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When it comes to creating music, Austin singer-songwriter Ali Holder doesn’t believe in the casual approach. To craft the songs on her EP, From My Veins Will Fall (Sept. 18, 2015), she went total immersion, isolating herself on a 10-day retreat at a ranch in Medina, Texas.
She saw the ranch manager once; her only other encounters involved buffalo. “I had to drive through three different gates and cattle guards to get to the main house for the barest of Internet connections,” she recalls.
To reward herself after a day of intense effort, she would dive into chapters by one of her favorite writers, horror novelist Stephen King. As most King fans well know, his works have a way of clinging in the brain — and even inhabiting dreams — especially if absorbed before bedtime. At one point, Holder flashed onto a rather intriguing, if unsettling image.
“I thought to myself that if someone were to cut me open, Stephen King words would fall out,” she says. Such is the stuff of inspiration.
As it turns out, her words and music have a way of clinging in the brain as well. In a review of her 2013 debut, In Preparation for Saturn’s Return, NoDepression.com called her bluesy voice and ability to move smoothly among styles “addicting,” and praised her “solid grasp of what makes a good song.”
Lone Star Music magazine writer noted her songs exude “an urbane folk-sophisticate vibe.” And Daytrotter ranked her song, “Drinking Double” at No. 5 on its Top 100 Songs of 2013 list.
Born in Wichita Falls, Texas, and raised on outlaw country, but influenced by a broad swathe of styles from country and jazz to blues and folk, Holder fell in love with songwriters early on. “Janis Joplin and the women of Lilith Fair had a big impact on me growing up,” she says. Later, she discovered Texas songwriters such as Susan Gibson and Walt Wilkins, along with Wilco, Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams and Tom Waits. In college, she absorbed Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch, Jenny Lewis and Neko Case, along with earning undergraduate and master’s degrees in art education (at the University of Texas at Arlington and Austin, respectively).
Holder began writing, singing and playing guitar in junior high, later adding ukulele to her repertoire. In Austin, Holder fronted two bands: the folk-leaning Ali Holder & the Broken Hearted, then an R&B band, Ali Holder & the Raindoggs.
She also has expanded her musical palate to include artists such as Brandi Carlile, Susan Tedeschi, Possessed by Paul James and Lera Lynn. Their influences occasionally can be heard in these songs, but it’s her own sound — a sure voice that leans toward alto but effortlessly reaches far higher, coupled with well-targeted musical sensibilities and intelligent lyrics — that draws listeners in.
“I use slashes a lot,” Holder noted in that Lone Star feature. “Folk/country/blues/Americana/jazz. I don’t think I have to be any one thing.”
The six songs on From My Veins Will Fall certainly confirm that. The title tune segues from twanged-and-tremoloed guitar and ethereal vocals to a bluesy groove as she sings those King-inspired lyrics. Layered harmonies and tasteful instrumentation mark the gently captivating “Feel Alive,” which incorporates just about all of those slashed styles — plus a hint of pop. The EP’s other four Holder-penned tunes show equal strength and diversity — and a proclivity for the kind of inspiration King would love; another song, “Don’t Show the Devil” came from reading the last words of several about-to-be-executed Texans. On “Ghost of a Man,” however, the haunting is purely romantic — make that post-romantic. The song is about someone who won’t leave your thoughts no matter how hard you try to forget. “Home You Built” carries a similar theme.
In the time since her last release, Holder held a couple musical residencies in Austin, played an official South By Southwest 2014 showcase and embarked on several tours. One excursion, with fellow Austin singer-songwriter Little Brave, was labeled the “Salem Soiree” because it included a pilgrimage to Salem, Mass., one of King’s renowned literary settings, and other bewitched- and occult-related spots.
To record From My Veins Will Fall, she returned to another spot infused with history: Oxford, Miss., where she recorded her first album with co-producer Andrew Ratcliffe at his Tweed Recording studio. On the outskirts of the tiny town, it’s located across the street from the church in which writer William Faulkner was married.
Sharing a house with all her bandmates except drummer Kenny Graeber, an Oxford resident, they also went total immersion, even cooking meals together and, on July 4, their last night of recording, gathering with local folk to watch fireworks in the town square.
“I really love Mississippi and all of the music rooted there,” Holder says.
Whether her inspirations come from haunting historic sites, communing with cattle or reading Stephen King, Ali Holder clearly has creative blood coursing through her veins. Let her spill some into your ears.