Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
Happiness is a turncoat. It"s as yella as a stained tooth and as crooked as a dog leg, liable to flop at the drop of a hat and become the other side of the coin. Unhappiness - that tails" side of the aforementioned coin - could be described the same way, though there are many devout loyalists to it and not the former. Some fall madly in love with the way unhappiness makes them feel, all the while cursing the notion that they"ve fallen victim to the gloominess of another disappointment or whatever they"d like to call it at the end of the day. Unhappiness sticks with us, clinging to us like static and it perpetuates itself.
People, sickly or refreshingly enough, can find themselves getting really into stories about heartbreak, movies about heartbreak, poems about heartbreak, television shows about heartbreak and other people who inevitably impose heartbreak as if it were their sentence to finish. It"s a drunk fest on the stuff and the hangover never dissuades anyone from looking it up again and again, much more so than the good times soon forgotten, remembered only as rarities with the greatest of disappearing powers. There"s something invigorating about loading up on all of that bittersweet bitter sweetness because no matter what direction it went, unhappiness always started with happiness.
Texas-born Jolie Holland, from the sound of things, drops tears once for every four blinks. This isn"t bad, for it"s constructive. But don"t confuse constructiveness for remedy. Just being constructive with your unhappiness and all its possessions does not automatically mean that you"re getting anything done about its reemergence. Like cancerous tumors, you treat it - rending it from your insides in a cleansing rush - and then hope like hell that you got it all.
Cancer"s tricky, but more ably tracked than unhappiness, which can just lurk and lurk, lagging behind to duck beneath a pile of digestible food to hide until the coast is clear and it can peek out and stir around again. Holland gravitates toward the glory of unhappiness, making it her own and turning it into bluesy, cinematic drama that could go on and on indefinitely with its grey self and never be any worse for wear, still shiny and sensitized.
In the title track from her last record, Springtime Can Kill You, Holland sings, "Don"t you see we"re all hurt the same?" It"s her way of sharing that identifiable emptiness that comes with heartbreak/unhappiness. Were it socially acceptable, that line could be used as grounds for making an immediate connection with another human being in any situation, at any time. All you would have to do is go up to the other, the stranger and bluntly say, "Tell me about your hurts and I"ll tell you about mine." It would be an instant icebreaker because no one would be excluded, no matter of their popularity, their wealth and power or their age. If you"re able to talk, you"re able to participate in the conversation that could last for days or weeks, possibly years.
Fundamentally, you"d call what Holland does with her music as making the proverbial lemonade from all those lemons. It"s built around the catharsis that is sometimes talked about and made a big deal of in this songwriting process that so many do. A song about that hard night when that man or that woman blindsided you with the checkmate can do that - let you take it back and do what you will with the repercussions. She"ll say about the first song that she recorded here with us that she wrote it while crying and now, it doesn"t get the same reaction from her anymore, if only because she"s extremely well-versed in making her pain work for her.
Even so, with the workable process of giving this pain value and conclusion, she stows some of the racked carcasses of those squeezed lemons in her refrigerator so she can pull them out and put them to her tongue again at certain times when she needs to pull her lips in and get stung by the original pain all over, just to remember what it was like. No matter how she feels about the songs once they"ve been on their own two legs for a time, they must emit the pangs again, for the details and nuances of them certainly lend themselves to instant recognition and warping right back into those socks and shoes for retell. It"s for the prevention and the sustainment that they"re like this. Sustainment is cruel mister and Holland"s attraction to him is nectar.
The Daytrotter interview:
*Well Jolie, sorry we couldn't find you anything edible when you were here -- the pizza place didn't have anything desirable, the Thai place was closed. We failed. Is it tough for you to find suitable dining on the road?*
Jolie Holland - Yeah, it sucks to be sensitive, but I just feel so much better when I eat lots of good vegetables. My liver took a hit last year when I was accidentally exposed to a poison gas -- I end up in pain when I don't eat right.
*When you're in the dumps, what can get you out of them?*
JH: Staying in bed all day reading something good, as a sure-fire solution, watching some Marx Bros.
*Why can springtime kill you? I'm worried. It's that time of year.*
JH: Just don't fall in love, and you'll be fine. Just kidding.
*When you were here, you played three new songs for us. Does this mean you've got a lot more where those came from? Are you prolific?*
JH: I have at least two records of unrecorded material right now. Sometimes I'm prolific -- two songs a day every once in a while, but I don't ever push myself to write. I've written two songs in the past six months, and I'm not worried about not writing enough. I'm focusing on writing prose these days.
*Besides songwriting, what else are you good at?*
JH: I love cooking, and writing stuff besides songs, and trying to remember how to do portraiture. Also, I like doing dream analysis, for myself and friends. I've been brushing up on my Jung lately.
*Who in your life's been more influential/inspirational to wanting to be a musician?*
JH: First one would have been Daveed Garza. These days, it's my friends.
*How do you take your coffee?*
JH: Black, with lots of soy milk. I'm a tea drinker, though, most of the time -- English style, milk and sugar.
*With Kurt Vonnegut passing away last night, did you think about him at all today?*
JH: I hated hearing about it. I'll have a good cry for him sometime soon. I always think of what he said about his envy of musicians - that writing is so lonely, and takes so long to touch one's audience, whereas a musician knows that there is nothing more important they ought to be doing than playing music. Knowing he envied musicians makes me try to appreciate being a musician more. I hope he's in that version of heaven that he wrote about, where everyone is there, including Hitler, who just keeps apologizing.
*How do you hope your life changes in the next five years? In what ways do you want it to stay the same?*
JH: In five years, I want to have learned how to really write prose. In five years time, I want my weird writer's block to be a vague, foggy memory. I also want to have finished a series of paintings I've been planning since 1995, but haven't lived anywhere long enough since then to have set up a studio. And in five years I still want to be within walking distance of a great farmer's market, just like I am today.
*Do you feel most comfortable with a band behind you or going at it solo on stage, just you and a piano?*
JH: There are perks to both experiences. It depends on the type of venue, I guess, or who I've been able to convince to come with me on the road as my band.
*What's your favorite word?*
JH: These days, my new favorite word is 'stunning' because my friend Tim Freeman uses that word a lot. Also, "querido/a" is a lovely word - a Spanish term of endearment.