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Q+A: Holly Throsby

Holly Throsby After A TimeSinger-songwriter (and poet, illustrator, and novelist) Holly Throsby's immersive new album, After A Time, is quietly electrifying; we put some questions to the musician ahead of its release.

Q1/ On Being Born and Aeroplane in particular, the saxophone is so subtle that it’s barely there, but if it wasn’t there there’d be a completely different feel – like the sliver of violin that happens half-way through Evening Stroll. Do you imagine these little things as you’re recording or much earlier in the process?

Marcus Whale (Collarbones, BV) played saxophone on this record, and Jens Birchall played cello. Both their parts were improvised. Neither of them knew the songs very well when they came into the studio, so we just discussed what I wanted and they played their interpretation of that. I love the character of both instruments and I had imagined them exisiting on the record, but I had no idea what the actual parts would be until they were being played.

Q2/ How do you know when a song is done, when there are so many little accents like these you could add?

You just know. I am not sure how, but it's just a feeling of it being finished and knowing it's all in order, and that nothing else needs to be added or removed. Every song needs to be treated differently, and you can't push them in one way or another if they don't want to go. A song like Being Born welcomed a kind of chaos in the arrangement and performance, but a song like Aeroplane needed to be more restrained and to unfold in stages as it went along.

Q3/ Your first novel Goodwood received some magnificent reviews, with comparisons to Tim Winton. You’re also an illustrator and have made a kids’ album too. Do your ideas for each of these mediums spill over into one another?

The ideas don't necessarily spill over in the process of making things in different mediums in a conscious sense. I am very aware of the difference between writing fiction and writing a song. But I do work a lot with imagery and become quite immersed in whatever imagery or landscape feel appropriate to a story. In that way, some songs on After A Time reflect some of the imagery in Goodwood, because of the time frame in which I made them both.

Q4/ I read that when writing the book you had a goal of 4000 words per week. Do you set objectives or parameters for yourself like this when writing music?

Nah, I'm a lot less disciplined when it comes to songwriting. For me it doesn't lend itself to that kind of focus. It's more when it comes to recording and mixing that the intensity sets in and it really takes over my life.

Q5/ There’s a lot of gentle movement in these tracks (reflected in their titles too); they have more momentum to me than some punk music! Do you find a kind of psychological, forward-rolling inertia when you are writing? Or is the writing process more jerky than the final songs’ flows lead us to believe?

Yeah I do actually – that's the best kind of feeling. It's always about rhythm and movement. You always have to go back over things and fix them and work on stuff until it's finished. But, in general, if I don't feel that forward motion when I'm writing then the spark isn't really there. The work has to come out naturally, in a really unforced way, for me to like it and want to keep it.

After A Time is out February 17 via Spunk.

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