"I Get Dark Sometimes" Uncovering Holly Humberstone
20-year-old Holly Humberstone’s career is unfolding before her very eyes, and she hasn’t quite come to terms with it yet. “I am bewildered by it all,” she laughs, talking to Clash from the comfort of her childhood home near Grantham, where she has been residing during lockdown. “For example, seeing myself on a billboard in the US and never even having been there is so bizarre to me.” Despite being in awe of her own career snowballing, the East-Mids born artist seems to be taking it all in her stride.
Having completed an arena tour supporting Lewis Capaldi (pre-lockdown) and performing live for her first-ever TV appearance on Jimmy Kimmel, where, in one-take she sings both a capella, and while playing guitar and piano, she comes across cool, calm, and collected in the limelight. When I point out how unphased she appeared during the live performance she immediately responds, “I wasn’t AT ALL, I was terrified! I am definitely playing a character to match the mood of the songs when I perform, and I work quite well under pressure when there are people depending on me to get it right,” she admits.
An excitable force of alt-pop energy, Humberstone is "thrilled" and at the prospect of being named Apple Music's internationally recognised Up Next artist last month, following the likes of Billie Eilish and Megan Thee Stallion."It is completely wild to me to have that kind of support!" she gasps. It's all a long way from the tranquil countryside that she calls home, where she sat just one year before watching Clairo perform on Jimmy Kimmel “thinking it was the sickest thing ever,” never imagining that she would follow so closely in these footsteps.
“It is unexpected to me, and I’m so grateful,” she gushes. “I’ve just been really lucky with the support and the people championing me.”
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That being said, there is no doubting why her music is making such waves. Her debut EP, ‘Falling Asleep At The Wheel’ was released last month in August and is bursting with emotionally vulnerable lyrics littered over skewed, wounded indie pop. Spanning topics from mental health to falling in and out of love, her first three singles from the EP amassed well over 20 million streams before it was even released.
Despite drawing from different experiences, people, and emotions for each track, the EP is incredibly coherent, and Humberstone pins this down to the fact that “it’s so personal and it all fits together as snapshots of times in my life.” Each track feels like a warm hug - not one that helps you forget your problems, but one that eases your guilt and lets you settle into the wallowing, knowing that you’re not alone. Her repetition of “how am I supposed to be your ray of light, I get dark sometimes,” in the title track, is somewhat jarring, due to its candour.
Holly’s familiar tone and relatability translate seamlessly from speaking on zoom to the intimacy of her music. For someone so young the EP is raw, introspective and irrevocably addictive. Opening track ‘Deep End’ discusses mental illness and the feeling of helplessness when people you love go through something difficult. Lyricism such as “I’ll be your medicine if you let me, give you reason to get out of bed…and help you escape from your head,” are deeply sad yet cathartic.
After releasing, Holly noticed that “loads of people reached out to me saying this is exactly like me and my sister or friend and it’s so crazy that so many other people have the same feelings and things going on you know?” ‘Falling Asleep At The Wheel’ as a whole has a huge heart, one only matched by the artist herself.
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The EP also features much more upbeat pop moments, yet the lyrics remain vulnerable throughout. In ‘Vanilla,’ Humberstone’s vocals attempt to breathe life into a “dull” and “lifeless” relationship, where she states, “we’re perfectly comfortable, in the worst way.” It paints a delicate picture of a situation too many of us find ourselves in, seeing through a relationship past its sell-by-date, and she admits that “the truth is, I have my best nights without you.”
Oppositely, ‘Overkill’ maps the anxieties that come with a new relationship, “don’t wanna be a buzzkill / if I’m coming on too strong.” It is perfectly self-indulgent, yet aware enough to know that these are not unique feelings. “It’s scary for me to write but I know that I’m writing about universal stuff and that my situation isn’t going to be unique, if I’m going through something, others will be too.”
“Something that really makes me happy is that people can relate and find a bit of comfort in my songs,” Holly mentions. This sense of validation is a two-way street, for the listener to hear something they connect with, and also for Humberstone herself to know that people across the globe are relating to her music. In terms of her writing process, she cannot go without it. “I find it really difficult to navigate my feelings, and I don’t even know what I’m feeling most of the time until I write it down in a song”. Indeed, her songs are a series of palatable three-minute therapy sessions. “I’m often just a ball of pent-up stress and then after writing I feel so much better.”
Finding it tricky to open up or articulate feelings can be difficult at the best of times, and Holly Humberstone has found the perfect outlet to unravel her thoughts. “It’s my way of processing and its like therapy for me. I need to do it to figure out how I’m really feeling.”
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Working up to the release date of 'Falling Asleep At The Wheel', which had been “a long time coming,” Humberstone mentioned that she had been asked many times if she had considered postponing the release date or if she was frustrated at having to release her first body of work during lockdown.
However, rather than looking inward, she considers those around her and the purpose of the music itself. “I considered it for a bit but then I remembered the new music that has been put out during long down that I have absolutely been so grateful for. Phoebe Bridgers’ new album saved me, and Taylor Swift’s ‘folklore’ as well. People are at home and kind of need music now more than ever (that sounds so cringey but it’s kind of true). I think it is a great time to release music.”
The loneliness that can accompany lockdown is inescapable, and if her music can provide a sense of intimacy for someone, then that is the biggest compliment for her. “I’ve definitely found that listening to music during lockdown has been such a huge part of my day and has really helped me in a therapeutic way, so hopefully it will help someone somewhere - that would be really cool.”
Post pandemic, Holly Humberstone has a number of sold-out shows to look forward to, but most of all she is excited to resume her life and regain the creativity and inspiration that was somewhat lost while being cooped up in the middle of nowhere. However, there is something quite poetic about releasing this music in her childhood home, a place where she first sat down to organise her thoughts through song writing, somewhere that is comforting, despite having outgrown it.
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Words: Megan Warrender
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