October 13th, 2008 | Interviews

alice rutherford

Download: Jolie Holland “Mexico City”


(from The Living And The Dead out now on Anti)

Jolie Holland wears a belt with her old nickname on it but leaves her guitar strap blank. She hasn’t had a room of her own since 2005, but her new album The Living And The Dead is out now on Anti. This interview by Chris Ziegler.

What are you looking at right now?
This hat with a raven’s feather in it. My best friend watched it fall out of the nest.
What is the symbolic significance of a raven’s feather fresh from the nest?
Well, they say ravens travel between worlds.
So what does that do if it’s on your head?
I don’t know. I just think about how time is an illusion—in a sense, we’re all everybody all the time. But we normally don’t really have a consciousness of that. Maybe the mythology associated with the feather is a reminder that that’s true? I don’t know.
This is like 13th Floor Elevators liner notes. Have you read that book?
No, but I did just read a really good book about Townes Van Zandt written by John Kruth. To Live’s To Fly. One of my favorite parts in it is they talked about how they mixed a posthumous record, and there was poltergeist activity in the studio. And that meant a lot to me because when I made The Living And The Dead there was some poltergeist activity. It was really freaky. It happened twice—once I didn’t see it. And then it happened with me. It was all about the second song—about a friend of mine that killed himself. So the lights were going off and on above the performers, but not all of the lights. Just the white lights. And there would be red light in the room. I was upstairs and they came up and told me. It was so weird and freaky that I didn’t know what to think. Have you ever been around ghosts?
Not yet.
I think one of the weird things is that it’s actually not scary. It’s more scary to think about it then for it to actually happen. I saw a ghost with somebody else for 45 minutes straight one time.
Waiting for a bus?
It was standing outside the house in broad daylight and I was 13 and she was 16 and there was four people there in the same room—playing a game of Scrabble, so we were sitting there a long time. At first I was like, ‘Why is this white shadow out there?’ It’s not like I was unfamiliar with the space—I sat there and had breakfast every morning. My friend saw it and my mother and my sister didn’t. My twin sister. But it wasn’t scary.
What was it like?
It was just fucking weird.
Is there any unexplained audio on that song on The Living And The Dead?
There’s weird wooshy noises on the vocal track, but it could have been the table or something. But the same thing happened when we were working on that track in New York. The first time was in Portland. It was only when we working on his song. The lights were going off and on and off and on above my head when I was singing.
Can you walk under streetlights and turn them off?
No—like people who break their own watches and shit? I’m not one of those people. I think we’re all—I think there are mechanisms we don’t understand culturally. I think other cultures have better understanding of stuff like that. We don’t have a whole lot of language to talk about that stuff. I have a friend who was on the verge of death and she was going to the best Chinese doctor in San Francisco and just came back from the brink. She had to have surgery, and the doctor was working on her, but he told her one day that she had to move out of her house. And she was like, ‘What are you talking about? I’m so sick. It’s gonna suck to move out of my house.’ ‘Well, you have a ghost in your house and you need to move.’
And then she got better?
Yeah. And she didn’t tell him there was a ghost—he could just tell. She knew her house was haunted. Her friend had died in the house.
Are you used to these kinds of experiences?
I’m really curious about it. If something crazy like that happened to you when you were thirteen, it would definitely change your life.
Have you ever one of your songs played at a wedding?
I think my songs are pretty gloomy. I know they’ve played them at a funeral. My friend’s daughter’s funeral.
If America goes into a new Depression, who will be the new Rose Maddox?
There could never be another.
You said the best music comes from the hungriest mouths—what were you thinking about?
I was just being a snob because I was dirt poor.
Do you feel different now?
Are you still dirt poor?
I’m pretty dirt poor. I don’t know. I’m dirt poor but I have accountants.
That sounds like a Webb Pierce lyric.
I live on the road so I can’t pay my bills or anything.
Didn’t you once sell puppies to pay bills? What’s the best way to get by?
I don’t know. Getting a job is not that bad. I miss having a job.
What was the last one?
I was a waitress at Howard’s Diner in San Francisco. It was a real sweet family business. Pretty much all the waitresses sang there. It was really nice. The busboy—the 70-year-old busboy from China used to sing to me all the time. We both knew this one Chinese song and we’d sing it together.
Do you think he still thinks of you from time to time?
I hope so. I think about him all the time.