Rising out of the pandemic shadows like a phoenix from the ashes, 21-year-old British singer-songwriter Holly Humberstone is arguably one of the only good things that came out of the past year and a half. For the uninitiated, Humberstone’s heartbreakingly honest lyrics first debuted in January 2020 with her first single, “Deep End.” Then, in March 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, she released her first hit, “Falling Asleep At The Wheel,” which received over one million views (and counting) on YouTube. She describes her music as “dark, wonky, electric pop”—fans compare her sound to Lorde. And not unlike New Zealand’s prodigal music icon, Humberstone continues to make a name for herself as she rises up the music charts.
Growing up in Grantham, England, with her mother, father, and three sisters, Humberstone jokingly describes her household as a “creative mess.” Her parents always encouraged artistic expression, she says, be it painting, drawing, or music. (Humberstone instinctively chose the latter.) She credits her father for introducing her to the world of songwriting with his “massive” poetry collection, including T.S. Eliot’s La Figlia che Piange and Leonard Cohen’s The Spice-Box of Earth. Later, she would recite the poems as she played the piano, adding her own unique twist. “I’m always finding old notepads with hilariously cringey songs that I wrote about older boys in school,” she said.
Like many brooding adolescents, Humberstone listened to a lot of Radiohead in her youth. Damien Rice, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin were also on heavy rotation. “When I was seven, I discovered Damien Rice’s album O,” she said. “At that age, I did not understand what his lyrics meant. But I remember being really affected by them.”
Ahead of her upcoming EP due out this fall, which is set to feature her new singles “Haunted House” and “The Walls Are Way Too Thin,” ELLE.com caught up with Humberstone via Zoom during a visit to her childhood home. Wearing an oversized striped sweatshirt, with her long brown hair tucked neatly behind her ears, she smiled as she discussed her journey as a young artist.
Who are you currently listening to?
I’m listening to a lot of Adrianne Lenker, who’s part of a band called Big Thief. Her lyrics are intense and brutally honest. I feel like there’s a trend right now of young females being really honest in their songs—Olivia Rodrigo, Phoebe Bridgers, Gracie Abrams. After the year we had, with everyone stuck inside, I need to feel a connection with someone and feel like somebody else is going through the same shit.
What is your typical songwriting process? Do you start with lyrics or visuals?
I always have some visuals in my head when I’m writing. Sometimes, I’ll use Pinterest for inspiration, but I am out and about most of the time, and I write in the Notes app. I’ve got a million little lyrics on my phone. Whenever I see a word or phrase, I’ll jot it down or record a voice memo of embarrassing little hums. Other times, I’ll gravitate to a piano and just let lyrics flow out of me. The most important thing for me is to be relaxed. When I feel pressured and stressed about being creative, I can’t get anywhere.
Is there a backstory behind “Haunted House”?
I wrote “Haunted House” about my childhood home after finding out that it was falling apart. There are issues with the house’s foundation, and my family was told to move. It is a very old house with a castle nearby, so our home is where the servants lived. I think it is haunted, for sure. We have a creepy cellar with a dungeon and everything. I believe there were guardian angels and ghosts that protected my sisters and me when we were younger.
How did “The Walls Are Way Too Thin” come together?
I wrote that one when I moved to London. I lived in a flat with people I did not know, and the walls were really thin, so there was no privacy. I became introverted and stayed in my room. Eventually, I took train rides to Manchester and Grantham to see my friends, and we would get smashed. Then, on my hungover train rides back, I’d write. When we filmed the music video, I wanted it to feel stressful and claustrophobic to watch, because that’s how I felt in my tiny little room.
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What did you miss the most during the pandemic?
I missed touring a lot—performing songs that I’ve written and seeing an actual reaction while playing live is such a huge part of the job. Over the last year, all of my interactions with people have been online. I’ve never actually played a show where anyone knew who I was. I haven’t been able to meet my fans. So, connecting with my fans outside social media will be special for me. Seeing a room full of fans who are there to support my music will be so insane.
You have a tour coming up. What city are you most excited to perform in?
Grantham, my hometown. It’s going to be a good vibe. I can’t wait to go out after the concert with my crew and my people!
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