Singer/songwriter Abby Holliday delves into her beautifully bold and vividly vulnerable sophomore album ‘I’M OK NO I’M NOT,’ a sonically and emotionally charged soundtrack to our quarter-life crises full of great risks and even greater rewards.
Stream: ‘I’M OK NO I’M NOT’ – Abby Holliday
Over the past two years, Abby Holliday has left an indelible impression on those who’ve met her or her music.
The Ohio-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter burst onto the indie scene sometime in the early spring of 2021, and almost immediately became one of Atwood Magazine‘s artists to watch thanks to her stunning second single, “8 Hours” (which remains a personal favorite to this day). Her debut album arrived in July of that year, cementing the 24-year-old newcomer’s status as a singular need-to-know talent: “Sweeping and stirring, WHEN WE’RE FAR APART I FALL APART’ is a breathtakingly beautiful dive into the depths of raw humanity,” Atwood wrote upon its release, giving the album a 9.4 rating while praising Holliday’s striking blend of “heartfelt indie folk with indie pop wonder.”
Her music since then has continued to enchant and inspire as Holliday delves ever-deeper into her psyche and her surroundings, all while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of her musical creativity. Independently released April 13, 2023, Abby Holliday’s sophomore album I’M OK NO I’M NOT is the culmination of two more years’ worth of hard work, intense self-reflection, and personal growth: A bold, soul-stirring soundtrack to our seemingly never-ending quarter-life crises, it’s the product of both impulsivity and introspection. Holliday has further honed the voice she found only two years ago, and yet at the same time she’s put herself out there more than ever before, writing the most personal songs she’s ever written while taking more musical and sonic risks in her arrangements and production.
And with great risk comes great reward: Every second of I’M OK NO I’M NOT‘s 23 minute run adds up to an irresistibly captivating and cathartic experience for all.
Her most popular song to date (having recently crested 1 million Spotify streams), the visceral “Better By Now” is a vulnerable, deeply intimate confessional set against a soaring, sweeping sonic landscape. The exhilarating “Predictable Life” opens like an over-caffeinated technicolor indie pop explosion, rushing out of the gate with dazzling, dramatic flare before further intensifying over the next three minutes. It’s a candid, critical, and mildly self-deprecating anthem that rises through the rafters while drowning in a pool of all-too relatable sorrows.
“Eggshells” is an utterly enthralling upheaval full of feverish, slapping drums, vulnerable confessions of self (“you make me feel like a kid inside”), and glitchy, haunting, and gorgeous vocals. The achingly beautiful, sonically and emotionally volatile “Ohio Laundry Room” is a cinematic reckoning with grief, love, and death; just as grief rolls through us in waves, so do the hushed verses and cataclysmic climaxes of this searing serenade. “IDK WHAT I WANT” sends shivers down the spine as an Auto-Tuned Holliday spills her innermost insecurities and self-doubts around an increasingly tempestuous mix of synths and drums: “What if I’m wrong? What if I’m not? I don’t know what I want… Maybe I never did, I just keep trying it, hoping it’ll stick,” she sings in the midst of an intense and unrelenting self-made chaos.
Atwood Magazine sat down with Abby Holliday shortly before her sophomore album’s release to get her full, unabridged story. Dive into the depths of I’M OK NO I’M NOT below as the singer/songwriter walks us through the whirlwind journey she’s been on these past few years, sharing her songs’ inspirations as well as her experiences as an independent artist now based in Nashville.
Between the raw humanity of WHEN WE’RE FAR APART I FALL APART and now the tasteful turbulence and tenacity of I’M OK NO I’M NOT, Abby Holliday is proving herself a voice for all those struggling through their teens, twenties, and beyond.
Stream: “Noise” – Abby Holliday
A CONVERSATION WITH ABBY HOLLIDAY
Atwood Magazine: Abby, can you share a little about the story behind this new record?
Abby Holliday: Yeah. So I released my first record in July of 2021. Yes? Yes, July of 2021. And pretty much right when I put out that record, I had the idea for this new record. I knew what I wanted to call it, so in that way, it kind of feels like a concept album. I wouldn’t say it totally is, but I knew that I was gonna call it ‘I’M OK NO I’M NOT.’ And at first, I was even contemplating having it almost be like a double EP, like the first one would be called ‘I’M OK’ and the second one would be called ‘NO I’M NOT,’ but it just ended up being one project. And yeah, I think a lot of the songs are… I feel like with my music in general, I am getting to a point in my life where I just have to be honest with myself, and I think there are things that I’m singing about on this record that are me coming to that realization, like I have been lying to myself unintentionally or I just haven’t been doing well and haven’t been acknowledging it, and writing my songs are a way for me to finally admit that. And so that’s also the reason why there’s no comma in-between ‘I’M OK’ and ‘NO I’M NOT.’ It’s just like this one statement like, as soon as I’m saying I’m okay, I have to tell the truth and I’m not, [chuckle] with all these different topics. Yeah.
