Few artists play Wembley Arena having released only one song. Holly Humberstone, however, did just that.
Shortly before the pandemic took hold, the 21-year-old from Grantham Lincolnshire, took to the stage of the 12,500-capacity venue in support of Lewis Capaldi. The Scottish pop superstar, himself only 24, had stumbled upon one of the singer’s videos online and invited her on tour with him in Europe.
“It’s given me such a huge boost in confidence,” Humberstone explains from her family home, where she has spent the last year locked down with her three sisters and NHS worker parents. “My self-belief during those few weeks skyrocketed, so I’m really, really grateful. Playing Wembley with one song out is pretty weird – but really cool.”
Chaperoned by her manager, Humberstone followed Capaldi across Europe by train and performed in arenas, concert halls and more. But it was only when she returned to the UK and Covid-19 forced her back to her time-worn family home (she believes it is haunted) that her public profile began to surge, helped along by the release of her self-released debut EP Falling Asleep At The Wheel. A follow-up, Emotional Grim Reaper, is expected in November on major labels Polydor and Interscope.
Humberstone has also since been named the BBC’s Sound Of 2021 runner-up, performed on both Jimmy Kimmel and James Corden’s American chat shows and sold out four London gigs. She has also won a legion of streaming-focussed fans enamoured by her bruised and sensitive take on chart-ready pop. “I’ve literally been here for over a year now,” Humberstone groans dramatically as she reflects on her time in Grantham. “It has been really lovely and it’s time that I wouldn’t have got with my family if it weren’t for Covid.
“But also I’m ready to b***** move back to London now, live with my friends and have some fun… and not have to be driven everywhere like I’m back at school!”
During the pandemic her father has worked in an intensive care unit while her mother, a GP, has helped with the vaccine rollout. “It’s been a really stressful year for them,” she notes. “I feel really proud of them and I appreciate them so much more. I see them as heroes.”
Humberstone initially struggled to find her creativity in lockdown. “I’m usually my most productive and the most inspired when I’m really busy,” she explains, referencing her pre-pandemic life in London. And when I almost don’t really have time to write – that’s when I’m most productive. When I’m seeing my friends and I’m busy working, my senses are overloaded and I feel so inspired by everything. It felt like there was loads of pressure because everyone was stuck inside and it seemed like there was so much time to write – but I just couldn’t.
“It was the perfect opportunity to write loads and loads but I really wasn’t inspired. And also the pressures of social media as well really got to me. I saw everyone else doing all these amazing things and writing stuff in lockdown, and I just wasn’t inspired.”
Thankfully, after a while Humberstone was able to relax into her surroundings and decided to start filming experimental home videos with her sisters. As we discuss her music, she repeats the phrase “oversharing”. It’s a concept key to her music. It’s why she loves the Americana-tinged indie rock of Phoebe Bridgers (“She somehow makes this moody atmosphere hang around all of her songs”) as well as the music of Bon Iver, Radiohead and her first love – Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice. “I just love how he overshares,” she exclaims.
Her reflective, emotionally intelligent lyrics have prompted comparisons to Arlo Parks and Billie Eilish two other Gen Z stars penning songs about mental health, young love and existential angst. Does she think the comparison is fair? “Oh, I think it’s fair,” she responds. “There’s so many amazing female artists at the moment, young female artists around my age who are just doing incredible things. Everyone I’m taking so much inspiration from, Arlo Parks and Billie Eilish and all of these other amazing females – I’m really into it. I’m really into how people are over-sharing and talking about mental health more than anyone’s really ever addressed it before.
“I feel like this year especially, I’ve really found so much comfort in the music that is just completely not hiding anything – and unfiltered lyrics. It’s really therapeutic and really freeing to write about something so personal.”
Holly Humberstone’s first UK and Ireland headline tour is on sale now. For tickets visit: tickets.lnk.to/HollyHumberstone.