Shot exclusively on iPhone, the video for Delilah Holliday’s solo track, Rise of the Phoenix, plays like a serendipitous home movie, “almost like found footage from the late 1950s”, says the North London musician. Through a nostalgia-tinged 16mm-esque filter, Holliday strolls across golden beaches and beneath palm tree canopies in Lisbon’s picturesque old town.
Created by the musician and co-director Carter O’Sullivan, the short film is a perfect visual representation of Holliday’s lush new solo sound, having initially made a name for herself as part of punk trio Skinny Girl Diet – forming the band at the age of fourteen with her sister Ursula and cousin Amelia and going on to support the likes of Viv Albertine, John Cooper Clarke and Queen of the Stone Age.
Starting with the 2018 release of debut mixtape Lady Luck Volume 1, Holliday is busy crafting a body of work that mirrors her current headspace: laying out blissed-out R&B levels that allow her soulful and sultry vocals to thrive with attitude – a Billie Holliday comparison goes much further than surnames.
Reflecting on the past two years, pre-lockdown Holliday spoke to friend and fellow musician Ghostpoet, having recently teamed up to record vocals for his new single, Nowhere To Hide Now.
Ghostpoet: Hi Delilah, how you doing?
Delilah Holliday: What’s popping?
G: What’s Popping? [laughs] Apple crumble, that’s what’s popping [Ghostpoet digs into some apple crumble].
DH: [laughs] Is it good?
G: Fucking great. Anyway, what have you been up to since I last saw you?
DH: I’ve been in the studio working on some music and getting my life back together.
G: Wonderful, is that happening soon?
DH: I’m doing a little secret gig on Thursday for the Ladies Music Pub.
G: Tell me more about this.
DH: It’s run by these awesome women who are a collective – it’s a meeting where female musicians gather or people who identify as female and we just all talk about the struggles in the industry, and it’s a nice little sharing safe space. It’s actually weirdly good because you just let go of loads of tension and realise a lot of people go through the same thing you’ve been through.
G: For sure, for sure.
DH: I love your new music video [Concrete Pony], how did you film that?
G: Thanks, man. It was the director’s idea – we built two sets, one which was the right way up and the other was upside down. I had to hang upside down off some scaffolding and they were pouring goo on me.
DH: That’s mad, was it safe?
G: It wasn’t safe [laughs].
DH: It wasn’t safe?!
G: No, it was literally, I was hanging by my… imagine like tressels, and I had my feet hooked in there, and I was just hanging and that was it.
DH: I would have been like, “Don’t kill me please!”
G: I just thought, “I’ve just gotta’ do it.”
DH: It’s worth it though, it looks really cool.
G: Thank you very much.
DH: What’s the black goo? Did it get in everywhere?
G: Yeah, yeah, yeah [laughs]. We did two takes and on the first take it was getting in my eye and I couldn’t use my hands to get it out so I had to perform and just pretend like, “This is really cool…” So that was weird, and there were two girls who were just pouring it again and again and again.
DH: [laughs] Did they enjoy that?
G: Yeah they seemed to really enjoy that, it was very therapeutic for them [laughs]. How do you find videos? Do you like being in them?
DH: Yeah, I feel more awkward for the people watching me let the alter ego out. Like, “Oh no, I don’t want you to see that side of me” [laughs].
“I love the whole process [of making videos] because I feel like it makes a song more concrete in reality and it opens up your audiences as well.”
G: I know what you mean, the latest video is the first one I’ve been in for a long time. I don’t like being in them.
DH: Don’t you feel like it’s bringing your song to life?
G: Yeah, but I feel like it’s a distraction from the music, I hate anything that’s a distraction, even myself being in it.
DH: Do you feel like its a bit.. verging on narcissism, in a weird way?
G: To a certain extent. I don’t wanna ‘act’ and you kinda have to.
DH: Yeah, like a necessary evil.
G: Yeah! Do you get involved in the process at all?
DH: Yeah, I do. I try and make them all by hand at the moment but I’m hopefully branching out this year. I love the whole process because I feel like it makes a song more concrete in reality and it opens up your audiences as well.
G: For sure. Tell me about the video where you’re on the camel [Babylon], where was that done?
