Despite a budding career heading into the open atmosphere of the jazz realm — a style of music that allows for improvisation and expression — songwriter and musician Lindsay Holler opted to take a major musical and personal detour. After years of studying, singing, composing, and collaborating, she gradually found her own personal approach to creating melodies, arranging song ideas, and writing lyrics — demonstrated on her lovely, new, independently-released collection, Malleable.
“I started out in jazz and got a college degree in Jazz Voice, but I wanted to write and I don’t have the vocabulary to really write in jazz,” says Holler, speaking from her downtown apartment. “It wasn’t something I was really actually interested in or really listened to [laughs].”
A native of Moncks Corner, Holler played music and sang her way into the Berklee School of Music in Boston for a year’s worth of study before changing direction.
“Berklee was great and all — I heard and played a lot of music and met of lot of people — but when it got back down to it, I realized the money I’d be putting into that kind of education,” she says. “I didn’t want to teach; I wanted to perform. So I tried some other things.”
Holler transferred to New Orleans from Boston for a short stint. After a lengthy visit in N.Y.C., she relocated back to the Charleston area in 1996 and finished her music degree in the CofC’s music department. After embarking on her professional artistic career just a few years ago as a solo songwriter, she gradually worked material out in the practice space, the home studio, and the local stages.
Holler began serious collaboration with other versatile local musicians and slowly put enough material together in the local Kniveland Studio with engineer Jason Dodson (of Jack of Knives) and guitarist Brad Russell to assemble Malleable.
“I started out with a drummer in town named Nick Jenkins and a friend of mine from Ohio [Russell] contributed ideas. Then everything started coming together. People got interested and started to join in. There was no plan — it all just fell together nicely. I’ve never really enjoyed doing just the solo shows, you know. But I really enjoy the interaction between musicians.”
“Love Gone Awry,” a feathery waltz with a morose tone, demonstrates Russell’s contributions, with a rolling banjo track, strummy acoustic guitar, and volume-pedal electric guitar resembling a pedal steel. Title track “Malleable” and closer “Grove Street” feature the low-key rumble and clickety-clack of the Jenkins/Holler two-piece configuration — twangy acoustic guitar, brushy percussion and snare fills, and Holler’s trembling wails and whispers.
“We got a vibe player recently, which added a whole new element that I’d never played around with much before,” Holler says. “It’s a pretty sound. Some of my songs are on the darker side, lyrically, so I like that contrast.”
Holler cites her main influences as Tom Waits, Gram Parsons, Nina Simone, and Neil Young — all “genre straddlers, categorical misfits, and undefinable.”
“I’m drawn to those artists who aren’t confined to a certain genre — artists who incorporate many different elements into their sound. My voice can definitely take on a kind of jazz aspect pretty easily. I’ve tried to pull it back a bit, actually, I’ve developed an interest in more twangy music. The songwriting speaks to me and the sound is very comforting. I’m just picking up bits and pieces of stuff I’ve heard over the last few years, considering it, and going, ‘Okay, here we go.'”
Currently, Holler’s backing band features drummer Jenkins (also of Jack of Knives, Steve Fiore, Vintage Velvet, Toca Toca), percussionist Michael Hanf, guitarist Dave Linaburg (also of Toca Toca), and bassist Ben Wells. They collectively call their sound a fusion of “Americana with gritty textures and dark lyrics … a little twang and a little late-night clarity.”
Hanf, who recently made his mark in the local jazz circuit, also adds a peculiar battery of percussion instruments to Holler’s songs — from metal trash cans, cooking pots and pans, and homemade things to other hand percussion pieces.
“We’re very excited to be able to take part in the Local Blend series this year,” says the bandleader. “The folks at the Library have tapped into a facet of music that tends to get overlooked during the Spoleto Festival — contemporary, original ‘popular’ music, for lack of a better term. There are such possibilities in the local music community here, and any effort to support that is exciting.
“For our set, we are interested in taking full advantage of the schematics of the venue by exploiting the silence,” she adds. “This environment affords us the opportunity to manipulate sounds and textures in a way that’s not always available in clubs and bars. We’re not promising a quiet set, but the option will be embraced.”
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