A Conversation with Jolie Holland
Puremusic: Got some time?
Jolie Holland: Yeah, definitely.
PM: Great. Sorry I was gone for a minute because I forgot to shut off the air conditioner here. I'm in a New York City apartment, and it's very hot. You're in Texas today?
JH: Yeah, I'm in Dallas.
PM: That's kind of your roots there, or thereabouts--Dallas or Houston?
JH: My family is from Texas, I grew up there.
PM: So was there much family out at the dates the last couple of days?
JH: Yeah, in Houston. I don't know anybody in Dallas.
PM: Right. How's it going out there? Are you touring with a band, or are you touring solo?
JH: I've got a really great band. I've got this drummer I've been playing with since '96. And I've been playing with the guitar player since 2000, so I get to put down the guitar a lot and pick up the violin.
PM: Oh, that's great. Bass or no bass?
JH: No bass.
PM: It's remarkable how many people do that today. If somebody's got good bottom end on the guitar, and somebody kicks the drum in the right place, you can get by.
JH: Yeah. It seems like people used to make a better living at music, so you could afford a bass player. I hear these stories about the 70s, like how live music used to get paid so much better. This friend of mine was telling me he used to make $1,000 a week playing at the Holiday Inn.
PM: Sure, I remember those days well. [Not that I played those gigs.]
JH: It's so sad. That sounds like a fairy tale to me.
PM: Yeah. And you have a record that's doing pretty well, with a really good label, so you've really got a bird's eye view of how much musicians are not getting paid out there.
JH: Right. It's inconceivable to me to even pay another person to be in a band.
PM: I mean, could you be surviving at the moment without tour support? Is there tour support for what you're doing, or does the road have to pay for itself?
JH: Oh, there's tour support.
PM: That's good. I heard last night from my buddy Lex Price who's in the city tonight. He's been out as a duo with Mindy Smith. And they're doing good dates and are really label supported. But even as a duo, without tour support, they'd be hard pressed, I believe.
JH: Yeah. It's nuts. I don't know who's to blame, really. But, yeah, it seems like musicians don't really make a fair percentage of the door most of the time. And then there's crazy stuff like the sound guy usually making more than you do.
PM: [laughs] That's not funny. Sorry I laughed.
JH: It's crazy, and it's almost the norm. [laughs]
PM: And if you live in a town like New York, Nashville, or L.A., or Austin, for that matter, where there are just far too many players, you can't make money playing in your own town either.
JH: I live in San Francisco, and I have to move around, because I can't play in one place too much. Nashville, it's an interesting scene down there. I wasn't really prepared for it. This band opened up for us, and they were so slick.
PM: I was sorry to miss that show, I was out of town. But, yeah, we liked Escondida very much. It's a very singular recording. Considering the meaning of the word in English [hidden], what were you saying there, or implying by that title?
JH: I wanted something to connect it linguistically to Catalpa. And it's kind of a nickname of mine.
PM: Oh, that's a cool nickname. Who gave you that?
JH: I gave it to somebody first, and then we adopted each other.
JH: He was Rabbi Escondido, and when he adopted me I became Escondida.
PM: Right. The feminine. Oh, that's good stuff. So along similar lines, what does the name of your publishing company, Box Tree Music, refer to?
JH: That's the tree I was walking under when I finished writing "The Littlest Birds."
PM: Oh, what a fine song. [It can be found on the debut album of The Be Good Tanyas, Blue Horse, as well as on Catalpa.] And a box tree is a kind of a tree?
JH: Yeah. It's the Victorian Box Tree. It's a beautiful night-blooming tree.
PM: Well, that's such a beautiful song, Jolie. Give me a little bit about writing that--about that night, or anything about it at all. That's just a wonderful song.
JH: It has some meanings in it that I don't know if most people get, even by the tenth listen, which is something I really appreciate about the song. And the song still has hidden or selective meanings that I'll get here and there. But it's basically this narrative about being a wandering dreamer. Samantha Parton and I wrote that song. The both of us were just compulsive wanderers for many years. And it's really beautiful, and you experience all these amazing kind of synchronicities, and you realize how interconnected everything is. You see all these beautiful things about the world, especially if you're going after finding amazing artists, which is kind of what the both of us do.
Like you go into a new town, and you find some people to work with, for instance. It was so cool to meet Samantha. She and I both had lived in all the same neighborhoods all across North America. Both of us had lived in New Orleans and Austin, and we knew all these people in common. It was really fantastic to meet her. She's an amazing person.
PM: She is really neat. I met her with the other Tanyas in Nashville before I interviewed them on the phone. I was very sorry that Samantha was not present at that telephone interview when they were at the Nettwerk offices in L.A. But I talked to Frazey and Trish there. [see that interview here]
It was interesting to see Samantha Parton pop up in a couple of significant corners of your new CD, that very evocative cover photo and the co-write on "Darlin Ukulele," one of the greatest songs.
JH: Thanks. I guess all that to say that one of the hidden meanings on "The Littlest Birds" is: poor people make the best art.
JH: That's what it means.
PM: Oh, that's really something. I'm sorry I cut you off inadvertently on that last part.
JH: Oh, no. It's okay. I was drifting. But it means the best stuff comes from the hungriest mouths, sometimes.
PM: I like that. And it's so true.
JH: When you don't have anything, at least you've got that. continue