits of information like food that never fills us up but keeps us hungry. Frankly, I don’t really care what most people are tweeting. I find it boring and basic and flat. But I am forced to tweet (well- let’s say I’m trying to force myself to tweet more often) because I am told I will gain more fans that way- my music career will thrive more.

Let’s just say- the jury is still out. I know tweeting, etc is the present WAY of communication. It speaks to the wave of the future (whatever that will be. Will we SNORT each other? Will we ROAR or BLINK to each other? It probably will be blink, because it will have to have some visual attached to keep the ever expanding appetite for current info satiated… Ah, who knows.) But I’m not sure that the kind of folks who will get my music are actually the tweetin’ kind. Maybe they are and maybe they’re not. Maybe I’m a furious tweeter lying in wait– perhaps this is what 2011 has in store for me! All I know is that now, Twitter specifically, seems bad for us. Seems like we’re careening toward one big huge communal circuit meltdown. There’s a Gen X-er talking. Were I younger and clearly more wired for all this present madness perhaps I would feel differently.

Cincy Groove: What do you like to do when you aren’t playing music?

Holly Long: I like to read- watch TV- I like to cook (and eat). I run and do yoga. I meditate as often as I can, though it’s hard to keep that consistent. I love to go see other people play music. I like to hang out late a couple nights a week- go out to clubs or do small dinner parties with friends. I love wine- maybe too much. And except for the last three things on this list, I like to do all this with my kids. I love reading scary stories with them- watching hilarious Cartoon Network shows with them, as well as classic movies (we all just poured through the Indiana Jones flicks.) We love Chinatown- me alone at night, and during the day with my family.

I love fashion. I used to sell vintage and used clothing out of my house in 2009 when I was in between making records. I’m a big fashion junkie- I shop a lot. And by shop, I mean mostly flea markets and vintage stores, etc. I really vibe to all kinds of eras that have past– my closet looks like an overflowing high-end thrift store and my Venice house looks like a mid century modern Danish hippie Craftsman bred with a dark Asian teahouse. I love things- beautiful things. Especially if they’re valuable to me, for any number of reasons, and cheap!

Cincy Groove: Any upcoming shows you are excited about?

Holly Long: (I just saw Andrew Bird play this weekend in LA. Which was awesome- especially because I’m dear friends with his producer/engineer David and so we hung out with Andrew afterwards and talked of Ojai and Chicago- he and I and my husband Jeff are natives.)

But as far as MY shows- yes, I finally do have something on the calendar. After my little midwestern tour, I took a big holiday break to be with family and to start up my promo campaign, which I spoke of a little earlier. I’ll be in Minneapolis Thursday March 3rd at this fantastic club downtown called the Aster. The owner, Tom, will be on bass, as well as a couple other folks off the album coming out to play- Nicholas Markos on guitar, Steve Yeager on percussion, Jennifer Grimm backup vocals. Then the following night I’m doing a house concert in St. Paul. An INCREDIBLE gorgeous mansion of a home with stellar views— beautiful baby grand piano there. (If anyone needs to know more info about either of these shows, please have them email me at [email protected] or befriend me on Facebook and send a message – my fan page is under Holly Long.) Oh the ways to get in touch— there’s also www.myspace.com/hollylongmusic or www.hollylong.com and join the fanlist on the first page.