Who is Ali Holder?
AMF EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
How has your background as an Austinite and a UT graduate influenced your music?
I moved to Austin to play music almost 7 years ago and I have found the multiple music scenes and resources here to be very welcoming. There is a real sense of a music community here, no matter how many branches there may be. Living here is a constant encouragement to continue playing music. I feel like there is an ongoing mix of challenge and inspiration floating around.
Going to graduate school at UT was important to me for many reasons. It was significant for me in learning that we all have to take our own paths to end up where we are meant to be. We all find our own ways to do that and no one way is wrong or right, just dependent upon the person. I learned that I need to be able to do work I enjoy.
Teaching visual art allows me to make rent and still have the flexibility to do what my passion is, which is creating and playing music.
Is it tough being a sing-songwriter in Austin?
I play mostly with a band in town. In that sense, it is hard to make money on my end, after I pay the band (which is not near as much as they deserve) there is usually not enough left over to myself. I tend to play solo gigs and save that money to pay my band when we do have a band gig. I think you can look at any field and find the tough parts about it. You can also choose to see it as pushing through with resilience because it’s worth it. I am thankful that I get to be creative and share that creativity on a regular basis with people that I admire who are supportive, in a town that is supportive.
Coming from a small town, is it harder or easier to find where you and your music belong in Austin?
I find it much easier to find a place here in general as well as with my music. I am thankful for the placed I was raised and it shaped me into the person I am today. Which I think is resourceful and tough. However, it was not an easy place to be different or have different ideas without being judged. In most small towns there tends to be a very extreme or narrow point of view on most things. You’re either one thing or another. Your music is this, or it is that. I find here in Austin I am allowed to be exactly who I am which is not just one thing, but thousands of things intertwined. Not only do I have permission to be myself here, it is encouraged. I feel the same goes for my music. I have never fit neatly into one genre. I’m allowed to musically be more than one thing here, to experiment, to grow and change. I am thankful for that.
In junior high you started playing and writing music. You started out with a guitar and later branched out to the ukulele (which we can hear in your song “Moon”). Later in Austin, you fronted two bands: the folk-leaning Ali Holder & the Broken Hearted, then an R&B band, Ali Holder & the Raindoggs. What has your progression through your music taught you about yourself and your music?
I never played with a band until I moved to Austin. I have learned that collaboration can be a really beautiful thing. With multiple viewpoints and sensibilities, I have been able to create something so much bigger than I ever dreamed. Any band I play in I just use my name now since I tend to have rotating members. That is the beauty and curse of the Austin music scene, having a large variety of really talented people to work with is the beauty. The curse is that they are always in demand by others as well. I have found that in a live setting I really love being relaxed and letting the band do what they want and are feeling. I’ve learned that in the recording studio I tend to want things my way. I guess it’s good to have a balance of both.
I feel like I a continually learning how to play, sing, and write all the time. The same goes for learning how to collaborate with other musicians. I feel lucky to be able to move through things and make mistakes knowing I can only grow from them.
If you could go back to junior high and give yourself one piece of advice (about the music industry, performing, music writing, etc.) what would it be?
1) Practice and write every day while you have the free time.
2) Be fearless in every aspect of craft and creativity
Your music has often been referred to as “grassroots outlaw” country. Is your music influenced by your memories or experiences from a small town?
I think that by being born and raised in a small(ish) Texas town it will automatically seep out of me into my music just because that is one of the lenses I see through. I think the biggest influence being from a small town has had on my music is that it pushed me to think bigger and want more, which got me out of that small town. I am lucky that I was subjected to some Texas singer-songwriters in my early teens that played around the area sometimes and allowed me to see the glimmer of a path to take.
You’re extremely dedicated to your music. For your last EP “From My Veins Will Fall” (2015) you completely isolated yourself on a ranch in Medina, TX for 10 days. Why did you feel that was necessary to craft your music?
I love to preach the idea of writing every day but in actuality, that is not always how it is. I tend to work better when I am isolated, under pressure and have a goal in mind. I had never really experienced solitude like that before with the only intention being creativity. I do go through waves of writing every day. I also go through waves no writing and only gathering. I think much like anything else you have to learn what works best for you to be creative. Sometimes I need the daily routine and it’s all I have time for. Other times I need the isolated retreat and that’s all I have time for. Knowing there are times to gather and times to write is helpful for me. It allows me to work hard but also be gentle on myself if I am in a time of gathering.
Your website says your 2015 EP has influences from horror novelist Stephen King as well as soon-to-be-executed Texans. What drew you to these guys? From where else, and from who else, do you pull your inspiration from?
“Don’t Show the Devil” was based off a song prompt where we were asked to read the last words of Texas inmates before they were executed. It was quite side and moving.
I love Stephen King. I have always leaned toward the darker side of the arts. If it’s done right it’s not just about the dark sides but a reflection on the light and the greys in between.
My newest EP is based off the Dark Tower Series by Stephen King. I tend to write mostly about love and turmoil and had just come out of a 4+ year relationship at the end of 2015. I was reading the series at the time and found myself weaving my own loss and drama into the story. I fell in love with some of the charters and themes. It organically kind of mixed itself into my writing.
I do pull a lot of my inspiration from lines I hear, here and there. A good book, podcast, a conversation.
