Kiersten Holine’s latest record, Candescent, has been stuck in my head for weeks. Easily one of the best finds I’ve had in a long time. Her laid back sound, fleshed out with exquisite vocals and top-notch lyricism, makes for one of the best listens of 2012. It’s hard to believe she’s only been writing for five years, but it’s the truth. Recently, Kiersten was kind enough to answer a few questions for MFH. Learn why Rolling Stone is to thank for her taking the plunge into music, how she developed her sound and the process of making Candescent.
My Folking Heart: Rolling Stone mentioned you in a 2007 issue, after which you began to actively pursue your music. Had you seriously thought about being a musician before then?
Kiersten Holine: No, I hadn’t thought about it at all. I just did Youtube videos in the beginning to see if anyone actually thought I was worth listening to. If they did, cool. If not, that’s fine. That was sort of where it ended. I remember getting back to my dormroom when I was about 18 and seeing an email from a writer at Rolling Stone. I felt my knees give out a little and had to sit down. After the moment of picking up the issue and reading it in print, my prospective about pursuing music took a 180. I thought, “Okay, maybe this is serious”.
MFH: Your inspirations range from Marvin Gaye to jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt to Feist. Was the folk/singer-songwriter sound a natural one for you when you started creating your own music?
KH: It took me a while to figure out what sound felt most natural but I feel comfortable with it now. I try not to listen to music while I’m in a writing phase so I don’t mimic anyone too closely. I think that’s the only way I’ve been able to find my individual sound. Regardless of that, Bob Dylan has always been my main influence so it wasn’t hard to have that inspiration engrained in me. It just kind of….. happened.
MFH: People knew you at first for covers instead of originals. Were there any growing pains when you began to write your own songs? How do you feel your songwriting has progressed in the five years or so since you’ve been penning originals?
KH: All I remember thinking is that I didn’t want what I was writing to sound like an empty pop song. I had such a wide range of influences, I didn’t know what would emerge from my songwriting. I also felt like it was a lot of pressure to produce something great since people were really starting like my covers. I’m sure I feel the way most songwriters do about the progression. I can’t listen to my early stuff. I mean… I know it was necessary to write those in order to grow/develop as a songwriter… but they’re just so awful. I’ve gotten to the point where I can listen to music from a couple of years ago and be proud of it. But it’s taken a lot to get there.
MFH: One question I always ask is about the songwriting process. What is your process like?
KH: It’s never the same every time… I do music first sometimes and lyrics first other times. Essentially, I write however the hell I can get a song out. Most of the time, I use stream of consciousness writing to get out all of my lyrics and those usually are the ones I’m most proud of. Both “Ignoble” and “Queen of Hearts Blues” were written in about a half hour when I was just needing to get out what was on my mind.
MFH: You’ve said that your songs are about a specific event in your life. Do you ever find it difficult to perform your songs live, being that they’re incredibly personal and emotional?
KH: It’s more strange than difficult. Opening up to strangers about life-changing people I’ve known and really emotional and important times in my life via song is incredibly vulnerable. But it’s the only way I feel comfortable telling the stories. It’s also the only way I feel I can tell them best. When I sing these songs, I immediately feel transported back to how I felt when I wrote them. It’s amazing to be able to share them with others. When people tell me they connect with and relate to my work, I am baffled. It’s the most beautiful part about being a musician.
MFH: You’re from Minnesota, but recently moved to Chicago. What prompted the move, and how has the Windy City treated you so far?
KH: I went to school in Seattle as well, I’m all over the place. I just felt like experiencing a new big city and Chicago felt right at the time. I am probably heading out soon to pursue my dream of living in as many places as I can while I’m young. Chicago has been interesting and opened my eyes up to a lot of new things, but it doesn’t feel like the right fit for my music or for me as a person as of now. I now compare every place I go to the pacific northwest (and every place pales in comparison).
MFH: Can you tell us what the process was like in writing/recording/producing Candescent?
KH: It was a fairly long process. I wanted to write an album that dealt with healing, learning and moving on from situations. I’ve changed quite drastically even since I wrote Ignoble. Because of that, I wanted to write an album about new ideals I have formed for myself as well as overcoming obstacles and accepting new circumstances.
Once I figured out what I wanted to write about, I let the songs come to me. There would be (slightly uneasy) weeks between having any inspiration at all and then an idea would come to me one night and a song would just emerge immediately. It felt like the most natural and honest way to write an album. I recorded everything in my little Chicago apartment and had it mixed and mastered by my friend, Chad Wahlbrink, in Nashville. It was a total DIY album… and I like it that way.
MFH: The record has been out for just over two months now. How has the reaction been?
KH: It’s been incredible. I was blown away by the support and feedback I received. I felt like all the hard work paid off the day I released the album. I’m still shocked by it.
MFH: Any plans to tour in support of Candescent this summer or will you be sticking around Chicago?
KH: There may be a west coast tour in the works for the fall, but I will keep you updated!
MFH: What should we look out for from Kiersten Holine for the rest of 2012?
KH: I always want to keep writing so I hope to come out with various songs now and again. I’ll keep doing Youtube covers for a long time too…. I really love doing them.
Extra Questions for Fun:
MFH: MFH favorite Jeff Pianki appears on Candescent. Do you have a favorite Pianki song?
KH: I have many! Jeff’s a good friend and I’m always amazed by how great of a writer he is. My favorite songs of his are: “Sun Will Rise”, “Attachment”, “Seeds in the Ground”, and “Paper Window Dreams”. Those are all incredibly moving.
MFH: You’ve sung duets with many great artists, including William Fitzsimmons. Is there a dream duet you’d love to do?
KH: Yeah, that was such an honor. I’ve always wanted to sing with Jeff Tweedy or Patrick Watson.. but as of late I’ve been itching to sing with Blake Mills. Philip Moore (of Bowerbirds) too! Ah, a girl can dream.
MFH: Current music obsessions?
KH: Blake Mills! I’ve been listening to Break Mirrors so much. I’ve also been listening to a lot of A.A. Bondy, Listener and Damien Jurado. And I just found out about Shakey Graves too who is unbelievable. Too many current obsessions.