Lon­nie Hol­ley

A vet­eran vis­ual artist from Alabama fash­ion­ing cos­mic protest songs

UNCUT - - In­stant Karma - ERIN OS­MON Mith is out on Septem­ber 21 via Jag­jaguwar and re­viewed on p30

Lon­nie Hol­ley was a cel­e­brated vis­ual artist be­fore he ever thought of mak­ing a record. By the mid-’80s, the Birm­ing­ham, Alabama, na­tive’s self-taught sand­stone carv­ings, foundob­ject sculp­tures and paint­ings were shown in mu­se­ums from new York to At­lanta. it wasn’t un­til 2012, at age 62, that he emerged as a mu­si­cian.

Hol­ley had been cre­at­ing home­spun record­ings of his im­pro­vised vo­cals and el­e­men­tal key­board play­ing for three decades, but hadn’t thought to air them be­yond the con­fines of his apart­ment. At the en­cour­age­ment of his big­gest pa­tron, Bill Ar­nett, he re­leased Just Be­fore Mu­sic (2012) and

Keep­ing A Record Of It (2013) on Dust To Dig­i­tal. “My mu­sic and my art are like Si­amese twins, they’re com­ing from the same brain pro­duc­tion,” he says. in both medi­ums, Hol­ley re­lies on his in­tu­ition. Whether it’s fas­ten­ing scraps of found metal for a sculp­ture or ru­mi­nat­ing on the ills he sees in so­ci­ety, each project is the re­sult of an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dig of his mem­o­ries mixed with his mod­ern con­cerns.

The re­sult­ing pieces of mu­sic are wholly im­pro­vised, gor­geous ru­mi­na­tions that dance over am­bi­ent syn­the­siser, piano and in­stru­men­tal con­tri­bu­tions by the likes of Laraaji and the late Richard Swift. in con­ver­sa­tion, Hol­ley’s thoughts, drenched in a mo­lasses-thick Alabama drawl, twist and turn be­fore reach­ing a con­clu­sion. He ex­plains the ba­sis of his new­est al­bum, Mith, his de­but for the Jag­jaguwar la­bel. “The things that are hap­pen­ing on earth that are caus­ing greater hard­ship. i mean, we have enough mo­bil­ity to build a space cen­tre, and we can learn to co­op­er­ate and live out in space, from other na­tions com­ing to­gether to do these dif­fer­ent space pro­grammes… but when it comes to com­mu­nity we don’t have the out­let.”

Whereas his first two records were heav­ily con­cerned with the con­nec­tion and dis­con­nec­tion of the phys­i­cal body and cos­mic con­scious­ness, his third record re­lays tan­gi­ble protest. “i Woke Up in A Fucked-Up Amer­ica” leaves lit­tle room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion, Hol­ley’s im­pas­sioned, grav­elled voice re­peat­ing the lyri­cal hook over a doomed sym­phony of horns and drums by the im­pro­vi­sa­tional jazz duo nel­son Pat­ton.

“All of my work and all of my life has dealt with protestable im­agery,” he says. He cites his up­bring­ing in the Jim Crow era of the seg­re­gated South, where he wit­nessed racist po­lice forces turn at­tack dogs and fire hoses on black cit­i­zens. At one point Hol­ley was also forced into a no­to­ri­ously abu­sive in­sti­tu­tion called the Alabama in­dus­trial School For ne­gro Chil­dren. “Mith is a protestable piece of mu­sic. it’s my mind mov­ing through all of these in­ci­dences and oc­cur­rences.”

His aim is to high­light the strug­gle of his peo­ple and of the earth, which he calls “the moth­er­ship”. The garbage pro­duced by mod­ern con­sumerist so­ci­ety is of par­tic­u­lar con­cern. “in Amer­ica we are blind to waste,” he notes.

The im­me­di­acy of such truths, and the pal­pa­ble beauty with which Hol­ley trans­mits them, of­ten re­sults in a sob­bing au­di­ence. He con­sid­ers that the ap­proach is in­tense, but nec­es­sary. “i’m try­ing to re­duce things to their low­est terms, for us hu­mans to think about,” he says. “We need to hear it – not only hear it, but do some­thing about it, and quick.” While he might not be able to clear land­fills, he can open hearts and minds.

“Lon­nie is the im­pro­vi­sa­tional poet of our time…” DANIEL LANOIS

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