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Sometimes The Only Thing To Do Is Put Your Head Down And Sprint For Gold

22 June 2016 | 3:11 pm | Samuel J. Fell

"That could've been the best thing I did, because I just didn't have time to overthink anything."

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Over the past decade, Hollie Smith has proven herself one of New Zealand's most prolific, and successful, artists. Releasing her debut album, Long Player, in 2007, Smith has continued to hit the high bar that record set, regularly appearing in the Top Ten album charts under her own name, and in collaboration with the likes of Mara TK (Band Of Brothers Vol 1, 2011) and Anika Moa and Boh Runga (Anika, Boh & Hollie, Peace Of Mind, 2013).

It's back under her own name that we see her now however, with latest release Water Or Gold, which comes a good six years after her second 'solo' record, Humour And The Misfortune Of Others. It's an album that carries with it Smith's sonic MO, a very jazz/nu-soul sound, but with an added blues and rock twist this time around, something Smith has been looking at for some time.

"I kept going through the reference stuff, some Black Keys stuff, some Alabama Shakes stuff, and then that reference stuff got wider and wider and wider."

"I was writing a lot on guitar for this record, and I haven't really played guitar since I was a kid," she says on how the blues influence came about. "My dad was a guitarist and I've been around blues/rock music my whole life, it was the first influence I grew up on. I'd picked up the guitar for the Anika, Boh & Hollie record, and that just extended through to what I was writing... in doing that, [the title track] and Lead The Way, I was writing with riffs.

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"And the chords were a lot more simple, because I'm not as established on guitar. So I think some of the songs are simpler, in a good way... when I play on piano, I tend to get really carried away with voicings and noises and sounds. [That leads to a bit more] of a jazzier tangent, but I did enjoy this, I just wanted to have a bit more of a rockout on stage as well. A couple of songs where I could get dirty on, so I think it's worked out really well."

It has indeed, the harder more blues-based tracks adding a strength to the record. Not that the rest of it is weak — Smith's voice is on point throughout, as strong and versatile as it's always been; Water Or Gold is some of her best work, despite the fact Smith wasn't sure, initially, how it would all turn out.

"I kept going through the reference stuff, some Black Keys stuff, some Alabama Shakes stuff, and then that reference stuff got wider and wider and wider," she laughs. "I was trying to establish a mood, but it didn't feel like it was going anywhere close to what I thought it was going to sound like.

"Then a bunch of stuff happened halfway through the year that just got crazy and I got quite disconnected with the progress of the record. So by the end, it was just a massive sprint to the finish — I didn't think I was going to have anything I liked at all, but I was refusing to quit. I just need to finish it! But evidently, that could've been the best thing I did, because I just didn't have time to overthink anything. And so by the time we went in to mix, it'd all come together. So luckily it all turned out all right."