Holly Humberstone is here to sing your pandemic nerves
Emerging from the shadow of the pandemic like a phoenix from its ashes, 21-year-old British singer-songwriter Holly Humberstone is arguably one of the only good things to come out of the past year and a half. For the uninitiated, Humberstone’s heartbreakingly honest lyrics debuted in January 2020 with their debut single, “Deep End.” Then, in March 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, she released her first hit, “Falling Asleep At The Wheel,” which received over a million views (and continues) on YouTube. She describes her music as “dark, wobbly, electric pop” – fans compare her sound to Lorde’s. And much like the lavish icon of New Zealand music, Humberstone continues to make a name for itself as it climbs the music charts.
Growing up in Grantham, England with his mother, father and three sisters, Humberstone jokingly describes his house as a “creative mess.” Her parents always encouraged artistic expression, she says, whether it was painting, drawing or music. (Humberstone instinctively chose the latter.) She thanks her father for introducing her to the world of songwriting with his “massive” collection of poems, including that of TS Eliot. La Figlia che Piange and Leonard Cohen Earth’s Spice Box. Later, she would recite the poems while playing the piano, adding her own unique touch. “I always find old notepads with hilarious, squeaky songs I wrote about older boys in school,” she said.
Like many brooding teenagers, Humberstone listened to Radiohead a lot in his youth. Damien Rice, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin were also in strong rotation. “When I was seven, I discovered Damien Rice’s album Oh, “ she said. “At that age, I didn’t understand what his words meant. But I remember being really affected by them.
Ahead of her next EP due out this fall, which is set to feature her new singles “Haunted House” and “The Walls Are Way Too Thin”, ELLE.com met Humberstone via Zoom during a visit to her childhood home. Dressed in an oversized striped sweatshirt, with her long brown hair neatly tucked behind her ears, she smiled as she discussed her journey as a young artist.
Who are you listening to now?
I listen to Adrianne Lenker a lot, who’s in a band called Big Thief. His words are intense and brutally honest. I feel like there’s a tendency right now for young women to be really honest in their songs: Olivia Rodrigo, Phoebe Bridgers, Gracie Abrams. After the year that we’ve had, with everyone stuck inside, I need to feel a connection with someone and to feel that someone else is going through the same shit.
What’s your typical writing process? Do you start with lyrics or visuals?
I always have visuals in mind when I write. Sometimes I’m inspired by Pinterest, but I’m on the go most of the time writing in the Notes app. I have a million little words on my phone. Every time I see a word or phrase, I write it down or record a voice memo of embarrassing little buzzes. Other times, I’ll gravitate to a piano and let the lyrics flow out of me. The most important thing for me is to be relaxed. When I feel pressured and stressed about being creative, I can’t go anywhere.
Is there a story behind “Haunted House”?
I wrote “Haunted House” about my childhood home after finding out that it was falling apart. There are issues with the foundation of the house and my family has been told to move out. It’s a very old house with a castle nearby, so our house is where the servants lived. I think it’s haunted for sure. We have a spooky cellar with a dungeon and everything. I believe there were guardian angels and ghosts that protected me and my sisters when we were younger.
How did “The Walls Are Way Too Thin” come about?
I wrote this one when I moved to London. I lived in an apartment with people I didn’t know, and the walls were very thin, so there was no privacy. I became an introvert and stayed in my room. Eventually I took the train to Manchester and Grantham to see my friends, and we got run over. Then, when I got back from the hangover, I was writing. When we filmed the clip, I wanted it to be stressful and claustrophobic to watch because that’s how I felt in my tiny little room.
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What have you missed the most during the pandemic?
I missed touring a lot – performing songs I had written and seeing real reaction playing live is a huge part of the job. Over the past year, all of my interactions with people have been online. I’ve never played a show where someone knew who I was. I couldn’t meet my fans. So connecting with my fans outside of social media will be special for me. To see a room full of fans who are there to support my music will be so insane.
You have a tour coming up. Which city are you most excited to play in?
Grantham, my hometown. It’s going to be a good atmosphere. I can’t wait to go out after the gig with my team and my people!
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