Holly Humberstone

Top by Rose Murdoch. Vintage sleeves by Maison Margiela from Twos. Vintage bag, stylist's own.

Holly Humberstone Wants to Connect

Many of us may want to look back at the past year with collective amnesia. 2020? 2021? Better to dwell on 2018, 2019—maybe 2022 for the true optimist—or, better yet, why not 2012 or 2007, way before Trump, when a pandemic was an abstract idea bordering on science fiction? For one young singer-songwriter in rural England, though, the year gone by will not just be a time of wistful reflection and regret—it changed her life in ways she wouldn't want to forget. The 21-year-old musician Holly Humberstone self-released her first single, "Deep End," the week Italy confirmed its first Covid-19 cases, when no one had any idea what was to come. Intimate and slow-burning, the song is a vulnerable rumination on how to care deeply for someone while clinging to a ledge. It was the beginning of what became Falling Asleep at the Wheel, an EP with beautifully distilled lyrics that wander through fading relationships, shifting intimacies, and other moments that completely envelop an emotional state. Humberstone's hazy, floating voice is deeply calming and cathartic. This is the kind of music that holds you when few other things can, exactly what you want when the world is crumbling around you.

Humberstone grew up near Grantham—"I think it was voted the crappiest town in the UK a few years ago," she laughs—reading poetry and listening to her doctor-parents' Radiohead, Leonard Cohen, and Damien Rice collections. "It's something I've always loved to do and my parents and my family were really encouraging. It's never stopped and it's kind of become my job, which is sick," says Humberstone about her music. "It really is the dream, it really is. It does the same job for me now that it did when I was really young."

Writing in her childhood home, the artist delves into pop melodies and rooted, introspective visions. Think poetic, expansive confessions in the tone of Lorde or Phoebe Bridgers that weave in between indie pop, dance, and rock. Her move into professional songwriting and performance was organic and entirely modern. At sixteen, she uploaded demos she made on GarageBand to BBC Music's Introducing site, a talent-discovery platform for unsigned artists. One track was played on the radio within a week, and a manager followed soon after. Recently, her biggest hit, "Falling Asleep at the Wheel," logged twenty-five million streams on Spotify.

Tops by Clan. Vintage skirt by Maison Margiela from Twos. Bag by Max Carlyle.

Tops by Clan. Vintage skirt by Maison Margiela from Twos. Bag by Max Carlyle.

Her writing process is similarly natural and unfettered. "I have like a million notes with really weird little phrases and little words that I think are cool," muses Humberstone about using her phone to archive any inspiration that sparks. "Sometimes they come through stuff that I was going through." "Haunted House," for example, is about saying goodbye to the big, crumbling home in which she grew up and the innocence that came with it. The song is sparse and pared-down, dreamlike and worshipful at once, held together by the same depth of intimacy that defines everything she has released so far. A second EP, The Walls Are Way Too Thin, is expected in November. "One thing that I try to keep in mind when I'm writing is to make sure every lyric is going to be meaningful to someone," she reflects. "I make sure every lyric is tweetable or tattooable—and really memorable."

Humberstone's entire career has essentially taken place during the pandemic, meaning no live in-person shows or other opportunities to connect with an audience in any traditional manner. In many ways, her music, with its depth and sense of closeness, is just what we needed during lockdown. Still, she's tried to stay close to her community with creative initiatives. She started a used clothing exchange with her fans called the Fifth Sister Swap Shop, celebrating the sustainable, circular economy by sending and receiving old favorites, an act that might feel overly intimate if she was someone else entirely. "I got a Star Wars hoodie from this guy in America. I'm such a nerd," she laughs. "I'm going to send a package off tomorrow to a girl in LA and she’s going to send me something really cute, it's black and has a little collar on it. The more I do it, the more people are sending. It's really fun, it's such a nice way to interact with everyone when I can't really."

Still, she’s preparing for a big year as the pandemic begins to ease. Already, Humberstone was chosen by Apple Music as an Up Next Artist in 2020 (following Billie Eilish), was named runner-up for BBC's Sound of 2021 (Rosalía, Eilish, and Dua Lipa are past nominees), and in March signed to Universal. She also recently added additional dates to her first American tour later this fall after selling out shows. It's almost surreal to consider how much has changed in a time with so few person-to-person experiences. "II feel like my whole career has been over social media, which is so bizarre," says the artist. "I'm really looking forward to just hugging people and putting faces to the names of the people who have been supporting me." For now, she's working on her new EP—more "eighties synth-pop" and inspired by Prince, she says. From the sound of it, it may once again be the perfect soundtrack to the coming moment.

The Walls Are Way Too Thin is out November 5. Humberstone begins her American tour on October 6 at the Roxy Theatre, Los Angeles.

Holly Humberstone

T-shirt by Twos x Charles Verni. Skirt by Joaquin by Chloée Maguile. Pants by Norlha. Vintage sleeves by Maison Margiela from Twos. Vintage shoes by Jil Sander x Puma from Twos.

Holly Humberstone

All clothing by Clan. Bag by Max Carlyle.

Hair by Mike O'Gorman at Saint Luke Artists. Makeup by Chantal Amari. Photographer's assistant: Orlando Moretti.

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