With a huge internet following, a mention in Rolling Stone’s 2007 Hot Issue, and a gorgeous self-released album under her belt, Kiersten Holine’s musical resume is pretty impressive for someone so young. So it’s no surprise that the Minnesota native’s newest album, Candescent, is simply dazzling: it’s a quiet folk gem that can only be described as soul-warming, the kind of music that makes you want to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea on a rainy day. I spoke to Kiersten over the phone about recording Candescent in her apartment, her YouTube success, the importance of inspiring locations, and what she’s got planned next.
How long it did it take you to write and record Candescent and what was that experience like?
I was writing that album for a couple years, actually. It was a really long process, a lot longer than I’m used to. My EP before that was so different in terms of writing, and I think it’s because Ignoble was about a specific event in my life and this new album is more about a life phase. And I would just have weeks, and sometimes months, where I had absolutely no inspiration and I had no idea what I wanted to write, which was frightening, and I just wasn’t sure if it was going to get done because of how long any period was where I wasn’t writing, but all of sudden, I would be walking down the sidewalk, or just in a coffee shop in line, and it would come to me. I would record it as quick as I could, go home and the song would come out of it, usually that night. So it was an interesting writing process that I hadn’t ever really done before. I used to just kind of craft songs really slowly, so this is totally new. So yeah, I think it took about two years total to write and record. And I did all the recording myself just in my apartment, so it was very DIY. It was really long and tedious, but worth it.
I’m really intrigued by the title of your album. I actually had to go to a dictionary to look up the definition of Candescent because I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant, and the definition I found was “white hot” or “glowing with heat.” Why did you choose that for you album title?
I was hoping people would be turned on to this new word! I think this album is a lot about healing and growing and forming new ideals and just becoming myself, and since Ignoble, it’s just been sort of a process of moving on from that experience, and it made me feel like I was starting to have more light in my life and I was starting to just grow and find more light for myself. I wanted that to show and to be glowing, and I thought the title really reflected that.
You’re from Minnesota, and you’ve lived in Seattle for a time during college, and now you’re in Chicago. I read an article where you said you thought you would move back to the Twin Cities after college, so I’m interested why you chose to go to Chicago instead of back to Minnesota.
I think I just didn’t want to get trapped in the post-grad-living-at-or-near-home stage. It really made me nervous, and I was just afraid that I was not going to be productive at all and it was going to be hard to write an album there, like, with my parents home. I had friends who were moving to Chicago, and we all decided just to do it. I’m actually moving back to Seattle now because I miss it so much! But this was a really good post-grad, be-independent phase for a year for me, so it was worth it, for sure.
Can you talk about the Chicago music scene? I don’t know much about it, so I’m interested to hear what makes it distinct compared to a city like Seattle or the Twin Cities, and if you’ve been able to do live performances, what that experience is like in Chicago.
It is definitely different from Seattle, and truthfully, I don’t like it as much. Chicago is so big and so many people are trying to do different things that the music community doesn’t feel as closely knit as the Seattle music community. Which is a huge reason I’m moving back to Seattle, actually, because I really miss that community. It just feels very “each for himself” in Chicago, like you just gotta try to do what you’re doing and get out there by yourself. I have done open mics and smaller shows and stuff, and I was lucky enough to sing with William Fitzsimmons at Lincoln Hall, which was amazing, and me and my friend opened up for Rocky Votolato, which was amazing too. So I’ve had a couple big things, but it’s mostly been smaller stuff, but it just didn’t feel as warm or encouraging as the Seattle music scene. I know people really do like it but I think it just wasn’t exactly right for me because I love collaboration so much.
Having been a musician in three very different and distinct cities, do you feel like location has any influence or effect on your music or your creative process?
Totally. I’m really big on my environment, and if I’m not in a place where I’m feeling inspired and love my surroundings, it’s really hard for me to write. If I can’t find a good spot, I just can’t do it. I loved the environment in Seattle, and I would just go out to a park or sit in a coffee shop and write. I find it harder to write in Chicago, in this big city where it’s just concrete. And in Minneapolis, I just lived in the suburbs, so that wasn’t super inspiring either. I think it’s important to find an inspiring, good space where you have creative people around you who are able to inspire you. I definitely found that in Seattle.
