Q&A with Bullyheart

Bullyheart is the brainchild of recording artist Holly Long, but it is obvious that this "band" or project is much more than that to her. Bullyheart's music, inspired mainly by soulful rock-n-rollers is just that - full of heart and soul. Much of that is due to the fact that Long has something to say and isn't afraid to say it. Having just dropped her debut album, Anitgravity under Bullyheart back in December the journey is just beginning for Long, and it seems as though she has plenty of plans for the future.

Interview by Shannon Shumaker

I know that you’ve been part of the music scene for quite a while, but Bullyheart is a newer endeavor, so can you tell us a little bit about the band?

Truth be told- there is really no Bullyheart "band" in the classic sense. (Spoiler alert!) I suppose if I liked the word "project" more, I probably would have initially thought to present this music with THAT concept attached.  But I don't, and so, to be true to the sound we created, and to speak to my strong desire to shed my "singer/songwriter" moniker, I came up with a band name, and birthed this album out into the world loosely around the idea that it's a "band" album. 

To be honest, the making of this first Bullyheart record came about only slightly differently from my previous four singer/songwriter albums in terms of the fact that I  wrote every song, and again used varying musicians to flesh out the sound.  The only difference is the makeup of the instruments and the intention behind the sound. Whereas on previous Holly Long albums, I've got horn sections, string players, banjo and accordian players, small choirs, harp players, keyboardists, guitarists, etc, etc, the Bullyheart album has only drums, bass and electric guitars.  It's intentionally meant to sound like a late 70's/early 80's classic rock band. However, there are two drummers, two bass players, and three guitar players other than myself which make up the "band" on this album.  So, though it's very much a divergent sound for me- and happily so- I still haven't exactly brought to life my recent dream of putting together and fronting a band.  
 

Is there a little bit more freedom working with a "band," rather than just as a recording artist?

Well, in my dream life there is ;-)  Perhaps that's why I awoke one day in my late 30's realizing that what I wanted to be when I grew up was the lead singer of a rock and roll band.  That's a daunting realization to make deep into the second act of your life.  But, my almost two decades of roller coaster experiences as a solo artist made me yearn desperately for my early days as an actor and comedienne, when I was constantly involved in group work.  Writing, performing, succeeding- and failing- along with my friends and peers.  That one element has been missing from my artistic life as a singer/songwriter.  And now that I've made this "band" record, and yet have not really actualized the "band"- it's a funny thing that's cut both ways. 

On the one hand, I love sharing the stage constantly with the guys.  It's such a thrill and a kick to be part of a bigger sound.  I love it.  I love being up there.  Yet, I still haven't delegated or shed any of the responsibility.  So I'm still in charge of everything- writing, booking gigs, doing interviews, coming up with the plan.  I'd love that kind of "freedom" - to be able to NOT have to shoulder all that.  But to date, I don't know what that feels like.
 

Your album, Antigravity just dropped in December, too! How do you feel people have received the album so far?

You know, I think the folks that have gotten it, for the most part, have really "gotten" it.  I knew I was going to put something out that wasn't for everyone.  (Well, that's really always the case, isn't it, with every artist?)  But I was really trying for something particular here- trying for a record that mostly reverberated with sounds that turned me on when I was young and life was new.  I was going for an empowered female, rock based voice that to me felt seasoned, and yet fresh at the same time.  Because though Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde and Joan Jett have come way before me (to name a few significant powerhouse rocker chicks), to me there's still a significant lack of powerful female voice in pop/rock and indie rock music currently.  The trend has seemed to drift over the decades back to the frail, the emotional, the sexualized when it comes to women singing and writing songs in that genre...but not the badass.  And I wanted to be badass.  I think the people who have heard this record and dig that Pretenders thing- that stripped down four piece band thing with a snarly chick at the mic- they like it.


Was there anything that you guys really wanted to be able to accomplish with your debut release?

Well, now that the cat's out of the bag, you realize I have to talk about "me" wanting to accomplish something- not the "guys."  Though the guys who helped me produce this album and the musicians who play with me as the Bullyheart band do totally want to continue and grow and make more music together...  

What I wanted from this record was a new start.  Something happened to me after Holly Long album number four.  It's called "Frequency" and it's a 70's ish driven record in the vein of Roberta Flack and Rita Coolidge.  Lot of soul and vibe and great musicianship on that record.  I was really proud of it, and felt that we all hit the mark really well, from the horn arrangements, to the keyboard solos to the drum sound to the melding of the small choir behind my lead vocals.  It felt like a win.  But it also felt like the end of something. LIke I had reached the end of my journey as a solo writer and recording artist.  I was just tired and done doing it alone, and stretching out every few years for a producer and new set of musicians and string of joints to play scaled down versions of the music we were creating.  I wanted so desperately to JOIN something.  To be part of something that already existed, bigger than myself, or to helm something that would be a group- a band.  I still want that actually.  Though the contours of my life make it a little difficult to accomplish, that's all I really want out of my musical life right now- to sort of live it backwards. To just focus on the music, just for the music, like you do when you're a kid and you're first learning how to make sounds. With no real goals in mind that relate to any sort of professional or industry accomplishments.  And I haven't quite accomplished that- at least, I haven't quite yet found or formed the group that would be me and the other kids playing in the sandbox with me.

