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LAW HOLT: 'The music industry must cease to be dominated by white, male beneficiaries of internships'

Daniel Gumble
LAW HOLT: 'The music industry must cease to be dominated by white, male beneficiaries of internships'

With a new album in the offing, 2016 looks set to be a significant year for Edinburgh vocalist and songwriter Law Holt. An artist that refuses to be pigeonholed or confined to any particular genre, her eclectic sound is informed by everything from pop and R&B to trip-hop and EDM. And just about everything in between.

Her upcoming record City marks a major departure from her previous work, in more ways than one. Not only has she changed her name from LAW to Law Holt, she’s also removed all of her previous work from the web, highlighting further still her unwillingness to stand still as a writer and a performer.

MI Pro editor, Daniel Gumble, caught up with Holt to discuss the making of City, gear, influences and diversity, or, indeed the lack thereof, in the music industry…

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Daniel Gumble: Your new material is very much a clean break from the work you’ve done in the past – I understand you have removed all of your previous releases from the Internet. Why did you decide to do this?

Law Holt: “It’s a superstitious thing - a way of expelling LAW and introducing Law Holt. It’s like moving to a new city and severing all your ties from the previous one (which I’ve done a few times).

“I don’t think there is any merit in staying the same; I am an apprentice admirer of those masters of re-invention. The new material isn’t a ‘clean break’ as such, I’m not breaking up with the stuff we did before; the EPs are still relevant and what I do next will be relevant, too. This is pop, everything informs. But taking the EPs down will hopefully encourage people to listen with fresh ears. That’s about as much control as I can have over the distribution of my music, so I’ll use it to my advantage.”


DG: What sets the new material apart so much from your previous works? Was there a new approach to writing and recording this time out?

LH: “Recording City was very similar to how we recorded the EPs - fast. Tim [Brinkhurst, manager and collaborator] plays the beat, I write down what I hear. We had a vague idea of what we wanted to achieve, and I try to run with that as well as making something I’d like to listen to.

“I always write in pencil (no finality or shame), then try to get all the vocals down in the same session. It’s good to get that freshness and sing when it’s all still very new. I’ll sing the song I’ve written over the beat; if it’s decent, I’ll do another take if needed, then we’ll add the backing vocals, then I can go to the pub after with something done.

“The new material is a progression. I’ve tried to hone the lyrics in a little more, make them more relatable, get all the different voices down to get that sweet Lovers Rock vibe versus that Blues Howlin’ Wolf vibe. But warmth is the key, and that will hopefully unite everything we’ve done. All good music is soul music, genre is misleading.”


DG: What gear do you use when it comes to recording your ideas? Do you have a home studio set-up that you use, or do you use external studios?

LH: “As my rented accommodations get smaller, so do my home recording techniques.

“I have a Roland BR-80 gizmo, which I use to build up ideas and put down harmonies. I put down simpler things on my phone; I sneak into the bathroom or store cupboard at work and hum things that could be used eventually.

“I’ve tried recording in my flat, but you just can’t get the sound quality. If the kettle boils or my neighbour goes to the toilet, it’s a problem. I heard Mike Skinner recorded Original Pirate Material in his bedroom and turned his wardrobe into a sound booth. I might try that. It’s the ideas that are most important, so I better get them down.

“Outside of the flat it’s the basement studio in Leith where the serious work gets done. I don’t have to hide in the bathroom there and I’m made to feel that my ideas are worthwhile, which is the key to getting anything good out of anybody.”


DG: Who have been your biggest influences during the making of the new album?

LH: “I made a concerted effort to revisit all the stuff I listened to when I was a teenager. Some of it wasn’t great, but some of it was, and I was comforted that even at that age I had a little taste. The good stuff has been re-bought from charity shops (thrown out years previously, trying to be ‘cool’). This was the ‘90s, so I ended up listening to girl groups like All Saints and TLC, alongside my usual obsessive listening to Monomania by Deerhunter (living up to its name). I was also listening to a lot of Bunny Wailer, the master of ‘voices’ and Primitive London by Basil Kirchin - this beautiful thing of strangeness that just seems to explain it all. I was reading Raymond Carver, too. He’ll teach you the exact amount of words needed and for how long.”


DG: Who first inspired you to become a singer and musician?

LH: “I used to watch a lot of MTV Base. I’d stay up late at night when they didn’t show adverts and find some CDs to buy. I found Amy Winehouse like this and bought her CD. I know this must have been pretty early on because it was £18 and in the jazz section. She really is something.

“I also loved a British soul singer called Terri Walker and was listening to her album Untitled a lot. I remember the vocals being spot on.

“Then after came the American singers like Erykah Badu, Mary J Blige and Ashanti. I used to go to this singing group on a Tuesday run by a singer called Lornette Ford, she was the first person to believe in me. Lornette got me involved singing with local bands and doing gigs in bars before I was old enough to drink in them. She always said the key was to like your own voice and listen to as many singers as you could to create your own style.”


DG: Who do you think is currently producing work that could inspire future generations of musicians?

LH: “Kamasi Washington has made a genuinely exciting jazz record. My friends Callum Easter and Young Fathers are always steps ahead, so I think future generations will get it.”


DG: The subject of sexism in the music industry has been particularly prevalent of late, with the Kesha/Sony court case being a key example. What has been your experience of the music industry and its attitudes to women?

LH: “I am convinced that most people see female performers as hired hands; singers of other people’s songs. But we’re talking about an industry that is run by and is therefore tailored towards what men want. There is a reason why most big pop music videos are now made for masturbatory as opposed to musical pleasure.

“I can do what I’m doing, but the parameters of the industry are very hard to shift, so I’ll never sell as many records as The Cheeky Girls, but I guess I’ll just have to accept that.”


DG: Have you ever been subjected to sexism within the industry?

LH: “According to 'The Torygraph' I was Young Fathers’ ‘sexy backing dancer’ during our Mercury performance. I don’t think (insert name here) would have said that about a man with a mic. Oftentimes though, sexism is the least of my problems when I’m out on the street.”


DG: What do you think can be done to change these attitudes and help the industry diversify?

LH: “It might help if the music industry ceased to be populated by white, male beneficiaries of internships. But I also think that we all have more power than we realise, and the more people make and promote their own music independently, the quicker the industry will be forced to catch up.”


DG: What are your plans for the rest of 2016?

LH: “I’d like to play a lot of gigs and start making beats. And get a bigger flat in Zone 2.”

City by Law Holt will be available later this year.

Tags: interview , Interviews , women in music , diversity , law holt

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