Freya Josephine Hollick has dived deep into the waters of old time music for her new album The Unceremonious Junking of Me. The album immerses the listener in tales of love and loss. Hollick's beautiful angelic voice heightens the emotional impact of each song. Her voice is reminiscent of some of the great pioneering country and western singers from Dottie West to Patsy Cline.
The Unceremonious Junking Of Me had a long gestation period; after her previous album Freya became a mother to daughter Opal. The album was recorded over a year ago, Freya decided to allow the songs to establish themselves live before releasing the album.
I asked Freya about the curious album title, “Well initially I was going to call it heart junk but the guys from the record label wanted me to come up something a bit more poetic. It sort of encapsulates what I’ve been through in the last couple of years, it seems like a grandiose title but it works.”
The album has a rich musical tapestry. There is a darkness to the sound that travels beyond the realms of old country and folk music, I asked Freya about her musical influences.
“I love a lot of different music, I love country, blues Appalachian music. There is such a rich storytelling legacy in country and folk. I listened to a lot of the Carter family. I love honky tonk music, that simple old time music, tales of woe. I was raised on Yo La Tengo, Bill Callahan and Sonic Youth. Bill Callahan did a version of In The Pines which drew me to old time music, I kind of searched my way back to the root of it all.”
There is a refreshing sense of spontaneity in each of the songs. There is a delightful rawness to the album as a whole. I asked Freya about the process of crafting the songs in the studio environment.
“It all felt a bit haphazard, it didn’t take very long to decide which songs we were going to record. We just decided what we wanted to play when we were in the studio, just playing into two microphones, we didn’t labour over the process. This album was more about capturing what we do live. We have been playing a lot of live shows and we feel we have really improved.”
The album was recorded in three half days with the plan of getting the songs down as quick as possible to retain that live feel. The album was recorded in the Main Bar in Ballarat, an old gold rush era building, as Freya explained.
“The building has been kept in the same vein as one of those 1880’s gold rush style buildings right down to the peeling wallpaper inside. We set up on the stage upstairs, it’s like an old theatre. Engineer Myles Mumford who runs Rolling Stock in Collingwood supplied the microphones and tape equipment. It was a pretty quick set up, we didn’t run through the songs more than twice. Before we pressed record I went through how the song would progress then we would run through it and get the take we wanted. You can get sick of playing the same song over again, you lose the beauty of it.”
Freya with more songs in the bag plans to head over to the United States next year to record her next album.
The Unceremonious Junking Of Me is out on Heart of The Rat records on November 11th. Freya is launching the album at Bella Union on November 30th.
The Border Mail
Freya Josephine Hollick answers the door for at her home in East Ballarat wearing a brilliant emerald green cable-knit jumper. The weather has swung between the first blast of oppressive late spring heat and squally freezing rain. A friend’s couch left on her verandah is coated with fine dust broken up by spots of water.
Her album The Unceremonious Junking Of Me has just been released. Recorded live to half-inch tape in the old-world surrounds of the Main Bar, it’s astonishingly bereft of the over-production we are delivered in contemporary music. Instead we are presented with the stark simplicity of Kat Mear’s fiddle, Pete Fidler’s mandolin and steel guitar, and Hollick’s soaring, melodic, transportive voice.
It’s hard to believe Hollick is just 27. She has the voice of someone who has lived a life, many lives perhaps, in a world far removed from ours. She wears her musical loves on her sleeve. Bluegrass. The Carter Family. The ballads of the Appalachians. The blues. Her guitar playing is stripped back and complements the tales she tells.
And the tales of The Unceremonious Junking Of Me run to eternal themes. It is an album born of personal heartbreak and rebirth, of grief and of discovered love.
We talk in her lounge room while her baby daughter Opal has another animated conversation with herself in the next room.
We should start with the eternal blues question: where were you last night?
Freya Hollick: (laughs) Out in Blackwood. I was with Nick and Janet Dear, who are a oldtime bluegrass family. They've lived out there for years. My brother went to school with their son. They're amazing players, and they run a few different little festivals, they're a big part of the bluegrass scene. And there were some players from North Carolina there that I had met in Harrietville at the Mountaingrass music festival, halfway up to Mount Hotham.
I listened to The Unceremonious Junking Of Me again today. Your voice is remarkable, and you inhabit those Appalachian, those bluegrass, those country influences as though you’ve lived them forever. But of course you haven’t.
No – or at least I don’t know about having done that. I was on Henry Wagons’s show on Double J a couple of weeks ago and he was asking me how important the past is to my music. It’s kind of like your soul has existed for however long. I won’t ever know the secrets of the universe, but I feel as though my soul has lived through those existences before, because it’s so natural for me to sing in that way and write the songs, that it almost doesn’t feel like it’s me that’s writing them.
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On her second album, The Unceremonious Junking of Me, Freya Josephine Hollick had a wealth of subject matter to work with - the dissolution of a relationship and the birth of her daughter. Opposites on the emotional spectrum; both the joy and heartache became key elements of her beautiful and highly accomplished album.
Hollick is now beyond the raw emotion of the breakup that shadows the record as there has been a lengthy period between its recording and release date. "It was recorded 15 months ago so it was a long gestation period. I think that happens a lot for musicians. The further you get away from it the more you listen to it and you hear all the faults and it becomes harder to listen to it objectively. It was finding the right time to release it. I had a two year hiatus from playing shows when I got pregnant and had my daughter. I think it was December (2015) that I started playing live again after a long break. Instead of releasing it earlier in the year we decided to wait and build a bit of a following and profile around the country before releasing the songs."
Hollick views her new album as "a pocket in time" which is "really all about one relationship, with my daughter's father", through the low lows and the high highs. "It was a really difficult event for me. I thought I was having a child with someone I'd be spending the rest of my life with and then things changed. Things come to the surface and you realise that isn't going to happen and your world crumbles around you. Some of the album was written while we were together and some was written after we split. I guess I owe him a massive thank you for helping me create this record (laughs) and I guess it has sort of helped to create the next two records because without emotional turmoil I don't think it's as easy to write music," reflects Hollick.
I ask Hollick what this album may have been like if these events hadn't happened in her life. "I've definitely taken some positives from the whole thing and even though newer songs I've written have dark lyrics they're much more positive sounding with major chords and an uptempo honky tonk and yodel sound, so I suppose it could've been a very different album. It would have been much happier music. It's nice to have it out in the world because I'm out the other side of all the dark stuff that comes from ending loving somebody. Life gets easier and you get proud of the strength you gain from overcoming those feelings of major change and letting go. The letting go is the thing that can kill you," states Hollick.
The album was recorded in Hollick's hometown of Ballarat, Victoria and with its settler and gold rush history and Hollick's personal experiences woven into the area, it meant a lot to record there. "Place is quite important for me when it comes to writing lyrics and recording. The room in The Main Bar where we recorded is such a beautiful sounding room and we wanted to do it live so we brought Myles Mumford from Rolling Stock Recording Rooms in Collingwood and he brought his tape equipment and we recorded it to half-inch tape with lovely old microphones and no overdubs. Just a couple of mics on stage with us three musicians. It was done over three days and I don't think we did any more than two takes of any of the songs," says Hollick, proudly.
Aside from her commanding voice that possesses both a melodic folk fragility and a gentle honky tonk twang, Hollick has created a strong image to accompany her music. From her video clips to artwork and traditional Gunne Sax dresses, she understands the importance of presenting a holistic style. "It feels like a costume when you go on stage and makes it easier to immerse yourself in the music and really play the part of the broken-hearted gold-rush woman. You're not the same person as when you're in your tracksuit pants watching HBO."