EP Walkthrough: Essie Holt guides us through her debut EP, Silent Wars
With a six-track debut EP, the Sydney-via-Melbourne musician cements her place as a blossoming name in homegrown pop.
Essie Holt is someone who over the last few years, has very quickly become a shining light in Australia's pop world. Originally from Melbourne, the musician made a bright-lit entrance into Australia's blossoming electro-pop scene with her debut single Underwater and since then, has flourished into something spectacular, with every single she's put out since - her second song Magnetise, for example, was one of the best of that year's - seeing her solidify her craft as she weaves between productions both grand and synth-backed, and those a little more tender and subtle.
Now based in Sydney, she's someone that can't seem to take a wrong step. Better For You was an entrance into euphoric festival-pop that contrasted heavily against the subtle, piano-backed LANKS collaboration Distant Places. Last year's Give Me The Night saw her vocal swerve between a pulsing production aided by Evan Klar, while her two tracks for 2020 have showcased her push-and-pull sound at their most complete; the twinkling Silent Wars and quick-moving Salt showcasing her many sounds, and how she's able to strive in all of them.
Those latter two tracks both find a home on her debut EP Silent Wars, a release that seems to encapsulate her career thus far and gaze forward into a brightly-lit, constantly-shifting future. Featuring many of the songs which have pushed Essie Holt into the upper level of Australia's pop world, the record brings Essie Holt to the forefront as her most complete and elegant form; the richness of songs like Silent Wars amplifying the slow-burning, dimly-lit mellowness of a song like Last One, which also preluded the EP's release.
However, Silent Wars doesn't just set out to show us what Essie Holt has done so far. It's greater than just a summary of her work thus far, with some of its tracks guiding us forward and hinting and what's bound to be a strong future for the rising star. Lover X Liar moves at a slightly experiment pace thanks to its ricocheting drum kicks, while When We Dream swerves into an almost alt-pop territory, a little reminiscent of Lorde except slightly more upbeat and rich with moving, centralised synth melodies.
"For me, this was being queer. I came out in the middle of writing these songs, and the work evolved as my journey unfolded," she says on the EP, and how it represents a big moment of her life not just as a musician, but on a personal level too. "I got to know myself really well this time and answered some really honest questions that I guess I’d always been too scared to dive into. It was confronting and at times pretty painful, but now I am living my truth, and that feels pretty special."
Continuing, she elaborates on the EP's songwriting and musicianship, which heavily involved aforementioned producer Evan Klar. "I had a really specific vision sonically for the EP - I think depending on your mood when you listen it can feel like you’re either soaring or sinking. I started writing to beats which completely changed the way I thought about melody and lyric," she says. "My producer (Evan Klar) and I also wrote a lot of songs at the piano. I’ve always been so affected by music that is grounded by piano, and it really is at the core of every song on the EP."
It's an EP that reflects her many sounds and textures, but as she explains, they're all rooted in a sense of self-exploration and reflection, as well the rich piano that underlays every track. Dive into the EP below with an EP walkthrough from Essie Holt herself, guiding us through the release's sounds and creation one track at a time.
My debut EP! Releasing this is a hugely exciting moment for me as it’s always been so important for me to have a body of work out. It’s called Silent Wars and it’s about the inner battles that we all face. I wrote the EP last year and it was the biggest year of my life in terms of change and personal growth. I ended a long term relationship, came out as queer, moved cities from Melbourne to Sydney, left my day job, met a whole bunch of new friends, and also sadly lost some important people in my life. I left behind my two dogs, who I love so dearly and miss every day. I didn’t quite know what I was doing, and maybe I still don’t, but I knew I really had to lean into this change to get to the core of who I am.
All of these huge changes were unfolding as I wrote the EP. I had so many powerful late-night conversations with my darling friend, producer and co-writer, Evan Klar at his studio in Melbourne, Fall Back Studios. We had the best time writing together, talking about life and digging really deep into what I needed to say.
I had a really specific vision sonically for the EP as I didn’t want to make a clean pop record. I want to make something that really reflects me, a little quirky, left of centre, with heavy indie references and elements of lo-fi production. I think depending on your mood when you listen it can feel like you’re either soaring or sinking. I started writing to beats which completely changed the way I thought about melody and lyric. Evan and I also wrote a lot of songs at the piano. I’ve always been so affected by music that is grounded by piano, and it really is at the core of every song on the EP.
Silent Wars is the title track and is a bit of a pep talk to myself. I wrote it when I was on the verge of coming out and scared about how my life would change in doing so. This was a big song for me to write, as a lot of it came out pretty fast and subconsciously. It set up the whole theme of the EP and unlocked a lot in me creatively. It’s the song I always come back to and it transports me right back to that suspended place I was in at the time.
I wanted to keep my vocals stark and dry, because a lot of this conversation with myself was very personal. 'You’re lying to yourself, what’s pulling you apart. Know you got it in you, growing up shouldn’t be that hard’.
This is my favourite track on the EP right now! My favourite does change regularly though, depending on my mood. This song is about finding a community around you and not being afraid to lean on people close to you for support. Some really amazing people came into my life when I came out. They let me be myself and made me feel so loved and supported. I think this track is a little unassuming at first but then it really kicks into gear and becomes a big delicious pop biscuit. I referenced a lot of Sylvan Esso throughout the making of this EP, and I really love the chorus and where we ended up taking it.
LOVER x LIAR
This was the last song we wrote for the EP and was a last-minute addition. I had the tracklist pretty much wrapped, and I’m so glad I spent another few days writing to see what else would pour out. It’s about the mistakes I made in a relationship and how feeling numb can stifle you. The chorus feels really good to sing and I like to think I’m channelling a little Lana in it.
GIVE ME THE NIGHT
This was the first song I wrote for the EP and we made a lot of bold production choices with it. She’s sassy and fierce. I wrote it about that buzzy feeling you get when you meet someone you can’t have.
This song definitely unlocked a lot for me sound wise and pushed me in a really specific direction sonically. We used some fun effects I’d never used before, like tape and leaving my vocals completely dry in the verses. I love how they contrast with the hypnotic whirl of the chorus.
Last One was written recently about a pretty dark place I got myself into a couple of years ago. I cheated on a partner and came very close to losing a lot of people that I loved because I was living in this party/fantasy kind of land. It’s interesting for me to reflect on that time now because I don’t feel like I know that person anymore.
WHEN WE DREAM
This song is about the people I grew up with, and how different our lives are from each other’s now. At times it feels like they’ve fast-tracked being an adult, with their serious jobs and mortgages, but here I am just trying to keep my new plants alive. I grew up in a fairly suburban area in the outer Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, and I see a lot of people stay in that bubble and mix with the same people constantly. They’re super happy and thriving, but this life wasn’t really for me. Moving out of home and into the city was a hugely liberating time for me and changed my whole outlook on the person I am in this world. It feels like the perfect closing track, cos it’s nostalgic and reflective.
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