SONIC REDUCER Ah, spring — it seems like a distant memory in June as we get socked an SF summer's weaving, one-two punch of Westside fog and SoMa heat. But spring is the thing when we think about love. Love that picks us up, brings us down, lifts us back up to where we belong, then bitch-slaps us about the face and neck until we're ready to trade in our valentines for matching straitjackets and a tray of stiff drinks. Pull up a chair and tell it to Jolie Holland, who dredged up her own love–gone–sour mash life lessons for her latest lovely, lithely limned album, Springtime Can Kill You (Anti). "Yeah, it was just one pretty horrible set of emotional circumstances," she drawls from Salt Lake City while on perpetual tour. "Just a terrible accident of communication–slash–long distance relationship–slash–my life totally changing due to the music taking off."
Holland knows of what she speaks: She tried to settle down in San Francisco with her Stanford-jobbing scientist, dubbed the "Moonshiner" in song on Springtime, until he went off on a scholarship to Russia for 10 months. "I was tryin' to basically be married to a nice, normal guy who had a job and all that, which I'd never really sincerely tried before," she says. "I thought, this is normal — I'll try this. But the relationship had a vitamin deficiency. Anyway, that's what "Springtime Can Kill You" is about — trying to make something work that's not functional."
Now she's back to what a friend calls "the buckshot version of romance. I'm dating people who have fucked-up lifestyles like me — I'm dating other traveling musicians."
Dub it the bitter, beauteous fruit of Springtime and its absinthe-hued wedding of new grit, olde art, and lightly borrowed blues. The full-length's ballads of sexual codependency and earthy comradeship sound creamy and sensually nostalgic, yet never self-consciously musty, in the lily hands of coproducers Holland and Lemon DeGeorge. Springtime is haunted — by faraway lovers ("Moonshiner"), outright specters ("Ghostly Girl"), smashed hopes (Riley Puckett's "You're Not Satisfied"), old jazz records ("Springtime Can Kill You"), and a certain intoxicating insanity (Holland's old hip-hop collaborator CR Avery's "Crazy Dreams") — though it's far from a relic.
Likewise, Holland is far from antique. In contrast to the sometime Be Good Tanya's recent femme fatale photo stylings — complete with Bellocq–Belle Epoque cleavage and Veronica Lake peekaboo locks — she's still a girl's girl. She worries over the aforementioned image making, laughs like a hungry bird of prey, dishes band politics, sprinkles her speech with "fucked-up"s, shops vintage like a hipster magpie, drops references to a friend's "psychic power," and — true to form for the lusty lady who dedicated a song ("Moonshiner") to Memphis Minnie and Freakwater — gets creeped out by Mormontown. "Oh, thank God, we're leaving!" the redheaded vocalist says with a relieved, panicked laugh of her current stop, Salt Lake City. "I just walk down the street and people stare and yell stuff at me. And, like, weird shit was happening. Yeah, I don't like this town, and people are definitely treating me like a freak here. My hair is a particularly unnatural color, right now."
Still, life — even one far from her ex's arms — appears to be swinging much smoother these days for Holland, who now considers New York City, Vancouver, and Portland home. "I'm actually being pretty productive. The other day I wrote two songs in a hotel room." Even quickie genre classifiers don't matter. The New York Times may have plopped her into a recent splashy "freak folk" feature — amid Vetiver and Espers, a crowd she's seldom associated with — but that's OK. "Yeah, it said nothing about me, but it did say my name, like, three times," she says with her ah-ah-ah laugh. "It's interesting because we're Bay Area people, so we can see the fine details of who's actually associated with who.