How do you think I'M OK NO I'M NOT compares to WHEN WE'RE FAR APART I FALL APART?
Abby Holliday: I think it feels more mature. My last record was my first record. And so I had written so many songs before I made my first record, but even still, it’s like my first one. And so I think with this one, I took more risks sonically. I think I just am falling more into my sound and realizing what it is that I wanna sound like. And so yeah, the first record we tracked kind of with the band, like my brother played drums, my friend played guitar, I played guitar, and then my producer produced and played keys and bass and stuff. And with this one, besides strings, it’s been literally just my producer and I in a room doing everything together. And so, yeah, in that way, it’s like…
I don’t know. People are saying it’s a little more electronic. I guess you could say that like the different elements and how it’s sounding, I think it feels more bold in terms of how it sounds, and I guess what I’m talking about… I think my singer-songwriter type of lyrics and influence continues to translate through this album as well, I think, even though you could compare some of the more crazy high energy songs on this record to the last one, you can clearly hear the difference, but I think my lyrics and my personality are the things that are hopefully staying consistent in that.
How do you define your music – do you think about labels like that, or do you try to keep it out of your head as much as possible?
Abby Holliday: Yeah, it is always hard, but yeah, I’m always asked that question and have to, even in pitching myself like, “What do I define myself as?” I think my first record was singer/songwriter, pop, even some folk elements, whereas this one I would say is more indie pop, indie alternative, some rock in there. I think that’s the kind of space that it’s in.
One of my favorite questions is, how do you define your music to your parents and grandparents?
Abby Holliday: [laughs] Oh gosh. Yeah, I feel like I don’t even know… My parents understand music, and so I can say pretty much what I just said. But yeah, to my grandparents, I feel like I’m more explaining the instruments that are in my music rather than the genre!
What I've always appreciated about your music is that there's probably as much sonic drive as there is emotion in every song. It's packed. I feel like if we define songs or music by emotions, it could make for a more interesting conversation – because this is really emotionally-driven music.
Abby Holliday: Thank you. Yeah, that’s what I want it to be. Most of my songs have been written by myself on guitar, which on acoustic guitar, and a lot of these songs don’t even really necessarily have that in the root of the elements that exist now. But I think it just… It’s worked. And it’s worked out with my producer as well to where I’m not even really demoing stuff out before I get together with him. I’m just like, I know what I want it to sound like.
This is where it started. And then also he, of course, is giving great input and it feels very much like a team in that way. And so I think a lot of the songs, rather than like… I’m pretty much never starting with a production idea. I’m more starting with a lyric idea and a concept to where like that’s the root of it, and then hopefully the production and everything else can just make it super fun and cool.
You're a songwriter at heart, and that's not changing any time soon. It can sound differently here and there, but the core of this music is a woman and her guitar.
Abby Holliday: Yes, totally. Yeah.
So, it's not even been two years since our mutual friend Timothy Edward Carpenter first reached out to me about connecting with you. Back then, you were still living in Cincinnati. Since then, you've moved to Nashville. You've released a debut album, and you’re about to release your sophomore album – and not only that, but you’re doing it all independently. It's been a whirlwind two years, and it hasn't even been two years. What has this journey been like for you so far? How do you do it?
Abby Holliday: A couple of breakdowns for sure. [laughs] Well, my first record, I did a Kickstarter, so I crowd funded that. So that’s like how that was made possible for me to get started was so many people just contributing financially and supporting me and believing in it. And I feel like doing that made me believe in it even more. It was like, “Oh, all of these people are supporting me, giving me money. If they believe in it, I really need to believe in it.” And so, made the first record… Because I also like… I didn’t even know that music was what I wanted to do until I started recording the record, basically. I loved doing music, but I studied social work in college, graduated with a degree in that, and was just like, “I don’t know if I’m cut out for this,” is kinda how I felt. And music became the thing that I was just like, “Oh, I guess I like doing this more than anything else. I don’t know how the hell I would ever make it a career, but I might as well just start making something.” And so that’s kind of how I got thrown into it, which is so wild because it’s like, yeah, two years later, now I’m in Nashville and this is what I am doing.
