“I don’t have a need to speak about personal relationships and I don’t plan to.” Holly Throsby is nothing if not frank.
“I did the motherhood book, (Motherhood and Creativity, a collection of interviews with well-known Australians) and I did the article (an op-ed piece for Fairfax where she revealed she is in a same-sex relationship) and they were difficult for me.
“But I like it when people speak out about sexuality, and I appreciate it, so thought I might as well do it. But it’s just more like, ‘who cares?’ I’m sure some people feel that about my article, too.”
The Australian singer/songwriter, well known for her acoustic tunes and breathy vocals, is elusive and aloof at times, yet exudes certainty at others. She is firm in opinion, gentle in nature and has the authority of a general when it comes to giving her dog a talking-to for eating bread rolls off the ground as they walk through the park.
Over the course of her musical career, she has been nominated for four ARIA awards: two for Best Female Artist, one as part of her collaboration with fellow female singers Sally Seltmann and Sarah Blasko on Seeker Lover Keeper and, just to keep things interesting, one for Best Children’s Album.
Her first children’s album, See!, came after four contemporary adult albums, filled with songs about heartbreak, love and sorrow. See! was inspired by her goddaughter and friends’ kids, and led to fun, quirky sound effects such as barking dogs, bicycle bells, children’s voices and birds in songs.
“I tried to think like a kid, not write for a kid. I find a lot of children’s music to be quite patronising. I wanted to make music I would ordinarily play, just with a lot more colour, the kind of children’s record I wouldn’t mind either. I mean, it’s totally for parents!
“The selection of music for kids is so small; I didn’t want to hear incey-wincey-spider in the car again. Parents thank me because their kids like the album and so do they. It was in no way a selfless thing to do, it was totally enjoyable for everyone involved.”
The album was recorded live in a 19th century sandstone church in Wildes Meadow, a hamlet in the southern highlands.
“My producer (Tony Dupe) and I had so much fun making the album; it was very satisfying in terms of sound effects and instrumentation and sound collage. I’d like to do another one but I haven’t got round to it yet. I’ve got several plans for the future, but we’ll see,” she says.
Holly Throsby is not all fun and games, though. There’s a serious side that comes to life when talking about things she strongly believes in. Her 2013 opinion piece in Fairfax newspapers was a powerful argument for same-sex marriage in Australia.
“I would like to be able to get married, too. I’d like to be able to do it in Australia. But unfortunately, Australian law says my partner and I aren’t allowed. I figure, if my perspective helps just one person, then good. And if people who hitherto liked my music and this turns them off it, well, they can choose other music,” she wrote.
Looking back, she says doing the piece made sense because it’s an issue she’s passionate about and has a personal stake in.
“I got asked by the editor of that newspaper section to write about whatever I wanted to; I think it was during the time when all the regular columnists go on holidays!”
She says it’s rare for her to talk about personal relationships, so while another opinion piece can be ruled out for the time being, music is where her personal stories can be heard.
“I guess my inspiration would come from my experience. I don’t tend to tell other people stories that much. I am starting to more and more through the songs I write these days. At a very base level, books influence me more than music, but also all other kinds of art forms. Whatever comes in comes out, usually through my music.”
And in a world where manufactured pop stars are valued and indie artists are overlooked, Holly Throsby’s music and character are refreshing.
“Artistically it can be hard sometimes to work out what’s important. I say no to a lot of stuff, like offers for shows or tours or collaborating or giving a song to a public domain.
“Sometimes I think people put themselves out there heaps, but I’m not like that. That’s not really me. I think music industry people think you should do it a certain way, but I’m not interested in doing things that way. I’m going to do what I’ve always done and I’m going to keep doing it.”
If the determined attitude and surname sound familiar, it’s probably because they are. Her mother, Margaret Throsby, has been an acclaimed broadcaster with ABC Classic FM for the past 21 years, and was the first woman to present national television news in Australia in 1975.
“I respect the way she’s managed her own career; she’s made her own choices and remained true to herself. She was wooed by commercial networks but has been at the ABC her entire career. I come from a very ABC-style family. She’s the kind of person who can negotiate on her own behalf. She’s a strong woman.”
Is she a strong woman?
“I am, in some ways. Trusting my instincts is something I need to constantly remind myself of.”
Holly Throsby is speaking at The Anatomy of a Kids’ Song today, 4.30 to 5.30pm, Pier 2/3, The Loft. She will appear as part of a panel with Justine Clarke, Peter Dasent and Murray Cook.