Jolie Holland is the kind of artist you've either never heard of or love so devotedly that you put her on every playlist, still cry when you hear certain songs, and recommend her music to everyone you love (guess which camp this writer falls into?). Originally a founding member of the Be Good Tanyas, Holland's been going solo for over a decade, amassing six albums, including 2004's critically acclaimed Escondida, and most recently, Wine Dark Sea.
Within that hard-to-define genre of folk-meets-rock-meets-blues, Holland is queen: Her jazzy vocals convey both urgency and dreaminess. You'll want to play a Jolie Holland record at a dinner party to impress your guests with your sophistication, and then keep playing it when you dim the lights with the guest who stays after everyone else leaves. It's not always what you'd call easy listening, though her songs are all beautifully composed and emotionally raw; but it's that complexity—the occasional dissonant riff cutting through a catchy chorus, a note held just a beat longer than you'd expect—that makes her work so hypnotizing.
Below, we caught up with Holland to talk about the past ten years of musical growth, feminism, and that time St. Vincent gave her a shout out at the Grammys.
In the years since your debut album, how has your sound changed?
I'm always following the sparks of whatever thing I happen to be crazy about. The deeper elements I am drawn to haven't changed in the past ten years. The Master and Margarita is still my favorite book. Nina Simone, Lou Reed, Zora Neale Hurston, Tom Waits, and Bob Dylan hung the moon and the stars, and their work endures. However, I think I really did fall deeper in love with some new elements in the past five years, and that's significant. I discovered Nick Tosches. I fell in love with The Stones. I think I started to be able to hear bands better, the combined action of every player.
How have you evolved as a musician?
Probably the thing that's most different about me, compared to who I was ten years ago, is that I learned how to lead a band into playing in the way that I always wanted. It took a lot of learning. I'm so gratified to have come to this place as a bandleader, because I wasted a lot of energy in the past, just because there was no one to teach me how to lead a band so that my musical vision could be accomplished. I had to trudge that long road in my own way.
Do you identify as a feminist? How does your answer to this question inform your music?
I am a feminist. I used to work at a women's shelter. I believe that I am feminist as a musician in the sense that I listen for power and depth from artists regardless of their gender. And I don't feel constrained to perform my music as a heteronormative femme. I'm not trying to be pretty in my music. Like Dylan recently said, quoting Sam Cooke, I'm not trying to be a good singer. I'm interested in expressing something, painting a picture, shooting for the heart.
What do you think about how many mainstream female musicians are identifying as feminists now? What does it mean for women in music?
I don't think it matters what people say about whether they're feminist or not. It's more important how they be. People who call themselves feminist and cut women down are despicable, beneath notice. I was deeply impressed with St. Vincent, as a feminist, for mentioning me in her Grammy acceptance letter. She once opened up for me on a tour at the Fillmore. She had third billing behind myself and another opener. Now we all know I'd be lucky to open up for her at this point. I'd be massively honored to be her backup singer. The fact that she had the grace and heart to speak of me, practically unknown in the rarefied air of the illustrious, jewel dripping, tux-and-designer gown world of the Grammys, speaks volumes. It's a wonder to me, in a feminist sense. She spoke from her center, just as she plays the fuck out of the guitar, from her center. And in her world, a voice is a voice. She seriously honored an unknown woman at the highest point of her career so far. In this, I see her as a true prince. She is demonstrating her freedom, her inner grandeur and grace. In her world, an unknown woman deserves honor, because from her center she acknowledges that honor. And she doesn't let the awful force of the immense tide of non-feminists or fake feminists to pull her off her center.
Don't miss Jolie Holland's East Coast tour with Gregory Alan Isakov:
April 6 - Washington, DC - 9:30 Club
April 7 - Philadelphia, PA - Union Transfer
April 9 - New York, NY - The Bowery Ballroom
April 10 - Albany, NY - The Egg Performing Arts Center
April 11 - Northampton, MA - Calvin Theatre
April 12 - Ridgefield, CT - The Ridgefield Playhouse
April 14 - Cambridge, MA - The Sinclair
April 15 - Providence, RI - Columbus Theatre
April 16 - Portland, ME - Port City Music Hall
April 17 - Burlington, VT - First Unitarian Church
April 18 - Ithaca, NY - The Haunt