New note

Mistreated by the music biz, Hollie Smith says she almost gave it away. But she’s back—and funky.

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Photo © Fraser Harding 2010

“Now the real work starts,” we wrote in our August 2007 cover story on chanteuse Hollie Smith, who had just signed with Blue Note subsidiary Manhattan Records after winning rave reviews from Blue Note chief executive Bruce Lundvall. Hollie was headed for the top.

Alas, it wasn’t to be; that same month Blue Note’s troubled parent, EMI, was bought by a private equity firm that announced plans to shed up to a third of staff. Soon artists were leaving the label en masse, and projects were canned all over the company. Before her Blue Note career had even begun, Smith was out in the cold.

So how to deal with rejection? Smith had her dark moments but she’s back—with another long player, of course. Humour and The Misfortune Of Others is out in March and it’s … upbeat. Funky, even. We asked Smith her secret.

You got caught up in events at EMI. How are you feeling now? Still friends with the music industry?

Ha, I don’t think I’ve ever been friends with the industry. It’s been a very challenging couple of years personally and professionally but I feel like I've come through it well. It’s difficult to have such a personal medium, like music, being run within such a corporate environment but I guess that’s just part of what you have to deal with.

We caught up with you late last year in Singapore, where you were performing some songs off the new album. How did they go down with an audience that didn't already know you well? Does live performance change the way you think about the tracks?

To be fair, playing the new songs in Singapore was more for fun—we hadn’t rehearsed them since recording. As you say, the audience didn’t know me so it’s hard to gauge a response as they weren’t familiar with the songs. I think we played them well however and I felt it definitely had a different energy than a lot of material off Long Player. Once we establish a proper live show for this album I feel we’ll be delivering a pretty special show.

Who or what is inspiring you in 2010?

All sorts really, but I think it’s me who is inspiring me at the moment. It’s been a crazy rollercoaster few years and I’m happy with the way I've come through it. I’m currently managing myself and have met every deadline regarding artwork, contracts, videos and facilitating the release. I’ve created a body of work I am very proud of and this is not long after I almost didn’t continue in this industry. I know I can get there now so I’m pushing my boundaries.