I just started doing it and I released my record in July, and I moved to Nashville. I decided that summer that I was gonna move. I had friends, Tim being one of them being like, “You should move to Nashville. Things just happening quicker here and it’s a great community of people.” And I was like, “Yeah, why not? I don’t really have anything going for me here in Cincinnati, except for I think I wanna do music, so I can do that anywhere. And I hear that Nashville is a good place to do it, so sure.” So my brother and I moved in September here together and, yeah, just… I feel like that move as well was another mindset change for me being like, Oh, if I moved to a different city for this, I’m doing it. This is all-in. I believe in it.
And coincidentally, like five months before I got here, my producer also moved here. So now we live two minutes from each other and that’s amazing. [laughs] And yeah, it’s been just like, yeah, learning how to manage myself, manage my time has been interesting ’cause this is what I’m doing now. And so every day, it’s kinda just up to me what I’m doing. And yeah, like putting recording dates on the calendar and continuing to write and prepping for tour and prepping the visuals. I mean, it is a lot and thank God I have the people around me that I do.
My brother does pretty much all of my visuals. He’s amazing and very easy to partner with ’cause we’re siblings and just have a good friendship and relationship apart from that. So yeah, people like my brother, people like John, my producer, I also have a booking agent now, so that’s a part of the team. But yeah, it is a lot for sure. I think it helps that I kind of wouldn’t have it any other way. I love to be involved in everything I’m involved in. I want to be so involved in all visuals. I want to be involved in all the production stuff from beginning to end. So yeah, I enjoy all of it, basically, but it is a lot sometimes! [laughs]
How did you get into making music and songwriting?
Abby Holliday: Guitar was my introduction to music. I started playing guitar at age 15. I’m 26 now. And my dad’s a drummer, my brother’s drummer, very musical family. Grew up in the church, so I was playing guitar in church when I was younger, and then kind of got just peer-pressured into singing. Like someone heard me sing and they were like, “Why don’t you saying?” and I was terrified, like I didn’t want to at all, but I ended up doing it. And so church was very much my introduction into all of that, even with song writing. I was like song writing in that kind of world. And then I started writing my own stuff that was like singer-songwriter type stuff, and…
This was probably like age 19. So, I was just writing songs, didn’t really think I would do anything with them, I was just having fun. And then it was actually “8 Hours,” I posted a video during COVID of me playing that song, and my friend Tim reached out to me and he was like, “You should work with John Class,” and I was like, “Who’s that?” and he told me and he put us in touch and that’s when I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna do this. I’m gonna make a record and send him all of these songs that I had written,” and we kind of narrowed it down and I continued to write and… You write a lot of bad songs at the beginning and I just was getting reps in and… Yeah, that’s kind of how it started.
It's a pretty picture perfect story on the outside.
Abby Holliday: [laughs] It worked out!
All that brings us back to your new album. You talked a little bit about the idea of this concept coming in. Did that concept predate the songs, or did you kind of have a sense that you were writing all these honest confessionals, and that was driving the writing?
Abby Holliday: I think almost both, because even the title I’M OK NO I’M NOT could also apply to my last record, I feel like. So much of my music is just that, like what I explained earlier. And so I came up with the title before I had written any of the songs that would be on this record, but I just thought like, “Oh, this would be a cool idea and it… ” Yeah, it just fits in what I typically write, but I wasn’t so set on it that I was like, “This has to be the title.” It was just like something that I thought of. And then I wrote “Better By Now” and released that in October of 2021, and that was another song that was like… Yeah, it’s this whole internal battle of not trusting myself and finally getting to the place of being like, “This is actually what I need.” And I feel like that song as well opened up a whole new world of stuff for me that was like… It was the most pop thing that I had released after this record and it was also my first thing that I released after the record. And it was very like, I don’t know, I just felt like a jump to something new and I loved it.
I wrote it, and a month later, I put it out. I was just like, “I wanna get this out immediately.” The whole thing happened very fast, probably like impulsive, but… ‘Cause I had no other plans of when I was gonna release stuff, I just put it out, and then…
If I recall, it was actually soon after the album had dropped.
Abby Holliday: So, it came out… Yeah, three months later, I guess. I was just like, “Put it out.” Seeing how people reacted in a positive way, it was like, “Oh, I can try something new and people are still into it and maybe even more into it, and I think I am as well.” It kind of allowed me to take more risks. I started writing from there, not even necessarily with the title in mind. I was writing things that I was going through and I think they all fit under that category. I had the title in mind for a while and then just wrote a ton.
