Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs

Country Life:
Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs Get Away From It All

Pulling up to the house, off a little dirt-and-gravel road you wouldn’t find unless you were looking for it, you’re first greeted not by the dogs but the annoyed honking of a small squadron of geese, surrounding the car as if to say, “Who the hell are you and why are you here?” Then the canines – Fife and Poppy, the border collies, and little Tippy the ten-inch beagle – chime in, caught up in the unexpected excitement of a rare visitor. In front of the tall but narrow white home, Dave Drake is tending to one of the horses, but pauses to come say hello with a laid-back Texas drawl. And then, as a rooster crows loudly from the other side of the house, Holly emerges on the front porch, graciously welcoming me into their quaint and partially torn-up fixer-upper, offering tea or a Mason jar of ice water in her lovely, proper British accent.

Yes, this is Holly Golightly’s home, surrounded by her array of animals, sitting on six acres of pasture and woods outside of tiny Danielsville, in rural northeast Georgia. The London-born singer and songwriter purchased the house and property three years ago, when there was not even a working well on the land – she and “Lawyer” Dave, her partner in love and music, made do with an outhouse for their first six months there.

You’re probably wondering why any prolific, working musician, especially one from across the pond, would choose to enter into such a situation. But for Holly (born Holly Golightly Smith in 1966), it’s more familiar than you may expect.

“I’d always lived in the country,” she explains. “I’ve gone back to London to live during times where I’ve had day jobs, or had to be near the city for whatever reason, but for the most part, in Britain, if you’re from the country, you spend the best part of the rest of your life trying to get back to the country. Because you can only do it if you’re fairly affluent. Whereas it’s the opposite way ’round in America. So to me, it looks topographically identical to where I grew up. I mean, there’s nothing in it, really.”

The geese help it seem more like home, too, she says. “I always had geese at home, in England. It was something I grew up with, geese around the property. They keep the bugs down. And they’re very good guard dogs, as you saw. The dogs we’ve got are hopeless! Really. They’ll give you a nasty lick. But the geese…”

“Everyone’s afraid of ’em,” notes Dave. “Holly’s the only one they like.”

She’d been planning to buy property in the U.S. for some time. Ideally, she would’ve preferred more land – she breeds horses, and one needs many acres of pasture in order to do that properly – but after some searching, she and Dave felt that the particular parcel offered the most pluses.

“We were looking at Kentucky and Tennessee, and even bits of Missouri – I found really amazing things in the mountains there. But they were all a really long way from an airport, and that was my big thing. If we’d found something in Kentucky it would’ve been great, but we’d have been two days from an international airport. And if you go on tour or anything else…”

A friend of Holly’s had moved to Georgia from New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina severely damaged her home there. She had an open apartment in a barn on her property in nearby Woodville, Georgia (even tinier than Danielsville, if you’re keeping score), and several years’ back when Dave was needing a place to live, she let him move in. “We’d been to visit when we were on tour anyway, so we kind of knew what it was like,” Holly says. “So Dave was there for about a year, while I was still in the U.K. going backwards and forwards a lot.” Meanwhile, she got an unanticipated windfall when a lump sum of accumulated royalty money was deposited into her bank account. Or something. She’s not quite sure.

“This money just landed in my account – I’ve never seen a statement in relation to it,” she says. “But I haven’t questioned it. I had a lot of stuff used in several episodes of Buffy, which then go on to DVD and then get syndicated, and everything else, so I know that money comes in from that. And previously there were a couple movies – Christina Ricci apparently really likes my music… So I think there’s lots of different things that I’ve been involved in, but I can’t explain why a lump of money would all turn up at the right time, exactly two weeks before we needed it.” On top of that was the take from a European tour she’d just completed, and in light of the favorable exchange rate, Holly was determined: “I’ve got this money – we’ve gotta spend it! If I stay in the UK it’s peanuts.” They put in an offer on the place, and bought it outright. Holly packed up a 40-foot Conex storage container full of her belongings (but couldn’t even fit her vinyl albums in it), shipped it off to the States and by late 2008 they moved in.

“We got the place pretty cheap, but still, it wasn’t functional,” Holly explains. “It wasn’t so much that it was falling apart. It had been shut up for a couple of years, and not very well looked after previously to that.” She notes that the prior occupants reside in jail now. There was a “grow room” upstairs, to give you an idea. “Mice had taken [the house] over, and the carpet was something else,” she resumes. “That was such a big job [to pull up]. It was wall-to-wall carpet, but underneath the carpet you could put your foot through the floor. And even now there are parts of the floor that you can see daylight through. The kitchen had to function. We didn’t have a toilet for six months. It was like camping. It didn’t kill me. I’ve lived on a boat for most of my life. I love it. It’s not everybody’s idea of luxury, but to me, compared to some of the places I’ve lived over the years, this is pretty good going. It’s got running water, hot water even, and it doesn’t leak. And it’s not gonna sink.”

