In Conversation: Holly Humberstone on How the Loneliness of City Life Inspired Her New EP
The British songwriter also discusses working with The 1975’s Matty Healy on her new single from The Walls Are Way Too Thin.
It hasn’t been long since Holly Humberstone arrived on the scene, but in her brief time here she’s made quite an impression. Her debut single “Deep End” first brought the singer attention for its vulnerable lyrics at the top of 2020. But it was her second single—the slow-burning pop anthem “Falling Asleep at the Wheel” released just a few months later—that earned the British singer-songwriter international acclaim and nearly two million views on YouTube.
Since then, Humberstone, now 21, has continued to share her crystalline, Lorde-like vocals with the world, first with her debut EP Falling Asleep at the Wheel in 2020 and now with her sophomore effort The Walls Are Way Too Thin, due November 5. One particular song from her forthcoming project, “Please Don’t Leave Yet,” caused an online frenzy months ahead of its release due to the involvement of its co-writer and co-producer, The 1975’s Matt Healy. The single, which sounds like it could appear on a 1975 record, was written and recorded during the pandemic and details the feeling of wanting someone desperately not to leave. The track is just one of many on her forthcoming EP that tackle loneliness, as well as the heightened emotions of living in crowded spaces, painful heartbreak, and enduring friendships.
Ahead of the release of the EP, Humberstone spoke with us from her family’s home in the U.K. about collaborating with The 1975’s Matty Healy, being inspired by Damien Rice, and the loneliness that fueled The Walls Are Way Too Thin.
How has the last year been for you creatively? Did you feel like you had a lot of motivation?
I had a lot of trouble trying to be creative and inspired during the first few months of lockdown. I find that I’m most creative and best at writing when I’m really, really busy. Like, I’m working loads, and then I’m jumping on a train and going to spend time with my friends in the evening. It was full-on before lockdown, and then we went from 100 to nothing, and I found it really hard not seeing my friends, not having anything to write about at all because there’s nothing inspiring happening. But I filmed a couple of videos in lockdown and did lots of DIY kind of stuff, which was also fun. I think I’ve gotten back into it now, and I’m grateful to be out and about and inspired again.
What was the process of making The Walls Are Way Too Thin, and how did it differ from crafting your debut EP?
Both EPs seem a bit like a time capsule for me. The first EP I wrote most of in the house I grew up in when I was in my last year of school. I wrote about all my experiences I had in this house, and all the videos we shot here. That had a specific kind of mood and sound to me. And then I moved out of this home to London and had various weird experiences that I had to work through. I felt like I was going through quite a lot of firsts—growing up a little bit too quickly and experiencing all of these, like, adult responsibility things for the first time, and I still felt really young. I remember working on the EP, and it was therapeutic for me. So this EP sounds a lot different to me than the first EP, but it was the same type of creative process.
“I felt like I was going through quite a lot of firsts—growing up a little bit too quickly and experiencing all of these adult responsibility things for the first time, and I still felt really young. I remember working on the EP, and it was therapeutic for me.”
Is there a theme to the new EP?
There isn’t an overall theme, but it feels like it has a theme because I wrote down everything that I was going through for the first time over the space of two years. I moved to London for music and moved from my childhood home—which is so important and precious to me—into this awful flat in Southeast London with people that I didn’t know. I remember feeling really lonely that year and not having a lot of people to turn to and the music—going into the studio and working—was pretty much the only thing I could fully be comfortable in. It has a lot of meaning for that reason because it helped me through all the weird things I was going through. If I had to sum it up, the EP is about me being an adult for the first time.
Are there any artists that inspire the way you approach your vocals?
I listened to quite a lot of Damien Rice when I was growing up and I just remember really connecting with Damien because there’s something about his lyrics that’s completely vulnerable, unfiltered, and really savage. But there’s so many amazing female vocalists at the moment that have gorgeous voices—Lorde, Phoebe Bridgers, Adriane Lenker, Arlo Parks. All these girls are inspiring me all the time.
How did you end up making “The Walls Are Way Too Thin,” the lead single?
That song was written over quite a long period of time. I had the synth riff first, and I had it for a while. I just wanted to vent about my housemates I didn’t get along with. It was my fault, really, because I found this place on Facebook and didn’t think about it before I moved to London away from my family. I don’t really have standards, and it was seriously gross. And the walls were so, so thin. I didn’t have any privacy, and I could hear everything that was going on in the rest of the house. I never fully relaxed. I wasn’t able to sleep at night because of all the weird shit and drunk people outside my window. So I wanted to vent about all of the chaos that was going on around me in London—how it’s full of people, but I just felt really alone.
How did your collaboration with Matty Healy come about?
I knew that The 1975 were in London [during lockdown]. Matty was around, and I guess there was no excuse for him not to come and write with me because everybody’s here. He just made me feel chill and comfortable. The 1975’s music has been so prominent for me growing up, and I feel like they soundtracked my teenage years, so it was such a dream for me to be able to work with him and see how much of a genius he is. Just being a part of the creative process and in the same room creating was amazing. I wanted to write a song about feeling a little bit lonely and desperate. It’s about not wanting somebody to go, and wanting them to stay so badly, even if it’s just for five minutes, just because you know it’s gonna be really rubbish the minute they leave because you’re gonna be on your own. It’s about being dependent upon somebody else for your happiness, which is not a good thing. But I feel like you can get away with it when you put it in a song.
“The 1975’s music has been so prominent for me growing up, and I feel like they soundtracked my teenage years, so it was such a dream for me to be able to work with Matty and see how much of a genius he is.”
“Scarlett” is one of the most striking songs on the EP. What’s the story behind that one?
I wrote it about one of my best friends named Scarlett, obviously. She was going through a breakup, and he was basically breaking up with her in a really slow and painful way. He wasn’t being honest with her and was prolonging this relationship—he was giving her a lot of false hope, where there really wasn’t any. They had been together for years, and she had basically planned her life out with this guy, and I could see he was slowly trying to cut things off. It was really hard for me to watch her go through that.
Are there any other songs on the EP that talk about this breakup?
There’s a song called “Thursday” about the early stages of the breakup, and I was going through everything with her. It’s about her being pretty dependent on him, like “I’d basically do anything to make you stay and to make you want me again.” And then months down the line she’s single, doing amazing, and is realizing how this guy treated her really rubbish. She’s seeing what I was seeing all along. So I wrote “Scarlett” from her perspective, about how crap this relationship was, and how everything’s kind of becoming clear to her now. I only realized it after I’d put the EP together, but all the other tracks are about being dependent upon somebody else, feeling lonely and not comfortable on your own.
What’s next for you? Are you working on a full-length album?
I’m writing toward an album, which is exciting, as well as scary. I think an album, for some reason, is really final. I’m such a perfectionist. I don’t know how long it’s gonna take me to put together an album, to be honest, where I’m 100 percent in love with every song.
Who would you love to collaborate with?
There’s lots of writers that I’d love to write with. I’d like to create a song with Bon Iver, probably. I’m obsessed with Bon Iver, Frank Ocean, people like that.
What do you want for your career at this point?
I’m not sure. I love performing and I’d love to be selling out huge venues across the world. But for me, writing is what I live to do. So I just really hope I can continue to write really authentic songs. I think there’s a lot of weird, confusing stuff going on in the world. It will be amazing if I can still write songs that I really care about and not be changed by anything external five years down the line. FL