The same time for the 3rd day this week
Maybe this will be the one where my feelings change
Your hand in mine in the passenger seat
Convincing you that it’ll stay the same
But it won’t stay the same
‘Cause I don’t feel it
I was hoping you could help me
Get where you are, fix where I’m not
But it’s not like that
I don’t wanna fight the feeling
Should this be easy?
Do I even love you?
I think I love you
But I should love you better by now
I should love you better by now
I should’ve figured it all out
I don’t need you as much as I need to
And I don’t miss you enough when you’re not around
If I don’t love you better by now, I don’t think I’ll ever know how
How do you feel I'M OK NO I'M NOT reintroduces you as an artist today? You talked about how it's mostly you and your producer together, rather than working with a full suite of artists… In that regard, who is Abby Holliday today, compared to the version of you we met just two years ago?
Abby Holliday: That’s a good question. I know I used the word “mature” earlier. I think, in a lot of ways, I’ve matured. I love my first record. Still listening back to everything, I think I’m still so proud of it. But looking back on even the first time that I met John and how our time in the studio went, it was so much of brand new information for me. Recording stuff, how to work together as a team with the players, with John. John and I had called on the phone before, but I met him in person for the first time, the first day we worked together. And now he’s like… Him and his wife are some of my best friends and we live in the same city. And so, even that, I think, totally has affected the process of making this record. Like feeling, in so many ways, just more myself, more comfortable, less timid and in some ways fearful. Just going into something like that for the first time, I think I’m more aware of myself now and my ideas and what I can contribute to it. Even the fact of, I’m writing most of my songs on guitar, bringing them to John and then we’re bringing them to life. I think when I made my first record, I almost felt like, “Oh, shit, is this even enough? Should I be making demos and doing this?” And now, I’m like, “I don’t need to do that.” John and I have it figured out and this is a good system for us, so that doesn’t matter.
Figuring out more of what works for me and less of comparing. I think that’s another thing that… So, many times when John and I were making this record, we would just do stuff that was like, “This feels so weird.” Like a lot of what we’re making felt so outside of the box, compared to what we had done before. And I think choosing to follow our gut on that stuff, even when it was like, “Are we gonna be the only ones that like this?” I think chasing down those ideas has made this record what it is. And I think it’s like… I don’t know, some of my favorite artists, I look at them and I’m like, “You’re doing a new thing, you are in your own lane. And I can tell when other people are trying to copy you because you’ve created this tangible experience with your music. And that is what I want to do.” Not that I want other people to copy me, but I want to be in my own lane and do something new, where people hear it and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, that’s Abby Holliday” Like, it’s so recognizable for some reason. And I feel like with this record we really… We were digging in and found something special. It feels like.
Can we dive deeper? Can you give me some examples or even one example of where you feel that sensation comes to life?
Abby Holliday: I think the first and last song on this record, the first song being “IDK WHAT I WANT,” and then the final song, “i’m ok.” Both of those songs are just pretty wild, compared to anything else I’ve put out. I feel like, it’s just like… There’s just a lot of energy in both of them and the synth stuff that I’ve never really played around with. Like the chorus of “IDK WHAT I WANT” is just… It kind of shakes you, like the vocals.
I think in that way, the songwriting is what it is, on the first record and on the second record. I am Abby Holliday writing these songs. But I think on this record, with these two songs in particular, we were able to really channel the production to match the feeling and the depth of what I’m singing about. And I feel it just matches it so well. And I don’t know. Another example, like the final song on the record. I wrote that… I wrote all the lyrics before I wrote any melody and I wrote it in 10 minutes. I’ve never done anything like that before. It just kind of happened. That feels like another area where I took a risk and almost just came up with the melody while I was in the studio. Whereas before, I feel like I had to be extremely prepared before I went in. I wanted everything to be all figured out in my head. Whereas this time, there were a lot of times where we were just throwing out ideas and along the way, just being like, “Okay, I guess we’re doing this. I guess we’re going down this route.” And it was just a blast.
That's cool. So, there's a lot more impulse in this album.
Abby Holliday: Yes, definitely.
You talked about the music matching the emotion. I think about that with both “Ohio Laundry Room” and “Predictable Life,” which have been two of my favorite songs of late. “Predictable Life” is urgent; you're singing about trying to figure out your life, thinking that you should have had a sense of what you were supposed to be doing by now as a young adult and feeling like you're completely not aware of your path, and the music captures that. Similarly, “Ohio Laundry Room” is this very bittersweet love song to a family member who's passed, capturing their spirit and their memory via music. Both tracks, I think, achieve their goals in very different, but equally fitting ways.
