In conversation, Holly Golightly makes frequent use of the phrase "I always have done," suggesting things are business-as-usual, but not dully repetitive. For example, she describes her recent three-month European tour as playing "the same-size clubs to the same-size crowds, as I always have done." But don't let that fool you. Fourteen years after her solo debut, 1995's The Good Things, the U.K. indie rocker and bluesy roots revivalist is still refining and tweaking her game.
For starters, she recently relocated to "the middle of nowhere" in Georgia with one-man-band and slide-guitarist Lawyer Dave, with whom she changed her sound to the raucous duo format heard on 2007's You Can't Buy a Gun When You're Crying. Her latest album, 2008's Dirt Don't Hurt, released here on the Transdreamer label, was her first in her large catalog (mainly on the Damaged Goods label) to get major U.S. distribution. And for her brand-new EP, Devil Do, some of her own previously recorded songs are reconsidered and given new life.
"It's really funny -- when you record something, it's never going to be the best version of it when you record it, unless you've been playing it live for years, because you don't really know the song," Golightly says via phone from the road. "You're not doing it with the same conviction as something you know really well. You develop phrasing changes as songs get more familiar, as well."
Devil Do features the title track, a driving, black-magic reworking of a song from Dirt Don't Hurt, alongside another reworked Golightly number, "One More Fact," and a countrified cover of Lee Hazelwood's "Dark in My Heart." The short EP's finale is "Whoopie Ti Yi Yo," a traditional folk song presented in a reverby psychedelic drone that sounds like a combination of Akron/Family and John Cale. The lyrics are almost entirely lost in the hazy backdrop, the vocals used more for "the noise of them," Golightly says. "We wanted to do that the first time 'round, but didn't have time! We think that is a psychedelic number anyway."
Of course, plenty remains consistent in Golightly's efforts. Since debuting in 1991 with garage-rockers Thee Headcoatees -- a girl-group affiliated with Billy Childish, who later joined Golightly on 1999's In Blood -- she says she's particularly enjoyed sharing the mic with other voices. Most notably, she sang a duet with Jack White on the White Stripes' 2003 album Elephant.
"Doing my solo stuff, it seemed a bit lonesome sometimes, when you're singing on your own, especially live," Golightly says. "Whether it was a girlfriend or a male voice, whatever it was -- I always enjoyed singing live off of someone else." Partly, she admits, having a vocal partner lessens some of the pressure and scrutiny on the main singer.
"People will focus on whoever is singing," says Golightly. "They will usually focus on the person who's doing the most, and the singer is perceived to be doing the most, even though that's usually bollocks." Lately, her voice has been paired most often with Dave's baritone in a sound that conveys an easy camaraderie, but is also charged with subtext and sexual tension.
"It certainly makes something plain quite interesting, sometimes," she says. On her album due in March, they've even turned a few cover songs into duets. "That's always quite an interesting thing to do, I think -- you don't think about how a song might sound if it was sung two ways."
It's been more than a year since the duo toured the U.S., Golightly notes, apart from a couple of festival dates. Their current run, which brings them to the Thunderbird Café on Sun., Dec. 6, is a short one. "We're a bit out of practice at staying up late, more than anything!"
Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs with special guest. 8 p.m. Sun., Dec. 6. Thunderbird Café, 4023 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $12 ($14 day of show). 412-682-0177 or www.thunderbirdcafe.net