Some albums have a spiritual streak that runs so deep, they sound like they were made in a church. Holly Golightly's latest album, Medicine County, is the flip side of that: It isn't particularly spiritual, but it actually was recorded in a church.
"It's not an elaborate thing by cathedral standards — it's just a wooden hole," clarifies the singer. "But it still had the organ in it, which we used. We got the keys from a neighbor who was caretaking the place. You can't really annoy anybody, because you're a long way from everybody else. We were trying to [record] during the day so we wouldn't bother the cows next door."
The London-born Golightly moved to rural Georgia two years ago. Long tours and a growing sense of rootlessness led her and partner "Lawyer Dave" Drake to the small, ramshackle farm that serves as both home and studio. "I've been going back and forth for years, but I didn't have a base until we found this place," she says. "We couldn't move straight in because it was a falling-down shack. And it wasn't like we left contractors here, hoping we had someplace to live when we got back."
Golightly started her musical career fronting the girls-in-a-garage annex group Thee Headcoatees in the early '90s. She went solo a couple years later and ended up recording with the White Stripes on their 2003 album, Elephant. That same year she released Truly She Is None Other with Cincinnati's Greenhornes. Three years ago, she and Drake recorded their first album as Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs.
You Can't Buy a Gun When You're Crying steered away from the garage references that fueled her past work and charted an Americana-style country-folk course. Dirt Don't Hurt, from 2008, was more of the same. Both albums were assembled during the little time Golightly and Drake had together, since there was still an ocean between them. Medicine County is the first time they've made a record while both were living in the same zip code.
And "it's the first time we've had enough time to devote to [an album]," says Golightly. "The first album we did in about five or six days, and the second album we had ten days. So we were under real tight time constraints. We could do it a bit more leisurely [this time]. The album is more cohesive and makes more sense to me in a lot of ways, because there was the time. It ran three weeks in the end, which is an opus by my standards."
The songwriting process was also different this time around. For the first two albums, Drake was in the U.S. and Golightly was in England. They wrote separately and brought the songs to each other. Medicine County's songs were all written in the same space together. "We did actually sit down and come up with quite a few songs on the sofa," recalls Golightly. "Which is the privilege of being able to do it right outside your front door."
The new environment had a direct impact on the songs. The atmospheric title track is about living in a dry county — the exact same situation Golightly and Drake faced. "It's fine — the best liquor store in the world is just across the county line," she laughs. "They're very busy."
Golightly's move to America has been fairly sweeping. In England, she was a social housing-projects manager, a flexible position that allowed time for touring and recording. In Georgia, she trains horses and grows vegetables.
Still, she finds many similarities to her childhood home. "It's very like where I grew up in the country in the U.K.," she says. "Obviously, I don't sound like everybody else, but everybody loves me. I'm not such a novelty as I was two years ago. Most people in the States don't go to Georgia. I love that people are a little bit wary of the South. It keeps them out, and it means people like me can move here."
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