Abby Holliday: Yeah. Thank you. Both of those songs, actually, were an interesting experience ’cause I wrote “Predictable Life” and even before my first record was out, I’ve had that one written for a while. All the other ones were written more recently, but that song was written almost about a situation that I’ve been pretty far removed from for a while. And so, reimagining it in the studio was… That was one of the hardest songs for us to nail down because I had… It had been written for many years. I had already been playing it live, but I didn’t love the structure of how we were playing it as a band. And I knew that it needed to change. And so, it was very hard for me to zoom out and see it from a different perspective. But once we got there, it was like, “Okay, yes, this is how it should be.” And yeah, just how chaotic and fast paced it is, I feel, is totally matching what I’m singing about, which is just… Yeah, that feeling of not trusting myself and avoiding myself and my thoughts and my emotions, that I know deep down are valid. And with “Ohio Laundry Room,” I wrote that one the week that my grandmother had passed away. Not really thinking at all about putting on a record.
I was just processing through it. But I had the whole record written, except for one song. And I had many options to choose from, but I just didn’t feel great about any of them. And the next day, I had to go into the studio and record the last song. And I was just like, “I’ll figure it out when I get there. I just don’t know what it’s going to be yet.” And I was leaning towards one thing, but I was like, “I don’t know how I feel about it.” And then I finished “Ohio Laundry Room” and I was like, “Oh, this is it. This is the missing piece.” I think, I also wasn’t really thinking about it because it had just happened, I had been writing this record for a while, and I never would have anticipated that there would be a song about death. I’d never written a song about death until this one. And it was like, “Oh, wow, I guess… Yeah, this is the missing piece to it.” Whereas a lot of these other songs have been about romantic relationships or conflict and friendships. And this one was like… It felt very deep just because it covers grief, which can hit in so many different ways, there’s sadness, there’s some anger. Because our relationship, in so many ways was so beautiful and great.
And looking back on it hurts to think about because of how special it was. But then there were also times that were extremely difficult. And part of that is because of her life. And the song is pretty much me just taking all of that information and being like, “If I were in your situation, I would have done the same thing.” And so… Yeah, that was another song that was written pretty fast. Just me on my guitar and building it in the studio was really satisfying. Because it kept a lot of that guitar, pretty stuff, but then it just also hits so hard and it hits me very hard emotionally.
It spoke to me as well. First, I'm sorry for your a loss. She sounds like quite a woman. I listened to your song, and thought about my relationships with my grandparents, too. The feelings transport there.
Abby Holliday: Yeah, I think because it felt so specific to me, I wasn’t really sure how it would be received. For whatever reason, the most messages that I’ve ever gotten about a song, have been this one. People are just understanding it from so many different angles, like, “I just recently lost a grandparent.” Or like, “I have a really difficult relationship with my mom.” All of these things really took me by surprise, because I thought that some of the other songs, about being afraid of talking to somebody because you’re afraid of hurting their feelings, or a romantic relationship, I thought those would be the ones, but I think because it’s one of my favorite songs on the record and the most personal to me, seeing the response be what it is gives me more courage to just keep doing what you’re doing. Keep writing what you want to write about. It doesn’t matter how specific it is, don’t worry about it being relatable because it just will be; you can never predict how people will interpret it. And so, that’s been very special, putting that one out.
I was hoping we could talk through some of these songs, one by one. You mentioned how you wrote and recorded “Better By Now” and you just put it out there so fast. That one's been your most successful song to date; it's just recently hit a million streams, which is incredibly exciting. What's the response to that song been like for you? And has this reception to it inspired you to be more impulsive and go with your gut, like how you described?
Abby Holliday: Totally! I wrote that one with my friend, Tyler, and I don’t do a ton of co-writing for my project, but I started the song and I was like, “I know that my friend Tyler would just help me finish this, in the way that I want it to be.” And so, putting it out was… I felt so confident in it, from the beginning. I was just like, “I love this. I think it’s so fun. I think it’s so catchy. And the writing feels just like me.” It was so applicable to my life, in that time. And so, it was just satisfying, is how I would describe it. And so, I put it out and… Yeah, the response was incredible. I totally gained a whole new audience from the release of that song. Which was great because I feel, then people were starting to find my record, that I had just put out, people that… When you’re first releasing music, it’s a lot of just friends and family that are hearing your stuff and that was slowly building. I’ve always been just so thankful for how the response has been. And then that happened, brought a whole new group of people. I also felt like, other artists were hearing it, artists that I love and look up to.
