SCENE ONE: A GIRL with a knowing grin strolls through a ghetto alley at sunrise. Each run-down object she encounters comes to life under her dreamy gaze. Dying plants regain their color and rise, slumping trashcans spring into shape, and birds sing children's songs. A bus rolls up with a driver dressed in the riches of Egypt—his sole duty is to escort her home in perfect post-coital glow.
Along with strange old snapshots like these, you'll hear some shifts toward the experimental in Jolie Holland's third full-length, Springtime Can Kill You. In the surreal intro to "Ghostly Girl," her voice is a child singing herself to sleep with eerie riddles: "Too light to stand on the ground/nothing you do is done." It might sound like a departure from her past recordings, but this is actually quite familiar territory for Holland.
"In my mind, it's kind of an old thing, sort of how I always wanted to write, but I never really let myself," she explains. "Personally I don't have any sort of end goal except just to write what I think of as good songs, like I've got a new one that I'm trying to make sound Japanese and Latin at the same time."
In "Stubborn Beast," Jolie offers a momentary glimpse of her take on current affairs. She sings, "This is still my home and it has never burned before," describing a stubborn animal who won't leave its burning barn. "Really, I was writing that verse for the conservatives, but I was writing it out of sympathy for them, trying to say like, 'Look, man, I know it's hard, but we've got to do something.'" I told her I wanted to play it for my mom, still hoping to convert the loyal Fox News watcher, and she explained that she'd helped with a similar conversion of her own mom over the years. "I watched my mom go from being a Christian Democrat to someone who's totally radicalized. Part of it was definitely me inspiring her by getting out there. She went from [having a] complete fear of speaking in public to becoming the president of a huge political organization."
When asked about the drawl that appears when she starts singing, Holland explains, "I actually speak in a Southern accent a lot. It depends on what I'm drinking or who I'm talking to. There're some weird psychological elements to it, like that's the language I learned to be polite in. I sort of think of it as my first language, and when I sing it's so emotional that I go back to it."
With influences ranging from Egyptian diva Oum Kalsoum to her friends Stefan Jecusco and CR Avery to blind bluesman Willie McTell, Jolie's poetic tales and melting-pot folklore paint her own version of America. When she takes the stage at the Aladdin Theater on June 15, expect to follow her down the rabbit hole into a fantastic world of moonshine, ghost ships, and old-time barn dances.
As for that opening scene, Jolie assured me that the story of her morning stroll in "Crush in the Ghetto" was completely autobiographical. "I wrote the melody at the bus stop and on the bus. I actually wrote notation while I was sitting there wearing a Parisian coat, still dressed up from the night before."