Holly the Skype Lion

Monday, August 22nd, 2011
Holly and the Nice Lions photo by Sarah Samsa
In this series I interview the musicians who lent their talents to the Picket Line soundtrack, many of them comics enthusiasts and story-tellers in their own rights. Holly Trasti fronts the Green Bay, Wisconsin band Holly and the Nice Lions. She wrote the song “Liz’s Lament (This Forest)” which appears on the Picket Line soundtrack, and recently released her second Nice Lions album, Let’s Get Wild! Holly and I Skyped it up to talk about recording in basements, dating musicians, and why she was legally forced to change her band’s name.

B: Well, everyone that I’ve talked to so far I’ve asked this question first, so bear with me, but how would you describe your sound – Holly and the Nice Lions – to someone that hasn’t heard you?
Holly: How would you describe our sound, Breena?
B: You can’t answer a question with a question!
Holly: (Laughs) I can too! The thing is, I hate this question because A, I hate thinking about that and B, I just do things to push myself musically, I don’t really go for a sound.
B: Right. And it’s hard when you’re in it, to see outside of it. Probably to you, you just sound like you.
Holly: Okay, here’s what we’re gonna put, ready? Put this: Holly and the Nice Lions is an explosive blend of rock and roll, soul, punk, and country, with… what’s another adjective?
B: With a minty aftertaste.
Holly: With a minty aftertaste! Good job Breena.
B: I think that’s perfect. I think soul is the key word. I think you’re a soul singer with an electric guitar.
Holly: A soul singer with an electric guitar, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!
B: So, you’ve played in a number of bands with many different sounds. What is it that’s led you to where you are now, musically, when you have such a wide range of influences?
Holly: I do have a wide range of influences. I don’t strictly listen to one sort of music, and I have been in a few bands. I don’t want to pigeon-hole myself. But right now, with Holly and the Nice Lions, I’m the sole songwriter, and at this point I’m less concerned with other people’s opinions – not that my band doesn’t have input, because obviously they do – but I just end up doing what I want. Because that’s the way it should be.
B: Yeah. So you’re more of the band leader now than just a member in a band?
Holly: Yeah, I guess. I’m a very poor band leader though. Like, I’m always like, “What should we do, guys?” And they’re like, “You’re the leader,” and I’m like, “But…I’m not sure.”
B: (Laughs) But you’re just leaving room for your other band members’ input, like you said earlier.
Holly: I’m not a totalitarian dictator of the band, but it is my own material, so there is less collaboration.
B: Yeah. Collaboration within a band, when the different members have very different goals in mind, I imagine that could have you butting heads all the time.
Holly: Yeah, I don’t really feel like I butted heads with anyone I was in a band with, but now I’m just doing what I want to do, and I’m lucky to have people that want to do that too, and are willing to work with me to make the song what we want it to be.
B: Yeah. So, you just put out a new record, Let’s Get Wild. That’s your second record with this band, right?
Holly: Yeah, but the last record was with different people [in the band.]
B: So do you see it as the first project officially?
Holly: No, no, because it’s the second record of stuff that I wrote. It’s just that I have different people playing with me. But they’re still all my songs. So I feel like it’s the same project, I just have a more solid band now.
B: Was production much different on this album than the first one?
Holly: Yeah, well my first record was recorded in a basement with Michael [Zink], and he mixed it over a weekend, and given those circumstances it turned out pretty awesome.
B: Yeah, it’s a great record.
Holly: But this time we recorded in a studio – la-di-da – and I took a lot more time with the mixing process, and took a lot more time in the recording process in general, redoing things that needed to be better. Last time it was just like, “Yeah that sounded fine.” So this was a lot more planned out, and a lot more time was invested into it, and I think it shows.
B: It does show. I think it’s a natural, expected progression though, that you would take things to the next level with each subsequent project. Because there’s still something about a basement recording that has a very precious, accessible quality to it. And that one didn’t even sound like a basement recording.
Holly: You wouldn’t listen to it and think it was made in a basement.
