Celebrating its 12th anniversary, the OC Music Awards kicks off on January 8th with eight weeks of free showcases at different venues across the county. 35 local artists will compete for the titles of Best Live Band and a performance slot at the 2013 OC Music Awards, March 9th at the City National Grove of Anaheim.
“Making a love song is kind of like making a cake and every cliché thing you say is like the sugar in the cake. Like ‘I can’t live without you,’ ‘I love you forever,’ whatever’s been in any cliché love songs,” indie singer-songwriter Becky Holt sits across from us on a couch, intimately leaning forward with one leg tucked in underneath her. She’s telling a story about her sweet-faced, ingénue vibe that’s been exalted in other interviews and seems punctuated by the cat and cupcake iconography of some of her photos. But if you get to know her, she is like a complicated layer cake, different colors of sonic frosting interspersed with a gourmand almost bittersweet edge to her lyrics.
“If you put too much sugar in it, it’s just going to be gross,” explained Holt about the wistful, sunny Sunday afternoon style songwriting. “I put enough sugar in it, it’s sure to make you sick,” alludes the title track of her album Cut and Paste.
A onetime actress that was told many times she couldn’t sing, Holt has that alluring balance of quirky and sardonic, candy-coated and cute, plaintive and pretty that has made similarly sounding singers like her personal inspiration Jenny Lewis and girl-du-jour Zooey Deschanel icons. She already gets teased for being a “spinster cat lady” despite not really liking cats due to a disastrous relationship with one. When we point out that you can’t judge every cat by one cat, Holt jokes “I’m very black and white. You wrong me once, it’s over. I’ll write a song about it.”
This is how Holt’s musical career came to fruition. After being denied roles in musicals due to not being a “triple threat” and only getting into the “sad choir” in high school, being a working musician was only a pipe dream for the young singer who says even her less-than-musically-inclined parents don’t believe she makes music. She said she didn’t start writing music until about five years ago after her first heartbreak that brought out her self-described innate melodrama and her newbie songwriting skills.
“I had it in my head that if I wrote my most epic break-up song ever I might win him back. It didn’t work,” Holt quips. “A lot of the choices that I make, unfortunately, are made by my emotions…For me, the only thing worse than heartbreak is real unrequited love. I’ve mastered the art of unrequited love.”
Just like Holt’s music, what could sound too sappy or sentimental is cut underneath with a sassy, self-deprecating undertone that doesn’t translate completely in print but does in her songs like “Pine Tree Gin” and “The Birds” which she calls her “vendetta song.”
“I like having these upbeat cheery songs with really dark undertones. It’s the way that I write,” elaborates Holt. “I’m able to take some of these things that make me really sad and add an upbeat twist to them.” A great example of that is Holt’s song “Hangman Knot,” which she says is her most emotional. After a series of successful attempts at recording, even though she never thought her songs would ever see a studio, Holt was inspired and made her band spontaneously play a song she had just written into one mic in the middle of the room.
One of her most morbid yet universally loved songs has recordings of talking, which Holt says she secretly does when she’s having deep conversations with people like her grandfather talking about his first job working in Yosemite and her dad telling a story about how he met Holt’s mother. Holt wanted to incorporate the conversations because her lyricism is so explicitly about her life. Even if it might be deemed “morally” wrong. “I learn a lot from the people in my life and they’re a huge inspiration to me.”
Holt says that Music is like “much cheaper therapy” for her in which she can do a lot of “problem solving.” Again, “Hangman Knot” is a good reflection of this because it’s reflective of her thoughts on worth and death. She was nervous that people would take it the wrong way, but to date no one has ever taken her aside and asked her if she’s “OK.” For the record, she is, just artistically in tune with the deeper parts of her consciousness.
“I’m actually surprised because a lot of people I have talked to about it, they’re just like, ‘You’re crazy,’ but I felt like it was kind of a common thing, you know–when you’re going through something hard. You know that it’s a terrible thought, but you have those fleeting passing thoughts where you think, ‘What would it be like?’ Who would miss me? How would my dad react? Would everything just continue on the way it is? I assume it would. I would fantasize about it and I’d think ‘What kind of weirdo am I?”
Not very weird since us both discover that we both have a funeral song. Holt’s Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Two Headed Boy Part 2.” She jokes that she wants to use the interview recording as part of her will.
For now, Holt is piping the frosting onto her pipe dreams, slowly, and with her realist no-low expectations.
“I don’t ever want it to not be fun. For me, personally, to not have any expectations, then everything is so much fun,” elaborates the dreamer turned Rialto waitress turned talented music despite years of disbelief in her skill. “If you look too far ahead, you stand the chance of being disappointed and if you let yourself get really disappointed, you stand the chance of losing something that you really love to do. I just don’t want that to happen to me.”
—Nadia Noir, KROQ Los Angeles
The 2013 Showcase Series runs every Tuesday night, January 8th-February 26th with stops at:
Jan 8 – Detroit Bar
Jan 15 – The District at Tustin Legacy
Jan 22 – The Slide Bar
Jan 29 – Constellation Room
Feb 5 – Tiki Bar
Feb 12 – Founders Hall
Feb 19 – Yost Theater
Feb 26 – House of Blues-Anaheim
LEARN MORE AT: OCMUSICAWARDS.COM