Holly Macve’s Songwriting Survival Kit
A handmade guitar crafted by the family luthier is just one of the exciting items in this singer-songwriter’s creative kitbag
We’re always impressed by an artist who refuses to rest on their laurels and continues to push their songs in interesting new directions. That’s definitely the case with Galway-born, Hove-based songwriter Holly Macve who recently returned with her second album. The follow up to Golden Eagle, her sparse and rootsy debut, Not The Girl is a giant stride forward, oozing with delicious riches and a much bolder palette.
Partly inspired by her guest performances alongside Mercury Rev and Royal Northern Sinfonia, you can definitely hear some of the Buffalo band’s mastery of atmosphere and dynamics in new songs like Eye Of The Storm, Not The Girl and Sweet Marie – albeit filtered through her own folk-noir sound. Transfixed by her music, we asked Macve to share with us some of her songwriting essentials…
MY HANDMADE GUITAR
I’m lucky to have a luthier in my family and, for my 16th birthday, my stepdad handmade me this beautiful acoustic guitar. I have written most of my songs on it since then and it’s travelled with me everywhere. We have a special bond and know each other very well now. It always feels wrong when I try writing on someone else’s guitar… It sounds particularly great in open tunings and this is how I like to write and play the most.
70S UPRIGHT ROGERS PIANO
I like to switch from guitar to piano when writing. I tend to go to chords on the piano that I would never go to on the guitar and vice versa. It’s a good way for me to keep pushing myself musically and make sure I’m making the song as good as it can be. The piano was the first instrument I learned and I often love to sit and improvise on it; this can lead to ideas also. I bought this piano from Brighton Piano Warehouse four years ago and paid it off gradually, which was one of the best decisions I made. I remember spending a whole day in there trying all the pianos and when I played Roger I knew he was the one for me.
Sometimes I write using the notes app on my phone, but I prefer writing in a physical notebook. I don’t like to be distracted by texts and notifications whilst writing as it can take your mind away from the world you’re trying to create.
After I have some ideas I like to set up a logic session. I put my headphones on, add some reverb/ compression when singing and start recording a rough demo. I feel like this helps me get lost in the music and decide where I want to take the song sonically. Of course, it’s also helpful to have a recording to come back to in case you forget anything… Although, I do have a theory that: if you forget the melody/chords then maybe they just weren’t good enough and they need some work.
A SPARK OF INSPIRATION
If I try to sit down and write without a spark of inspiration, it will never work. It just brings a lot of frustration. I have to feel moved by something and have a starting point lyrically. Often a book I’m reading or the music I’ve been listening to will inspire me (sometimes subconsciously). Once I start, I don’t stop until I am finished. I rarely write half a song and put it down for another day – I have to let the creativity take over and see where it leads me. I don’t take many breaks when I am writing as I don’t want to lose the excitement I’m feeling.
Once I have finished a demo or draft of a song, I like to make a bounce of it and take a walk to the seafront in Hove where I live. I find it really helps to listen to the song in a different context. You can really start planning where you want to take the music and what instruments and sounds you think should be added. Sometimes I hear things that could be improved lyrically at this point too and this is where the notes section on my phone comes in handy!
Not The Girl is out now on Modern Sky, you can find out more at hollymacve.com