The other thing I wished to accomplish with this record- in fact the thing I think I DID accomplish- was vocally embodying a part of myself that had been lacking in my previous material.  One of my co-producers and engineers on this record, David Boucher,  is a dear friend of mine.  He kept prodding me to find that piece of me in my songs that he liked to hang out with at the coffee shop- the snarky smart-ass Holly.  He encouraged me to challenge myself to write more like some of my musical influences in my teens- the Chrissie Hynde's and Annie Lennoxes.  The ladies with attitude and brains.  With something to say, and the ability to say it in poetry along with a kick ass beat. And so I did.  And between David and the other co-producer/engineer, Kevin Harp, who vocally coached me during the tracking of the songs we layed down together, I found help to enact a piece of my inner core, which is very impatient, and bitter, and just kind of pissed.  But also strong.  


I really love the 80’s inspiration for much of the album, too - it doesn’t sound like anything that anyone else has been releasing lately. What were your songwriting influences for Antigravity?

Thnaks for the compliments.  Glad the 80's inspiration is coming through, and that I'm not the only one who feels like this record is a bit of an anomaly right now. That was purposeful.  I would hope my influences are pretty evident.  Number one for this record would be Chrissie Hynde.  In so many ways, her songs, her story, her life are incredibly inspiring to me.  A handful of my colleagues here in LA have worked with her, or are dear friends with her, and I'm six degrees of separation away... I hope one day maybe to be face to face and just share a glass of wine.  Maybe scotch - or organic green tea, not quite sure what her poison is. We share midwestern roots - we're both moms.  She, however, found her voice and path early - barreling through to a hit record on her first try with a band she handpicked after productive years spent overseas as a music critic, cutting her teeth with the likes of the greats over there.  My path has been less illustrious, and less direct... though the folk song inner core of our writing may have some similarities. 

My second influence would be the great Tom Petty.  I cannot get enough of that man's simple, yet perfect songwriting skills.  Just a few chords, just the right syllables and the catchy melodic phrase plus the driving beat - he's so direct and universally human.  Also (though you wouldn't hear it as much in this record) Ric Ocasek.  I've always been in love with The Cars.  They probably made up at least three songs of every cassette mix tape I either gave or received from every one of my boyfriends in the 80's.  And then there's Martha Davis of the Motels.  And even, from a balls to the wall singer standpoint - Cyndi Lauper, Pat Benetar, and of course, different genre- Lucinda Williams.  Though from a writing standpoint, I can be more drawn to The Pixies, The Replacements, old Velvet Underground.  I mean - these are only a handful of the vast array of musical influences on me as a kid growing up... everything from Stevie Wonder to Fleetwood Mac, Beatles, Beethoven, Chopin, The Cure, Miles Davis- the list goes on and on.  But for this Bullyheart 80's sound, I'd say the mark was always Pretenders, Petty, Motels, Cars. 


Do you have a favorite song on the album? Was there one that really hit you when you were writing/recording? 

I've guess I've become the annoying artist who considers my songs as all my children.  (Thank you, Tori Amos.) So it's sort of impossible to pick a "favorite" because if any of them do, they all have merit and serve different purposes.  The song that was written the fastest, if that's any indication, was "The Pendulum."  Interesting, since it's sonically the tune that probably sits the farthest out of the box than any of them.  But that tune was written straight from the gut, and began with rough draft lyrics written in under five minutes that ended up essentially being the entirety of the song. Bascially, it's a really honest and fairly dark piece about my tendency toward bi-polar emotional issues.  Like Jimi with his "Manic depression's a frustrating mess..."  I'm chiming in on that tip too here.  

"No Pleasing You" was written, and then totally taken apart and re-written to become the song it is now, and I'm happy with the reconstruction.  My intention behind that tune was to take an actual story about an actual person I knew, and get into a Petty writing place with it, and I think I succeeded more along those lines with that song than with any other that I've penned.  

And then of course there's "Antigravity" itself, which I put first, and with which I've titled the record.  Probably the overriding voice of the record itself- frustrated, older, wiser, attitude stemming from disappointment and experience. This song all sprang forth from the initial rhythm guitar riff, which I play on the album, and for me was my way in to the realm of rock.

