Culture Editors Jodie Leith and Chloe Waterhouse catch up with indie singer-songwriter Holly Humberstone backstage at TRNSMT ahead of her King Tut’s set.
At just 21 years old, English indie singer-songwriter Holly Humberstone has experienced a whirlwind two years in the increasingly bright musical limelight – progressing at a whiplash-inducing speed from uploading tracks to BBC Introducing to being named the runner-up BBC Sound of 2021. Holly’s debut EP, Falling Asleep At The Wheel, garnered rave reviews from lockdown listeners and critics alike, quickly securing her position as a young musician with momentum and a message.
As audiences eagerly await the release of the emotionally-charged, coming-of-age inspired EP, The Walls Are Way Too Thin, later this year, we caught up with Holly backstage at TRNSMT to chat about her writing inspirations, her Fifth Sister Swap clothing initiative, and why you should treat yourself to a chihuahua t-shirt and M&S snacks.
The Glasgow Guardian: Please Don’t Leave Yet was co-written by The 1975’s Matty Healy and was the “Hottest Record in The World” on BBC Radio 1 earlier in the month! It’s a track that tackles so poignantly the innate human need for affection and desire that was ripped away from us during the pandemic. What was the process of writing the track like?
Holly Humberstone: Yeah, it was like a really fun day! Because we’re in a pandemic, a lot of people can’t travel and I guess Matty would’ve been off around the world touring – so I was like, “I know you’re in London, come and write; no excuses!”. It was in the time that things were opening up and we were able to work in real life again – after months of being inside, I was coming out and doing my first few sessions again. I feel like we’ve all grown up with The 1975 and he kind of wrote the soundtrack to a lot of my teenage years. So going in with Matty was so interesting to see his process and how he creates. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from working with him.
GG: Has it influenced how you go about writing tracks?
HH: Probably subconsciously. More than anything I think self-doubt is quite a big issue. We all have it with different things we do. Going in with Matty was just really affirming and just had such a fun day. We came out with an amazing song, and I felt really good about it. He was really encouraging. I think as an artist, I go in with quite a lot of different writers, but I think there’s something different you get from another artist – it’s us that has to bear our souls and wear our hearts on our sleeve and talk about our feelings. I think he was able to create a really lovely, comfortable environment that was really chill.
GG: That’s really cool. You’ve just released a new single, Scarlett, about your best pal, and I was just wondering – what would you and Scarlett get up to on a girl’s day out around Glasgow?
HH: I’ve been to Glasgow once before playing a show, but I’ve never been out and about. I think we’d hit up some charity shops; we just love doing it and it’s a real skill. It’s just so much fun and I feel like Glasgow would have loads of great ones; I just get the vibe. So, we’d probably go around and get some finds. Then we’d go and get a delicious lunch – maybe a great brunch place. And catch some music, of course, we’ve all been missing it.
GG: Going back to the single, Scarlett, how did your friendship influence the track?
HH: We’ve been best friends for a number of years, so we’ve been through quite a lot and we’re quite close. We’re there for each other and what is happening in our lives. I watched her go through this traumatic breakup for her and, basically, the guy was an average Joe. I know how amazing she is because she’s my bestie and the coolest person ever and she was getting her heart broken in a painful way. You know how guys are when they kind of slowly shuffle away and don’t give you a definite “this is finished”. It was the most frustrating thing to watch, so I wrote a song called Thursday which is going to be on the upcoming EP. I wrote that a couple of months before I wrote Scarlett, right when they were breaking up. A couple of months down the line, I could see she was getting more confident in herself and feeling herself a bit more; realising she was so much better off without this deadweight guy – seeing herself how I saw her. The song, Scarlett, is my favourite because it feels really empowering and freeing.
GG: Like a love song for friends?
HH: Yeah, exactly.
GG: We’re both 21 also and we’ve seen the exact same thing happen to so many of our friends; they just have rose-tinted glasses on.
HH: We’ve all been there. It’s so annoying to watch your friend go through it. That’s what Scarlett is about, hopefully a lot of people will relate to it.
