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September 10, 2008 | Author: Greg Phillips

holly-webThe melancholic strains of a bow sliding coarsely over a single cello string denotes the beginning of Holly Throsby’s new album A Loud Call. For a fleeting moment it evokes a deep sadness, but only briefly as it’s soon joined by a comforting harp and bass, covering the listener in an immediate protective warmth. We’re merely seconds into track one and she’s already pricking at our senses. After three albums, Throsby has become adept at creating considerable emotional soundscapes from minimal sonic tools. Every sound counts and has a purpose, whether it’s a pluck of a violin string or a tap on a bottle. It’s a beautifully recorded album where not just the vocal notes are captured, but also the breath beneath.
“I don’t like superfluous things.” says Holly. “I don’t like things that don’t have significance generally. It’s the same with the artwork and website and all of the aesthetic things, I’m not one for doing things unnecessarily. A lot of the time it is more about cutting things back.”

Holly had a definite sense of how she wanted the album to sound and looked to Mark Nevers, who had produced  albums for  Will Oldham, Lambchop and Andrew Bird, artists she admires, to head this project. So in November 2007 she journeyed to Nevers’ 30s era Beech House Studio in South Nashville for a three week recording stint.  Right from the opening track ‘Warm Jets’, aboard his 28 channel Sphere Eclipse console, Nevers began to weave studio magic in the manner Throsby had envisaged, combining multi-layered harmonies with white noise to create his trademark atmospherics.

“Yes, that was all Mark,” explains Holly. “He does a lot of that with Lambchop. He’s in the touring band and does this space guitar feedback at the back of the stage and having a great time doing it. We asked him if he would do some of that on this record. He was quietly very excited about that. So one night we left him alone in the studio. It was so loud, he set up this massive amplifier. He uses a knife on the neck of the guitar on the strings so it’s really piercing, but it ended up sounding so beautiful.”

While Throsby has a firm grasp of the kind of artist she wants to be, she is always open to creative input from external sources,  particularly from her musical compadres  Bree van Reyk and Jens Birchall, who have been the core of her band for many years. Bree co-wrote a couple of tracks on the album and although a drummer in Holly’s band, wrote the guitar parts to some songs. Throsby elaborates.

“Bree wrote the riffs, the introductions  to ‘A Heart Divided’ and ‘On The Wharf’. She often fools around playing guitar at practice. Bree plays every instrument under the sun on this record. I think the band has become more involved and a lot of songs come out of band practice. We also had Matt Swanson, who is the bass player from Lambchop play on this record. He plays on a couple of songs and is a beautiful bass player and was great to have his input. So it was nice to have that mix with Jens too. The songs where the bass lines were written by Jens, I wanted him to play on those songs.”

The relationship which has developed between Holly and her band has had a profound effect on her as an artist, not just in a musical sense,  but also in the way it has allowed her to grow as a performer on stage and in the studio.

“When I did my first ever demos with Tony (Dupe), I guess I felt quite fragile. I wasn’t very confident,” said Throsby. “The first thing you try to do is find songs, but you also try to find your own voice in another way, which has been a separate thing for me. When I first started playing live I was quite scared all the time. I’d get nervous and be too scared to say anything between songs. Whereas nowadays I’m cracking jokes and you can’t shut me up. I’ve had the same band for so long and we are all so close. I feel free now in that context, on stage and recording.”

There’s a naive charm about Holly, an honesty and a serenity which makes not only her music endearing, but I get the impression she makes the kind of friendships that once formed, last a lifetime. It seems it doesn’t take a great deal of arm twisting for other artists to put up their hands to collaborate with her. That admiration extends internationally too. Fellow Spunk label mate, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy aka Will Oldham, has been a musical idol of Holly’s for a long time. She has toured with Will, but never expected to be singing a duet with him as she does on the track ‘Would You?’ It’s powerful kudos indeed. Oldham is not the kind of artist that would be involved in anything he didn’t sincerely believe in. The significance of the moment was not lost on Throsby.

“Oh yeah, it’s all down hill from here,” she said. “Obviously I’m a big fan of his and it was something I never thought would happen. When I wrote that song I knew that I wanted a beautiful strong male voice,” she explains. “I wrote to Mark Nevers before I went over, asking him to think if there was someone over there who could do it. He suggested Will and I didn’t know if he was joking or not because I know Will lives in Kentucky a couple states away. When we got there, Will was just finishing recording his latest album, so he was around and was coming in to town the following week. I’d toured with Will and we’d hung out before and knew each other, but it was a very intimate experience singing into the same microphone. It was very exciting.”

With ‘A Loud Call’ released, Throsby’s attention now turns to the next phase of her musical adventure, a huge national tour beginning in September, hopefully followed by some activity on a global level. Whatever transpires, Holly feels content and privileged that she has been able to make a career out of what she loves doing most.

“I enjoy it all. It’s a very cyclical process, which is nice because you’re in writing mode for months and then recording and I like that cycle. There’s a part of your life reflected in an album and then you move on to new experiences.”


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