Photos Steve Dykes
REVIEW AND INTERVIEW
Coming In From The Dark is Hollie Smith’s most deeply personal album yet and it’s one you’ll want to play over and over again.
The rock-solid tracklist is sure to hit the number 1 spot on the charts this summer including ‘Lay Me Down To Sleep’ which will have you floating as well as soaring on orchestral notes and Smith’s soulful lyrics.
It is one of three tracks on the album recorded with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and builds to a wonderful crescendo, the kind that leads to losing yourself in the music and your imagination.
It also feels almost reverent, so we asked Smith about what it means for her and the inspiration behind the lyrics.
“It is actually more a fantasy of no longer existing,” Smith explains. “There’s just been lots of moments of heavy and it was one of those ones where I just wanted to be able to fly away and basically that’s what it’s about.
“Those [songs] are really heavily emotional too, working with New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. It adds a whole other layer of deep, 60 people playing incredible instruments.”
Smith agrees it is her most personal album to date. Its title, Coming In From The Dark, which is also the name of the first track, is symbolic of stepping into a lighter space.
“I was having one of those epiphany moments where I snapped out of a darker place and felt like the burden had been lifted and I was ready to emerge,” she explains. “It’s one of the songs on the album that I really love. At this point we weren’t in lockdown anymore, so it felt like, ‘okay, right, we’re getting back to something’, but we’ve gone backwards there but that’s alright.”
It’s been a good five years since Smith has been majorly in the spotlight but she hasn’t been hiding. She’s been busy writing, taking part in collaborations including releasing Bathe in the River / Kōrukutia in Te Reo as part of the Waiata /Anthem series and was a main-stage act at Splore Festival earlier this year.
When it comes to time periods between albums she admits she “is really good at procrastinating”. “I seem to do that with every album though,” she laughs. “I don’t think I’ve had a quick turnaround yet so I’ll have to try and improve next time.”
Coming In From The Dark is certainly worth the wait and as Smith hinted to the audience at Splore, it’s deeply personal.
“I guess I don’t normally write so many songs regarding relationships as I have in this one. It was just sort of one of those sort of cathartic outlets and I just couldn’t avoid talking about it,” Smith says.
“There’s a song for a good friend of mine, Billy, who passed away. Quite often in the past, I might’ve written things a little bit more cryptically because I didn’t really want people to know what I was going on about. I guess this one the lyrics a bit more direct and so I think that can end up being a lot more relatable for people.”
‘Heaven Only Knows’ was the first song she wrote for the album, written at the time Donald Trump was running for election, which is referred to in the first verse. The second verse references the Syrian refugee crisis.
“It was getting exhausting watching the news and being so connected to things internationally but feeling so helpless and not being able to do anything about it and feeling guilty in a way,” she says. “And then obviously having to just accept the fact that it was okay for me to switch off and not look at it all the time otherwise it’s too much. So that’s sort of the paradox between the verse and the chorus.”
Smith also wrote ‘Something Good’, a song of encouragement, for her son Taimana, 12, “going on adult” because she believes in him, and our children, for whom the song is also dedicated.
“He was always incredibly optimistic, you know, he was going to be an ambulance driver and an astronaut. And when the cynicism of getting older kicks in, you sort of limit yourself to what you think you can do. It’s about him growing his pessimistic bones and watching that transition. So for me, it was just reminding him that he’s pretty amazing.”
Perhaps one of the most catchy tunes on the album is ‘Damage Done’, which kicks off with the words “have you ever done something you regret. The feelings linger that you can’t escape… you kept it hidden, you kept it secret”. And while the tune is upbeat the inspiration behind the song talks to white privilege and the #blacklivesmatter and #metoo movements.
“I was just really frustrated at the defensiveness of a lot of people who I felt kind of missed the point, you know, when they were going, ‘not all men… and ‘all lives matter’ kind of thing. It’s like, you are missing the point. It’s about starting a conversation about this and being open about the fact that changes need to be made and taking some responsibility and maybe recognising that your behaviour hasn’t been fantastic and noticing things that you could improve on as opposed to being so defensive,” she says.
“It’s about getting the education that could inform better decisions and to accept that maybe you are the damage done and that’s okay. And it’s about taking responsibility and moving forward with that knowledge as opposed to being so defensive about that potential. I felt I was just smacking my head against a brick wall, looking at all these people and thinking ‘you’re missing the point’.”
Smith has been involved in the Waiata/Anthem series in the past with Bathe in the River / Kōrukutia. Her intention is help the normalisation of te reo Māori through New Zealand music and through the art and creative funnel to try and move towards becoming a more bilingual culture.
“There’s always going to be people who are going to come from the other side… I think intentions are important and you’ve just sort of got to do the best you can with it,” she says.
She acknowledges there wasn’t too much discussion about it until Lorde got involved, and can see the irony, but also notes “there’s a lot of strength” in the fact that Lorde is supported by Dame Hinewehi Mohi, who has championed the movement for decades.
“Again [it comes back to] that intention, [Lorde’s] discussion around it, about how much she’s learned and how much she wants to move forward with it. I think that’s important for Pakeha to see more than Māori to be fair,” says Smith. “There needs to be the support whilst also completely understanding the other angles but I think if you’re not doing it for commercial gain, which she wasn’t – she’s donating all of the money from that EP…”
Smith owns that it has been pretty amazing seeing the reaction around the world to the Lorde release and having that kind of headline through mainstream music and media globally.
“I think it’s pretty amazing to see that. She’s done an album in the indigenous culture of New Zealand Aotearoa and I think it’s positive, but I do appreciate the other side, the irony of it as such.”
If Coming In From The Dark hits number one, it will be Smith’s fourth consecutive number one album and it’s something she is gunning for.
In a perfect world she’d love to tour with Raiza Biza (whose vocals appear in track, What About) and the NZSO but due to the current Covid situation tour plans have been postponed.
Though lockdown she has been trying to keep to a good routine.
“When I’m in a good routine, I’m doing yoga three, four times a week and swimming every day. I love the water and getting in the ocean and I do go to the local pool, and take the dogs for a run. When I’m constantly being active and in a routine I’m really good. But then my problem is when I hit a bit of a wall, I kind of self-sabotage and just sort of stop doing everything,” she says. “It’s like, okay, today is stupid but you’ve still got to get up and do stuff instead of feeling sorry for yourself. I think I’m getting a little bit better. This lockdown I’ve been exercising every day, which has made it a lot easier.”
Coming In From The Dark is released on 22 October 2021.