DH: Oh my god, yeah. I made that in Egypt, me and my sister, it was on a family holiday. I made the song in the hotel room and I was like, “Let’s just shoot out here, let’s bring Egypt to London.” Pretty cool.
G: What was it like riding a camel?
DH: It was like a horse but much more high.
G: I’ve never ridden a horse so I don’t have a clue how this feels [laughs], was it quite rocky?
DH: [laughs] Very rocky, very “I might fall off any second,” but I really liked the camel, his name was Micky Mouse. I saw him staring at me and had a connection, you know?
G: That’s cool, that’s cool, how long did it take you to make the music video?
DH: It didn’t take long, to be honest. It was done on iPhones, I just wanted it to look like a weird little found film from the sixties or something, that was definitely my aesthetic.
G: Yeah, it works. So you said you made that song in a hotel room, is that a common thing, writing in that sort of environment?
DH: Yeah, weirdly, I like writing when I’m abroad.
G: Really? Interesting… expensive hobby [laughs].
DH: No, [laughs] it’s mainly out of boredom because I like sunbathing to an extent but I need to be active and create something so I try and bring all my equipment with me in my suitcase and just work with some ideas.
G: Would you say that’s more how you work with your solo music, as opposed to with Skinny Girl Diet?
DH: Yeah, completely. A band is with other people’s ideas and stuff like that, and we were way more angry.
G: Do you feel less angry now with your own music?
DH: Yeah, I do.
G: Really, why is that?
DH: In general, I just feel like I’m more of a chill person, obviously I’ll always be a bit political, just not in an angry way. What about you, how do you view politics and music?
G: Politics and music, that’s a funny one because I was talking about this earlier, I feel like it’s important, especially nowadays, to talk about what’s going on, there’s a lot of political shit going on and I think you’re not doing yourself justice as an artist if you’re not addressing that in some sort of shape or form. I want to talk about politics but I don’t wanna come across preachy.
DH: That’s how it comes across, really nice. I love your music for that because it’s politically-fuelled but not in a patronising way, and it’s fantastical as well: an element of fantasy and reality merged together.
G: Aw thanks, man! Mate, can you just write my press releases? [laughs] That’s brilliant! I try to do that. I feel it’s important to give people a listening experience without having to be too, “this is what you need to be doing with your life.” There are classic examples of where that does work, I just don’t like to do that myself and you’re similar in that respect.
DH: Yeah, especially when you’re the chill person anyway.
G: I feel I’m getting more chilled as I get older because I haven’t got the energy to be as angry as I used to be, and I feel like I save my anger for the stage, for live performances. I’m trying to be more clinical in the studio, you know? As you saw I was very particular, like trying to work where to put this fucking snare and shit.
DH: Yeah, that was a fun day. Made me scream like five times.
G: It was fun. It was a lot of screaming. I mentioned that the other day, I was like, “This girl Delilah came in and literally out of nowhere screamed the house down!”
DH: I feel like I scared the producer a little bit.
G: Oh, he had never heard that before, he was very, very surprised because you’re a very chill person and then it was like, “ARGHHH.” Like, “Who is that person!?” [laughs]
DH: You’ve gotta’ let that person out sometimes.
G: You’ve got to let that person out. I got asked this before and I feel it’s a slightly cliché question but I do enjoy hearing the answer to it: what do you enjoy more, the studio or the live experience?
DH: That’s a mad question. I think it’s hard to compare, like I haven’t actually played live in so long I can’t really remember how it feels [laughs], it’s one of those things where if you’re out of practice, you sort of forget how it feels. I think I’d say I prefer to play live because it’s the final stage of your ideas coming to life and seeing how people react to them, that’s also daunting because putting yourself out there you can get rejected so quickly as well.
G: For sure, but I guess with time the rejection part, you get used to it, to a certain extent.
DH: Yeah, I did a DJ set last week and this person filmed me and said I looked like Dot Cotton [laughs].
G: Really? Fuck that guy!
DH: It’s the age we’re living in! You can be filmed just walking down the road…
G: Just getting some milk in your pajamas.
DH: Exactly, you have to be tough-skinned.
“I think I’d say I prefer to play live because it’s the final stage of your ideas coming to life and seeing how people react to them, that’s also daunting because putting yourself out there you can get rejected so quickly as well.”