Honestly- I'd rather the listener pick the favorite actually.  For me, each one of the songs has its own story of how it came to be, and how it fit into the mix...


What would you like listeners to be able to take away from Antigravity?

I would hope that the listener could find common ground somewhere in this album. Like, yeah- I know what she means.  I guess in many ways, I'm always looking for that sort of connection as an artist... but I'd also hope that somewhere along the line, someone listening to this record would simply stop, remove the needle, and set it back at the beginning of the song he/she just heard, thinking - "That song really f*&cking rocked.  I wanna hear that again." 


I feel like it’s really easy for younger girls to look up to female fronted bands, so if there was any message that you’d like to send to other women listening to Bullyheart, what would it be?

This is a good question, and yet hard to answer. Maybe the message that I would give from the podium might be different from those I'm giving in my songs.  Were I to stand up in front of a group of younger women, I'd want to imbue them with the things I wish someone would/could have imbued me with as a younger woman:  Things like - Love yourself.  Trust yourself.  BE yourself and no one else, because you are enough, just as you are.  Embody yourself to the fullest - whether artist or doctor or mother or philanthropist or businesswoman.  Regardless of your career choice or color or creed or sexuality. Whomever you might be - write yourself with that pen that no one else has.  Sing your song with the voice that only you have.  Do it to the best of your ability without shame or guilt.  There will always be fear, but that's what makes the journey worthwhile, is the meeting and living with the fear, which is essential to growth. That kind of living, to me, is the true pursuit.

And yet- in my songs- I am saying other things.  I sing about loss and frailty and being upset and feeling unseen, and I'm angry.  And sometimes confused. And I'm sad for other people, along with myself, and disappointed that life isn't full of fairy tale endings, and that lots of things are just really very hard, or at the very least, mundane.  And I suppose I write these songs not because I think that life itself is a big bummer, or that we all should just give up.... But I write these songs at an attempt to record the truth.  My truth.  My experiences, my true feelings - the real inside of how it goes or how it feels.  I'm trying in the way that my heroes of song have done in the past, to skillfully and artfully pen the true human experience, from different angles and through different lenses.  And I'm also doing that, while trying to write a good song that someone would want to hear again, just simply because it sounds cool.

So what would I say?  I'd say- look at me.  I'm in my mid forties.  I've done a bunch of stuff.  I've seen a bunch of things and been a bunch of places, and yet.. I'm still a beginner.  I'm still at the beginning of understanding how to create.  I'd say- life is long, if you're lucky.  And there's no deadlines.  There's just the present moment of every day. Try to be in that moment as much as you can- every day of your life. 

(I'm going to print this out and tape it to my computer screen just to remind myself.  Because I'll need to be reminded.  Maybe tomorrow or next month, I don't know, but I do know I still need to be reminded of the real solid true things- over and over and over again.  That's the truth, Ruth.)
 

Now that you’ve got your first full-length out, what’s next for Bullyheart? Do you have any big plans for 2015?

Ok, well, I've had a couple great gigs.  Have some more that are appearing on the calendar.  Thinking very hazily about trying to go for some festival spots in the summer? Not sure- I really do need to connect with a booker to get those kinds of things to materialize.  And to date I've never actually worked with a booking agent.  There's already some new tunes penned for the next record.  And since the beginning of the year, I'm knee deep in guitar lessons with a new teacher.  I haven't been in a lesson environment for over a decade now, and it's humbling and incredibly liberating at the same time to get back to basics, and really hone my craft again- in a deeper and more patient way.  I think as long as I hold onto the feeling of being a student, of continual learning and growing, music can and will always stay alive for me.  Even as the outside opportunities fade away for an aging female artist who didn't hit in her early twenties. 


Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

First of all, I want to thank you, Prelude Press, for allowing me the space to yammer on.  It's always informative to answer interview questions - like somehow through the act of the writing itself, you get a little closer to your own truths contained within. Helps to clear the windshield off, as it were.

Also - I want to add how much and how deeply I believe that somehow I've only just begun my musical pursuits.  Despite the fact that I've been writing songs, recording albums and performing for over two decades now, I think as a musician and an artist, I'm only just now getting it.  I mean, truly - as time goes on, one can only get better and deeper at any pursuit, if you're doing it right.  Which means, if you're paying attention and staying fresh and alive to the changes around you and in you.  And though we live in a culture that doesn't want to uphold the value of aging, getting older and accruing more experience in the world just simply has enormous value.  It just simply does.  The older you get, the more opportunity you have to become yourself, to comprehend your own nature (or not!) and to really understand what's important and what isn't.  I'm sad we tend not to discover musical idols unless they're in their teens and twenties.  As if that's the pinnacle of anyone's life--  I'll be 45 this year.  And I've only just begun to rock.

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