For Holly Humberstone, each song possesses a true story behind it
Holly Humberstone channels inspiration from all around her, from the crumbling remains of her childhood home to the friends she holds closest. She creates music as a way of reaching out and holding the hands of her fans. Humberstone’s second EP, The Walls Are Way Too Thin, takes listeners through her evolution and growth while she tries to figure out who she is and, maybe more importantly, who she isn’t anymore. It discusses loss and heartbreak, all while being painfully relatable for almost any listener. Her music combines down-to-earth lyrics with radiant instrumentation, creating a sound that is sometimes melancholy yet always refreshingly hopeful.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Honestly, I never really thought much about doing anything else except music whilst I was growing up. I was quite into dance, but music was my favorite thing to do every day. When I got home from school or on weekends, I’d spend quite a lot of time sitting at my mum’s piano and writing songs about stuff that was going on at school or in the family, and I just remember finding it therapeutic as a child.
My parents had great taste in music, and I used to rummage through their CD collection and idolize musicians like Damien Rice and Bon Iver. I was lucky enough to have really supportive parents, and my mum and dad did their best to nurture the creativity, so I guess I just never stopped writing.
How would you describe your musical strengths?
I think one of my musical strengths is being unfiltered and honest within my writing. For me, there is no better feeling than writing a song that I love and feel I have put a lot of myself into. There is something incredibly empowering about being so vulnerable in my writing and sharing so much of myself with my listeners.
What do you like to spend time doing outside of music?
Making time for my friends and family is so important for my mental well-being and for my writing. I take a lot of inspiration from my three sisters and my close friends, and they are very important to me. As I’ve gotten busier with music, I’m finding time with them is very precious, and I no longer take it for granted.
What was it like putting yourself in someone else’s shoes while writing the single “Scarlett”?
I find it difficult to make up stories in my writing, so there is always truth in my music. However, I do find it quite emotionally draining to be digging deep and writing about myself the whole time. Sometimes it feels freeing and [is] such a release to put myself in someone else’s shoes, which is what I did when I wrote “Scarlett” from the perspective of my friend.
You’ve said that the fear of potentially having to leave your childhood house shaped your music. Can you explain that more?
My childhood home is such a sacred place to me, just because it’s where I’ve always lived and where I’ve made so many memories with my family over the years. I really couldn’t picture us anywhere else, and it will always be home to me. It almost feels like a seventh family member now as we’ve had so much fun growing up in the house, so I feel very safe there and protected from the outside world.
I’ve always dreaded leaving, so when we were told we’d have to leave about a year ago, I was very, very sad. It was at a time where I felt like I was growing up too fast and having to let go of many precious things from my childhood all at once. I wrote the song “Haunted House” [in] tribute [to] my childhood home and to make peace with the fact that we were having to leave it behind.
How important is it for you to write music that is relatable?
Since I started releasing music last year, I’ve found it so affirming and comforting when people reach out to me saying that they’ve experienced something similar and that the music has helped them in some way. I try to be as honest as I can in my writing, and I’m not really going through anything particularly wild or crazy in my personal life. I just use my writing to try to navigate adulthood and work through things I’m experiencing as I’m changing and growing up. The things I write about are pretty universal and oftentimes things that most people my age are feeling or going through themselves, so I think that’s why people can relate.
You always write long explanations about the meaning behind your songs in the descriptions of your music videos. Why is it important that your audience knows the meaning behind your lyrics?
For me, storytelling is a really important aspect of my music. Each song has a true story behind it and holds so much meaning for me, and I think it’s pretty cool and empowering that I’m able to share so much of my life with strangers. Also, if my stories or songs can comfort someone else going through similar experiences or help them to feel like they’re not alone, then that’s awesome.
You’ve been doing a lot of traveling recently. Has that inspired anything in you?
I’ve found being stuck inside and not being able to travel and play live really uninspiring over the past year-and-a-half. Finally getting to perform songs that have been such a big part of my world is so, so cool, and there is literally nothing more inspiring to me than seeing a room full of people singing the words to my songs. I think it’s been really hard to believe that there are actual physical people who I’ve been connecting with through the music. I’m back home now and feeling so inspired and excited to get back to the studio and write more songs that I can perform live.
What’s next for you?
I’m so excited to play my first-ever U.K. headline tour, and then I’m going to be writing for the rest of the year. After the past few months, I feel really stimulated and inspired by all of the amazing opportunities I’m lucky to have been given this past year. Getting back to the writing is so grounding, and I feel an album coming along slowly but surely. I’m looking forward to next year too as I have a lot of touring planned, and I can’t wait to connect with more people in person.
SONG RECOMMENDATION: “The Walls Are Way Too Thin”
This interview appeared in issue 400, available here.