Common Holly talks Canadian Music Week and new album

(By: Angela McLean)

For an artist that has “Common” in her stage name, Brigitte Naggar is anything but. The Montreal-based singer-songwriter extraordinaire blends a rich, folk sound with modern electro beats, reminiscent of Feist, Angel Olsen and Radiohead but intriguingly unique. Songs like “Nothing,” about accepting a breakup, and new single “If After All” can only be described as sad but beautiful – a label she accepts, and embraces. Look at Naggar’s social media bio: “Music 4 u – Hope it’s not too sad – Oh well.”

Common Holly is in Toronto this week for the Royal Mountain x Exclaim! Canadian Music Week (CMW) showcase. We caught up with her ahead of the May 12 show at The Garrison to chat all things CMW, ‘Playing House,’ and happy endings.

(Photo courtesy of Royal Mountain and Exclaim!/Facebook)

As a Canadian-raised artist, how important do you think it is that we have a week like CMW dedicated to celebrating Canadian artists and their accomplishments?

I think it’s really important. I think that the entire music-listening population forgets at some point that some of the most influential musicians out there actually came from Canada. I know I do this all the time. I think a festival like CMW serves to remind us how much good stuff is bred on our clean, Trump-less shores. Go Canada.

Who are some of your favourite Canadian artists?

Chad VanGaalen, Braids, Andy Shauf, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Avril Lavigne.

Do you think your upbringing in Montreal influenced your sound?

Definitely. I think you have to be a little weird in Montreal. But not like, New York weird. Less well rehearsed, less well educated, a little more broken – I think that’s a Montreal sound.

You released your debut album, ‘Playing House,’ in September 2017. What story does the album tell?

It’s the process of one young person leaving a long and important relationship. It’s all of the mind and heart work that goes into that, the movie-montage style narrative that gets you to the other end where you can breathe and be a normal person again.

(Photo courtesy of Solitaire Recordings)

What’s the symbolism of the cover art?

It’s a picture of my grandmother and her cousin in Egypt. ‘Playing House’ is about what it means to navigate life in the process of growing up, and the collateral damage of that growth. Two knobby-kneed girls from my family tree seemed perfectly suited to that.

The opening track, “If After All,” is divided into three layers sonically and despite the stark differences they mesh together perfectly. Can you describe the process of writing and recording that song, and why you chose to make it the opener?

It seems to me that the most jarring and unfinished songs that I bring to the studio end up being the most interesting and sometimes seamless ones. This one was the result of a weekend production session at my family’s cabin, surrounded by all kinds of fun things to make sound collages with – logs, puzzle pieces, etc. I owe that seamlessness to my producer Devon Bate, who understands the weirdness of my compositions so well and knows exactly how to match them sonically and texturally – that’s how the song ended up as it did. We felt it would be most ballsy to stick it up front and center.

You’ve performed around the world. What has been the most memorable moment?

I’ll never forget my first big solo show, probably still the biggest show I’ve ever performed at. It was opening for Julien Baker and her 800 fans in Toronto. I was so moved by the crowd’s willingness to listen and engage. They even sang along with me at the end and there is nothing quite like an 800-person sing along.

If someone only had time to listen to one of your songs, which would you say best encapsulates you as an artist?

I think “The Rose” is a bit of an underdog and probably best encapsulates my indecision when it comes to making compositional choices. I have a hard time sticking to a genre. I sort of want my songs to go everywhere and then see later if it works. I think this one worked best for me.

What’s next for you?

More recording! A second album, lots of touring – touring all the time.

Thank you, Common Holly! Catch her CMW performance this Saturday night at The Garrison before she heads off on a European tour.

(Header photo: Sean Mundy Photography)

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