B: Right, exactly. It has a produced quality to it, but it’s a different kind of production.
Okay, so I wanted to talk about “Liz’s Lament” and what it was like writing a song for a book, when books don’t usually have a music accompaniment.
Holly: Yeah.
B: You had already read the script before writing this song. Some people were writing songs and didn’t actually know exactly what they were writing about.
Holly: I read the script and I had looked at the panels.
B: Yeah, so you had a little bit of an advantage, and you wrote a really specific song because of it.
Holly: Yeah, since I knew the situation I was writing about pretty well, I wanted to write the lyrics about it, but I wanted to dance that fine line where it’s like, if you listened to it and you didn’t know the story you wouldn’t be like, “What is this about?” It would still make sense to you. But when you know the story, you can say, “Oh, that’s about that.” Musically, I recorded this song myself in my basement. It was my first self-recording project.
B: Nice, and you played all the instruments right?
Holly: I played all the instruments, and I recorded it and mixed it myself. So it might not be what my band usually sounds like, but that’s not what I wanted for this. I wanted it to pertain to the feelings of the story. My band can be kind of loud, and I wanted this to have more of a subdued, earthy feel. And I played the drums, so they’re pretty simple, but sometimes less is more.
B: Yeah. I think less is totally more in this case, because you ARE the voice of Liz in that moment. I mean, if you had a backing band it wouldn’t detract from that, necessarily, but on a conceptual level, at least, it has extra power being, like, one woman singing from the perspective of one woman. Which is kind of interesting because there’s another song on the soundtrack that’s from the perspective of Liz’s husband, so you’re kind of getting both sides of the story.
Holly: I also used the acoustic guitar, and I did the drums. I didn’t do bass, and then I did want it to somewhat sound like me so of course I had to add a silly guitar solo in the middle of it. I wanted it to sound simple and yet layered. And I think I did an okay job of that, seeing as how it was my first time producing a recording by myself to be heard by others.
B: I love the split vocals at the end, too, where everything is stripped away, that part’s rad. Good job Holly!
(both laugh)
Holly: I thought, “I need to please Breena with this song.”
B: Okay so… this question might be too personal, so you can decline to answer, or answer creatively. But you know, you were writing a song about this woman who is in a relationship with a musician. They’re both musicians. And you and Nick [your boyfriend] are both musicians. And I was wondering if you had any extra insight into that relationship between musicians that you were able to bring to the song.
Holly: Well, fortunately Nick is a musician, and I’m a musician, but neither of us really spend long periods of time away from each other. So I never feel like he’s gone and I’m stuck at home and I don’t get to do what I want to do. But I do know a lot of musicians who are like that. And honestly, I was like, “I never want to date a musician because they’re all selfish jerks who think they’re great because they play an instrument.”
B: (Laughs) It’s a good thing you’re engaged, that you can say all this right now.
Holly: Yeah, so when I did this song I did say to him, “Just so you know, I was given the assignment to write about this situation, and this song is really just about the situation, please don’t read into it and think I’m unhappy with you.”
B: You told that to Nick?
Holly: (Laughs) Yeah, I said that to him.
B: What did he say?
Holly: He was like, “Oh, yeah, okay.” And then I told him the situation in the story, and he was like, “Yeah, that doesn’t really apply to us.” And I was like, “No.”
B: Well that’s good! I would hate for this assignment to have caused any trauma in your relationship!
So, in Picket Line there’s a little bit of scandal between certain characters, and in certain characters’ personal lives, (this is just a creative segue) but you, as a band, have had a little bit of scandal in recent months with your name.
Holly: Yes.
B: I think readers of Easel Ain’t Easy would be interested to hear your side of that story.
Holly: Should I explain the whole situation?
B: Yeah, I mean I briefly explained it at one point.
Holly: Yeah, you drew that comic about it.
B: Yeah, so maybe a quick summary is good.