And even created opportunities there, of people being like, “Hey, we should write together sometime. I heard ‘Better By Now,’ I love it.” That’s amazing. So cool that it reached those people as well, because it was so impulsive, part of me was like, “Oh, should I have done that? I don’t have a release plan for anything else.” I put out an acoustic version of it that spring. And since then, this record has been rolling out almost a year after that. So yeah, it totally opened opportunities and just gave me confidence to be like, “Just do what you want, trust yourself, trust the songs that you feel good about, put them out.” And writing for a record can be so exhausting and intimidating.
Well, I say all that, but then also, with “Better By Now,” it gave me some problems with myself, because I felt so good about it. I put it out, people loved it. And then I was like, “Shit, what do I do now?” Because I put out this singer-songwriter record, then I dropped this pop song. And what am I supposed to do now? I am now supposed to keep making pop music, I had that kind of genre crisis, where I was like, What am I supposed to do? Are people expecting this of me now? It felt like just such a solid song that I had the fear like, “How am I gonna top this? And where am I supposed to go next?” And after a lot of stress in that area, I kind of just settled with like, it’s always been about making what I wanna make, and “Better By Now,” I just made what I wanna make, like made what I wanted to, in that moment, and so that doesn’t mean that I need to stick into this pop genre, it’s just like, what’s inspiring me in the moment and chase that down. But it wasn’t easy to get there.
It's easy to look at it with rose-colored glasses, but success of any kind can also be stressful.
Abby Holliday: Yeah, because I think there were people who were kind of just expecting another one of those me… It’s cool to see that there are people that I know of who I can confidently say, they would follow me through anything. They would follow my change of genre and trust where I’m going, and that is so valuable to me. I probably won’t ever switch genres extremely drastically, but as I am making these changes, I’m just kind of crossing my fingers, I hope that people are into this, I hope that they trust where I’m going, and so I think after, “Ohio Laundry Room,” the response was just incredible, and it had gotten a lot more response in the first two singles, and I feel like “Ohio Laundry Room” was the perfect song to put out before the next one, “IDK WHAT I WANT” – it’s taking a risk, and there’s a little more there.
So the crisis that started with “Better By Now” was kind of resolved in putting out “Ohio Laundry Room.” Is all this mapped out, or is it fair to say that you're kind of flying by the seat of your pants?
Abby Holliday: [laughter] Sometimes both, I knew that I was gonna start rolling out my record in the fall and that it would finish some time in late winter, early spring was my plan. But yeah, in some ways, we did a ton of… We got a ton of visuals for my record, and I thought that they were gonna last for a whole cycle, but then I was looking at them and I was like, This isn’t enough, I need to do more. I need to make more content, and I also hadn’t even written “Ohio Laundry Room” when we made all of that stuff, so I was like, Oh, I need to plan a whole other shoot, and so we did this other big shoot right before Christmas, and then I got married on New Year’s Eve, so the month of December was chaos. But once we had that, I was like, Okay, and I feel like I understood the first half of my record release and then kinda had to regroup with myself and then plan the rest of it, and so, yeah, it’s intentionally planned to come out like while I’m on tour.
It must be gratifying to have something out there and free it from your mind by getting it down, not only in writing, but also on record. At the same time, I can't imagine that it’s an easy song to play all the time.
Abby Holliday: Yeah, it felt like closure when I had written it, it was just like, Okay, I’ve heard people say that if you lose a loved one doing something like writing a letter to them could be very therapeutic and helpful, and I feel like that’s what this was. I feel like it was my letter to her, so doing that, was like, Oh, that was great, and then I was like, Oh, and now I’m releasing it. And that was a whole different set of emotions because it was recording it, and so that’s extremely emotional, like, Oh no, I’m showing someone. I’m telling them about it. We’re talking about it now. Everybody knows about it, and a few months of downtime and then creating the visuals for it and showing my family, and then releasing it, and even in releasing it, I was like, “How am I even supposed to promote this?!”
It can already feel weird to be promoting yourself all the time, and then when I’m talking about something so personal, I’m like, this is not the kind of song that I wanna make a video and try to hook people in. Like, “Oh, I want you to try to figure out what this is about,” because it’s about the saddest thing that’s ever happened to me. So many emotions there, I’m so thankful that I did release it and playing it on tour, I played it live once, so that’s gonna be hard as well. It’s a combination of writing it and putting it out, and then also just processing through the grief on my own, apart from that song, has been very challenging and a long process, and so it is strange to have this piece of art that I’ve shared with people in the midst of that, seeing how people are reacting and stuff, and at the same time, like I said before, this is the song I’ve had the most people reach out and sharing their personal stories with me, and it’s just so powerful that it’s been a comfort to people.
