Looking back on You Had Me At Goodbye… 10 Years Later / by Emily Holmes

It’s shocking to me that my first real studio album is 10 years old because mainly it means that I’m a decade older and frankly, I don’t feel that much older. I do make a few better judgments and I think I have my personal style a bit more en pointe, but I still play many of those songs today and they still feel as personal and relevant as they did back then. And most of the songs were written over 10 years ago… What does that mean for me? Incremental progress?

On the other hand, my life looks very different in other ways. I’m a rocker mom now to an amazing 4 year old girl. I’m married. I live in Los Angeles. I hang with a very cool clan of mamas who live big and do amazing work in film, design, community building, real estate and music. I feel very lucky in my life.

I’ve also struggled to find my place here as a musician in LA. Not that the people are mean or exclusive—quite the opposite in most cases—but the city itself is so big and spread out and geared toward the youth in music in most cases of “chasing the buzz sound.” I’m happy to say that I have some very key people out here now including cowriters Tim Lefebvre, Josh Ricchio (of Will Pharaoh, Freak Owls and SyncStories licensing) and Geoff Pearlman. I’m writing pretty regularly with all of them.

I’ve met amazing players and songwriters on the scene of all ages, creeds and level of experience. All have made me feel welcome. I’ve sung at the Hollywood Bowl, The Roxy, Hotel Café, Blue Whale and next week The Mint. I feel privileged to have done all this.

First off, I want to thank Michael Collins again for the clever name of the album. I had a contest with the title back in 2005, and Michael nailed it in dark humor and sentiment. I liked that he captured what was lurking in so many of the songs.

So, let’s go back in time, shall we? It was 2005, and I decided to record my first big record with Josh Kessler of Bushwick Studio, situated at the “infamous” Rock n Roll High School, I used to call it, deep in Bushwick near the Broadway Junction subway stop in Queens. I was pretty unfamiliar with the session players in town so Josh culled from his list of talent to assemble my band. Once again, fate intervened and I ended up with a killer group consisting of Keith Carlock, Tim Lefebvre, Daniel Mintseris and Josh Kessler. I doubt I could pull those names together again.

The Album, song by song:

Some of the songs were completed, some were sketches that Josh and I developed into more cohesive ideas. I remember describing the feel of the album as "Zero 7 crossed with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon." Something soulful, filled with yearning and a bit of psychedelia. I also used to jokingly refer to it as "breakup songs in the key of A major."

True to Yourself was a vibey song that came out of a riff I was playing with on my newly acquired Wurlitzer electric piano. Some of it sounds preachy in retrospect, but I was beginning to stand in my own shoes and sort out what I chose to do and believe for the first time in my life. It was also the realization that the wide eyed optimism of youth was being chipped away at as I grew older. 

Segue was written as a musical reply to True to Yourself in the studio. Lyrically, it was dreamy and vague. The main line "Mama, mama, save me, save me" seems to be the childlike optimism crying out in the seas of despair. Disturbing and filled with the turmoil one often faces at that key point of crossing the kid/adult divide.

It Don't Matter to Jesus was a song I used to sing with my old band, Sexfresh, in San Francisco, as a torch song that transformed into something you might hear on a record by Air. It's the tale of a scorned lover calling out her ex on his latest conquest. I always liked the double meaning "Does she feel like me?" Does her body feel like mine or is she feeling the same way I am?

Fascinating grew lush with strings and gentle sentiment, like a bossa nova lullaby. It was a sweet love song I wrote in the calm before the denouement of a relationship. I wanted to live that song, but it just wasn't happening realistically for me at the time.

Subtraction was a song in 3 parts, a sonic journey over a fairly simple structure. It examines a relationship's dissolution as the lover takes new interest in another. "One and one make two when I am counting. Add more numbers and the math gets skewed. Subtraction is being used and sometimes often abused."

Potential wasn’t even totally written. I just threw it out to the band in a tracking session as a rocker with some guts and sexy bravado. It’s probably the most known track on the record next to Breaking It Down. With any breakup, there's that wild "lift" that comes when single again when "anything (read: anyone) is possible".

Stand Up, Stand Out (along with True to Yourself) were kind of coming of age songs. I was beginning to embrace my womanhood in newer, stronger ways. It's also a reminiscing over what was probably a good relationship at one time that is now no longer. It was a bit of a pep talk for me at the time, like, "It's ok, it wasn't your fault." Just get it together and move along.

This Time Around, Breaking It Down, Make It Right and Runner are all break up songs. There's a sadistic side to all of them with themes of abuse, isolation and coming back for more instead of breaking free. The title of the album never seemed more appropriate than with this block of songs. 

There were two songs not even included on the record that came out later (Janaina, Saudade). Both began as bossa novas in the Astrud Gilberto way and they were cut because in the end, it wasn't an album with stylistic room for that kind of tune. They would have stuck out and been odd in the mix.

I feel like the album took over a year to finish given the budget/schedule ups and downs. Then, there were moments when it felt like it was coming together. I remember the day I came in to hear the strings and horns playing the breakdown in This Time Around and crying in the control room because finally, FINALLY, a song, as it sounded in my head, was actually sounding that way on the tape!

I think if I had to do it again, I would have nursed the songs and played them live a lot more before going to the studio, but there’s an innocence and experimentation in those recordings which may have been lost if it had been more nuanced. So, maybe it’s a regret, maybe not.

I’m sure my expectations for that album were far from realistic, but that’s OK too. Where am I now? A lot more songs and albums released. A better band leader. A better and more subtle singer. A more rehearsed studio rat. And grateful, that the album was ever made in the first place…