G: How do you deal with stuff like that, does it happen a lot, the keyboard warriors?
DH: It happened a lot in Skinny Girl Diet, but the name’s so controversial and we were so young. Our Dad was managing us and he just didn’t show us it sometimes. We all found it ourselves and it does hurt, but you just have to realise that at least you’ve got the guts to put yourself out there and follow your dreams.
G: For sure, do you read all comments on interviews, reviews and stuff like that?
DH: I read some interviews but I don’t like reading comments, there’s no point, it’s just going to hurt you or it’s going to inflate your ego, and those two things aren’t good.
G: Yeah, I read everything, every single thing, ’cause I find it comedy. It’s nice to get compliments but I don’t take them onboard, and when it’s negative, I just laugh. Someone would judge a song based on a listen, they know nothing that went through the process of that song or judge a live performance based on you not playing their favourite song. There was a comment where one guy was like, “This band would be great if they got rid of the singer!” I was like wow… okay [laughs].
DH: But it’s your project [laughs]! It’s also funny because of how the comments are so out of context and it’s a complete stranger who might not even know your whole background, commenting on something. It’s like, “Who are these people anyway?” Follow your dreams!
G: Follow your dreams people! Yeah, it’s one of these things where I tried to just ignore it, but at the same time I became quite curious by people’s opinions, even though it doesn’t matter to me…
DH: Yeah but you’re an artist, that’s why you make art.
G: I think we all try to pretend we don’t care, but we do. I don’t care enough for it to affect what I make though
DH: Yeah, that’s the perfect way to be, but I feel that also takes time to practice and it’s a long lesson you have to learn to build up resilience.
G: It takes time. If you’re alien to the idea of people being negative towards you, it’s hard to know how to react to that. Some people wanna lash out and respond, I know people who will respond to comments and it’s like, is it really worth it?
DH: Yeah it kind of ruins the whole image you have too.
G: Are you an internet person?
DH: I am. I do kinda’ go off-grid though, that’s my negative trait.
G: I think it’s a good thing, I wish I could do more of that,
DH: I have a love, hate relationship with technology. I love the benefits of it, but I don’t like the fact that I’m easily connected – there’s no way to really hide. I like the way you can communicate with people who are interested in your art really easily and have a private dialogue.
G: Do you like that you can communicate directly with fans?
DH: Yeah, it’s not only helped me but a lot of other unsigned artists can connect with people. I always view Instagram as your personal business card, you can use it to your own advantage.
“I have a love, hate relationship with technology. I love the benefits of it, but I don’t like the fact that I’m easily connected – there’s no way to really hide. “
G: Do you do all the Instastories and shit like that?
DH: Only if I’m doing something that I think is worth sharing. Like I would never do a selfie of me on the toilet or eating pasta or something [both laugh].
G: This is the thing, I have a real issue with it because I don’t want to do the whole, “Here I am, eating an apple crumble.” I just feel that it’s not something that I really need to share.
DH: [laughs] I do feel there’s pressure for artists to be influencers.
G: There is pressure. Again, I feel it’s a distraction from the music, I just don’t want to do it, I’ve been lucky that I haven’t been pressured by my label to do that, I know a lot who are and they have to do regular posts and let people know exactly what they’re up to on a daily basis.
DH: I think it’s a really hard thing to put on an artist – how much stuff can you create?
G: For sure and then you get this kind of complex, like, “I haven’t posted enough! I need to create content!”
DH: [laughs] The shame.
G: The modern world we live in, my dear. What’ve you been listening to recently?
DH: I’ve actually been listening to a lot of this artist called Bree Runway.
G: Describe Bree Runway for me.
DH: She’s an awesome pop artist from London, she raps, she does everything. She makes me feel like a badass bitch and I like it!
G: You sold it very well. I’ll have to check her out. Anything else?
DH: A lot of old music, a lot of reggae – it just chills me out.
G: Would you say you listen to more old stuff than new stuff?
DH: I feel like for me personally, I need to listen to old music. I feel like my brain is a musical sponge. If I was to listen to more commercial stuff all the time I would create music I’m not happy with. What are you listening too?
G: At the moment I’m listening to a lot of blues, I constantly listen to blues and jazz.
DH: Well it is the twenties again, might as well revive it.