Holly Humberstone is a rising artist who is taking the music scene by a storm. Her songs have garnered over 150 million streams worldwide and show no sign of stopping. She released her sophomore EP, The Walls Are Way Too Thin, today, amid her headline UK and Ireland tour. Check out our interview with her to hear all about the dangerous situations she’s put herself in for her music videos, what it’s like to work with Matty Healy, where her signature braids came from, her first time in the US, and much more.
Your single “Scarlett” was written about your friend. Why did you decide to write about her and how did she react?
I think she loved it and was excited! The song is basically about a breakup she was going through and it was just really frustrating for me to watch her get her heart broken by this really average guy that wasn’t even up to her standard anyway. She was basically really attached to him and had planned out their lives together, baby names and everything and he just broke her heart. It pissed me off and I wrote the song a few months down the line when she was starting to see herself the way I’ve always seen her. She started to realize her self worth and was really excited about the song. Maybe I’ve been a bit too harsh on the guy; I feel a bit bad about that! But also, whatever, he shouldn’t have been breaking my friend’s heart.
The music video for “Scarlett” radiates empowerment and freedom, but were you afraid you were going to fall off the truck you were performing on?
Oh gosh, yeah, whilst I’m on my video shoots I’m always like, “I can’t believe I’ve done this to myself again.” I always put myself in a dangerous position in my videos, like for the “Walls” video, I had fire shot at me and there’s been videos where I’ve been freezing cold. The “Deep End” video was filmed in the middle of winter and I was being hosed down by freezing cold water. I don’t really think about it until I’m actually on the set and actually have to do it. The “Scarlett” video was so fun though and it was really nice to have her on set. She was actually driving the truck.
Your track “The Walls Are Way Too Thin” came out in May, and your sophomore EP of the same name is out now. You’ve said that those songs were mostly written on trains when you were feeling a little lost after moving to London. What do you think the EP will say about you as an artist?
I’m not sure what it will say about me. I think maybe that I don’t know what I’m doing either and that I have no idea how to be an adult. I think you can see that in a lot of the songs. I wrote about a period of time where I had moved out of my parents home and moved to London on my own and I was in this really awkward house share. I didn’t know anyone, didn’t know the area and I didn’t have any friends in London. I spent a lot of time shut in my room isolating myself and I also tried to get out of London as much as I could. I would go on the train every weekend to see my friends and my sisters and I’d always find myself on the train back to London really hungover and depressed to be going back. I wrote loads of ideas for songs on those trains because I feel like when you’re hungover you have to face your thoughts because you’re quite raw and can’t compartmentalize stuff at the back of your mind. So I wrote quite a lot of ideas on the train and would bring them into studio and it would be my only real comfort space in London. It was a familiar place and I could write how I was really feeling.
What has been your favorite music video you’ve made?
Probably the “Scarlett” video, to be fair, it was just a cool day and it was nice having her there. I always enjoy filming the videos though. I work with the same team each time so they’re a really nice bunch of people who I know well. I loved the “Walls Are Way Too Thin” video, but I was so bruised after the filming from all the crawling around.
Who were your musical influences growing up? Do you think they feed into your own music now?
Yeah, I definitely think they have and do subconsciously still inspire me a lot. My parents had an amazing music taste and a massive stack of CDs in their bedroom that I went through. I’d pick which ones I liked the covers of and take them into my room and listen to them. I love so many different genres of music, but I think probably my main few were Damian Rice, he was the first musician I really connected with. Now I love Phoebe Bridgers and I love ’80s music as well, people like Prince, Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen, and stuff like that. I take inspiration from so many places. Bon Iver sonically is just so good.
Your songs have a way of painting a picture while also being simple and relatable to young audiences who experience heartbreak, go to parties, and navigate life. What is your writing process like when writing songs? Do the lyrics come first?