Why did you choose “IDK WHAT I WANT” to be the first track on the album?
Abby Holliday: This was the first song that we also recorded of this record, and this is the one that I feel like is a little more out there production-wise compared to other stuff I’ve done, and so I feel like starting with that song in the recording process and on the record kind of sets the tone of like, this is where we’re at, this is where we’re starting. We’re gonna go other places from here, but this is the new era basically, and this song I wrote with also two of my friends, Tyler, who wrote “Better By Now” with me, and then my friend Houston, who I had heard his music. And it was just so cool, and he seemed like a guy that I would really vibe with, and so I got in touch with him and I was like, “I wanna write a song with you,” and so I brought in this verse and chorus idea, and we demoed it out together, and I used, he had this auto-tune pedal to where I could hear it in real time.
I have a voice memo on my phone that’s titled ‘Abby using auto-tune for the first time’ because I was just recording what we were doing, and it was another one of those moments where I was like… Similar to how I felt about “Better By Now,” I love this so much. Am I allowed to do this? This feels so different from what I’ve done before, but I was just singing the whole song with the auto-tune on and wrote all the lyrics in 30 minutes, maybe even less, was just like they were working on a beat and stuff, and I just… It was just a brain dump basically, and that’s kind of what the song is. It’s all of these anxious thoughts that are just spilling out of me, and it was just so fun to where I was like, This needs to be on the record, and this needs to be the new vibe and direction for stuff. And so then I wrote the rest of it besides “Predictable Life” from there. Yeah.
That's awesome. So “Predictable Life” predated it.
Abby Holliday: Yeah, in recording order, we started with, “IDK WHAT I WANT,” and then we did “Predictable Life,” but “Predictable Life” was the song that I had written a couple of years prior and decided to keep it on the record.
Got it. It does fit, I feel like it fits perfectly well in the theme of quarter-life crisis, I suppose. Is quarter-life crisis the album's theme?
Abby Holliday: That’s kind of the theme! Yeah, that’s definitely… I’m thinking about the new stuff that I’m writing, and maybe I’m still in my quarter-life crisis!
It doesn't have to be exclusive to one record.
Abby Holliday: Right. It just, it leads all the way up and until my mid-life crisis, there’s no gap in between the two. [laughter]
Exactly, good luck! Do you have any definitive favorites or personal highlights from this album that we haven't yet spoken about?
Abby Holliday: “Noise” is a song that is very special to me, I wrote that with Charli Adams, that was another cool thing where we just kinda randomly got connected and I had loved her music for a while, and it was just her and I and her friend Laura joined, but we didn’t have a producer, it was just like us and our guitars, and it eventually, of course, got produced out, but we just wrote it on guitar and it felt… I just loved it ’cause that’s how I typically write, and it was bringing in this other creative mind into it, and she just totally made it what it needed to be, and that song is… I feel like that song is for musicians and artists and creative people, it’s kinda just… It captures the thought that I have probably like maybe once a week, which is like, Why? Why am I doing this? Or, what’s the point?
I’m making this music. Yeah, I love it, but everyone’s making music and am I just contributing to the noise that’s in the world, am I just throwing this out into the void… She was in a similar situation where music was hard, she hadn’t put out stuff in a while and wasn’t in an interesting place with that, and so I felt like we just completely understood each other, and I almost wasn’t expecting it to be that way when. I feel like it was like I was looking at her as this artist that I really look up to, and here we are in the same boat, you’re further along in this than I am, but we’re all kind of feeling the same stuff, and so that one’s really special to me.
What if I was better when I was a kid
I don’t remember feeling pitiful
Or over analyzing what I did
Until it made me sick
I was innocent
Now I know way too much
But somehow I don’t know enough
What’s the point of it all
All the noise
Earlier you mentioned the finale, “i'm ok,” being a special one. Can you talk about why that one's so special?
