When I saw Holly Arrowsmith play in a converted shed in Turangi, I can honestly say for the first time watching a musician play, I was enraptured. I don’t think I’ve ever used that word to describe anything before. Usually, when you see someone play, you get bored – you check Instagram, you go outside for a dart, you watch other people dance in the crowd. But with Holly, for the small group of us crammed inside a garage out the back of someone’s house, we couldn’t look away.
It might be because her songs are, in a way, so foreign and unfamiliar. They wander slowly along their own paths, telling stories from parts of her life only she has seen. Listening to tracks from her new album A Dawn I Remember, at times feels like looking in someone’s window; private, secret. Winter Moon sounds like staring out a window on a long drive, watching the sun go down behind farmlands and rivers. Her music is different, but recognisable – like going back to your hometown after a long time away.
It’s easy to hide behind cliches and traditional song structure as a musician – it’s familiar. People understand it. Moving away from that, and leaning into who you are as an artist – it’s a risk. Laying yourself bare and putting yourself out there is scary. But Holly seems to do it with ease.
‘I bring myself into my music,’ she says. ‘I write about my own life and experiences. When you are so interconnected to your art, the challenge is to not confuse your essence with “your work”—I’ve fallen into that trap, and it’s not a sustainable route. Finding a balance between pouring yourself into what you make, but also being ready to step back from it isn’t easy.’
Holly is set to embark on an 11 date tour across the country, bypassing traditional venues for more interesting, intimate ones. Her “Hamilton” show is being hosted at Te Pahu Sound Lounge, nestled near the bottom of Mt. Pirongia. I can’t imagine a venue like that gets much foot traffic. Touring is difficult enough as it is, but sometimes letting go of the traditional expectation of a “successful tour” (making money, selling merch, not sleeping on floors, eating something other than McDonald’s) is essential for a touring musician.
‘What I love about touring are the people I get to meet,’ says Holly.
‘I travelled the USA for three months and only stayed in one hotel – people open their homes and their stories to you, and I think it’s because you’ve opened yours to them through song. It is so beautiful being allowed into those spaces, and the connection I find there keeps me going.’
As musicians, writers, painters and artists, we need to let go of traditional ideas of structure, and success. There is magic off the beaten path – magic in believing in yourself and your songs out loud in a small venue under a mountain.