Jazz

Holly Amgren: The "Daring to Feel Everything" Interview

With her latest CD, “Daring to Feel Everything,” Holly Almgren shares and masterfully evokes reflections, life experiences, and emotions in a rhythmic and fun way. The unforgettable collection of tracks she has assembled is unprecedented. Critics say the songs are rhythmic, the lyrics matter, and the melodies linger, so the early rave reviews from listeners are no surprise. Holly’s experiences earlier in life groomed her for the success and creative expression she enjoys today. Recently, I spoke with Holly. We discussed her genesis, her love and passion for music, and of course, her latest release, “Daring to Feel Everything.”

Fran Briggs: Good Morning, Holly. Thank you for meeting with me. And, congratulations on your new album, Daring to Feel Everything.

Holly Almgren: Thanks so much for having me, Fran. It’s exciting to be able to talk about this project to a broader audience.

Fran Briggs: You’re quite welcome. Could you share with us about your background?

Holly Almgren: I played guitar, sang, wrote poetry from the age of 10. I used to sit in trees and sing… imagining a crowd of people gathered to listen to me. My dad was musical and exposed me to jazz and bossa nova, he took an interest in what I was playing and listening to. I started performing and writing music in my 20’s, although I had stage fright and was more at ease composing and singing in studio than in front of an audience. I made my first album of original songs during that time. It was arranged and produced by pianist/composer, Kit Walker in Boston, with Stan Strickland again on reeds.

I’ve been writing songs for 30-plus years. Growing up, my family listened to a wide range of music – from (Burt) Bacharach and Jobim, to the great jazz singers like Ella, Sarah, Nina, Billie, Nat, Johnny Hodges; show tunes from West Side Story, The King & I, the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, and Bonnie Raitt. As a teen I also got into the blues, soul and motown: BB King, Otis Spann, Taj Mahal, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke. My eclectic musical tastes influence my songwriting. At 30 I moved to NYC hoping to write music for film and jingles, but the cost of living made me return to being a chef.

I moved back to Boston at 40 to marry and have a child, and my songwriting started to pick up steam. I was performing again here and there, and planning a CD five years ago when my dad was dying and my mom needed help caring for him. He always said do what you love because you spend too much of your life working not to love it. I knew it was time to take my music to the next level. We didn’t know it, but my mom had cancer. She died two years later. As if that wasn’t enough turmoil, my husband fell in love with someone else and our marriage fell apart. Painful, but good song fodder – and it propelled me to go for it with my songs. (In) January, 2010, a mutual friend suggested I hire J. D. Steele to produce my CD. We hit it off, liked each other’s music, agreed to do the project & started recording that March in Minneapolis, with a fantastic rhythm section including his brother Billy Steele (Sounds of Blackness) on piano. We finished in late summer.

Fran Briggs: If you had to review Daring to Feel Everything in a few sentences, what would you say?

Holly Almgren: 13 of the 14 songs were written by me. So Satisfied was the first song J.D. & I wrote together, finishing it on the plane to our final session. He produced & arranged the vocal harmonies, as well as sang backing vocals with Maria Benson. The CD is autobiographical, the product of a lot of improvisation among the musicians (who play together often), guided by J.D.’s and my sense of the groove we wanted. The songs are rhythmic, the lyrics matter, the melodies linger, so I’ve been told. Sometimes I call my style Buddhist jazz-funk but there are always exceptions when you try to pin down your sound. I like that. Diversity in all things makes life more meaningful.

Fran Briggs: One of your tracks is titled, Nobody Eats Us. Could you explain how the title was conceived and what the lyrics are conveying?

Holly Almgren: I love Nobody Eats Us because it’s deep, outrageous, and takes people by surprise. I was feeling such despair and righteous anger about the human race – what we’re doing to each other, the animals, and planet. I was learning about predator/prey balance. My mom had just died of cancer, which is your cells consuming each other. The heavier the topic, the funnier and upbeat I make the lyrics and music, otherwise it’s too dark. The song speaks of our being at the top of the food chain, wasteful, and killing everything including ourselves. We haven’t had a predator since the dinosaurs and we have become so unconscious and arrogant. AIDS, cancer and diabetes are widespread, not to mention obesity.

People have lost the capacity for satiety, have become addicted to stuffing themselves even though it’s killing them, and they’re teaching the habit to their children.(We eat and eat and eat, we eat ourselves!). But, I love people and being human. I practice vipassana, a style of Buddhist meditation. The core of the teaching is about cultivating loving kindness with ourselves and others as we aspire to end suffering for all sentient beings. Being a mom who read a lot of Dr. Seuss to my son, I chuckle every time I sing Nobody eats us! We ain’t no green eggs and ham.

Fran Briggs: Thank you so much for taking the time to share today, Holly. I certainly enjoyed my time with you.

Holly Almgren: It was my pleasure, Fran. Thanks! It was fun. Daring to Feel Everything is available to sample or purchase at http://cdbaby.com/Artist/HollyAlmgren.

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