THE PRO FILE - Nicky Holland

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Nicky Holland has worn many hats in her acclaimed musical career. From her early work with Tears For Fears and Fun Boy Three, to solo albums and best-selling soundtracks, the singer, songwriter and keyboardist has made an impact both in her native UK and around the world.

This past summer, Legacy Recordings released Holland’s Nobody’s Girl, a career retrospective of her varied output. For our series THE PRO FILE, we caught up with Holland to get the inside track on the new project.

Tell us about your new release Nobody’s Girl on Sony’s Legacy imprint.

It’s a compilation of tracks I’ve sort of curated from my first and second albums [Nicky Holland and Sense and Sensuality], along with “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself,” which is a song I recorded for the film My Best Friend’s Wedding.

What was the impetus to revisit this material and re-release it?

Well, the music had never been released digitally. When I was in London a few years ago, I saw Richard Griffiths, who signed me to Sony all those years ago. He said to me, “You know, I was listening to your albums the other day and they should be out now. They’re timeless.” So, we went back to Sony, and they agreed to work with me. I went and put everything over to digital, and I also spent some time remixing a few of the tracks as well with Derek Nakamoto, who I produced my first album with. It was an extraordinary experience going back. Sometimes it’s harder to go back than to create something new. Not everything I tried to re-do worked, and some of them I just kept exactly as they were. But some of the new mixes I’m really pleased with.

Was it eye-opening to revisit your older work with the technology of today?

I think because a lot of my music is organic, it does have that sort of “timeless” quality to it. But most of it took me right back and I remembered being there. It was a little strange when you think we recorded back then onto two-inch tape and then mixed down to half-inch tape through Neve desks and whatnot. Then you transfer to digital and suddenly everything’s much quicker. But back then it was a painstaking process to find the right pianos to record on, and punching-in on piano tracks wasn’t easy. You had to do cross-fades, etc. But I loved the sound of how we originally recorded things. I worked with Mark McKenna on my first record, and Elliot Scheiner on the second one, which Michael Beinhorn produced. And those were extraordinarily well recorded.

Your old bandmates in Tears For Fears just finished a mammoth summer tour with Hall and Oates. I remember your synth work from the live documentary Scenes from the Big Chair.

That was so great. Nigel Dick directed that, and the crew was with us for around six weeks on the Songs from the Big Chair tour. They caught us at all of these inopportune moments, when we were dribbling, half-asleep on the bus! [Laughs.]

I was struck by the musicianship of the band in that film. Aside from arrangement changes, it was hard to tell they weren’t playing the studio recordings on the soundtrack. The precision of all of your playing is astounding.

Well, that was extraordinary. It was Roland [Orzabal] who insisted we play note-for-note, exactly what was written and recorded. And in fact, I was initially going to tour with them for three months, but we ended-up working for about a year. Often there was a rhythm machine running, and [drummer] Manny Elias was playing alongside that. I think Roland found that playing in such a specific way, night after night, became a bit of a straightjacket. That then led to a changing of the guard, and the writing that went-on between him and myself and then him on his own for The Seeds of Love record. He wanted things to be a little looser, and he wanted to embrace R&B a bit more and have more movement and less rigidity in the music.

Do you have fond memories of your time with Tears For Fears?

Oh, yes. Very fond. It was a great time. I think initially there were 38 men and me on that tour, which was wild. [Laughs.] Then halfway through the tour, they hired a wardrobe woman and also Jo Wells to play saxophone.

Do you have a little writing or recording rig that you make demos on?

I try and do things very simply on GarageBand myself, but for the most part I tend to go and work with other people and musicians when I make demos.

You’ve had an incredibly varied career writing and performing in many different settings. Where do you ultimately feel the most inspired?

I enjoy all of it, but I think the bit I love the most is that moment when you’re sitting in a room with someone and you’ve got something and you think, “Oh my God, this could be a song!” It’s an amorphous thing in your head – it could be written in five hours or it might take five months. But it’s that moment when it suddenly all comes together and you think, “We’ve got a song here.”