The house is still a work-in-progress, and will be for quite a while, but it’s actually pretty cozy and comfy. There’s a living room on the bottom floor in which sits Holly’s piano and a cage for their little miniature parrot (which actually spends much of its time atop Holly’s shoulder). The kitchen, dining area and a small den occupy the rest of this level. Traipsing up the stairs, lined as they are with Dave’s multiple pairs of boots, in the window halfway up there’s a rebel flag hanging in the window, which Holly says was put up for the benefit of her mother, Carol, who apparently is convinced Georgia still resembles the depictions of Rhett and Scarlett in Gone With the Wind. On the wall perpendicular to that is a painting by Carol – partially used as the cover for Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs’ 2010 album Medicine County – showing Holly and Dave in classic Old South outfits with their humble home behind them. Further up the stairs is the couple’s bedroom, and above that an attic and cubby hole that haven’t really been dealt with yet, as far as renovation.

“I’m really loathe to do anything like hang pictures or whatever, because it all has to be upheaved again when the floor goes down and when the ceiling gets done,” Holly says. “So it’s like we’re living in sort of limbo for the time being.”

Of course, all of this has been going on while the couple tends to their other activities. Holly works part-time at a nearby feed and seed store, and breeds horses both on her property and elsewhere. “I did this back home, on a really small scale,” she points out. “When I left school I was an apprentice jockey for four years. And then I trained to teach riding, and then realized I didn’t actually like people, so I went into working with horses exclusively rather than people. I’m a qualified instructor but I don’t teach if I can help it. I mean, I don’t teach Dave! I don’t enjoy teaching at all.”

“Yeah, I don’t enjoy her teaching me either,” Dave chuckles, under his breath.

And of course, they have their music. As Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs – Holly on guitar and vocals, Dave a virtual one-man band a la Hasil Adkins on drums, guitar and vocals – they’ve released five albums since 2007, the latest of which, No Help Coming, is just out on Transdreamer Records in the U.S. Stripped-down and basic, the duo’s songs draw on a similar recipe of ’50s and ’60s rhythm & blues in which she’s always specialized, but seem to these ears a bit twangier, bluesier and humorous. Mostly originals peppered with oddball covers of Mr. Undertaker’s “Here Lies My Love” (once also covered by the Mothers of Invention, Holly would likely be aghast to know), Wendell Austin’s “L.S.D. (Rock ‘n’ Roll Prison)” and Bill Anderson’s “Lord Knows We’re Drinking,” the thoroughly enjoyable songs on No Help Coming inhabit junkyard folk music, dirt road blues, barroom brawlers ‘n’ bawlers and chicken coop country music to name but a few made-up genres that more or less apply. Like its predecessor, it was largely self-recorded in a vacant church close to their house and in a small shed on their property they’ve converted into a makeshift studio and practice space.

“I still play with the full band when I’m back in the U.K.,” Holly says. “I haven’t been back for a long time, but that is not defunct. It’s just something that, logistically, is very difficult to do. And there will be solo projects in the future. This is not all there is, but it’s what there is right now, and it’s what’s possible.”

We’re sitting around their wooden dining table talking about music and its – and Holly’s – history, as Leggy Leghorn, the sonorous rooster, crows stridently outside the window. “He’s an asshole, he does it all day,” Dave mutters. “I’m fixin’ to blow his head off. He killed a duck the other day. We only have one duck left now.” Foxes got the other ducks. Raccoons got their hens. Mother nature can be a cruel, unmerciful bitch. Their goats are doing well, though.

I tell them I love their duet on the Bill Anderson song, which Holly heard one day last year on a local country radio station and liked because it uses the term “biddy” to describe an uptight, small-town, moralistic finger-pointer. “It just struck me as really apt,” she says. “We live in a dry county.” I notice the large bottle of Jim Beam on a small table near the kitchen. Although she doesn’t drink much alcohol because most of it gives her a headache, she admits to enjoying the occasional glass of bourbon. Like most red-blooded American men, Dave likes his cold beer.

I’ve read in a few interviews that Holly doesn’t really believe her move to the backwoods has had an affect on her music or songwriting. But any listen to the Brokeoffs, especially the new album, would suggest otherwise.

