Hollie Smith

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Hollie Smith

Although it may be clichéd to say, after considerable research and having a chat to Hollie Smith ahead of her performance at the upcoming Apollo Bay Music Festival, I think it’s fair to say that she is definitely one of the most creative and successful musicians to come out of New Zealand in recent years – if not ever. Lorde and the Finn brothers are obviously up the top of the list too when you think of the greatest NZ acts of all time, but having shared the stage with Bob Dylan and Coldplay as well as Fat Freddy’s Drop, I can say with confidence that Smith is definitely one talented lady.
Having a chat to her via email in the midst of the creative process of the illusive third album (currently untitled), Smith is extremely excited about getting the opportunity to return to the land of OZ, after an absence of playing on an Aussie festival bill. “Things are really great at the moment and incredibly busy. I haven’t played a festival in Aus for a while, so naturally I am really excited about the opportunity to come and play. I have heard many great things about Apollo Bay, so it will be great to get back down there.
“The setlist will be a mixture of different material from each of my solo albums as well as some new stuff, and I have a new band which is sounding really fresh and kicking, so it will be a high energy show and we can’t wait to get over there.”
To date, Smith has released two solo studio albums as well as worked with the likes of Trinity Roots and Mara TK from Electric Wire Hustle fame. You may or may not have heard of any of these bands, but trust me, they are some of the most acclaimed in the New Zealand roots and RnB scene. Like many artists before her, with the creative process of the third album Smith is branching out into different techniques, which as a result will develop both her songwriting capabilities as well as musicianship.
“The album hasn’t even hit the studio yet and I am still in the midst of writing the record. There are a few ideas floating around for its production, but nothing set in concrete. I have always done live band recordings for both Long Player and Humour and the Misfortune of Others, and I think I want to move into using more sample-based electronic production. It’s still early days and a bit like dating I think. I gotta get to know them first before I know whether I want to commit to it!” Smith said.
One of Smith’s most acclaimed works is the track ‘Bathe in the River’, which was used as the title track for the film of the same name directed by infamous New Zealand director Don McGlashan. In the years following, the track has since become one of the biggest-selling NZ singles of all time. An achievement that, years after, still surprises Smith.
“That song, although to this day is an absolute pleasure to play live, was a bittersweet success for me. It really wasn’t supposed to do what it did, and if I’m being truthfully honest with you, I felt it stole the spotlight with what I was trying to achieve with my music. It has a lot of meaning to people, and will always be a favourite for many years to come I think.”
With a family of musicians, the decision was simple when push came to shove. From a very early age Smith recalls always being obsessed with music and recalls fondly of watching her father play blues and rock covers in the local pub. Apart from the obvious family influence, another strong inspiration on her music was the one, the only, ‘Godfather of Soul’, James Brown.
“My first favourite artist was James Brown. I remember when I was a child I found an old VCR tape recorded off the TV and I watched it every day for several years until my stepdad taped over it with the world cup soccer. There was a particular solo from one of Brown’s backing singers that I absolutely fell in love with. From there I discovered Hendrix and Ray Charles, and I think when I started writing all of those influences become apparent in each of my songs.”
Lucky enough to win ‘Best Female Solo Release’ at the 2007 Vodafone Music Awards, failure was never an option for Smith, having worked hard at music for several years before receiving the accolade. Working her ass off since 12-years-old, receiving the acknowledgement from the industry confirmed that she was on the right track with her music.
As mentioned previously, Smith has toured with the likes of Trinity Roots, Bob Dylan, Coldplay and Simply Red to name just a few; so logically, she would have quite a few tour stories up her arm, right? “Bob Dylan doesn’t talk to anyone on the road, and I understand that decision. It doesn’t make me feel any different to his music though. Just watching his sound checks and shows from side of stage was incredible. Those shows were at the Civic Theatre in Auckland, which was one of the most intimate shows he had done in decades – a true honour.
“I had a couple of great nights out with Chris Martin and the Coldplay boys, and they were very eventful evenings let me tell you … but that’s a story for another day!”
With so many artists on the bill for Apollo Bay, like any other festival it can be easy to get lost in the scheduling. However, make sure that you make time to catch Hollie Smith doing her thing. With a desire to collaborate with Prince one day, the raw energy and enthusiasm that Smith brings to her performance will make for a true highlight over the weekend, so make sure you head down and check it out!
When&Where: Apollo Bay Music Festival – February 28 to March 2
Written by Tex Miller