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How Hollie Smith Maintained Her Love of Music Over Three Decades

The evergreen singer-songwriter gets candid about creativity ahead of an art exhibition and intimate New Zealand tour

Hollie Smith


Within her extensive catalogue spanning many albums, including the 2x Platinum hit Long Player (2007), Hollie Smith has a knack for conveying life’s unpredictable darkness and light. 

The soul singer-songwriter’s striking melodies, commonly delivered in the form of enchanting ballads with a raspy jazz or blues edge, carefully balance the art of both entertaining and moving a listener. 

Sharing messages and experiences through songs has been an intrinsic part of who Smith is for close to three decades now, so it comes as little surprise she doesn’t mince her words during a video call with Rolling Stone AU/NZ

Standing over a desk, she holds a pen in hand and writes on a notepad as she discusses her upcoming 13-date tour around her homeland.  

“Not to take away the passion I have for music, but at the moment it’s a necessity,” she says. “It gives me something to work towards, to keep my focus, my agility and my reputation, and keep me working in an industry that, at the moment, seems like it’s collapsing pretty dramatically.’ 

Smith is no stranger to the ebbs and flows of the New Zealand music industry, having been a part of it since she was a teenager and began performing professionally. “I think I’m just still trying to figure out if music is still a viable option in a lot of ways,” she concedes. “At the moment it’s getting harder, to say the least.” 

From touring companies coming in from overseas causing difficulty for local shows, to international artists visiting with their own support acts and significantly expensive ticket prices, Kiwi artists like Smith are feeling the pressure to keep innovating. 

“That’s someone’s six-monthly entertainment budget, to go make a Pink or a Taylor Swift [show],” Smith says. “The landscape has changed so dramatically over 30 years, but more specifically from when I started releasing music.” 

But as tough as it may be to pursue music in a market with seemingly dwindling opportunities, Smith is intent on sticking to her values, putting out work which feels right and purposeful. This includes launching an art exhibition this month, another way of keeping her creative wheels turning. 

“I just need to have things in a routine so I don’t lose my mind… I’m really curious to see what happens,” she says. “I’ve got no expectations with it at all, so that’s going to be an interesting little sidebar.”

At the same time, she’s maintaining her musical ambition in the best way she knows how: deepening her relationship with the people who listen to her music. 

In two weeks, Smith will set off on a tour around the country, covering 13 locations including lesser-visited spots such as  Featherston, Whitianga, Ohakune, and Westport. The shows will adopt a stripped-back setting to allow for intimate look at Smith as she works through her latest songs. 

“It’s pretty much like having people in my lounge room. All of the shows are really small so you have nice conversations with people and you get to know them better. I talk deeply about some topics or things that I’ve been going through over the last couple of years. I think the people who are coming along get a pretty personal glimpse into my life and my thought processes and the way that I express those things. I’m just looking forward to just singing songs and being on a stage.” 

Credit: Supplied

After the success of last year’s run, Smith was motivated to go again quickly, but she made sure to leave enough time to work on new material and establish a full set. “I think it’s nice to take these brand new ideas on the road and see how they play out with people and see what reactions they get,” she says. 

“There tends to be a trend – most people go, ‘I really like that track, I really like that track.’ Having that feedback musically and emotionally, how that’s sitting in with people and connecting with people, is a good way to move forward with the way I want to produce it or think about recording it.” 

While fulfilling her commitment to music has been challenging, one powerful thing keeps Smith motivated over everything else. 

“Failure, more than anything,” she says with a laugh. “Stubbornness and failure and fear of failure. I think those are probably more honestly what keeps the drive going.” 

According to Smith, her next collection of work touches on where her life is at the moment. “It’s kinda like a breakup album, a midlife crisis album, and there’s some election stuff in there as well… I think I’ve been in a midlife crisis for the last 20 years,” she adds, flashing a big smile. 

She finds there is an element of therapy in sharing her music. “It is pretty cathartic. I don’t write pop songs obviously and I don’t just smash them out. I find it really hard to write music that I’m not sort of invested in.” 

She shares one example from a show last year: while talking about a particular song with the crowd, together they unravelled the meaning of the song, which in turn led to a new discovery about the experience it was based upon.

Smith has been at the forefront of New Zealand music for a long time now, but she’s still a little uncomfortable recognising just how good she really is. “Occasionally I’ll be in a shop or something and hear a track and be like, ‘Ah, that’s really familiar.’ [Then] I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s me,’ and [then I] go, ‘What song is that again?'”

Smith is keen to note the influence of someone from her very first years pursuing music. While attending Takapuna’s Northcote College, chosen because of their music department, she met Deece Guisinger, a music teacher who made such a profound impact on Smith that the pair are still close today. 

Guisinger taught Smith how to use her impressive vocal range to emotionally take on a song’s intentions and deliver the lyrics in a way which can properly strike listeners. 

“He gave me a 101 on how to feel a song,” she says. “I do have a bit of an affinity with songs with deep messaging behind them. I’ve tried to incorporate that into my music and the way I’ve written as well. He was a huge support, [a] real hard ass, really hard on me, but when he did give you a compliment you were like, ‘Yes, you nailed it.'”

Smith’s talent would have always found a way through, but she knew it was important to keep the right people on her side as she ascended in her career.

“I’m just really lucky I haven’t burned any bridges – as soon as you burn one in New Zealand there’s only like two left,” she says with another smile. “I’ve also had lots of really nice support and have kept really good relationships. All of those things keep it just ticking along.”

Hollie Smith 2024 Aotearoa Tour

Tickets available here

Friday, June 28th
Monkey House, Whitianga

Saturday, June 29th
Mata Brewery, Whakatāne

Sunday, June 30th
Tahu, Gisborne

Tuesday, July 2nd
War Memorial Hall, Wairoa

Wednesday, July 3rd
Town Hall, Ongaonga

Thursday, July 4th
Community Hall, Puketapu

Saturday, July 6th
4th Wall Theatre, New Plymouth

Sunday, July 7th
Porridge Watson, Whanganui

Tuesday, July 9th-Wednesday, July 10th
Common Ground, Featherston

Friday, July 12th
The Powderkeg, Ohakune

Saturday, July 13th
The Yard, Raglan

Saturday, August 3rd
NBS Theatre, Westport

Sunday, August 4th
Regent Theatre, Hokitika