What is your first musical memory? What’s the first moment relating to music you can remember having an emotional or physical response to the music you were hearing?
That’s a good question. Its hard to think back because I’ve been listening to and exploring music for so long, but when I started to get into Bob Dylan’s music in ninth grade, it was a pretty huge turning point. I felt like I’d found something I’d been looking for, and just reading his lyrics and being inspired to write my own stuff was really important for me. He’s still probably my biggest influence, lyrically and even melodically, and I think when I started liking his music it was a gateway into other music that really inspired me. I saw him live in ninth grade too, which was awesome and I was just blown away. It kind of made me want to start being a musician.
That’s a great segue way to my next question. I didn’t realize you started out on YouTube doing covers of songs and that’s how you started getting attention from people for your music. After playing so many covers of songs that other people have written, what was the transition into writing your own music like and how did you go about finding your own voice as a musician and a writer?
It was honestly a little bit terrifying because I’d been playing other people’s music for so long and it was music that I loved and felt like I could never measure up to. It was like, how am I going to even scratch the surface of making something people are going to enjoy as much as these covers? It was really slow. So I just started writing and writing and writing, and I mostly hated all of it, but I knew I just wanted to keep trying. And so I started putting it out there and I was terrified, but I just wanted to try it, and the more support I got, the easier it became to feel comfortable writing and releasing it, and now I feel really good about releasing stuff because I feel like I’ve kind of come into my own and have my own style and sound that I’m comfortable with. But it did take a long time to get there and I just really didn’t want to copy anyone, so I tried not to listen to people when I wrote at all, because I was so nervous about being called out on it from doing covers for so long. It was a process for sure.
Where do you draw inspiration from when you’re writing music?
Mostly from day-to-day life and experiences. I definitely get inspiration from songs, if I hear, like, a little melody I like, or even just one word that I like can start a little song for me. But just situations and experiences that have hit me a lot harder than other experiences have been huge inspiration for writing in general. If I go through something, and it’s just like “Wow, that was really intense,” I just have to write about it. I need to talk about it.
How do you think the trajectory of your music career would have been different if there was no such thing as YouTube? Do you think you would have still pursued music if you hadn’t had YouTube as an outlet when you were just starting out?
I’ve actually never been asked that before. It’s hard to say, because YouTube was a huge source of validation, and even confirmation, for me to be more comfortable in my music and my voice. I didn’t perform at all in high school, and I never thought about being serious about being a musician until I put my stuff on YouTube. So I don’t think I would be as serious about it now if I hadn’t gotten such amazing feedback. Part of me also wishes I didn’t have YouTube, because it was such an awesome response and I feel like most people just don’t have luck like that. I started YouTube when it was just starting out, so I feel like people just gravitated toward my channel and it just grew and grew and grew. And part of me wishes I had done it like other people, like Bob Dylan: playing shows wherever I could and whenever I could, and just work my way up, instead of this quick fan base on YouTube that has helped a lot. So I’m kind of back and forth about that.
I felt like there were some pretty big differences between Ignoble and Candescent, in subject matter and even the way your voice sounds and the song structures. What do you think is the biggest difference between those two albums in terms of your own artistic progression?
There’s been a ton of growth since then. That was 2009, so, it sounds stupid, but I still felt young, and I look back on that and am like “Oh man, I was so young!” I can’t listen to Ignoble anymore. It’s hard for me to listen to because it seems so immature to me. But I feel really good about the growth that has happened. I think I learned a lot in that time of my life from Ignoble to Candescent and I kind of became a lot more of an individual, which I think showed in my writing. I feel more experienced in my music because I’ve been practicing and working and writing so much, so I wanted it to show that I’ve been working hard and trying to grow as a musician. It’s been an adjustment.
What can we expect from Kiersten Holine in the remainder of 2012?
Well, I’m hoping to go on tour, that’s the hope right now. Possibly West Coast, so that could happen potentially fall or early winter. So, touring. And I’ll always be doing YouTube stuff. I really enjoy covers, just trying stuff out for fans, and I love the interaction there. I’ll still be writing, but it might be a couple more years before I come out with another album. And I definitely do want to play a lot more shows. So that’s the plan so far.
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[Note: this interview was conducted in July as part of my summer internship. It never got posted then, but Kiersten has graciously allowed me to share it here. She’s great.]