We Jam Econo:
Holly Golightly and Lawyer Dave Still Enjoy The Simple Life – Personally and Musically
When we last visited Holly Golightly and Lawyer Dave (check the May 2011 Stomp and Stammer – I bet it’s still in that stack by the recycling) they were putting down stakes in their newly acquired six-acre homestead in Danielsville, Georgia. You’d think by now the novelty would have worn off, and that the London-born Golightly would be looking for an escape hatch. Not even close – their farmhouse still has the ramshackle quality the couple seems to favor, as most of the money and sweat equity have gone into shoring up its termite-ridden foundation and setting up fencing and a reliable water supply for the six rescue horses Holly has accumulated.
None of this has deterred the duo from its work as Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs, however – the name under which they’ve churned out an album a year like clockwork since 2006. But this is a particularly busy stretch for Golightly. Just a month before the Brokeoffs released Coulda Shoulda Woulda last month, Holly put out Slowtown Now! the first album with her longstanding London-based combo in a decade.
She recorded Slowtown just before last Christmas, while back in the UK. “It wasn’t really taxing, it was just like a bunch of friends playing together, the way it’s always been,” she shrugs. “I didn’t have anything ready (material-wise) until I went over there.” It also happened to be the first time Golightly made it back to her native country in many years, which explains the long gap between albums. In 2014 Golightly gained permanent US resident status after a drawn-out process, during which she was unwilling to risk being denied re-entry and leaving her horses (and presumably Lawyer Dave) unattended.
While both albums clearly bear Golightly’s fingerprints – both share a vintage vibe and the no-frills handcrafted quality that dates back to her days in the orbit of UK revivalist Billy Childish and Thee Headcoatees – they’re also quite different. The Brokeoffs traffic in a rough-hewn country sound that verges on psychobilly, whereas Holly’s London combo favors understated ’60s girl group-inflected fare. “From the labels’ perspective I know they would have preferred more of a gap, but I don’t see it as a problem with the two coming out together, because they’re not remotely related – different bands, different labels,” she explains as the three of us chat on their front porch on a drizzly afternoon, an agitated rooster repeatedly crowing at my ankles.
She’s hoping to bring her UK band to the states in the spring to present the oddly punctuated Slowtown Now! but for now her focus is on the Brokeoffs and an imminent tour behind Coulda Shoulda Woulda “I wouldn’t do the two at the same time – they’re entirely different things to me. This (the Brokeoffs) is just a favor to Dave,” she jokes between drags on an ever-present cigarette.
The recording of Coulda Shoulda went more smoothly than did 2014’s All Her Fault, which was interrupted by the ice storm that hit Georgia that winter and the resulting electrical outages (or “power cuts,” as Holly calls them in her British vernacular). This led to some good-natured bickering between the couple. “I don’t see why an album should ever take more than two months to make,” she jabs. But Dave, who’s the studio rat of the pair and takes the lead in creating the Brokeoffs’ music, bristles at spending more than four hours a day in the windowless recording shed they’ve constructed behind the house. Holly’s style is to “hit it ‘til it’s done,” but she spends precious little time in their cramped studio, which can barely accommodate the upright bass on which she writes most of her songs.
Although Holly contributes most of the lyrics Dave brings in a few as well, and here he decides to land a counterpunch. “There are certain words she won’t sing, which I have to work around – sneakers, backpack….”
“What’s wrong with ‘suitcase?’” she scoffs.
Most Brokeoffs records include at least one cover, typically obscure and often cheeky in nature. This time out it’s the early ’50s cautionary bluegrass ditty “Marijuana, the Devil’s Flower.” “I’m convinced the FBI paid to have this song written,” Dave enthuses. “If I were a kid and heard this song, instead of getting scared off it would get me interested.” They got the lead from their friend Big Joe Louis, “who’s a white Brit, by the way,” Golightly elaborates. “He has an amazing record collection. He sent us a few ideas and none of them clicked, then he followed up with this one and we immediately said, ‘Yeah, that’s it!’” The couple was disturbed to learn that Coulda’s dance craze tune “Karate” fails to credit its origins on the CD – it’s originally by the Emperors, circa 1966.
