Holly Golightly: Singing In The Back Of The Revival Tent
For more than 20 years, the British songwriter Holly Golightly — yes, named for the heroine in Breakfast at Tiffany's — has been a lo-fi artist with a spare, stripped-down sound that hits you somewhere in the midsection.
The latest album by the singer-songwriter and her musical partner Lawyer Dave — collectively known as Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs — is called Sunday Run Me Over. Musically, the album has all the ingredients to be the soundtrack of a good old-fashioned religious revival. But when they sing, they come off like the disenchanted youths in the back of the tent, who bail on the revival to drink and curse by the river — not to mention write their own songs.
"I got really into '50s and '60s R&B a long time ago," Golightly says. "And I think through dissecting those — which essentially were gospel songs — I went backwards in my search. Rather than reaching for the sky, I guess I just sort of stripped it down and put my finger on what I liked about it. There's a formula to it that's meant and intended to make people feel like they know it before they've even heard it. There's something in that. And that's what good church music does, really — it's inclusive."
Holly Golightly and Lawyer Dave sat down with NPR's Rachel Martin to discuss how they collaborate, getting started in music, and why cover songs are a perverse pleasure.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
For more than 20 years Holly Golightly has been a kind of Lo-Fi artist, offering up a spare, stripped-down sound that hits you somewhere in the midsection.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEY SAY")
THE BROKEOFFS: (Singing) They say that (unintelligible)...
MARTIN: That's "They Say" from the latest effort by Holly Golightly and her musical partner Lawyer Dave - he goes by Lawyer Dave; we'll just call him Dave for the time being. Together, they are The Brokeoffs. And their new CD is called "Sunday Run Me Over." Holly and Dave join us now from member station WUGA in Athens, Georgia. Hello to you both.
HOLLY GOLIGHTLY: Hey.
LAWYER DAVE: Howdy.
MARTIN: So, I got to start out by saying listening to this album, it's kind of got all the ingredients that you might find on a good soundtrack for a kind of religious revival, except the two of you are like these disenchanted youths in the back of the tent who decide to bail on the whole thing and go out and drink and curse by the river and maybe write your own music.
GOLIGHTLY: Yeah, that's not too far from the truth.
DAVE: Pretty much right on.
GOLIGHTLY: It's pretty accurate.
MARTIN: Before we get too far into this, let's explain what that means to our listeners. Let's give a little listen to the first song on this CD. Here we go...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GODDAMN HOLY ROLL")
BROKEOFFS: (Singing) (unintelligible) goddamn holy roll, someday we'll meet on the (unintelligible) goddamn holy roll, yeah, yeah, (unintelligible) we ain't to slave no more...
MARTIN: Now, as someone who hosts a radio show that airs on Sundays, I got to say, you know, what do you have against this day? The album title is called "Sunday Run Me Over."
GOLIGHTLY: Oh, I love Sunday. There's nothing against the day at all.
MARTIN: Well, I mean, as we said, there is this very strong kind of revivalist sound to this musical quality. Dave, this was music that you grew up with?
DAVE: Oh, no, no. Quite the opposite, really. It's the kind of music that I wish they'd played in church. If they had, I'd probably still go. I don't really think of myself as being a horribly religious person but I certainly do like the music.
MARTIN: But, Holly, you, as we might discern from your accent, you were born in London, right?
MARTIN: And you're really named after the character in "Breakfast at Tiffany's?"
GOLIGHTLY: Well, not. I mean, my mom was reading the book when she was pregnant. It's just the first thing she was thought of. You have to name a baby within six weeks, I think that was just what it was. It could have been - she could have been reading something else, I guess.
MARTIN: And when did you start singing?
GOLIGHTLY: I started doing backup singing with some friends who were in bands. And it just, you know, it's their fault.
GOLIGHTLY: Once I got into it and I realized that you didn't have to be that good, you just had to be really confident, so I just got on with it and I've carried on, really.
MARTIN: What's the collaboration like, Dave? Who - how did the roles...
GOLIGHTLY: He's the wrong person to ask. No.
DAVE: She has more ideas lyrically than I ever will 'cause she has a bigger vocabulary, I guess. But...
