Holly McNarland has the kind of voice that makes you stop and pay attention. With her first independent release, Run Body Run, which became available digitally on May 15, McNarland brings listeners a new, ten-song record crafted, it seems, from the rubble of broken hearts and infused with the tears, sweat, and perseverance of a determined mind.
Emotionally riveting, McNarland’s voice is almost always poised between a whisper and a shriek. She grew up singing country with her mother, and this influence is evident in McNarland’s sound (for example, on the song “Only Money”), but there is also a generous dose of gritty rock infused in her vocals.
On the first track, “Alone’s Just Fine,” McNarland sings about the doubts of being single and longing for (sometimes unrequited) love: “I heard this woman sing / About all the lost loving / It was the saddest thing / And she sang in the key of me / She sang, da-da-da-da he won’t let you in / Da-da-da-da, just stop trying” But then it regroups with practical words that remind the listener that “Sometimes / alone’s just fine.”
Title track “Run Body Run” was inspired, McNarland says, by her then-three-year-old daughter telling herself she could do anything. The song builds up from a quiet, softly sung, strumming start to a powerful crescendo, and the lyrics to the song are a testament to self-determination and strength, something that can be said about the whole album: “No one else can bend it, no one else but me / Take a look at everything, everything I see / run body run body run [x4] / For me.”
This record is positive in the way a survivor’s tale is positive—no matter how bad things may have gotten, no matter how desperate you felt at the time, you made it through. As Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” This is a set of songs about someone who did, and came out on top.
But the album also has its gentler side. On the song “Dig a Little,” McNarland paints a picture of an uncertain yet hopeful approach to love:
Hear the broken voices
Calling me all through the night.
So I look up to the sky
And breathe your name and sigh.
Waiting on the phone to ring,
I need to ease my troubled mind.
Been away from you too long;
I need to know you’re still mine
Hey, come on and dig a little (dig a little).
I’ll be home to you
Just before the sun comes,
After all we’ve undone,
I’ll be holding on and on for this big, big love.
McNarland lends her country-bred vocal style to the crooning song, “After I’m Gone,” which is a simply strummed, slow ballad apologizing to an unnamed subject: “If you hear this after I’m gone / I hope you forgive me for everything I’ve done wrong.”
Similarly, on “Widow’s Pane,” McNarland sings softly about the heartbreak that follows the death of a beloved spouse, in a song about a man tied up with grief over the loss of his wife: “Here he comes / He’s down in the mouth again / How are you holding up? / You got the saddest footsteps / The neighbours watched it all going down / It’s one heartbroken street / He’s living on without her / Losing days and losing sleep.”
But in the chorus, McNarland’s narrator reveals more than an objective interest in the troubled man as she sings, “But I’ll hold your heart tonight / And look through your widow’s pane / Put the stars back into the sky / ’Cause the morning will come again…”
This album marks the culmination of five years worth of work for McNarland, with influences ranging from people, places, and the media, to herself and her own family. Beyond the deeply personal lyrics, however, this album comes from a place close to McNarland’s heart, as it is her first album to be released independent of a label. This is part of an effort on her part to draw closer to her fans by bypassing the studio system and talking directly to her fans—literally and figuratively.
“When I was with a label, I felt very far from and separated from my fans outside of playing shows,” she says. “Now there’s no separation. I am working on my career without a manager, or a record label. I’m going to my fans directly for support via social networking, and it’s been amazing seeing how much people will back something up when they truly believe in it; and [to] feel connected has made me want to be a part of the music world again.”
This interaction with her fans takes on a more personal dimension, as McNarland has been running a contest encouraging her fans to reach out with stories of how her music has affected them, in order to win a chance to see her in person at the album release and upcoming show at NXNE. Fans are asked to write in or submit a short YouTube video to tell a story about one of Holly’s songs that changed their life or day, or provided some inspiration.
The grand prize winner will receive a NXNE package that includes transportation to and from Toronto for the festival, passes to NXNE, the very first signed copy of Run Body Run, and a meet and greet with Holly, as well as other great prizes! Details about the contest can be found here at http://hollymcnarland.net/blog/?page_id=103
Fans can catch McNarland performing June 16 at the Rivoli at midnight for NXNE.
Meanwhile, it is worth your while to pick up Run Body Run and take a listen to a record that is relatable on many levels.
- Alone’s Just Fine
- Only Money
- Dig a Little
- After I’m Gone
- You’ll Forget About Me
- Widow’s Pane
- Run Body Run