“There’s more country, for sure,” she says. “But it’s not like I never did country songs on every record right from the beginning. I mean, I don’t know anything about country music. I’ve never listened to country music. It’s the wrong color for me, generally.”

“It comes from the same place, though,” counters Dave.

“It does, but my interest in it is that there is a crossover into the thing that I do really like. I don’t listen to very much music at all, really, these days.”

“She likes modern country music,” Dave alleges.

 “I don’t really like it. Actually I find it abhorrent that you’re selling people their own lifestyle back to them. But I do think that the songwriting skills are incredible. I think the fact that there’s this machine going on behind it all where you can serve people back what they’ve already got is kinda genius. So I’m fascinated by it on lots of different levels, but musically speaking, not so much. But lyrically, I really do find it clever. I find it interesting, as a songwriter. So when Dave says I really like it, he means that I listen to it, I know all the songs. I mean, once you’ve heard them, you know them.”

Dave: “That’s part of the genius of it.”

“And in the feed and seed store, that’s all that’s on the radio,” Holly continues. “It’s just a different colored hip-hop. You’re selling a lifestyle back to people that they create themselves. Their videos are the same. They’re not wearing bikinis around a swimming pool, they’re in flatbed trucks selling melons. But I just see it as being the same thing. On some levels I think it’s really insulting, but I also think there is real genius behind it.”

So, as opposed to that, what does Holly Golightly intend as far as her own songs?

“I just stick to very traditional, tried and tested formula in writin’ songs,” she allows. “They’re not about me or anybody else. I mean, if I’m inspired by an event or something like that, it may well get included in a song. But they’re not meant to mean anything, really, they’re just songs for the sake of songs. There isn’t any political message, there isn’t anything in them. They are like the traditional ’50s R&B music.

“I grew up listening to John Peel, of course,” Golightly continues. “So I heard everything. He didn’t only play punk rock. He played all sorts of things. That’s how I sort of knew about the Balfa Brothers long before anyone else did, or was even interested in buying their records. Because he would play all this stuff, and it was so eclectic, and I would tape the show, and then I’d go back through it just deleting everything that I thought was crap” – she lets out a laugh – “and transferring everything I really liked onto another cassette, and then that transferred into buying the actual physical product, when I could get my hands on it. … I remember [Peel] playing my first EP. He played it, and then he said something totally sort of weird afterwards. ‘Yeah, another gem from Medway – virtually unlistenable!’ Something like that. But he played it anyway, ha ha ha!

“But I was really drawn to stuff that made me wanna dance,” she notes, which turned into a long obsession with rare Northern Soul recordings – the bulk of which she sold many years ago to cover the cost of repairs to that boat she spoke of. “I still have a lot of records, and I used to DJ, and I have quite a broad – but narrow – appreciation for country blues and blues music. And that is really where we cross over, Dave and I, for sure, in what we do.”

She and the long-haired, bearded Drake met some 13 years ago when he was living in San Francisco, playing in a wedding band as well as a few local noise bands and whatnot. She needed a backing group for a string of west coast dates, and was introduced to Dave, who played stand-up bass. He’s been with her, first as a band member, then as her partner and primary musical collaborator, ever since.

As for his nickname? “In the old band there were two Daves. And everybody was sick of saying ‘Dave,’ and us both going, ‘Huh?'” he explains. “So one day we were having Irish whiskies, and I had a mug that said ‘Lawyer’ on it.” So do people come to him now for ill-advised legal advice?

“People do often ask if he’s a real lawyer,” chuckles Holly, who herself calls her man by the nickname.

“And I just say, ‘No, but I have argued in front of a judge,'” he laughs. “I was thinking I should make up a story like, ‘Yeah, they call me Lawyer ’cause I never lose an argument,'” Which would not even be close to true. I’ve seen him lose at least five arguments with Holly just this one afternoon. She’s clearly the Alpha in this unlikely relationship.

Before I make my way back to the city, Holly, Fife, Poppy and Tippy accompany me on a tour of the woods behind their yard, on trails they’ve carved through the underbrush. There’s a “man camp” that Dave’s been building (basically a hammock, as far as I could tell), and Holly’s shooting range. There are what she’s been told are old Indian burial mounds. Back near the house, there’s a horse corral they assembled, and a small vegetable garden, a pasture where a horse quietly grazes, their last remaining duck, those still-annoyed geese, a few goats nearby, and of course Leggy the loud-ass rooster.

“Do you wanna ride a horse, or shoot a gun?” Holly offers, before I take off.

I must admit, had I not hoped to beat the Atlanta rush-hour traffic, I’d have taken her up on it. It’s moments like that when county livin’ don’t seem so bad…