MARTIN: Is that true, Holly?
GOLIGHTLY: Very much so.
MARTIN: I mean, it is an obvious thing to say but you both have very distinct voices that reveal that you are from very different parts of the world. How is that to your advantage and disadvantage?
GOLIGHTLY: It makes me sound really smart, which I'm not. No, seriously. I think - I don't think my accent is quite so noticeable in song. And when I first started doing this and people were buying records before I had been on tour in the States at all, people were quite surprised that I wasn't American. And then I think then I completely exploited that fact. And so now when I sing, I don't know, you probably have to be listening really, really closely to know that I'm not from the States.
MARTIN: What enchanted you about this music? I mean, this is a particularly kind of American style of song.
GOLIGHTLY: I've got really into '50s and '60s R & B a long time ago, and I think through dissecting those, which essentially were gospel songs, everything sort of went back. I went backwards, you know, in my search rather than reaching for the sky. I think I sort of stripped it down to the thing that I put my finger on what I liked about it. There's a formula to it that's meant and intended to make people feel like they know it before they've even heard it. You know, there's something in that. And that's what good church music does really. It's inclusive.
MARTIN: Speaking of that kind of throwback sound, there's a cut on the album that's a little different than some of the other songs. This is your take on the Davis Sisters' 1953 country hit called "I Forgot More." Let's take a listen to that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I FORGOT MORE")
BROKEOFFS: (Singing) I forgot more than you'll ever know about him. You think you know the smile on his lips, the thrill at the touch of his fingertips. But I've forgotten more than you'll ever know about him...
MARTIN: So, Lawyer Dave, if I could turn to you, are you a practicing attorney?
DAVE: No, but I rarely lose an argument.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
BROKEOFFS: (Singing) If you want me (unintelligible), if you have your (unintelligible) back for more...
MARTIN: So, speaking of that collaboration, can you kind of walk me through how that works in the writing process with a song like "Tank"? Does Holly write everything and then Dave comes in later and adds his two cents? How does this go down?
GOLIGHTLY: We have so many different ways of doing it that there isn't a standard trick to it really.
DAVE: Some are very easy to do and some are, I mean, you kind of spend a little more time with. Seems to me like the ones that happen in about five minutes are always my favorite ones.
GOLIGHTLY: The ones that we've sat down at the kitchen table and written together, you know, they are the ones that we've been happiest with a lot of the time.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
MARTIN: There is another cover on this CD. And you've taken a bit of liberty with it. It's Wayne Rainey's gospel number from the 1960. It's called "We Need a Whole Lot Less Jesus and a Lot More Rock and Roll." Let's give this a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE NEED A WHOLE LOT LESS JESUS AND A LOT MORE ROCK AND ROLL")
BROKEOFFS: (Singing) You've seen it in the morning papers, hear it on the radio, crime is taking the nation, and we don't know how our world's gonna go. We need some rest, salvation, to come and take control, we need a whole lot less of Jesus and a lot more rock and roll...
MARTIN: So, setting aside that provocative lyric...
DAVE: We need to hire protection now.
MARTIN: ...I just wonder, you know, what's more fun for you, kind of your own creative process, writing your own music or taking an old song and making it your own?
GOLIGHTLY: Oh, I don't know. I mean, that was pretty fun. That was another thing that we did in about five minutes from (unintelligible) in front of the telly. I mean, we were watching TV. You know, it's a different kind of fun ruining somebody else's songs.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE A WHOLE LOT LESS OF JESUS AND A LOT MORE ROCK AND ROLL")
BROKEOFFS: (Singing) We need a whole lot less of Jesus and a lot more rock and roll.
MARTIN: The album is called "Sunday Run Me Over." Holly Golightly and Lawyer Dave spoke with us from Athens, Georgia. Thanks so much for talking with us, you two.
GOLIGHTLY: Oh, well, thank you for having us.
DAVE: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
BROKEOFFS: (Singing) Why don't you turn around, walk away. You are not welcome here, you cannot stay.
(SOUNDBITE OF RACHEL MARTIN READING SHOW CREDITS)
MARTIN: I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.