Long Player, Short Changed.
Hollie Smith has been doing a ton of press lately, promoting her second album, due out March 15, called Humour and the misfortune of others.
She's been talking about the ups and downs following the release her debut album, Long Player, in early 2007. Its sounds like quite a story. As Hollie has said, the whole tale will take some time to come out, but the details she's revealed so far are pretty horrifying.
Hollie attracted the interest of Bruce Lundvall, the head of Blue Note Records (read Graham Reid's 2005 interview with Lundvall here), which led to her signing an international deal with Bluenote subsidiary Manhattan Records, amid much excitement from these parts. She had great hopes for the deal, but then EMI started laying off staff after it was sold in August 2007 to Terra Firma. International priorities changed.
Hollie told the NZ Herald's Greg Dixon that "Essentially, the contract was that an advance would go to a producer to make two extra tracks that I was obligated to make to release the album internationally. Once that was done and on the signing of the contract, I would gift them my masters [original recordings]. So the masters would become theirs, which is reasonably standard. But on signing the contract they had an obligation to release the album within six months. So as much as I'd given away something, it was give and take."
"With her "reasonably minimal" advance from Blue Note, Smith flew to Philadelphia to record with Grammy award-winning R&B producer James Poyser [The Roots], who has worked with such acts as Al Green, Mariah Carey and Lauryn Hill. It was, she says, an amazing experience. She was pleased, too, with the result..."
....[Smith says] "What happened from my point of view was [EMI] started calling me probably about four months before the release internationally of Long Player. So a couple of months after signing, they came through and said 'hey we think you've got a lot of potential, we want someone to write you a radio single and start doing the whole radio-friendly single thing'.
"I said 'well, give me a month and I'll write you a couple and you can say if they're adequate or not. And if that's the case, then sweet and if not, let's talk about the idea of someone else writing my stuff because I don't want a cheesy pop song that's totally irrelevant to the rest of the album'.
They were like, 'cool, cool, cool'. I sent them over some stuff and I hadn't heard back from them and I rung them again and said 'what's happening?' And they're like 'oh we've decided not to release your album at all internationally'. I said 'okay, well that's fine, then give me back my masters'.
"It was like 'cool, let's just dissolve the contract and get my masters back and let's just leave it at that'." But Blue Note informed her they owned the masters and Smith would have to buy them back. She says they told her: "You can buy your masters for 'x' amount of dollars', which was a huge, huge amount.
"A couple of hundred thousand to buy back my life. I basically said 'I'd rather sue you for that' and they said 'okay, go ahead'... "They essentially said 'if you want to sue us, go ahead but we're a $4 billion corporation' and that was kind of where it was left. I was obviously very conflicted on whether I should fight for it. I was completely, completely f***ed. At the start, I was angry, angry, angry. But then, realising how hopeless the situation I was in was, I kind of stopped doing anything."... Read all of Greg Dixon's excellent interview here - above quotes are from it.
Hollie had signed a two album deal with Bluenote/Manhattan, so until that deal was dead, she couldn't write or record anything new. She eventually extracted herself from the deal, at a huge personal and professional cost. I don't know Hollie personally, but this story is just heartbreaking.
I'm thrilled to see she linked up with the very talented Riki Gooch (the man behind Eru Dangerspiel, responsible for one of the most exciting and adventurous albums to come out of NZ in a long time - buy it now) to record her new album - there's a great quote from Riki in the Real Groove interview with Hollie, where he reassures her after she gets worried that the recording sessions are going too well and something's going to go really wrong. Hollie: "Riki just turned around and goes 'Babes, I know you find this hard to believe but this is how an album is supposed to go and this is why its fun to do music and this is what its supposed to feel like".
Amazingly, after all her trials with Bluenote/EMI, she's chosen to go with EMI NZ as local distributor, which resulted in a funny exchange between NZ Musician's Karl Puschmann and EMI's publicist before his interview with Hollie - "... before talking to Smith, I had been directed by an EMI publicist not to ask about the Bluenote saga. But as he's not here, and Smith herself bought it up, I decide to ignore the request...."
Let's face it, Hollie's triumph over adversity story makes for great reading, and it gets people interested in the album. How could she NOT talk about this? It's obviously been a really big part of her life for the last 7 years and she's still dealing with it.
Looking forward to hearing what the album sounds like. Anyone heard it yet?