Singer/songwriter Holly Golightly doesn't call herself a songwriter. "I don't call myself a singer either, and whenever I'm asked what I do, I never mention music," she says. But Golightly doesn't tend to color within the lines. Take her name: She was actually born Holly Golightly Smith in the U.K., but — with her surf-guitar licks, country-death songs and vintage Gunne Sax dresses — more closely resembles a delightfully subversive Holly Hobby than the prim ingenue embodied by Audrey Hepburn.
When it comes to music, Golightly (who now lives in rural Georgia where she and Lawyer Dave, of one-man backing band The Brokeoffs, tend horses, dogs and goats) blazes her own trail. At last year's Festsaal Kruzeberg in Berlin, she told an interviewer, "I don't not care about modern music, I don't really know about it. …There isn't really anything new in music. It doesn't exist."
Golightly's most recent album, Medicine County, certainly taps vintage influences. It's all slinking backbeats, menacing guitars, darkly haunting layers and honky-tonk lyrics that place desperados in the most desirable light. "Sometimes have the notion to drink until we're blind. Dream of smoking something good, lord knows it's hard to find," Golightly and Dave duet on the album's title track. Rough edges, swaggery two-steps and thick bass: yes. Slick and radio-ready: not so much.
But Golightly isn't looking for a pop music stamp of approval. "I haven't taken very much notice of what goes on in music, generally. I don't know contemporary music," she says. And that's why she believes her music has longevity. "It can sustain fads and fashions. …It can't go out of date because it's already out of date."
Golightly — now in her 40s — says, "I'd like to think I'd still be doing this when I'm a very old lady. I'd like to think that it's not something that has to go by the wayside because I don't look good in a pop video." In the music industry, especially in the youth-obsessed U.S., it's all too rare to see a female performer sustain a career over decades, though Golightly points out that, "You can do something with dignity, and not wear miniskirts, and deliver the thing that you do in context with the person you are now. I do it now with a confidence that, as a 20 year-old, I didn't have. I do it with conviction."
She adds that agism is "an American foible: People in their 20s don't mix with people in their 60s. When something like the Loretta Lynne/Jack White collaboration happens, it's quirky and it's noticeable." Not that age renders the music is any less valid — which is important to Golightly, who says she isn't that far, style-wise, from where she began.
The singer got her start in 1991, with Thee Headcoatees, a back-up group for British artist/painter/author/poet/photographer/filmmaker/musician Billy Childish's avant-punk band Thee Headcoats. Despite severe dyslexia, Childish continues to create a massive body of work in many genres. It was among such free thinkers that Golightly was able to establish her own aesthetic.
"When the first thing that you do comes out a very encouraging and 'have a go' environment, it makes doing it a whole lot easier," says Golightly, whose parents were also artists. "You're not quite so bothered about what people think. [Billy] invented himself and I think that's what I've done. …There are a lot of people who are massively influential in what I've done."
What the singer has not done, however, is cloister herself in a studio for any length of time. Which is not to say she hasn't been prolific: Medicine County is Golightly's 15th studio effort in as many years.
"I don't know what people do when they spend a year making an album. Do they just play pinball? Because you hear the record at the end and it's like, 'meh.' You stand it up against something that was knocked out in MoTown in an hour and it doesn't even come close," she says. "I have a very quick turnover. I like instant gratification. I have an idea, I want to record it, I want it out on a record and then I want to get on with the next thing."
Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs; Floating Action opens.
where: Stella Blue
when: Friday, June 4 (9 p.m. myspace.com/stellabluelive)