“Now I’m pulling out of your driveway/finally I’m living, not surviving,” Holly Humberstone’s rich voice cuts through horizon-breaking guitar lines, “...with the windows down I am reborn.” This title track is a glorious affirmation for the young artist and a reset, opening Paint My Bedroom Black – her pulsing debut album.
The record builds on the 23-year-old’s kinetic storytelling touch, which first came to light on 2020’s celebrated EP Falling Asleep At The Wheel and her second, 2021’s The Walls Are Way Too Thin. Now, Holly’s power for capturing and characterising our most tumultuous moments – as the bad friend trying to make good, a lost soul propelled through post breakup mania, the buzzkill, the one afraid of coming on too strong – is made more lucid. “Give me hell, ‘cause heaven knows I deserve it,” she sings on ‘Antichrist’, an exposing image of her last break-up, a heartbreak ballad set against propulsive pop: “Am I the Antichrist? How do I sleep at night?” It’s one half of a double lead single alongside the gentle, romantic ‘Room Service’: two starkly different tracks that act as a revolving door into visceral new worlds for the Lincolnshire-born musician.
Holly found breakout success when the world was in lockdown; her distinctive vocals, candidness, and tender energy on Falling Asleep At The Wheel proved a tonic. Striking themes of lost loves, family units, and the deep-set fears of youth intertwine with organic sonic production, all held together by Holly’s ethereal voice. It quickly set alight – she was Ivor Novello-nominated and came runner-up in the BBC Sound of 2021 poll. A major career marker punctuated her 21st year, when Holly was awarded BRITS Rising Star 2022, following a legacy of artists including Adele and Florence & the Machine.
“I have had such a fun, crazy, challenging few years,” Holly says, “I wanted to put absolutely all of that into this album. An album is a much different headspace for me, but it is filled with snapshots of where I’ve been and where I’m at.” She cites her inspirations and their “iconic” debuts – Avril Lavigne, Prince and Olivia Rodrigo – as reference points, but never cut-and-paste blueprints for her own story. Paint My Bedroom Black is Holly’s personal world-building exercise. “My favourite artists create work that magics up an entirely new universe,” she says. “That's what I want to do with my album and live shows.”
When Holly first brought her intimate live shows to global audiences, fans were singing every word of the anthemic ‘Scarlett’ and showing her their lyric tattoos, from LA’s Roxy to London’s Wembley Arena. A sweeping US tour sold out New York’s hallowed Bowery Ballroom twice, and Holly supported Olivia Rodrigo and Girl in Red across North America. It was on these trips through soulless hotel rooms from March to December last year that she began piecing her album narrative together.
In 13 tracks, Holly sketches fragmented love notes to faraway friends and her boyfriend. On ‘Lauren’, she distils the anxieties of thousands of unread texts and the guilt of missing friends’ life moments: “I put my fist through the wall, because I’ve been falling too short”. It’s pure and personal, cathartic and connective. ‘Kissing in Swimming Pools’ is aching, cinematic writing, set to Mazzy Star-esque soundscapes. Throughout, Holly’s offbeat humour remains: like a clip of her friend dryly invoking a classic Spongebob Squarepants meme to describe their tired mental state. ‘Cocoon’ is particularly poignant; at one stage, the album was going to named after the lyric 'I'm just going through something'. “It holds that diary entry level of vulnerability I feel I’ve only gone deeper with,” she explains.
Paint My Bedroom Black is a vital focal image. “It’s a way of finding clarity,” Holly says, “shutting out the world and ridding it of colour gave me a clear vision. Writing music helps me find my way out of the fuzziness in my head. I feel more cleansed.” Track titles like ‘SUPERBLOODMOON’ were lifted from collected thoughts in iPhone notes.
The last few years have been as lonely as they have been liberating. Sometimes writing sessions with other artists in the US didn’t quite work; yet Holly found songwriting solace in pockets of time in New York and LA. “I took ages to write it because I wanted to love them all,” she says. Longtime collaborator Rob Milton flew over and they hit up Ethan Gruska (producer for Phoebe Bridgers and Fiona Apple). From his small studio outside of LA, they experimented with pawn shop-bought instruments and synths, and wrote single ‘Into Your Room’ in one day. It captures Holly’s guilt from not being present in her new relationship, a track that about-turns from ballad to dappled dream pop, and reflects the album’s expansive sonic moments that sound like hurtling down a West Coast Highway: “You’re the centre of this universe/my sorry ass revolves around you”. Other tracks were formed in her more familiar Walthamstow studio.
The production unfolds into new sonic architecture – the teenage bedroom door opens into swathes of LA and London night buses, with high-octane pop pressure points, neon electronica, and 80s rock runs. ‘Ghost Me’ dazzles with spangling guitar and California salt-flecked percussion. ‘Flatlining’ pairs layered vocals with trance-like arpeggios. ‘Baby Blues’ is pure, stripped back. Guitar, live drums, and organic instruments remain the throughline. Most demos became the final production. The album writhes in the lyrical and sonic duality of an artist propelled into new experiences and shifting identities.
“I felt like there were no rules,” Holly says. It's not conventional, for example, to have a feature on a debut, like ‘SUPERBLOODMOON’ with d4vd. “This feels like a second album in a lot of ways,” she says. The double a-side single reflects those artistic multitudes. “I feel like two different people half the time,” Holly says. “I love everything I've released, but the biggest challenge is always to make something I feel I haven't done before, that reflects new parts of me.”
As summer festival dates kick off, she’s eager to see how new songs hit live. Versions of ‘Room Service’ have made an appearance in sets since 2020, and she debuted ‘Antichrist’ at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound. “My lyrics always come first, and my songwriting only gets better with new connections. I want to put something out into the world that they can feel just as deeply.”
“– and, I know I’ll finally get my own tattoo lyric from this album to show them.”