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Claire Holley grows a "Dandelion”

By Rick Teverbaugh, September 2003

Claire Holley's new release for indie Yep Roc Records is titled "Dandelion."

Much like that plant, which looks like a flower, but is really a weed, Holley makes music that is difficult to categorize in one particular genre. Even she finds placing her music in a genre to be a tasking undertaking.

"I would probably just call myself a singer/songwriter," she says in a telephone interview from California where she was touring in support of the new album. "I know that includes somebody like Dave Matthews, and I'm not like him. I suppose more accurately it might be roots-based Americana - if those terms aren't the same thing."

Certainly the music on the new disc supports the contention that she has a lot of different sounds in her head and in her heart. "I dabble in a lot of different music," she says.

There is music on "Dandelion" that is folk, some that is country and some more that could be termed pop or rock. There is even an instrumental, "Tread Softly," a unique inclusion for a singer/songwriter.

"I was working on my own about a year ago to create an instrumental album," says Holley, who has regularly put instrumentals on her three previous commercial releases. "I'd really like to do soundtracks at some point in my career."

The title of the instrumental comes from a poem titled "Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven" by William Butler Yeats. The line comes from the verse: "I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams."

"I felt that phrase suited the feel of the little tune," says Holley.

What ties the tunes together more than anything else is the way they were recorded. She went out of her way to get a feel of a band playing the songs live at the same time and at the same location.

"There are musicians playing in the same room together," says Holley. "The bands speeds up together and really the players feed off each other. I don't know that this material asked to be recorded that way. I think it was more the stage I was in at the time. I was looking for that spur of the moment type of creativity. I'd been admiring bands that could jam, where it was more about the feel of the live performance. I wanted that kind of energy. I wanted to sing well-written songs, but I also wanted musicians playing in a room together where they could make eye contact and change the way they approached the song based on what other players were doing."

But she really isn't too much into revisiting or dissecting the album. "I don't listen to it very much," she says. "I'm not in constant dialogue with it."

Her dialogue is really with life and the stories it provides. She is a native of Mississippi and currently lives in North Carolina. She doesn't have any doubt that her geographical past has had an impact on her music, but she isn't confident she knows in exactly what way.

"It's hard to imagine exactly what my music would sound like if I hadn't come from the South," says Holley. "Mississippi has a lot of open space and wide open spaces, to use a line from the Dixie Chicks, are important. I learned that I liked to tell stories. I like to think that's a part of it. I like to write things that freeze the moment."

She wrote every song on "Dandelion."

For Holley, writing is an intricate part of what she does, and there is a pattern to the way she does it.

"A lot of times, I get the idea for a song when I'm in a car or in bed or when I'm on a walk," she says. "That's where I get a lot of my ideas, when I walk."

In fact, "Playground," off the new album, was formed by what she noticed in the park during frequent walks with her dog.

"But the place where I develop the songs is in my room," says Holley.

So armed with just her guitar, her ideas and a tape recorder, she uses the privacy and solitude to put together her material.

Sometimes it takes that solitude to figure out just where the ideas will lead. For example the song "Henry's" could have gone either way. "This song was difficult because it took me so long to decide upon a point of view," says Holley. "I couldn't figure out whether the song was the bartender's or if it belonged to the two people sitting at the bar. I finally decided it was about the bartender Henry."

Music has long been a personal outlet for Holley. She took her ukulele to church to play outside between Sunday school and church. She even ruined her father's classical guitar by replacing nylon strings with steel to try and duplicate some of the music she'd heard on her favorite records.

Despite that one slightly destructive episode in her musical upbringing, her parents were anything but discouraging in her quest.

"My parents helped me greatly with my artistic pursuits," says Holley. "They encouraged me to do something even if didn't do it well. They would encourage me to draw even though I wasn't a good drawer."

What Holley seems especially good at is moving around musically. "I don't know that this is what I'll be doing on my next record," she says. "It could be something very different."

But it seems certain that whatever the style of music; it will be true to her story telling vision no matter what the genre.