There’s a change in the tone of your music from your 2013 debut “In Preparation for Saturn’s Return” to your 2015 EP “From My Veins Will Fall”. Even though all of your music is bluesy and mysterious, we can see a somberness in your 2013 album from melancholic songs like “Drinking Double”. Was there something happening in your life which spilled over into your music?
Saturn’s Return was a collection of songs that ranged over about a 10-year period. I think the oldest being written in 2003 and the most recent written a month before recording. I would saw the bulk of them though were written between 2010-1013. I had just moved to Austin, had a string of your average early twenties adventures and breakups. Drinking Double was specifically about cheating. The small north Texas town really came out in that one ha!
Your sophomore EP “Huntress Moon” will be released this February. What was the songwriting and recording process like this time around? What’s your favorite track on your upcoming EP?
Recording-wise, it was the most simplistic recording I have done. Lindsey Verrill (an Austin musician who is an all around amazing person) and I did the whole thing. Lindsey played upright bass and cello. I played mostly electric guitar and a little acoustic. I sang harmonies over my own vocals. We played with some pedals on the electric and cello. Grant Johnson of Fat Fuse recorded and engineered it. He used his mobile rig. We used Sam Baker’s beautiful space out in the hill country. It was very simple and we did it in one day. It is always such an amazing thing to witness the bones of something come to life.
Writing wise, I kind of mentioned this in a previous question. I will really nerd out here, so forgive me:
In the Dark Tower Series, in book four, ‘Huntress Moon’ is the season in Mid-world (one of the many worlds the story takes place in) that Roland (The Gunslinger) and Susan Delgado (his one true love) start their love affair (which is referenced in all the books).
‘Death Reborn’ is basically about Jake one of the characters who is killed in two different worlds. Death separating him from the world but continuously pulling him back and forth between the worlds, not being of any world by the end. This was seemingly the only way I could end that long relationship I had just come out of. Killing that person off in a song still knowing he existed in other worlds made it seem bearable.
‘Ain’t Enough To Go Around’ is based off Mia, a really vicious and powerfully maternal character that posses one of the Gunslinger’s friends. I was feeling pretty fierce myself after my breakup and her character really helped me to feel tough and feisty. I guess anger is just another step in the grieving process and she helped me get there.
‘Gemini Gunslinger’ is about Roland (The Gunslinger) and how the universe (or multiple universes) he lives in and the infinite loop that holds him. I met another Stephen King fan who explained to me that there are three different kinds of infinity. Finite infinity (the idea that this moment will end – but will live in on our memories), Buzz Lightyear infinity, (to infinity and beyond – how you normally think of infinity) and reverse infinity (the idea that we always have been and always will be in this design that someone or something has created). I loved the idea of reverse infinity, thinking that everyone we meet and every encounter we’ve had is special because it was meant to happen.
‘Declaration of Love’ is about how time and space have pockets inside of one another which lead to their own universes inside the one we already exist in. The idea of becoming lost within the universe of love and living in that space for a while.
I like all the songs they hold a special place in my heart, it would be hard for me to choose one.
Austin is arguably the home of “outlaw” country, spawning greats like Janis Joplin, Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Are there any venues in Austin which hold a special place in your heart?
I love so many venues here. I love listening rooms like Strange Brew, Cactus, and Saxon just because there aren’t many venues where people actually come to listen. I love dive’s like Sam’s Town Point and the White Horse because they are so cozy and raucous. I love Continental Club and Stubb’s because they are institutions and consistently have good music.
How did you come across the Austin Music Foundation? Has it benefited your experience in the Austin Music scene?
I found out about the AMF through Amanda Garcia when she was working for the ACVB. I met with AJ and he talked to me a bit about my website, gave me a few pointers. He introduced me to John who does my publishing administration now. I think AMF is a great resource in that it connected me to other resources I might not have been aware of before. Austin is lucky to have resources like AMF, which are champions of its music community.
How does it feel to be AMF’s Artist of the Month for January, and thus the first Artist of the Month for 2017?
I am so excited to be AMF’s artist of the month! I admire everything y’all do for the music community and I am flattered to be a part of it. For this release in February, I have been trying to do all the publicity on my own as opposed to spending thousands of dollars on it. I have had great success in the past paying a publicist but I could not afford one this time around. Only being one person (with very limited PR experience) and only having so many contacts and influence – it has been a learning and growing process for me. So, every little bit of coverage helps. You don’t know how much I appreciate the time y’all have taken to help me out. It really does mean a great deal to me.
So what’s next for you? What goals have you set for your music career?
I will release this EP in February followed by a tour. I plan to do a handful of small tours in 2017.
I turned 30 in August and at that point was so burnt out on dating I decided to interview people about love and relationships to shed some light on my situation. So, on my birthday I started interviewing. I went on a month-long solo tour that next month up the west coast and continued to interview. I collected about 50 oral interviews from a range of people across the country. My creative goal for 2017 is to start weeding through those interviews and use them as material for a new, larger collection of songs.
My goal for my career is to be able to reach a larger audience with each project in hopes of having a more sustainable career through music. I think that the paradigm is constantly shifting in how to find that sustainability, but each new project gives me that much more drive and persistence.