In the tradition of a long line of innovative pop songwriters before her, Holly Humberstone’s music transcends genre barriers. The 20-year-old British singer-songwriter melds together a wide range of influences from the worlds of pop and indie to create an earnest, deeply evocative sound that captivates with its sheer emotional resonance. Having worked in the studio with producer Rob Milton, she released her debut EP, Falling Asleep At the Wheel, in the middle of August, to widespread critical acclaim. Opener ‘Deep End’ recalls the heart-wrenching indie folk of Phoebe Bridgers – whose latest album Humberstone says “literally saved me” – as she wrestles with the weight of her sister’s depression: “Once in a blue moon/ You may come undone/ We’re made up of the same blood,” she sings, her voice as ethereal as it is chillingly intimate. The song flows seamlessly into the title track, whose heart beats to the same piano-led rhythm as Lorde’s ‘Green Light’, while the driving ‘Overkill’ pulses with more of a woozy indie rock flair. Whether pulling from electronic influences like James Blake and Bon Iver on the stunning closer ‘Livewire’ or utilising more conventional ballad structures like on the piercing ‘Drop Dead’, Humberstone always infuses her songs with a distinct sense of her own musical identity. “And I could go on and on and on and on and on/ But the truth is, I have my best nights without you,” she proclaims on ‘Vanilla’.
We caught up with Holly Humberstone for this edition of our Artist Spotlight series, where we showcase up-and-coming artists and give them a chance to talk about their music.
What’s your earliest musical memory?
I think one of my earliest musical memories is listening to my mum play the cello. She used to be really good when she was younger and still loves it. You could hear it all through the house.
Who are some artists you look up to, and what is about their music that resonates with you?
I look up to artists who have made lots of music but still sound completely original. Artists like Damien Rice and Bon Iver, who you instantly know who it is when it comes on. I love really truthful music with personal lyrics.
You recently released your new EP, Falling Asleep At the Wheel. Can you talk us through the journey of making the record?
The process of writing the EP was a pretty long one. As it’s my first release, it took me lots of writing to really find my sound and my musical identity, as starting out I didn’t really know what type of stuff I wanted to create. I remember writing ‘Falling Asleep At The Wheel’ as one of the first from the EP and instantly realising who I was within the music I was making and the direction I wanted to head in with it all.
What was your favorite song to record, and which one posed more difficulties?
‘Overkill’ was literally the funnest day I’ve had in a long time. I was going through something really exciting and just wanted to write about all the weird feelings that come with falling for someone for the first time. The first line ‘a couple more tequilas’ came really fast and the guys and I were just screaming it because we knew we were onto something so cool.
‘Drop Dead’ was pretty hard to create. The writing came pretty quickly but getting the sonics of the track right took a little longer. We wanted it to be really atmospheric and dark, and the original demo sounded the complete opposite so it took a lot of work to get that right.
You recently performed ‘Overkill’ and ‘Falling Asleep at the Wheel’ on Jimmy Kimmel – what did that feel like?
So cool! I still feel like I’m starting out so to be given an opportunity like that was just mental to me. Due to Covid we weren’t able to go over and perform properly live, however it meant we could get creative with it and fit it into the same lane as all of the EP videos. I was at home in my garden, and we used my dad’s car and my parents’ piano so it was actually really fun to shoot!
How was the process of making the video for ‘Drop Dead’, and what was the inspiration behind it?
For the ‘Drop Dead’ video, I was trying to think of all the things that made me feel really awful. I have failed my driving test quite a few times and the thought of taking it again is horrible to me, so we thought it would be cool to cover my dad’s car in Learner plates and burn it down as a bit of a protest. Also I got to scoot around all day in a go kart which was really cool.
It can be hard to feel excited about anything these days, but what are some things you’re looking forward to in the near future?
For ages I’ve just been waiting to get back in the studio with my mates and make some music. I’ve really missed it during lockdown and have been pretty uninspired so it’s sick that that’ll all be starting up again soon and I can make more music again. Also I have some headline shows coming up early next year which is going to be so crazy as I’ve only ever been a support act. It’ll feel really cool to meet people and have people there who have come to support me!