GG: We’re actually really curious about the fashion collective you’ve set up, Fifth Sister Swap, can you explain the process of setting it up and what your goals are?
HH: Throughout lockdown I wasn’t able to play shows and really connect with fans and people that were listening to my music, and I was looking for a unique way to connect with them. I just found throughout those months I was doing a lot of interviews and videos where I was expected to have a new outfit for everything I was doing – and I was doing multiple things a week. I just couldn’t source these clothes sustainably. I have three sisters and we’re all the same size, so we share all of our clothes in a collective wardrobe and just really care about shopping sustainably using eBay, Depop, recycling, charity shops, or whatever.
GG: Speaking about Depop, what tips would you offer to people wanting to avoid the alluring clutches of fast fashion, with fashion influencers often boasting endless outfits from sites like SHEIN and Boohoo?
HH: I think some people can’t afford not to shop fast fashion, and it’s a bit of a privilege to say, “You shouldn’t be shopping fast fashion because it’s bad for the environment” when sometimes that’s all you can afford. I think if you can afford to and you have the means to be sustainable it’s so much easier to just go, look around a charity shop, or go on eBay. eBay is the best. I’m on eBay everyday bidding on stuff. It’s my number one app. I’m so passionate about it! Look at this top I found …. And it’s two pounds! [Holly shows an eBay listing: a pink t-shirt with a chihuahua wearing a tiara on the centre] You guys better not bid on that.
“I’m on eBay everyday bidding on stuff. It’s my number one app.”
GG: Let the bidding war commence! Do you have any tips on how to style a thrifted or second-hand wardrobe at festivals like TRNSMT, where typical ‘fits tend to include un-environmentally friendly items like glitter microplastics?
HH: I think more is more. I don’t know. I’m not really a “fashion guru” but I love shiny things, clutter, and lots of layers. Little earrings and random, mismatched stuff. I think you’ve either not got to do it or just go all out. Play dress-up!
GG: Your new EP The Walls Are Way Too Thin will be out in November, what is an influence on the EP that might surprise people?
HH: Probably 80s music. I feel like the first EP was really cool to write because I was still trying to figure out my musical sound and identity. It took me quite a while to put that EP together because I knew I could write a song but I didn’t know how I wanted to come across or tell stories. But once I established that for the first EP, writing for the second EP was so much fun because I could kind of do what I wanted within this world that I’d made. I’d always adored Prince, Fleetwood Mac; anything with really cheesy synth I just love – so lots of the tracks have begun with some synth.
“…writing for the second EP was so much fun because I could kind of do what I wanted within this world that I’d made…”
GG: A permeating theme throughout your lyrics is loneliness, something many university students have experienced this year. What advice would you give to students who are tentative about easing back into normal life post-pandemic and coping with everyday issues like unwelcoming flatmates, or being away from home?
HH: You’re definitely not on your own, no matter how far you’ve moved away. I moved from my hometown to London which is only an hour by train, yet I still felt so far away from my family and really isolated. I think going to uni is a scary experience, especially if you’re in a new city – you don’t have your bearings, know anyone, and there’s so much on your plate at once. There’s so much change going on and it’s such a confusing time anyway when you’re a young adult and you’re trying to figure stuff out; no one knows what they’re doing. But I think just remember you’re not alone. It’s more than likely that other people are feeling the exact same way if you talk to them. Go easy on yourself, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to stay there – that might be what someone else is telling you to do. Make sure you’re going home as much as you need, buy delicious M&S snacks (as much as you need), treat yourself and go easy on yourself. There’s no rules.
GG: You’re playing the King Tut’s stage today, and plan on embarking on a UK tour this autumn, culminating in playing the King Tut’s venue. Is this your first time playing either of the iconic King Tut’s stages?
HH: Yeah, it’s my first time at TRNSMT! My sister was here a few years ago and she came to see Arctic Monkeys. Apparently, it was amazing; mind-blowing. I’m really happy to be here.
GG: Well, you’ll see us later cheering from the front row!
HH: Amazing. I can’t wait!