Once the Brokeoffs complete a record, the next challenge is for Dave to work through how to play the songs live in his one-man band format (he plays standing up and triggers the drums with his feet, for instance). “You pick what works – the fun ones, generally,” he says, clearly not stressing over replicating the recorded versions on stage. Fortunately, the Brokeoffs see their fans as the sort who value a rollicking good time over fidelity. “When you get to the arena rock level, or country, the audience expects familiarity – that’s the reason they like that shit in the first place. Those guys spend a lot of money getting it to sound that way. And I don’t think they make any,” Dave laughs.
“We’ve been on tours with big bands where we wind up better paid than they are,” Holly adds, discussing how the duo’s Spartan lifestyle extends to their road regimen. “I think we’ve taken it to the barebones, when you consider it’s all in a 4-Runner. When you can fit all your crap, including merch and luggage, in an SUV…and if we didn’t have to take a bass drum, if they had one waiting for us at every venue (as is common in Europe) we wouldn’t even need that much space.” Of course, things get trickier when Holly tours with her five-piece UK band, upright bass in tow.
Dave fondly recalls a few Brokeoffs shows in Spain for which gear was provided. “We showed up and they’re all proud because there are full Marshall stacks. The problem is that we don’t play loud enough for those things to even register.”
Given their need to maintain the homestead (she’s lined up some horse-savvy friends to house-sit and tend to the brood during their seven-week fall roadshow) Holly has begun to fantasize about new avenues to present their music. “We could set up right here and have people come and see us play. We’d make more money offering a camping holiday, but Dave won’t do it,” she laments – the farm is within a half hour’s drive of Athens, so it isn’t really that remote. She offers the example of friends Amy Rigby and “Wreckless” Eric Goulding, who now host gatherings at their home in upstate New York. “People don’t sleep there, but Amy cooks them dinner.” But Dave isn’t having any of this plan. “It’s hard enough at bars with some people who won’t leave you alone, but if it’s at your own house…I don’t want to go to jail,” he gripes, countering with the idea of tapping into the house show circuit. “That’s better than your own house,” he says, but Holly quickly shoots down the idea. “Yeah, but you’re still getting in your car and driving 20,000 miles.”
Surprisingly, the couple really doesn’t listen to much music around the house, or even in the 4-Runner while on tour. For the latter, they prefer audiobooks from the “Cracker Barrel Book Club” lending library. Holly and Dave have developed a fondness for dystopian, quasi-religious tracts like the Left Behind series, a kitschy fascination that dovetails with the lyrical concerns of new Brokeoffs songs like “No Judgment Day” – although I’m guessing most Cracker Barrel denizens would recoil from a lyric like “The devil can suck my dick” on “Heaven Buy and Buy.”
Back in Danielsville, Golightly defrays the cost of feeding and nurturing horses with a part-time paralegal job, a skill she picked up back in London while doing housing law, shutting down crack dens. “I was an anti-social worker,” she quips. “I wasn’t finding the crack dealers new places to live, I was helping the innocent old ladies next door to them reclaim their streets.”
Their six acres are pretty well maxed out with the current complement of six horses (actually, one’s a donkey). Holly sees her role as more of a way station and has managed to find new homes for a few, but realizes most will be permanent residents. One was a Christmas present for Dave – who grew up in Texas but spent several summers with cousins on an Idaho farm. He considers himself capable of handling horses, a notion that Holly greets with a patronizing tone – her goal was get him a safe entry-level charge. “I can spot them a mile away. I knew his worst wouldn’t be that bad. You can learn an awful lot from a horse that’s an unwilling partner. But this one’s worst is to do nothing – not to go ballistic and hurt you.” After all, if a piece of Dave gets broke off (and Holly’s had a few broken bones across her decades of horse training), there’s no one-man band.
In the years Golightly remained stateside awaiting an immigration ruling, several of her British friends made the trek to her Danielsville digs for holiday. Their culture shock inspired an album title. “You’ll wind up behind a truck that doesn’t move at a traffic light, or a pokey store clerk and we just remind them ‘hey, you live in Slowtown now.’ Some people can embrace that rhythm immediately. It drives others crazy. I love it.”
Photo by Troy Martin.