I think each song comes out in a different way, like I don’t just sit down and say I’m going to write a song in a certain process. I find that I’m not inspired all the time as well, I mostly feel creative and want to write when I’m really busy and seeing loads of people and friends and have a really packed life. So when my life is chaotic, I’m inspired, but sometimes I don’t write anything for months, especially when I don’t have much going on. At the start of the pandemic I literally didn’t have anything to write about and didn’t feel creative at all. I feel like you have to trust the process and understand that you can’t rush or force creativity. A lot of the time I’ll just be walking around and will have little ideas and see things that inspire me or words and write them down in my notes on my phone, or make little voice memos. Sometimes I’ll sit at home and write or take an idea I have into the studio and work on it there alongside the production.
“Please Don’t Leave Just Yet” was co-written and co-produced by Matty Healy — what was it like working with him and how did that collaboration come about?
It was so cool, obviously The 1975 are such an influential band for so many artists. He was just as cool in person, extremely talented and it was really nice to be a part of his creative process and see how he works. I feel like I’ve taken quite a lot away with me from how he works. It was inspiring and encouraging for me to be like, “oh my gosh, I get to work with one of my musical heroes” and one of my biggest influences. It came about during the kind of gap in the pandemic during the summer where we were allowed to do things again. He wasn’t busy touring because of the pandemic so I asked him if we could write. I think he’s just a big fan of new music and wants to support new music and he was just down. I was pinching myself the whole time for sure. He’s so good and maybe there’ll be more stuff coming out soon that we made together, who knows…
Any dream collaborations for the future?
There’s loads of people I’d love to work with and am inspired by, maybe like Bon Iver. I’d love to work with Justin Vernon just to see how he works and to see what we’d come up with together.
You’re set to support girl in red on their American tour next year, very exciting! What has been your favorite live performance to date?
Probably at the start of this summer because I was able to put on my first ever headline shows in London. It’s been weird because I feel like I’ve had music out for a long time and I’ve only just been able to put on my own shows. It’s a very strange concept for me to be able to sell out a show and have actual physical people who aren’t just on my phone screen buy a ticket to a show and turn up and know the words. It was just very strange because I had never experienced that before.
That’s a bit like what Olivia Rodrigo has been saying because she had released music and gotten worldwide attention and success long before performing live.
Yeah! I feel like my songs are so personal to me and it’s so nice to see people who have had shared experiences with me enjoying the songs and stuff.
You visited the US for the first time ever recently and even got to perform on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon! What was that like?
America was so good. I had never been to the States before, and I never expected to be able to go over there with music and play shows and sell tickets out there. Everyone treated me so nicely. I can’t wait to go back for the girl in red tour. The crowds are really enthusiastic and happy to be at gigs again.
I’ve got to ask — how long have you been braiding your hair at the front? It’s like your signature look now!
Well it’s not really that much of an interesting story really! I honestly did them one time for the “Deep End” video because I thought they looked cool because my sister was doing it. Then everyone was like, “oh cool, now you’re gonna do the plaits then,” so I thought I’d never stop doing it. Recently I got really tired of doing them at the front and wanted to change my look up because I was tired of everyone telling me to do the plaits. So I cut the front of my hair off! I cut them off in like an act of defiance, but I can still do the plaits.
It could be a good merch idea for the future — clip-in plaits?
Clip-in plaits! Maybe. That’s such a unique idea. You know when you see kids with little clips with blue hair on them and stuff, that’s actually a sick idea that is. I could get colorful ones or like glitter ones or something.
I’d buy them anyways!
OK great, at least I know one person who’ll support it.
Your songs have gathered over 150 million streams worldwide — what’s next?
I hope there’ll be more touring, get my music to as many people as possible and more writing. After the UK tour, I have a lot of writing time, I haven’t had much time to write recently so I want to get back to that and clear my head and work through everything. That’s my favorite part of it all. I just hope I can be doing the same thing in five years time, fingers crossed.
Before you go, where is your happy place?
My happy place, this is a really piece of shit answer. It should be traveling the world or something but I just love cartoons. At the end of the day I get into bed and put my heated blanket on and watch cartoons, there’s literally nothing better. It’s one of life’s finest things. I have so many favorites but I think my No. 1 is probably Adventure Time.