It’s been five years since Holly Miranda released her album, The Magician’s Private Library. In that time, the bicoastal singer-songwriter toured her record and bounced between Detroit, New York City, and Los Angeles. But when it came time to write new material, Miranda found herself hitting a wall; the writer’s block got so bad that she almost quit music altogether. A dream helped redirect her, and away from the city she created her latest self-titled offering, an album of her most intimate songs yet. Today we’re excited to premiere the music video for one of those strikingly personal tracks, “The Only One”:
Holly and I had a phone chat about battling writer’s block, using selfie sticks, and Holly’s love for graphic novels.
MELODY LAU: Can you tell me about the music video for “The Only One” and how it all came together?
HOLLY MIRANDA: Yeah, my friend [the director Geoffray Barbier] had this idea—he gave me a GoPro camera, a waterproof case, and a selfie stick and I just carried it around with me for a month. I’d put my headphones on and walk through wherever—JFK airport, Atlantic City, downtown L.A., Times Square, the beach—and just get as many videos as I could. It’s really cool, it’s very raw. I’ve been trying to figure out if we should do any color correction, but I feel like the whole point of it is to be raw with no makeup. It’s a very honest and pretty direct song, you know? There are a few cameos from friends, but it’s mostly just me being lonely on the road…with a selfie stick. People would just stare at me; it was a real lesson in not caring what everyone thought.
Was this your first time using a selfie stick?
Yes. It’s not something I would ever purchase for myself, but it’s really interesting to see people’s reactions. It really makes people angry!
Well, it can be a hazard…
It can be obnoxious. Part of the experience of shooting this video was just documenting how much it bothered people. One woman actually told me that she was going to take my selfie stick and shove it up my, you know.
I was like, “Ouch?” I just kept walking.
Was the idea to have the rawness of the video complement the stripped-down style of the song?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s also a really good contrast to the first video from my new album called “All I Want is to Be Your Girl,” that was a very big production whereas this is as DIY as it can possibly get.
I read that you drove to Joshua Tree to write your new album? How and why did you do that?
I was having massive writer’s block for a while. Like, I was thinking I should do something else like be an architect or something. Then I had a dream that I rented a house in Joshua Tree, and I had never been there before, but I woke up the next day and the first house I found, I rented. I fit a bunch of gear into my car and drove up there, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but that first night, I wrote “Desert Song.”
What was your impression of Joshua Tree once you got there?
It was just incredible. In New York, or even L.A., when you hike to the top of a mountain, you can’t really see past a block, but there in Joshua Tree, you can just see forever and I had never seen anything like that. My head really needed to clear out the annoying chatter from the city.
Has that changed your mind on where you want to live from now on? Where are you located now?
Right now I’m just sort of bouncing around. My home base is wherever I am. I’m in Detroit a lot, as well as New York, and L.A. I don’t know, I can’t really figure out where I want to live. I’m mostly on tour so it doesn’t really matter right now.
Going back to your writing—do you have any advice for people who are experiencing writer’s block?
There’s a great book—which should be the bible for any young person or artist—a book by Rainer Maria Rilke called Letters to a Young Poet—have you read that?
No, but I’ve seen you quote it on your Instagram!
Yes! I’ve read it over and over. I’ve been reading it for decades! I’ve bought so many copies of the book and given it away. There’s a really great line in it: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.” That’s great insight for anyone who is going through writer’s block, to just be patient and be gentle with yourself.
I also noticed that you are writing a graphic novel right now. How is that going?
I just finished the first part. I would say it’s more like a zine. It’s a three-part series for a bigger thing which is more like a novel. I’ve been collaborating on that with an artist in Portland named Catherine Lazar Odell, so I wrote the story and she’s been doing the illustration. She used to play cello for bands like Sea Wolf and Horse Feathers. I’ve been toying with the idea of writing music or releasing a CD when the graphic novel comes out that would maybe score the book.
That’s cool; I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do that before. Are you a fan of graphic novels?
I love them. I’m a very visual person and I like to draw, but I can’t really dedicate that much time to it because it hurts my hand!
Are there any graphic novels that you would recommend?
Fun Home [by Alison Bechdel] is a great one. There’s a Broadway musical based on it and it’s pretty intense, but it’s really good. Also, any of the more autobiographical stuff by Jeffrey Brown like AEIOU. ♦