Holly: Yeah, okay, so this is what happened. So I had a band with Breena [the Art Table] a long time ago, and when Breena moved away from me that didn’t work. So I started playing acoustic shows by myself, and eventually I wanted a backing band, so my boss suggested Holly and the Non-Italians as like a spoofy joke name, off the 1980s band Holly and the Italians who were a little bit of a cult sensation for a few years. So I was like, “Haha, yeah that’s funny.” So I took on that moniker for a bit and then I got a real band, and it was a little too late to change the name. Then we had an album come out with that name on it, and I wanted to change my name to something less silly, and I was debating for the next album what my name should be. I wanted to be Holly and the somethings, so people knew it was the same band. Then, while I’m debating these three names I get a bunch of legal type messages from facebook, Youtube, and my internet distribution site, saying that Holly Beth Vincent of Holly and the Italians is threatening legal action if I don’t take down my stuff and change my name and all this. At this time – this is just funny – I actually became friends with Holly Beth Vincent’s drummer, Steve Young. He, for some reason I still don’t understand, was in the Green Bay area and he ended up drumming on a track [“Dead Peasants”] on my new album and his thoughts on the name were “You’ve got a great band and a great album, you just deserve a better name than that silly one.” So I was like, “Well I’m debating a new name, I just haven’t made a decision yet because I’m a second guesser and I don’t think whatever decision I make is ever the right one.” So one morning at my preschool job, one of my 4 year-old friends told me that her mom showed her my videos on the internet, and she thought Non-Italians meant Nice Lions, and in the realm of band names all the good ones are taken, so I went with that. It sounds like Non-Italians kind of, and we are nice.
B: You are nice to let the other Holly have her way. But you ended up getting press out of the whole thing, and no press is bad press.
Holly: Well, I don’t think this whole situation makes me look bad. So it’s not even bad press, it’s just kind of funny press. And I mean, it was a kick in the pants to make a decision about my name change finally.
B: True. I think Holly and the Nice Lions is a great band name.
Holly: Thank you.
B: It makes me want to hug you. But you’re so far away.
(Awkward Skype hug)
So, since this is a comics website, it’s worth noting that you also draw comics.
Holly: Yes, I’ve been working on a comic project. Not as ambitious as yours.
B: Well, mine is just ridiculous, so… (both laugh)
Holly: Well, I feel like your drawing style, Breena, is both simple and expressive, and the hatching you do gives it depth, too. Mine’s just mostly simple.
B: Which is fine! Which is totally fine.
Holly: Which is fine. But mine’s not done yet. I have a good portion of it drawn, I’m just not technologically advanced right now to put it up on the computer.
B: Are you at liberty to describe what the comic is going to be about?
Holly: Yeah. It’s called The Truth about Molly. It’s about an 8 year-old girl who decides she wants to learn everything about the world. She wants to know everything. And that’s quite a large task to put on yourself, especially at 8 years old. It’s about the things she learns – not necessarily through books, and stuff, which she does, but more through life experiences.
B: And you’re thinking about putting it online?
Holly: Yeah, I’m going to put it online, and eventually when it’s all done I’m going to print it and have a tangible object you can hold in your hands.
B: Cool, well I look forward to seeing it. I’m sure the rest of the world does also.
Holly: I’m sure they’re all waiting with bated breath.
B: They are! You heard it here first, folks.
Holly: (laughs)
B: Any closing thoughts?
Holly: I’m just really happy because I’ve known Breena before all this Picket Line commotion, and I’ve been updated through this whole process with scripts and drawings, so I’m just really honored and happy to be involved. And it’s cool to say that my band’s involved with a graphic novel. So I’m really glad that you asked me to participate!
B: Yay!
Holly: (makes a cool face) You gotta put that in there.
B: Screen shot?
Holly: Yeah.
B: Okay, that’s probably really good. (laughs) I look really gross. You look awesome though.
Check out more from the Holly and the Nice Lions and listen to Let’s Get Wild! on their facebook page.

One Comment

  1. Posted August 24, 2011 at 1:47 am | Permalink