Holly Miranda: “Music is my soul”
The singer-songwriter on tour life, the state of the industry and why she wishes she’d listened to Joni Mitchell
Holly Miranda has one of those voices so good it gives you tingles. After an impressive 20 years in the music biz, she's now on her fourth solo album (the gorgeous Mutual Horse, check it out) and she's embarking on a European tour. We caught up with this super talented artist to find out more.
DIVA: You have such a unique sound. Which queer female musicians have had the biggest influence on you?
HOLLY MIRANDA: A year after I started playing guitar, somebody gave me Ani DiFranco’s Dilate. I had to sneak it into my parents’ house. I remember listening to it on headphones and reading along the lyrics about having an affair with a woman who’s married. I had no idea that you could write a song that honest.
Was music an escape for you then? Did it help you come to terms with your own sexuality?
Music was how I coped and how I survived. It’s only by chance that other people have connected with it. It was definitely what I knew I wanted to do. I felt like I was wasting my time in high school so I dropped out. I told my parents I was leaving for New York for two weeks and then called and said I wasn’t coming back. I left home at 16 and I came out at 17. But I’m 35 now. I’m at a point in my life where I’m able to embrace the positive aspects of that upbringing, instead of being upset with it.
Did you ever regret leaving?
Well, my mom just recently passed away, January 24. She was sick for the last seven years. She had degenerative brain disease and my father was her full-time caretaker so it’s been intense. The role reversal of that whole thing. You’re doing things they did for you when you were a child. I mean, regret? Not so much. It’s not so black and white.
I’m so sorry about your mum. I can’t quite believe you’re able to hold it together so well to do interviews and go on tour.
It feels better to be active. I knew she was gonna pass. I didn’t know she was gonna pass a month before this record that I’d already dedicated to her and written so much about her for. You don’t know until you lose a parent what that feels like. It’s such a baseless feeling. I’m definitely taking a big break this summer.
You deserve one. Let’s talk about your brilliant new album, Mutual Horse.
The thing is, once they put it out there, my job is done and how you respond and absorb and digest it - that’s your process. Music is medicine and I don’t want to cloud it up with what it is for me or my ego. I would say, just check it out.
You’ve just kicked off your European tour. How rock and roll does tour life get?
It is rock and roll in that there’s gonna be some nights where we have to drive through the night to get to the place to do the thing. But it’s also really important to me that everybody’s safe and my band’s taken care of. I have to kind of mama-bear that a little bit. I feel very responsible.
How much do you think the music industry has changed for queer women since you started out?
It’s kind of starting to change now. What’s really changed is this whole industry. Record labels don’t know what to do anymore and a lot of people are still scrambling from the digital download era. With the rise of social media and Instagram stars, there’s this whole generation of kids that just want to be famous for no real reason. They’ve sort of lowered the bar for everyone else. So then you have the working class musicians who can no longer survive on their craft. I’ve watched a lot of friends give up and get a real job. I’ve tried, honestly, and I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t do music. It’s my soul. It’s my heart. I always wind up coming back to it.
Can you pick out some of the most memorable, pinch-me moments of your fantastic career so far?
Getting to perform at the Sydney Opera House with Lou Read and Laurie Anderson. And getting to become friends with Ani DiFranco and having her sing on the choir of The Midnight Oil song and also give me mix notes. That was awesome and crazy - the person who inspired me to write my first song, but also has had this successful record label and is a producer... that was really a blessing. The Midnight Oil song is written by this woman, Cris Williamson. I’d never heard of her before I found it. I was like, "I have to find Cris Williamson." So I write her and she responds the next day. The opening line of the email is, “What a groove it is to be discovered.” From that moment, I was like “I love you. You are my memaw." Hearing her story of what she had to go through in the 60s, 70s and 80s, being a queer woman in music, made me feel so fortunate. The gratitude that I have for her and the work that she did, but also how upset I felt that I’d never heard her name before this moment. Now she’s asked if I want to sing Midnight Oil with her onstage in this crazy full circle. It felt really special for both of us.
Finally, what advice would you give your 16-year-old self, coming to NYC to start your musical journey?
Trust your gut. If you have a weird feeling about somebody, don’t go into business with them. Don’t feel pressured into a situation because somebody tells you they know better. That’s not to say that you can’t take constructive criticism and learn from people. I went to see Joni Mitchell play when I was 17. I was about to do my first record deal. It was that tour she was doing with the orchestra with all the jazz covers. People thought she was going to be playing acoustic guitar, playing her songs, so people were leaving. I just kept going closer and closer until I was in like the seventh row. At the end, she said, ‘Are there any songwriters here?’ I’m like, “Me, Joni!” She looks at me and goes, “Never give away your publishing rights!” A couple of years later, I really needed the money and I did. It wasn’t a horrible thing, but I think about it. Oh, how I just wish I had listened to Joni!
Holly Miranda is currently on tour through Europe & the UK, including London (April 18), Brighton (April 20) and Manchester (April 22) - tickets available here: hollymiranda.com/shows
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