Holly Miranda is a badass. Let's just start there.
The Detriot-born singer-songwriter first moved to New York when she was only 16 years old, in an attempt to escape her hometown and make a name for herself in the music industry.
Since then, Miranda has released 3 studio albums, played countless shows, and toured extensively. This past month, she released her EP Party Trick, a collection of cover songs, and is gearing up to play at this year's Governors Ball.
I got the chance to speak with Miranda about all of this and more.
Having just listened to Party Trick, I was eager to learn about the album's process and her approach to covering other artist's work. On the album, Miranda expertly combines creative liberty with loyalty to each song's unique foundation.
A critic favorite is her take on Drake's "Hold On, We're Going Home", a chill, slow-burning rendition that Drake would likely not recognize but respect nonetheless.
I'm personally quite fascinated with the whole concept of cover songs.
I'm not ashamed to admit that I've often found myself deep in a YouTube black hole at 3 in the morning watching cover after cover and wondering 1) How these beautiful geniuses interpret songs in a way I would never have begun to imagine, and 2) How the hell my initial search for a nail tutorial got me to a piano cover of "Single Ladies."
I asked Miranda a little bit about how she tackles her covers. For her, it's not an exact science.
"I don't think there's any real objective. It's kind of just something I do for fun. It's also how I taught myself how to play guitar. If I hear something that sounds like a challenge, I always want to challenge myself. It's also a great way to learn how other people write songs and their craft. Recording it is probably the last thing that comes to mind," she says.
Her process is very organic, very raw, and that definitely shows through on the album. It's a refreshing departure from the over-produced music heard on popular radio stations today.
Miranda explains, "Everything on the EP happened in a different way. The Drake cover started as just my bass payer and I having fun in the back of the van on tour. She took it back to Tel Aviv and finished it and I sent her some vocals. 'Forever Young' - that's one that I just did by myself one night in a home studio setup."
"I think if anything the goal is to try to make it different, or to try to get to a place where you understand their voice as much as you can being a separate person conveying that."
But what about her process in writing her own music?
"It's usually pretty solitary," she says.
"For me, music originated as a very personal thing and it took a long time for my to get to a place where I was comfortable opening that up. And even so, sometimes you just don't work with other people well. It's kind of like going on a date. (Laughs) Sometimes I'll try to have coffee with people before we write together just to see if we even can vibe."
Miranda's earliest memories of music coincide with her earliest memories in general - she can't remember a time in her life before she started singing.
"When I was little, if I was going to sing in the car, [my sisters] would make me lay down on the floorboard because they said my voice was so loud that it felt like I was inside of their heads."
She continued to sing and play piano and eventually taught herself the guitar and trumpet, but there was only so much her hometown could do for her, personally, as well as musically.
So in 1998, Miranda picked up and moved to New York City all by herself at the age of 16.
"I dropped out of high school and told my parents I was coming here for two weeks and then called and when I got here and was like, 'Yeah I'm not coming home.' It sounds crazy to me now and I would never recommend that to someone, but at the time I was just very different than everyone around me and that if I didn't get out, I didn't know what would happen to me."
This is incredibly impressive to me. I mean, when I first moved here, my parents knew full well where I was and could be reached at a moment's notice should I need them, and I was still petrified. I ask Miranda if she felt at all intimidated upon first arrival.
"It wasn't really scary," she says. "I don't think I knew what to be scared of. I knew that I did not fit in where I was, and being in the Village and being surrounded by all these weirdos and these queers and these artists and these freaks, I felt totally at home for the first time."
Of course, a lot has changed in the 18 years since Miranda landed in NYC, both within the music scene and the city in general. I'm interested to know what she has observed as the biggest changes over the course of her time here.
"I think it's always the same story. I think probably what I see the most is just... I miss venues. There's so few places to play these days where you're not treated like it's such a great privilege to stand in the corner of this dump and be treated like shit."
"I was in Williamsburg in the early 2000s. My bandmate owned a studio where The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio and everybody recorded and hung out, and that studio is now, I think, Banana Republic.
It's a spot where I really cut my teeth and I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am now without having the opportunity to have a place like that. You were always welcome back to keep experimenting. So that vibe I miss, but I think that probably exists somewhere. I was out playing in Bushwick the other night and I was like, 'Oh, it feels like the 90s here.'"
It's not just the city that's changing, though. The industry is taking a turn that (understandably) concern artists like Miranda who have been in the game for quite some time, working tirelessly and dedicating their lives to their artistic growth.
"It's kind of confusing to figure out how to actually make money in this industry anymore. Unless you can tour constantly, or you can get some great placements in a commercial or movie or whatever, it's pretty difficult to navigate how you survive.
"And what ends up happening is that you have a wave of people who just want to be famous, and they'll really put too much effort or thought into the craft of it. I'm gonna sound like an asshole right now (laughs), but I think that that happens and then it lowers the bar for everyone else because they don't really need the money.
Maybe they're coming from a trust fund and they think, 'Oh, I'll just do this for nothing' and then everyone expects everyone else to do it for nothing."
We've all heard stories like that, haven't we?
It feels like anybody with money can (and unfortunately, often does) put out music.
Remember Kim Kardashian's song? I mean, come on.
If that's not a slap in the face to all the hard-working musicians out there killing themselves in order to make even a little headway in their careers, then I don't know what is.
But despite this, Miranda is still endlessly grateful for every opportunity that her talent and tenacity has lead to.
"Every record that I get to make I feel really lucky, because I don't expect that I'll be able to make another record, you know?"
And she almost didn't make her self-titled album that was released last year. Miranda took a hiatus from her career in order to regroup mentally and emotionally, an understandably needed break after nearly 10 years of nonstop motion.
"I had been touring pretty solidly for like a decade," she explains. "I really needed a break and I needed to live a life for awhile. I had an unfortunate experience with a company I was working with and it was sort of disheartening and disillusioning and I couldn't really remember why I started doing this. It took me awhile and it took me going out to the desert and secluding myself and getting away from the chatter."
We're certainly glad that Miranda made her way back to the music scene, doing what she does best. And although we're stoked to hear her perform some of her covers at Governors Ball this year, we're also eagerly awaiting some new original music from her in the future.
On songwriting, Miranda says, "I feel like the best songs for me are the ones that I don't even feel like I've written, you know? You're just in the right place at the right time and you're more of just a vessel."
And while she may have had some setbacks and hardships in the past, we definitely feel like she's in the right place at the right time, right now.
Check out her new EP from Dangerbird Records right here.[Feature Image Courtesy Instagram]