Her music is the sort that silences rooms, stops people dead in their tracks from whatever boring task they were otherwise doing. There’s something about Holly Humberstone.
Words: Jamie Muir. Photos: Phoebe Fox.
You can never really tell what somebody else is going through. What thoughts cross their mind, what they deal with day to day, how they react to situations. For Holly Humberstone, it’s in honesty and openness that she’s found herself tapping into universal feelings, reaching and connecting to fans across the globe – and why, in the space of a year, Holly’s world has begun to shift.
“I always think about this,” notes Holly, reflecting on a 2020 that for all of its restrictions, barriers and fears, has blown away any expectations she may have had going into it. “I think a year ago if I saw myself and where I am now, I’d be like woah! It’s just so cool and overwhelming to see people are relating and connecting to these songs so much, like above and beyond anything I could have seen coming.”
It’s easy to see why so many have been pulled into the Holly Humberstone orbit. With a knack for perfectly putting to words the brutal realities and impact we all can have on each other, it’s a rich sound that doesn’t just make you turn your head but makes you stop dead in your tracks with its sheer power.
“The music I make really is a reflection of the music that I’ve connected to the most,” she explains. “There was something I really liked about the idea of people knowing the inner workings of my brain or whatever, and then people being like ‘oh, I feel like that as well’. I find it really cool that I get to share that personal side of me to everyone.”
Pulling at her own life and the experiences that have guided her over the past few years, Holly Humberstone has been plotting these moments from a young age. Growing up in the Lincolnshire countryside, family life was a creative and musical one – herself and her three sisters allowed the freedom to explore every artistic element, constantly surrounded by music and adventure.
“We’re all really close, and my parents have really amazing music tastes. It meant that music was always playing when we were small,” remembers Holly. “I always really idolised female ballad singers. When I was 8 or something, I was obsessed with like Celine Dion and Kylie Minogue with this big fast CD collection. We weren’t allowed a TV, I think that was the only rule we had, so we would use the time to do all these creative things instead. I was really grateful for that, looking back now.”
Discovering new CDs from her parents’ respective collections, it was albums like Damien Rice’s ‘O’ that grabbed Holly’s attention, and by 11, she was already scribbling songs looking to emulate the artists she was listening to.
“I think maybe subconsciously I was absorbing all of that when I was small, and it stayed with me, wanting to make my own versions of that. The artists I love, whether that’s Lorde or Phoebe Bridgers, for example, they haven’t filtered their thoughts at all which is something I really love because I feel like I can then see those inner workings of someone’s brain.”
“I was obsessed with like Celine Dion and Kylie Minogue”Holly Humberstone
Whilst her sisters embraced the more academic side of school life, and her friends were thinking of careers in law or the business world – Holly wanted to simply write, play and listen to music whenever possible. “I really tried to be interested in those sort of things,” cracks Holly. “I enjoyed History and English and stuff, but I couldn’t really see myself doing it forever and secretly I’d go home and just be writing songs from the moment I got in.”
After finishing her GCSEs, Holly decided to upload what she had been working together online in a mixture of nerves and excitement about what people would think. “I was like, whatever – I’m just going to put it out there because it’s what I really enjoy doing. I was pleasantly surprised by the reaction from everyone – just really supportive, and it went from there.”
Direct, open and unflinchingly honest – it’s a recipe that Holly Humberstone carried to this day. Digging into the emotions, fears and hopes that circle your mind, it revealed a therapeutic outlet to tackle those thoughts. Take ‘Deep End’, the stunning opener to Holly’s debut EP ‘Falling Asleep At The Wheel’, breathing with a hypnotic beauty that hints at dark, grungy vibes on a track focused on mental health and the importance of sticking close to the ones you love.
“That song is really personal, probably the most personal song I’ve ever written, and all of them on that EP are based on real experiences and feelings I’ve had over the past two or three years. It’s like putting your heart on your sleeve and putting yourself out there. I wouldn’t have it any other way because that’s the music I connect to the most. It’s the music that makes sense of your own feelings.
“Without even thinking about it, these songs come out. I’m just writing for myself to work through my messy brain mostly.”
Like the artists Holly herself loves, it’s a confessional style that won’t just see her become a very big deal indeed over the coming year – but become the sort of artist that means more than just a simple play here and there.
“Me and my friend and producer Rob, we’re always like – is someone gonna get a really shitty tattoo of these lyrics? Every line and lyric has to be poignant,” explains Holly. The result has seen countless messages flood towards Holly. “I get responses saying how they may have been through the same sort of situation as I have or how one of my songs is now their and their best friend’s song which is really cool. Even if I’m helping a few people with a song, that’s so fucking sick!”
“I remember telling all my friends that I was going on tour with Lewis Capaldi”Holly Humberstone
It’s not hard to witness a future for Holly that sees thousands in front of her singing along to every note. From the early days of turning up to open mic nights in front of 20 people to stepping on stage in arenas supporting Lewis Capaldi – Holly had no choice but to develop that confidence that gives her wide-eyed ambition for what’s to come next.
“I remember telling all my friends that I was going on tour with Lewis Capaldi, and then getting on tour the next day and realising oh shit, I have to go and do these huge shows in front of so many people! I hadn’t done shows even half that size before. There was no way I could back out, so I had to just go for it,” laughs Holly. “It was great, though. Nobody knew who I was so I got to go outside and see all of the people queuing up outside the venue and really got to see what the experience would have been like if it was my own tour. I had the moment where it was like, woah, I need to have this for myself one day. I really realised then that this has to happen for me as well. It was so inspiring.”
One EP down, and the future for Holly is packed with constant writing and expanding the musical palette she’s already shown the world, carving out the next chapter for a superstar who seems destined to become a relatable shoulder to cry on, laugh with, and dance alongside in 2021 and beyond.
“I really don’t have much of an idea of who I want to be in a few years, but I have an idea of who I am right now, what I want to do right now and how I feel right now, which is already different from who I was when I wrote the songs that came out this year,” admits Holly, laying out what comes next. “I feel weirdly like I’ve already outgrown those songs; honestly, I get bored of my own songs so quickly because… well…
“I feel like I’m going through crucial years at the moment in my life, and I’m constantly changing. The songs aren’t relevant to the person I am now, and that’s a good thing because I have to be replacing those songs with ones that are and the cycle just continues. It’s really cool to see that I am creating my own little world around me, and without that first EP and those songs, I would have no idea where to go. It’s that starting point I needed.”
The dream for Holly is to see people from around the world connect with the songs she’s writing, but like the artists she loves and admires, that honesty remains key. Exploring the thoughts that spin not only within her own mind but those around her; it’s like holding a microscope up to your arm and seeing those goosebumps rise once again. When you think nobody else knows what you’re going through, it’s time to look to Holly Humberstone.
Taken from the December 2020 / January 2021 issue of Dork.