Through the Lens of Essie Holt [Interview]

Interview with Essie Holt

photos by Daniel Pinkerton

If you’re looking for pop music with heart, look no further than Essie Holt. The Melbourne singer-songwriter is redefining the genre, bringing us into rich, sonically resonant spaces. She manages to incorporate a diverse mix of textures and feelings, from the surging synths of “Magnetise”, to the fragile piano of “Distant Places” with LANKS, to the muted rhythms of her most recent single “Last One” – while still establishing unforgettable hooks.

“Music was always something I loved and was in me, but I don’t think it was until I was in my mid-teens that I decided I wanted to really make it happen,” Essie says. Stepping onto the scene with 2017’s “Underwater”, she introduced us to the authenticity of her music with intermingling patterns of guitars and vocals sung with conviction. Since then, she’s developed a newfound confidence and vision.

“I have a lot to say right now, and I want my voice to be at the forefront of the message,” she explains. “I think I’ve previously gravitated towards pretty dense production, but right now I’m loving being sparse and creating a mood with just a piano, vocal and beat.” And this fresh minimalism exemplifies how an artist can say more with less, using dynamics to create a waveform with concentrated, intimate lows and expansive highs. In her words, it’s “sinking soaring pop”, euphorically lifting the listener while inspiring reflection at the same time.

It feels like something we’ve never heard before, yet there’s something familiar about it, too. Despite experimenting with different sounds, it has a certain unifying quality, creating a universal relevance missing from a lot of music these days. “I think it’s the common thread of human connection,” she says. “It’s something we all experience. Generally I write about relationships – whether it be my relationship with myself, a lover, or friendships. This is my lens on it all.”

Viewing life through Essie’s lens means examining the energies, distances, and gray areas between two forces. With lyrics like “Now you're sewn into my skin, my effigy” and “I wish the words dropped from your smile”, she has the ability to grasp a feeling and condense it into a telling package. For her, it’s a sense of stream-of-consciousness as a writer that makes each phrase hit so hard. “I’m a huge overthinker and draft lyrics a million times,” she reveals. “But it’s generally my gut instinct and the first ones that I write that end up in the final product.”

In her latest release, she relates an awareness of living a fantasy life and sacrificing people close to her as a result. “‘Last One’ is a reflective song about a pretty rough time a few years ago. It’s about realising who is important.” The song captures the essence of recovering connections before they slip away, insistent and pleading. It draws the listener in with its careful restraint, before it can’t hold back anymore and a contagious flood of a chorus washes in.

There’s a kind of thoughtful craft that goes into tracks like these as Essie strives to break the mold. “A great pop song, to me, is so smart it appears simple,” she says. “I love songs that push boundaries and put a fresh spin on traditional pop. I’ve always loved Lykke Li and her ability to continue to reinvent the game, and be so free in her writing – both melodically and lyrically.”

Lately, she’s been hard at work on an EP to bring us more of this refreshingly innovative pop. “It’s getting very close now. I’ve written a lot of songs for it, and it’s so hard to choose the final tracklist.” What’s a standout to look forward to that will be making the cut, then? “There’s a track called Silent Wars,” she answers. “It’s by far my favourite song I’ve ever written. It’s a bit of a pep talk to myself.”

“These songs are all from this year, which has been a huge year for me both personally and also in my music,” she continues. “I’ve had a lot of new experiences that I’ve had to navigate and I’ve written about them all.” Some of those experiences include going on the road with artists such as GLADES, Northeast Party House, LANKS, and Elderbrook. Her favorite memory was getting the opportunity to join Nina Nesbitt for the UK leg of her tour in May 2019. “I’ve been a big fan of hers for a long time,” Essie expresses. “It was so amazing to tour together and get to know her. She’s a wonderful woman.”

She’s ending this year on a high note, too. “I’ve got some live videos coming out shortly of two of my songs. I’m also playing two festivals – THIS THAT and Ice Cream Factory. Gonna be the best!” Whatever 2020 has in store for Essie Holt, we know she’ll turn it into something unforgettable.

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