Holly Palmer is an American singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles, California. She has released five albums as a solo artist, and has toured extensively as a vocalist with acts including David Bowie and Gnarls Barkley.
She recently released her fifth album inspired by her son Maceo. We got to spend some time with Holly to talk about the process of making the album and working with the legendary David Bowie and dabbling in Jazz.
Can you tell us a bit about your new album “ A Family Album” where can people get it?
A Family Album is available on all streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music & Tidal and digital retailers like iTunes, Amazon etc.
What was the process like making your fifth album?
Well, it’s kind of a long story! It begins almost ten years ago when my son Maceo was born, there was no breath in his body. He was grey and shaking and my doctor looked mystified.” What’s happening?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said gravely, his voice trailing off. After an ideal pregnancy and a short labour, my son had gotten hurt on his way into the world. We spent two months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the doctors were dire in their predictions. Maceo had suffered a brain injury due to a lack of oxygen leaving him with the immediate diagnosis of Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy, which eventually resulted in diagnoses of Cerebral Palsy, Chronic Lung Disease, Swallowing Disorder and Cortical Visual Impairment. Today Maceo is a vibrant, music loving nine-year old who is learning to use a head mouse with his communication device and lights up a room with his smile.
We cleared all pessimists and naysayers from our team and sought out professionals who corroborated our hope. The first two years were arduous as we tried to figure out how to take care of our guy. There was medical equipment, a suction machine, pulse oximeter, food pump, g-tube, in-home nursing, therapies, sometimes 3 a day and sometimes 90 minutes away. We had a hyperbaric oxygen chamber kindly donated to us and we built a crawling track for him to move down hoping to organise left and right sides of his brain.
All of that said, even back then, we have always had a lot of fun at our house. Challenges notwithstanding, for both my husband Joe and I, life is infinitely better since Maceo came along. He is persistent, funny and loves music more than anyone I’ve ever met. I am a musician and my husband a passionate music lover so there is always music playing in our house. When he was a baby, Maceo’s body used to be very tight, wound up like an infant-sized coil of wire. Due to the dystonia in his body from his brain injury, his main physical expression when uncomfortable which seemed to be most of the time, was arching back and turning his head to the side. In those days we used to roll him from side to side on his back, pushing one knee up to his belly and rolling him over then back to center and then the other knee up and rolling to the other side. This was the one thing that eased his discomfort, getting him out of extension and relaxing his body. And then one day, sitting at the computer with my husband Joe, something else happened. Joe put on “Human Nature” by Michael Jackson and Maceo transformed. Right as the first couple of notes of the opening riff played, his eyes opened very wide, he turned toward the screen and every drop of tension left his body. Joe and I looked at each other, looked at him and back at each other in amazement. It was like magic. Maceo has been a music fiend ever since and it should be noted, he is THE most opinionated person about music that I’ve ever met.
When Maceo was two I caught up on the phone with a songwriter friend of mine Pete Glenister who lives in London. We had lost touch for a while and he said, “What are you up to these days?” I said, “Well, I’ve got this amazing kid, Maceo.” I told him what we’re working on, sharing some of the ins and outs of our journey and to my great surprise, he said, “That sounds beautiful. I’d like to write songs about that.” He said, “I think you should share your life in your music and I’d like to do that with you.” It took us six years to write and record A Family Album as Pete lives in London and I live in Los Angeles, and also, you know, life! We started writing over Skype, sending each other ideas back and forth and whenever we had enough songs to finish, I’d head over to Pete’s place and get ‘em done. Eventually, we had a finished album which turned out to be a collection of snapshots of our family, and so we decided to call it A Family Album.
Will you tour the new album?
I hope so! Aside from being with my family, singing live in concert is what I love to do more than anything. For an independent artist like myself, touring is tricky because I’m not able to cover those expenses. But then again, you know – if I’m able to secure funding for a tour, it will happen. And I really hope it does!
What is the most rewarding thing about your work?
The most rewarding thing about my work these days is what happens when what I’m singing about – this very personal subject matter about my adventures, love, trouble, joy, pain with my family, seems to resonate with others. When parents and friends tell me how they feel when hearing a song about my son, saying it makes them feel understood or that it sounds like I’m singing about their own journey with their child – well, this makes my heart sing.
You’ve worked with some amazing Artists (wow David Bowie!) what’s been your favourite collaboration?
It’s hard to say who has been my favourite, because I’ve learned something valuable from everyone I’ve worked with. My time singing with David was magic and I was honoured to be there. One thing I don’t know if most people know about him is that he loved to laugh. He was always going into accents and cracking jokes in rehearsal. Beyond the intense and wonderful musical experience of singing with him which one might imagine, his love for a laugh and sense of play with really delightful to be around.
Is there anyone you would really love to collaborate with?
I would love to collaborate with Pharrell. Really love his singular touch on records, how he creates his own universes that are instantly identifiable. Most recent work that I love is “Apeshit” on the Carters’ album. It’s big hit around here!
What’s been a funny moment for you at a gig? Any mishaps you want to share?
One time I was singing at a private party for Andre Agassi the night before the US Open at a studio called New York Noise in Manhattan. This was in 1998 or 99. A friend of mine put together a little concert for Andre to enjoy and help him relax the night before his big match. I sang on of my all-time favourite songs, the Willie Nelson/Patsy Cline’s classic, “Crazy” for him. I guess I was must have been really into it and maybe holding the mic close against my lips as I sang because when I finished, just after the applause died down, Andre said, “I want to come back in my next life as your microphone.” Everyone cracked up laughing. It was so unexpected and hilarious!
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to spend time with my family – listening to music, playing games, going on walks – basic togetherness stuff. We are big snugglers at our house, watching movies or reading. These are my golden times.
What’s next for you project wise?
I made a jazz album with my friend Cuong Vu, a Grammy award winning trumpet player who is also the head of the jazz department at the University of Washington near where we grew up. Cuong is an incredible musical and innovator and one of my most favourite musicians ever. We made a concept album called After Hours. The music is all classic songs mostly from the American Songbook, though we also do one in French and one in Portuguese We are planning its release now and hope to play this music live this summer.
Do you have any hidden talents that you can tell our readers?!
I studied French for six years. I love the language and so I started in seventh grade and went all the way till l graduated high school. I don’t get to use it too often although David Bowie did bring me up to his mic to talk to the crowd at the Olympia theatre in Paris one night. That was a thrill! I get hired to write and sing commercials in French occasionally as well these days which I really enjoy.
Who are your influences and inspirations?
John Lennon, Sarah Vaughn, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, David Bowie, Rickie Lee Jones, Aretha, Donny Hathaway, Chet Baker, Stevie Wonder, Karen Carpenter, Prince, Renee Fleming, my son Maceo and my husband Joe.
What advice would you give to someone who would like to get into the industry?
Sing every day, always do your best, be on time, be kind, stay connected to your people and above all, don’t stop!
Where can people follow your work on Twitter/Facebook/YouTube etc?