For over two decades, the prolific London native Holly Golightly has persistently crafted ballads befitting any dedicated lover of rock ‘n’ roll. Renowned for her collaboration with the seminal garage rock outfit the Headcoats, her role as a founding member of the all-girl sensation Thee Headcoatees and Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs, and her successful solo career, Golightly’s efforts have remained influential. Her work has served as stylistic and lyrical reference point for numerous successors within her genre, including the legendary Jack White. From her collaborations with Billy Childish to her most recent release, Slowtown Now!, her legacy is one of perpetual finesse and cohesion, which for the well-loved singer-songwriter has stemmed from her love for two things: American music and being set in her own ways.
“[What] I do, so much of it is drawn from early recorded American music reference points. Of course I’m into the British beat groups of the Sixties, who were really doing the same thing that I’m doing now, which is lifting all the good stuff from early American recorded music and making it their own, you know? I think that it’s kind of a very British thing to do. It’s in our national psyche.”
Golightly’s take on American rock, blues, and soul has resulted in a massive back catalog of anthems that transports listeners to an earlier time, one filled with the nostalgia and allure of the genre’s roots, possessing the bravado, swagger, and grit that many of her contemporaries seem to lack. Resonant with acts like the Delmonas, the Bittersweets, or the Gories, Slowtown Now! flawlessly showcases what two decades of tireless dedication to one’s craft and aesthetic sounds like.
“I was pretty much set in my ways by the time that I was 21,” Golightly reflects. “I had already found the stuff that I really liked and I have a very narrow view. I’m not actually that open to new music, really…the majority of what I listen to and what I seek out predates anything current. I’ve been totally set in my ways since a very long time ago…. If you weren’t current to begin with, you might as well stay where you were, you know?”
Golightly’s aversion to the temptation of temporal trends has in the long run worked out to her benefit. In addition to the advantage of having been recorded and performed alongside a circle of lifelong friends and collaborators, Golightly’s LPs have gained a reputation for their cohesive instrumentation and timbre. “I got to play with my regular lineup, who I haven’t played with for a long time. I had the bare bones of the songs and most of the arrangements, actually, before I left to go home and do the recording,” she says of Slowtown Now! “If you go back and do something with people that you did something with pretty intensely for ten years, it’s just a bunch of mates arsing around in the studio, the same as usual.”
Indeed, it becomes clear with subsequent listens to cuts like “As You Go Down” or “Fool, Fool, Fool” that Golightly’s approach toward cultivation and execution as a lyricist and singer has evolved continuously over the years, leaving listeners hanging on every note and word since 1995’s The Good Things. Although the end result might seem effortless, what with its seamless delivery, the initial transition from performing as part of a collective to becoming a solo artist wasn’t instantaneous.
“It didn’t come easy,” Golightly admits. “It was really a culture shock when I first started playing solo…. I hadn’t really considered how difficult that would be to pull off in a way that I would be satisfied with. There were seven of us in the Headcoats and Thee Headcoatees, and that’s a lot of people to hide behind, so when it’s just you and your backing band, there were shows where I thought, ‘Shit, I really need to learn to play guitar better’ or ‘I need to work on my tuning with my singing.’ There were no backing vocals, no big band camaraderie; it was just somebody writing songs of their own, singing songs of their own, and trying to project those songs of their own. It’s something that I’ve definitely improved on. I have more confidence in my own ability to pull it off, really.”
Golightly is the first to admit that her early days in the studio were oftentimes marked by naïveté. “Only one of us in Thee Headcoatees had ever sung before we made our first album,” Golightly recalls. “We’d done a lot of hooping and hollering, starting doing back vocals for the Headcoats, and that was just because they were our boyfriends, [so] we were cheap labor. They’d just get us in the studio to do some screaming and shouting and at some point there was a thought to do an album in our own right. That first album that we recorded as Thee Headcoatees, you can kind of hear that most of us are not massively confident in what we’re doing.”
Describing their iconic debut, Girlsville, as “very girlish,” “sweet,” and “snarly,” Golightly views the album in retrospect as reflective of a time in her life when she began to discover her strengths and her particular niche within the framework of the band, as well as in terms of simultaneously discovering her own abilities and limitations as an individual.
“As we got into doing more recordings, each of us developed sort of our own shtick for the things that we wanted to do, so if we were picking cover songs, I would pick songs that I had been singing into my hairbrush for twenty years previously, that I knew all the words to, and that I had already developed some sort of sentiment for so that I could bring that excitement for the song through,” she says. “But every one of us has something that we did best, and once we’d fallen into those ranks, we expanded it and made it one cohesive thing.”
Evident on covers like “The First Plane Home,” “Teenage Kicks,” and “Ça Plane pour Moi,” Golightly and Thee Headcoatees’ approach toward reinvention led to innovation rather than mere replication. In retrospect, Golightly connects her early days as a performer to her affinity for music and her passion for singing her favorite songs. “I copied shit that I liked, things that influenced me. When I say copied it, I mean it like anyone singing into their hairbrush: You sort of sing the wrong words and you sort of put your own slant on the lyrics because one line might be more pertinent to you for those five minutes in time.”
The pertinence that Golightly speaks of still resonates for the singer-songwriter when revisiting tracks recorded during her time with Thee Headcoatees. She compares the experience of hearing their songs to revisiting the pages of an old diary. ”It’s not like I pull out a Headcoatees record and listen to it often, but on the odd occasion, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I vaguely remember doing that!’ and I’ll listen to it.”
Whether stemming from Golightly’s personal connection to the tracks or from fans’ adoration for what many consider to be essential LPs, the relevance of her work with Thee Headcoatees as well as her efforts as a solo artist are endlessly enthralling. “The fact that they ring [true] for some people, that they actually mean something to people and [that] people hold on to them for all different reasons…. It’s uncanny how pertinent it can be.”
Catch Holly Golightly at the Mercury Lounge on October 27. Click here for tickets.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 27, 2015