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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Holly Golightly Makes the Case for Stagnancy

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Holly Golightly is an artist stuck in a rut, and that’s just fine with her.

The U.K. garage-rock songstress introduced herself to the world in the early ’90s as a member of the Thee Headcoatees, an all-girl garage quartet assembled by Billy Childish, the man dubbed by TheNew York Times as the “Picasso of Garage Rock.” She’s watched garage-rock evolve from college-radio obscurity into a Top 40 sensation that has stuck around and permeated into every inch of popular music.

That’s the reason Holly Golightly has no qualms about just doing her thing, just sounding like herself: She’s got an old-school pass to one of the last great musical renaissances.

She’s currently on tour as Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs, a duo with longtime tour mate Lawyer Dave, who plays, well, just about everything he can behind Golightly’s guitar and vocals, oftentimes holding a guitar or bass while playing drums with his feet. The tour comes in the wake of the group’s third release together, Medicine County, the 14th release of Golightly’s career.

“I haven’t really expanded or developed, and I found my little niche,” she says. When asked how she keeps her material fresh, she says, “Well, it isn’t, and that’s the whole point.”

It’s a throwback attitude congruent with the music from which she taps most of her influence—an aesthetic gleaned from The Kinks and Wreckless Eric, a visceral strand of rock that sounds like it sounds, pure and raw, an old guitar through an old tube amplifier, sung mostly in tune. It was a borrowed sound back then, mainly from American blues and R&B artists like Willie Dixon and Ike Turner, to whom Golightly pays tribute in her cover material.

After the turn of the millennium, when The White Stripes rode the garage sound to mainstream popularity and even unlikelier places, Golightly scored one of her most recognizable contributions by singing the duet “It’s True That We Love One Another” with Jack White on The White Stripes’ Elephant record. But Golightly makes it clear that she doesn’t take any cues from White.

“It’s had no impact at all,” she says of the collaboration. “I’m still doing what I was doing 20 years ago. I was doing it before he was.”

Perhaps this cold attitude toward White stems from leftover animosity from a press skirmish between White and Childish in 2006, when White accused Childish of plagiarism after Childish alluded that White was too busy trying to be a pop star to be a true garage act. Regardless, Golightly likes to downplay being influenced by the people she’s worked with in the past, because at the end of the day she wants to be a musician that does what she does.

“It’s like people try [so hard] to be current, to be relevant and vital or attached to some kind of scene,” she says. “By the time you realize what it is, it’s already passed and it’s a moot point. You can only do what you do.”

It’s a credo she’s built a career on. After 20 years, more than a dozen albums and thousands of shows, mostly at the Cactus Clubs and Mad Planets of the American touring circuit, she’s still playing the brand of lo-fi vintage garage rock she was raised on. It’s a rut, but it’s her rut.

“Whenever they ask you to fill out a form and put what your job is, I never put musician,” she says. “Because I’m not. I can sing and put words together. I approach it with a tongue very firmly in my cheek and don’t take it too seriously. It is only music.”

Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs headline a 9 p.m. show at Mad Planet on Monday, June 21, with the Jonathan Burks Band and Trent Fox and the Tenants.