“I’m not a prostitute, if that’s what you mean,” Holly Golightly says — pausing just long enough before laughing to make me feel uncomfortable.
So she’s not a hooker. But when her mother named her Holly Golightly — after the main character of Truman Capote’s famous story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s — it seemed she was predicting something for her yet-to-be-born daughter.
“I guess she had high hopes for me. She thought I’d be a lot richer than I really am,” Holly says. “I wouldn’t have had any cause to use my name [if I wasn’t a performer]. But when we started the band, we all sat down at the table and were making up names for recording — but I already had this made-up name.”
Capote’s Holly — famously brought to life by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film adaptation of the story — was charismatic and precocious. A beautiful, devil-may-care demimonde. But just below the surface, she was a mess: wrought with sadness and detachment.
And though Holly Golightly, the vintage-voiced British singer who appears on the Broken Flowers soundtrack and the White Stripes’ Elephant, seems perfectly happy over the phone, she’s mastered the art of sounding sad in her music. On her new album, Medicine County, her vocals sway from vengeful to downtrodden. Melancholy to tragic. Nick Cave. Dusty Springfield. She conjures a tarnished sound meant to be heard through a phonograph.
Like the fictional Holly she was named for, this person she’s become over the years is a surprise to her. She didn’t mean to end up here — a career in music was never the plan. She’s a horse trainer. A horse trainer who liked music and dancing and attending shows. She ended up getting recruited to sing backup vocals for a friend’s band — and soon, music was her career.
“If somebody said to me when I was 15 that [I’d] be playing music when I was 40,” she says, “well, I couldn’t think of something more ridiculous than that.”
She’s always been interested in music — but never new music. Always old, she says.
“As much as I really love the Buzzcocks, when I saw them live I saw them do a cover, and it was my favorite song in the set,” she says. “Bands would do covers of ’60s songs, and those would be the songs that jumped out at me. They’d do a punk rock version of ‘The Hippy Hippy Shake,’ and it would jump out the most at me.
“And then I’d find out they didn’t write it.”
When she’d finally track down songs like “Blood on the Saddle” — a cowboy song that she covers on Medicine County that she says has been “rehashed every decade since 1930” — she wanted to repurpose it and get it in front of fans like her. And even though she started a name for herself in garage rock (through the all-girl band, Thee Headcoatees), Holly found a bluesier, country sound. As a solo artist, she wrote her own heart-achy ballads, and she paid homage to songs — soul songs, country songs — she loved.
“I thought these songs were great songs and I thought people should hear them,” she says.
As her sound has turned more rootsy and country-influenced as she’s grown as a musician, Holly says she’s become more and more baffled — bordering fascinated — by what she does. Like Capote’s Holly Golightly, she’s starry-eyed by her own fantasy world — a world that she’s not afraid to run away from if she has to. Capote’s Holly never felt home in her fantasy world — and to an extent, neither does this Holly Golightly.
“I fell into it by happy accident,” she says. “It’s still fun. And I think when it isn’t fun, then it’s probably time to go back to the day job.”
Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs play with Stockholm, Hospital Floors and Cameron Gorman at the Blvd on Saturday, April 24, at 6 pm. Tickets: $8-$10. Call 455-7826.