Holly Macve’s debut album Golden Eagle, released earlier this year, made quite an impression in the music press including Lonesome Highway, being hailed as one of the most impressive debut albums of 2017. Praise indeed for the twenty-one-year-old Galway-born UK resident who appeared at SXSW in March of this year and was credited by the New York Times as one of the twelve most notable acts at the festival. Macve took time out from her hectic touring schedule to chat with us in advance of her appearances at the Kilkenny Roots Festival.
Appearing at SXSW in 2016 and earlier this year, two years in succession, is an incredible achievement for a solo artist of your age out of the UK!
Yes, I guess I was pretty lucky with that…! SXSW is a great festival to meet and gain connections with other people in the industry. You never know who is going to be at your show watching. It could be someone who becomes really important in your career. I was at the right place at the right time during a couple of my shows for sure.
The positive exposure you have received in the past twelve months seems to have generated an intense touring regime for you. Are you taking it in your stride or does it create its own pressures?
I’m really enjoying it so far, I used to be quite an anxious person and worry a lot but touring seems to actually help me to just take every day as it comes and not have any expectations. Maybe someday I’ll get sick of it but right now it’s pretty cool getting to travel and visit loads of places I never knew existed.
Does touring give you the space to continue writing while on the road or do you require solitude and a more peaceful environment to be inspired?
I need to be solitary. I’m quite a deep thinker when I am alone and touring doesn't always allow me the space to have big, silly existential thoughts (which tends to be important for my songwriting). I also start to panic a bit when I haven't written a song for a while so that’s where I may run into problems with touring in the future … I’ll need to make sure I leave lots of gaps.
Your album Golden Eagle has succeeded in striking a chord with audiences and reviewers of all ages. Is that a surprise to you?
It’s not something I have thought about a lot … but I’m glad that it does seem to! My Grandma’s a big fan, that makes me happy.
Old time blues, country and jazz all sit comfortably together on the album. Were these musical influences that you were exposed to growing up?
Absolutely. My mum’s record collection consisted of all of these. lots of Big Bill Bronzy, Hank Williams and Billie Holiday. She has great taste and taught me a lot of what I know.
How would you personally describe your music?
I sort of hate answering that question because I think it varies a lot from song to song. Whenever I get asked I say Alternative Country/Folk. Something like that! Let me know if you have a more interesting way of describing it! I sometimes think my way sounds a bit boring.
The opening track on the album White Bridge features the lines "I looked at the world with different eyes," which in many ways speaks volumes and captures, for me, much of what the album is about. How aware were you when writing the songs that the material, vocal delivery and playing are in fact quite unique?
I wasn’t really aware at all. I’m still not! They’re just songs that came out of me at that particular time. I was going through quite a lot and had many dark/ sad thoughts going on in my head. Writing is a way for me to release that and turn it in to something positive that hopefully other people can relate to also.
Your vocal style and delivery is quite unique. Did you study voice and music formally?
I never had vocal lessons, it’s just what comes out really. My mums record collection that I mentioned earlier probably helped influence it too. I was obsessed with singing from a very young age though. Often I would find myself rewinding certain parts of songs when I liked the way it was sung and listen to it over and over again. That was some sort of studying I guess …!
Your live solo performances exude the confidence of an artist that has been performing on stage for decades with the ability to silence the room from your first note. Are you totally relaxed when performing live?
Ah, Thank you very much. Yeah - I’m getting there! It’s definitely something that grows with time and experience though I’m sure I have a lot to learn still.
Are you more at home performing solo and in complete control or with a band?
Last year I found an amazing group of musicians to work with and there’s certainly a lot more fun to be had playing/travelling with a band. I think initially I was a little worried and cautious of the idea of playing with a band as it wasn't something I had done a lot of but I was lucky and came across the right people so it worked out pretty good. I do still love doing little intimate gigs on my own too though.
I’m really interested to hear what music you are currently listening to?
There’s a guy called Will Stratton who supported me on my headline tour a few weeks back. I got to listen to him every night during that time which I enjoyed very much! He’s great, I recommend checking him out.
You know that when you are performing in the UK promoters will describe you as a young lady from Brighton whereas in Ireland you will be "Galway born Holly Macve"! Had you visited or spent any time in Ireland during your childhood?
Unfortunately, not. I moved away from Galway when I was just a baby and haven’t managed to go back there yet. I feel quite a strong connection to the country and also to traditional Irish folk music though. Whilst I was being born we had Martin Hayes playing on a tape in the background, his music still always makes me feel very calm and at home.
The Kilkenny Roots Festival over the years has made a habit of featuring acts before their major commercial breakthrough. Jason Isbell, Alabama Shakes and Angel Olson particularly come to mind. Will we be adding Holly Macve to that eminent list?
Who knows! I’m very much looking forward to it either way.
Interview by Declan Culliton