Interview: Holly Macve

by Vanessa Valentine

‘I had a big vision for what I wanted to create, but I wasn’t quite sure how to get there’: Holly Macve on making the album she wanted to make – on her terms

I sat with Holly Macve, via Zoom, on a dreary bank holiday in April. Our conversation was refreshing. She appeared shy and very soft-spoken, at first, making it almost hard to believe that her voice was the one that had commanded my attention while listening to the album a few hours earlier. Once pleasantries were exchanged, we delved into the journey of Not The Girl

A calming introduction to the pilgrimage of the album, Bird opens Not The Girl with caution. Macve combines an atmospheric instrumental with a slow drum beat and rhythmic guitar strum to create an enticing fusion of her trademark folk sound. Lyrics, ‘The flames are dancing, the flames are free / My heart’s been hiding but my eyes now see / Everything that I’ve been missing, is everything I can be,’ are delivered in the singer’s signature siren-like vocal style. Displaying a flare for the dramatic, the track is a perfect follow on from the rootsy saloon-noir conviction of her 2017 debut album, Golden Eagle

‘This album, to me, feels like a coming of age album,’ Macve revealed when discussing the transition from her first record. ‘Golden Eagle was written when I was eighteen. Not The Girl was written in my early twenties. It was a time of me really learning who I am, getting to know myself, and leaving that childlike innocence behind.’ Speaking more about the process of curating Not The Girl she admits: ‘Making the album took a year and a half; it’s something I’ve really taken my time with and it’s been done very independently. I needed the space to learn and grow on my own. I co-produced it and co-engineered it – I even made all the videos myself. It was recorded in various different studios, including in my home studio. It was a big jump, to get what I heard in my head into an actual recording. That’s why it took longer than expected. I had a big vision for what I wanted to create, but I wasn’t quite sure how to get there.’

Eye Of The Storm is an evocative showpiece and a standout track from the album. Of the song, Macve said, ‘This was one of the first tracks I wrote for this record, before the pandemic. It’s strange because the meaning of this song has evolved and become more relevant throughout this last troubled year. I was reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and there was a line about a tornado that I thought was beautiful. It was a moment of inspiration for me and the song was written within a few hours. I returned to it days later and wasn’t sure where it had come from; that’s one of the best feelings, as a writer. It’s a sort of comment on society and how we’re made to feel like nothing is ever enough – the grass is always greener… and then love prevails. It’s us against the world in the eye of the storm.’ The song is just one of a handful of spellbinding ballads on the album. Macve’s unwavering emotional delivery feels as though she connects to a lifetime of pain, despite her being just twenty six.

Daddy’s Girl is her most personal offering to the album. In the track, Macve deals with the loss of a father that she never knew. The instrumental is beautifully arranged, conveying her journey of wondering, mourning and moving on with subtlety and beguiling grace. The process of making Daddy’s Girl was really therapeutic. Although all of my songwriting is personal in some way, Daddy’s Girl is the most raw and honest song I’ve created. The writing experience was really cathartic, it did something really good to me.’ 

If Not The Girl was an old Hollywood movie, Sweet Marie would be the femme fatale. The track is a welcoming contrast to the innocence of the rest of the record, however, Macve’s country influence isn’t completely lost. The epic drone-like undertones throughout are comparable to the likes of The Velvet Underground. The singer’s vocals are dark and sultry with the accompaniment more experimental, almost approaching rock. Lyrics, ‘And when she stops you know you’ve lost yourself, you never even had a choice / She always keeps you until you can’t bear to be free,’ affirm the power of a woman. Macve confesses: ‘Sweet Marie, is the track I’m most excited to play live. It’s quite different to all the other tracks, it’s a really atmospheric song. I think it will be quite an exciting sound on stage.’

Pondering her influences further Macve reveals, ‘when making Not The Girl, I was listening to loads of different things: The Shangri-Las, a lot of 60’s and 70’s music, The Beatles, John Lennon, John Kale, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave. I drew from lots of different genres.’ 

Macve’s musical roots go deep though. The singer-songwriter was born in Ireland, but grew up in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire. Speaking about the town Macve says,‘There wasn’t very much going on, but I love how beautiful and scenic it is. Every time I come home, having so much space inspires me.’ Recalling her childhood, she gushes, ‘I grew up with lots of music around the house. Lots of old blues, country and folk, that has definitely subconsciously crept into my sound. It’s also no wonder I use music as a therapy tool, as my mum is a music therapist.’ 

The title track, Not The Girl, embodies the feeling of melancholy. Talking about the song, Macve revealed: ’It’s about moving on from adolescence and never going back to that place. I think it’s a very sad thing, but beautiful at the same time.’ Not The Girl’s timbre, structure and sweet subtle feature of bird song make for a perfectly crafted ballad. Lyrics, ‘I’m not the girl that I once was and I’ll never be that girl again,’ encapsulate the premise of the record. When discussing how she reached the title of the album, Macve said: ‘Not The Girl is a concise way of summing up the record. It’s me moving onto a new chapter of my life.’

From Eye Of The Storm to Behind The Flowers, Macve’s compelling storytelling is complemented entirely by her show-stopping voice. Daring, elegant and alluring, Not The Girl is the soundtrack to Macve stepping into adulthood full of confidence in complete, prodigious bloom.

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