Abby Holliday: Yeah, like I mentioned, I wrote that just all lyrically before writing any sort of melody, and I was actually at a Bon Iver concert, when I wrote it, I was just basically looking around at everything that was happening, it was one of those moments where I felt like I was just observing everyone and what they were doing and what their own experience was in that moment, because it was just a very powerful show. And so the song is kind of just talking about that, and it gets to this point where it’s like the chorus, which is kind of just the thing at the end, the lyrics are all I can think about is how I can’t call you. And when I wrote that, I had no context for what that even meant, it didn’t mean and anything to me, I just thought it was like a cool line, and I remember even telling my producer when we were recording it, this is how I wrote it, and what it means, and I don’t really know what this part means, people can interpret it, however, it might be talking about a romantic relationship or something like. Someone that you miss or something.
And we recorded it, and then my grandma passed away, and then I wrote “Ohio Laundry Room” and decided to record it and I was like, this suddenly feels completely connected. And that’s how the record ends is like, “All I think about is how I can’t call you to tell you all this. Just know that I’m okay.” I feel like that just captures it; what I love about music the most is it can mean something to you in the moment, and then it can completely change, and in that case, it didn’t even really hold much meaning until it did. That’s why I really love that one; it’s crazy.
How did living in Nashville and starting to play music live, if at all, impact the second album?
Abby Holliday: Oh, that’s a good question. I’m trying to think if it did… I mean, I had just started playing shows before I moved to Nashville, so I was playing in Cincinnati a decent amount, and I feel like that was great to get those reps in before I moved to Nashville. And then, yeah, I feel like touring has… I did one tour in the fall with a full band, and then I did also like a solo thing. I think I’ve been in an interesting position because my first record, playing it live has felt very attainable, like guitar, bass, drums type of vibe, like it works. With this new stuff, when I wrote, “I Don’t Know What I Want,” the first song, and recorded it, I was like… One of the reasons why I was like, “Should I even be doing this?” was because I was like, “How are we gonna do this live?”
It’s just different. And I’m very thankful that I didn’t let that fear stop me from making the music that I wanted to make, because I feel like now I’m just like, write whatever you want, record whatever you want, and then just… You’ll figure it out. You’ll figure out how to make it work in a live setting, even if you need to re-imagine it a little bit. But I think being in Nashville and opening for other artists and being surrounded by a lot of musicians has definitely given me courage to take risks because I think in this city, there are a lot of people that don’t take risks, and a lot of people that just kinda wanna chill where they’re at, and then also there are so many people that are just so creative, so inspiring.
And I found myself in a very sweet friend group of… And community of people that are just totally being themselves. And that’s what I wanna do. I wanna just channel the best versions of myself and put it into what I’m doing, so I think that’s been great, just to be around other people that are unintentionally pushing me to be better.
It sounds like the environment is having quite a positive effect. So that's great to hear, 'cause it's always a risk making such a big life change like that. I'm glad to hear it paid off. What do you hope listeners take away from your new album? And what have you taken away from creating it and now putting it out?
Abby Holliday: I hope that people feel comforted by it. I think the main goal with this record and with my music is like… I want people to be honest with themselves. It’s like almost learn from my mistakes in some ways. These things that I’m singing about, I’ve had people come up to me and be like, “It’s like you read my diary with this. I’m going through the same exact thing,” or, “It’s helped me do this in my life.“
And I think having music be like a healing thing. There’s a lot of pain in my record, and I hope that people can take that and know that they’re not alone and be honest about how they’re feeling. It feels like a diary of what’s going on in my head, and presenting it in the most real way, even if it’s messy. It’s a lot of unresolved things, and putting out the music almost helps me to resolve those problems.
In the interest of paying it forward, who are you listening to these days that you would recommend our readers check out?
Abby Holliday: Samia’s recent record, wow, 10 out of 10. Silvie, she’s based in Nashville. She’s incredible. She’s rolling out an EP right now, I think. It’s phenomenal. What else? What else am I listening to? I mean like boygenius, the new record that they’re rolling out.
I don’t wanna seem biased, but I am gonna plug this one. My little sister has just started putting out music and she’s so good. Her artist name is Feems, it’s all lowercase. She just put out a song called “Easier” and it was produced by another artist, his name is Jonah Ward, and it’s so good and she’s like 19. [laughs] So I would definitely recommend those people!
What are you most excited about when it comes to touring?
Abby Holliday: I’m excited about meeting people and seeing people face-to-face, because so much of what we do is on the Internet and I feel like shows are the… Like you play a show and it’s like, “Oh yeah, this is why I do it.” It’s like to connect with people in real life. And so yeah, I’m just very excited to meet people and also hopefully make a good first impression on a lot of people ’cause I’m opening for Michigander, so there will be people there who know who I am, but also a lot of new faces. I like that challenge of gaining new people, new fans.
Stream: “Noise” – Abby Holliday
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