A hazard of the music journalist’s trade is that rare occasion when you finally get to chat with an artist whose music you’ve long admired, only to discover that in person they’re actually rather bland, or a jerk, or both.
Most of the time, the individual behind the art matches your projection. Rarer still are the folks who raise your estimation of them even higher. Holly Throsby fits in the latter category comfortably. She’s friendly and self-deprecating, sure; but she’s also keenly intelligent, and her insights into the craft behind writing a novel and writing a song are genuinely compelling.
“To me, writing the book [2016’s Goodwood] was a really long and intense and obsessive experience,” Throsby says. “I’ve never been as disciplined as a songwriter. I tend to get as obsessed, that’s for sure; I’ll tend to carry a song around with me in my head everywhere I go, if I don’t write it all in one go. I generally don’t write at once; there’s usually lines that need to be added. But songs are just such a different form, and I think serve a very different purpose as well.
“I find writing the two very different experiences. To me, lyric writing in music is only musical. I don’t tend to appropriate that into another medium. It’s a very self-contained thing to me – the lyrics will come out with whatever melody is happening, and the character of that is embedded within itself. Whereas writing the book, you have this big, expansive world that I would visit to write within that fictional space, and inhabiting those characters felt very unconstrained while I was writing it and could have gone anywhere, which was quite exciting and daunting at the same time.”
2016 was quite a year for Throsby. Though it was also a time that saw the sad close of many creative careers, for the ARIA-nominated singer-songwriter it ushered in not only her literary debut, but the construction of her sixth album, After A Time. It was a fitting enough title given her last LP, Team, appeared back in 2011.
“Last year creatively was really exciting for me. The act of finishing the book was something I was proud of. For most of the time I was writing, I didn’t think I would – or could – finish it. When I was at university studying English lit, I didn’t really think I’d be a musician. I thought I would be a writer, but I wasn’t sure what kind of writer I would be. I’d always wanted to write books, so creatively it was exciting, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t have difficulties. As soon as I finish a creative project I start feeling obsessive about the next one, so to finish the book and go straight into the studio to start a record was exciting because it had been so long.
“I didn’t necessarily think I would make another record, or play music again. It was something I thought I might be done with. So it was a happy surprise to feel that excited about music again, and to put a band together I was really excited about. It gave the studio a really warm feeling.”
It’s surprising to learn of the uncertainties Throsby felt, especially in light of the album’s strengths. Her creative career seems to grow more interesting and more secure with each instalment, so perhaps that five-year break between releases really is quite telling. Though she has hardly been resting on her laurels all that time – novel notwithstanding, there has been indie supergroup Seeker Lover Keeper, a Bob Dylan tribute tour and her advocacy for animal rights – the absence does lend her lyrics an added scrutiny. Like all authors of note, once their words have washed over you, you can’t help but ponder their genesis.
“Sometimes you really feel like some people totally get what you’re trying to do, and that’s a really nice feeling,” Throsby says. “But that can’t happen all the time. We’re talking about the most subjective fields, and I try to keep that in mind. You have to. Especially writing the book. It was a big deal for me to be doing something completely different, and I didn’t know if I could do it. But you think, ‘Fuck, if a handful of people really love it, that would be great.’ Beyond that, you just get pleased if people respond or connect to it. In the end, I know what my intention is, and you have to be comfortable with that.”
Though it’s far too early to guess when (or if) album number seven may arrive, we will still hopefully hear from Throsby again in the not-too-distant future.
“It was difficult to leave [Goodwood] in a sense. There’s excitement upon completion, of course, but sadness to not be involved in those lives and stories any more. But in that, the idea for my next book surfaced, which is set in another fictional town mentioned in Goodwood, in a similar era. The tendrils meant that I wanted to continue in a different area, but a similar landscape that I wasn’t ready to leave yet.
“I think the way I tend to work across everything is very instinctive. In terms of music, I don’t read music, I’m hopeless at knowing keys. In terms of writing the book, I did the same. Working by feel, no plotting or planning before I set off. So I would hope to write the next book in the same way.”