If you haven’t heard Holly Humberstone’s music yet, prepare yourself for something you won’t forget. Her huge melodies will get stuck in your head, but the sincerity of her words will catch in your heart. 21 year-old Holly is just as thoughtful and heartfelt as her lyrics, so it was an absolute joy to catch up with her over Zoom. She spoke from the very childhood home that featured in her intimate new single “Haunted House”, which will be on her upcoming second EP. We talked early musical beginnings, building confidence, the thing she’s looking forward to the most on her next tour, and more!
Melodic Magazine: You’ve talked about how you started songwriting when you were very young and your dad would put poetry in front of you and encourage you to write music to it. Did performing come around the same time?
Holly Humberstone: No, that’s something that I hadn’t really done until I was leaving school and I figured maybe I should do some open mics and stuff. So I’ve always written, but I kind of kept the songs to myself or I’d play them for my parents and they’d be like, yeah, do more, it’s good. But I never played.
I think maybe when I was about 16 or 17, I started to record little demos on my dad’s mac and then I started to send them around my friendship group in school. It was scary for me because they were always personal songs. And they’d be like, oh, I didn’t even know you write songs, these are really cool. They were really encouraging! They came with me to my first few open mics, which were in this tiny, tiny little venue in Nottingham, which is where I’m from. I found them terrifying because they were so small and you just have, like, drunk people in there. But it was always the test, whether you could get people to show up and stop talking and listen to you. If I could do that, then I’d won. Yeah, performing live is still a terrifying concept for me. But I’m excited to do it again to be honest. I’m never going to take it for granted again.
Melodic Magazine: Does that mean that your brief stint in the orchestra was your first experience performing?
Holly: It was, yeah. I used to play the violin and it’s not something that I shout about for some reason, I just didn’t really enjoy playing in an orchestra. I’m grateful that I went because I think it taught me quite a lot about reading music and music theory and stuff like that, but I really hated going. What I like about performing now is that I’ve written the songs. The creative process is actually the part of it all that I like the best. Performing something that I’ve made is a little bit more meaningful for me than just reading some music and playing it.
Melodic Magazine: For songwriting, you talk a lot about this light bulb moment you had when you wrote “Falling Asleep at the Wheel”. I want to hear a bit more about that – what changed while you were writing that song, where did you find that magic?
Holly: I’m not sure where it came about. As I said, I’ve been writing songs for a long time, since I was so small. When I was about 16 or 17, I wanted to take music seriously and try to do it as a career…and I knew that I could write songs, but I just didn’t know who I was within the music or what sort of sound I wanted. I remember it was one of my first sessions with this guy called Rob [Milton] – he actually used to have a band that I used to listen to quite a lot growing up, they were the local band that were really good. I think it was just something about working with a producer that made me realize my sound and realize what I wanted to say and who I wanted to be within the music I was making. I think before it was hard for me because I didn’t have any production skills, so my songs didn’t really sound like songs. They just sounded like rough demos. Working with a producer who could properly record me and make me sound actually good, that made a difference and my confidence went up.
Melodic Magazine: Your songs have such a profound vulnerability. Can you tell me about the process of finding that vulnerability in the co-writing process, especially in the beginning stages?
Holly: It was a long process for me to find people that I felt really comfortable with. I’d get trains down to London and I’d stay for weeks and fill my schedule with different writing sessions with different people. But I found it really tiring and kind of an unpleasant experience because it was all like 40 year old men or 50 year old men who had had a hit a few years ago. I didn’t have any music out, so they didn’t know who I was. It was just like, how am I supposed to be vulnerable and write a song about my deepest feelings ever with this 40 year old guy, you know what I mean? So it was such a long process until I found somebody that I felt comfortable enough with to write with and to open up to. It just happened that Rob was actually from Nottingham and I already knew of his music. He just is more like a mate, he’s just cool.
Melodic Magazine: You’re moving on to your second EP, which is coming very close behind the first. Were the songs written in the same period?
Holly: No, they weren’t. Actually, it’s quite nice because the first EP was like a little time capsule for me because I wrote all of it when I was sort of in my last few years of school and I was still living here in my childhood home. It was all written about experiences that I’d had here in this house. Lots of the videos were filmed here. So it all kind of came from like this one place.
And then the first song [Haunted House] from the next ep is about leaving this house. The house is getting too old and falling down for us to live here anymore. So we’re having to think about leaving. The next chapter of my life was when I moved away to London by myself and I didn’t really know anyone. I felt like over the last few years I’ve been going through so many changes – going from leaving my childhood behind, moving into adulthood and having responsibilities, going through all of these weird, confusing changes. Writing this next ep has helped me process all of that. That’s why it feels like a second chapter after the first.
Melodic Magazine: I want some behind the scenes on the “Haunted House” music video. There’s this really cool shot where you’re spinning upside down and it looks like it’s snowing. So what’s going on in the room when that’s happening?
Holly: Yeah, so all of the video is filmed at my house. And yeah, obviously it’s fake snow, but that’s the room where I’ve spent quite a lot of time over the last few years, just doing music and learning to write songs and stuff, so that room is really important for me. The song was written about letting go of things from my childhood that were sacred. I had to say goodbye to my grandma at the same sort of time as we were told that we had to leave. I felt like everything was slipping away at one time, everything from my childhood that was so precious. I wanted the video to kind of feel like I was coming back to this place after we were long gone. The roof’s gone and it’s all wintery and it’s like a memory walking back through it. So that’s why we got that snow. And it was just fun. It was stressful, though, having a whole crew here. And the cleanup afterward was like no other, it took weeks and weeks to get the place cleaned.
Melodic Magazine: So the house is still standing?
Holly: It is, I’m actually still here.
Melodic Magazine: I’m so glad to hear that!
Holly: It’s such a sacred place to me. When it does go, it would just be so sad. I feel like it’s a part of me. Like I feel like it’s raised me, you know, because I can’t picture my family anywhere else.
Melodic Magazine: There are some rescheduled events coming up, so you’re finally going to be able to go on tour! What’s something that you’re looking forward to on tour that isn’t playing shows?
Holly: Going to new places! I’m just so excited about traveling. Obviously none of us have been able to do it for the last year. Even around the UK, I like going to visit different cities and stuff. And I just want to meet some people. It’s funny, it’s been so lovely all of the support I’ve received and like all the lovely messages over like Instagram and YouTube comments and stuff like that. But I’ve never actually seen any real proof that, like, these people exist. Like I’ve never met anyone apart from my family or my friends that actually listen to my music, like never, ever. Which is really weird. I’m excited to meet some people. It would just be nice to be in a room full of people again, you know.
Melodic Magazine: Are you going to bring the fifth sister swap on tour?
Holly: I’m thinking it would be so cool. It would be sick if people could swap with each other as well. But yeah, I don’t know how covid safe that is, but would love to expand that. That is something I really care about. Like that would be so sick if we can bring a little van or something!