Last spring, Jolie Holland released the kind of folk album it'll take years for people to realize just how good it is. It's hushed, forlorn and beautiful. It's radio un-friendly, not herky-jerk enough to thrive on MTV. One song especially, "I Just Wanna Die," can shatter hard hearts. Via e-mail, the ex-member of The Be Good Tanyas began our interview with the preface, "I'm riding in a van down a Tennessee highway in the very cold rain. I'm on my gazillionth month of touring.... I'm weary and got very little sleep this morning... so here's some answers from Hwy 64 East, en route to Norfolk, Virginia, from a lonesome traveler."
CityBeat: You really loved classical music as a kid. That is so lame, especially when the Chipmunks had a perfectly great cover album of the Beatles at about the same time. And New Kids on the Block. Why were you so strange?
Julie Holland: I dunno. I was a nature mystic from the get go. I still remember my first poem and even the way I misspelled words (choir=quire). I was a forlorn little fucked-up genius. Anybody reading on a 10th grade level in 2nd grade is bound to be bored and miserable in 2nd grade. Duke University asked me to write an article for them when I was 9 or something but it freaked me out, and I ignored them till they quit writing me.
Tell me the story about the jock and your grandma and the cool advice.
Yeah, so my ex-pro-football, now Texas oilman uncle told me one time to sing songs my gran'ma liked, and I realized what great advice it was. I think my uncles still don't like my music but my gran'ma does.
"I Just Wanna Die" makes me sad. Why were you so sad, Jolie?
There's a certain point in being rootless that has just got to be the end of it. I wrote that song in the back of a camper van, barreling down a South Louisiana highway. I was leaving behind the ghost of a crush and the hope of some good loving. We were on a long tour like this one, only then I had no home to go home to. I hadn't had a home for a few years. After I wrote that song I quit the Tanyas and moved home to San Francisco, and I haven't been a drifter since.
Did you really dumpster dive? What's the coolest thing you'd find? What did you usually find to eat?
Dumpster diving can be wonderful. I've eaten really well out of dumpsters-lots of good organic food, but maybe you have to cut out a couple bad spots....At one point I was was getting almost all of my earthly needs from this one particular alley in East Van [Ness]-that's the alley I wrote about in "Alley Flowers," which is the alley I was walking through from C R Avery's house to Samantha Parton's house as I wrote that song in my head. There was a clothing donation drop-off place there as well as a health food store dumpster.
Your album is fucking beautiful. But it feels like seeing you live would be like watching Pedro the Lion. Which is to say, paint drying, in comparison, would be like a ticker-tape parade. Tell me I'm wrong....
I've never seen Pedro the Lion, but I'm willing to say we're a lot more interesting to watch than a hell of a lot of bands. The flake element alone is just riveting. The drummer (Dave Mihaly) is a crazy genius with a million pieces of junk he plays with and makes noise out of. The guitar player (Brian Miller) gets these very strange facial expressions and he does these jerky, ecstatic dances in place as he pulls his solos out of his ass, plus he's a beautiful harmony singer, and generally is a very nice, shy boy. The live show is always set-list free, I play guitar, fiddle, 3-string cigar-box guitar, and a 100-yr-old banjo-ukelele. As weird a singer as I am, I am that weird of a person, so my anti-social bumbling in public can be amusing for the audience.Jolie Holland plays with Sean Hayes and West Indian Girl at the Casbah, 9 p.m. on Feb. 20. $10. 619-232-HELL.