INTRODUCING: H. L. Grail (Goat Girl bassist Holly Mullineaux)

INTRODUCING: H. L. Grail (Goat Girl bassist Holly Mullineaux)

 Goat Girl bassist, Holly Mullineaux (aka H. L. Grail) recently released her wonderful debut solo EP Island. Written predominantly in a seaside apartment in Portsmouth, Island is an outpouring of love, pain and disappointment. Co-produced by Mullineaux and Euan Hinshelwood (Cate Le Bon, Younghusband) at Vacant TV studios in Greenwich, it features contributions from bandmates Lottie Pendlebury, Reuben Kyriakides, Ellie Rose-Davies, and Rosy Jones on violin, cello, backing vocals and additional percussion as well as sax by Hinshelwood and additional backing vocals by Daisy Goodwin (Token Girl DJs).

Written as an attempt to make sense of a traumatic long-term relationship, ‘Sandman’ is a haunting and wonderfully crafted song, that’s intimate strum and subtle instrumentation, woven with her affectingly intimate tone, feels like a letting go of the weight of a broken relationship: it swells strings and is gifted a warm analogue glow by Syd Kemp (Peluché, Naima Bock, Caroline). Its evocative tones reach for a sense of healing. ‘OTD’ spindles upon a cyclical loop of guitars and a spluttering beat, Mullineaux’s meditative and wistful vocals open up an escape hatch from a negative situation to somewhere more whimsical and carefree. The EP is a beguiling set of songs from a songwriter who can tap into difficult emotions and turn her experiences into catharsis. 

Hi, how are you today?

Hi Bill, I’m ok thanks, recovering from a kidney infection but all good!

When did you start to write songs for the H.L. Grail project?

I’ve always written songs/solo bits and bobs but I started to create a more cohesive body of work around 2020 I guess. ‘OTD’ is the oldest track on Island, it was probably written in 2019.

How would you describe your music in five words?

Contemplative, spacious, sensitive, honest and open.

Tell us about your new EP?

Island is my debut solo EP and it’s been a pretty long time in the making. I normally write music as a way of making sense of things and making myself feel lighter. These songs were written during a particularly difficult period of my life as an attempt to process a volatile and emotionally draining relationship. I see Island as an unfiltered outpouring of love, pain and disappointment.

I read you wrote the songs in Portsmouth. Did writing there shape the tenor of the recordings?

I think it did. Returning to my hometown (pretty involuntarily) after 7 years in London forced me to see it in a new light. Spending time by the sea helped me gain some perspective and regularly swimming in it became incredibly healing for me, which feeds into the lyrics a little bit.

I was a big fan of the first song ‘Sandman’ I read it was about trying to find some healing after a long-term relationship. Did it come out like that or did you realise what it was about afterwards?

The lyrics for that song are pretty literal. I was live processing my emotions and finding acceptance at the time of writing it, which felt scary and empowering at the same time.

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You worked with producer Euan Hinshelwood (Cate Le Bon, Younghusband) at Vacant TV studios in Greenwich, on the recordings. How did that happen? Did you have a vision before you went into the studio?

Euan and I have been friends for a few years and GG used to practice at his studio, so it felt very natural to record the EP with him. We have similar tastes and he’s great to work with. I shared some tunes with him and we chatted about influences and ideas about how to make things sound woozy, like reamping the piano through pedals etc. I prepped him about playing some sax parts too. I guess I had a bit of a vision in the sense that I knew that I wanted to bring extra people in and I wanted to take a spontaneous approach: doing as few takes as possible to keep the magic. I like that there are some imperfections and that it sounds a bit loose in places rather than a rigid, perfectly rehearsed thing.

You brought in various collaborators, were you looking to keep the songs fresh?

I knew I wanted to have more instrumentation as most of the songs were just acoustic guitar and/or piano. I really love layering vocals so I wanted to get some other voices on the tracks also. I’ve got the pleasure of having an amazing group of musicians and best friends so I just asked them to have a listen to the tunes and play some parts. Island ended up with Lottie Pendlebury on violin, Reuben Kyriakides on cello, Ellie Rose-Davies on BVs, synth and extra guitar, Daisy Goodwin on BVs, Rosy Jones came up with the midi percussion in ‘OTD’ , which really made it pop, and Euan Hinshelwood played some parts on sax.

How does operating solo differ from working within a well known group like Goat Girl with all the expectations that being in a band brings?

I guess it’s just different in the sense that I’m in the driver’s seat for Grail. GG is super collaborative and we’re very respectful of each other so all 4 of us need to be happy with everything that we do, which is so special but can sometimes take a bit of time. Operating solo is a little bit freer in terms of executing my personal version and my bandmates are really supportive of that.

There’s a theme of isolation but also disconnection on some of the songs. It’s a theme many people will relate to after lock down, is songwriting a source of solace and catharsis when you get those feelings?

Definitely – in this case the isolation and disconnection occurs in relation to another person and it was also an observation from my perspective. I noticed not only the distance between my partner and myself but between him and the people around him. This was pre-Covid but it soon became a physical reality for all of us.

Which artists do you admire?

Blonde Redhead, Mica Levi, Tirzah, Björk, Adrianne Lenker, Brian Eno, Charli xcx, Kae Tempest, Dean Blunt. There’s loads!

What five new songs are you loving right now?

Nukuluk – Covered In Gold

Fran Lobo – All I Want

Kelela – Raven

404 Guild – Weak

Lobby – in the wall

What would be your dream collaboration?

It’s a toss up between Dean Blunt and Mica Levi – they’re both amazing. I will say I’m already super lucky to have so many talented friends to collaborate with. I worked on a tune with Luke from Nukuluk last year (which may come out at some point) and that was an absolute pleasure.

Are you playing any shows/festivals to support the EP? How are you /the band finding touring post Brexit?

I’ve got a headline show with a full band at the Ivy House in Nunhead on the 9th of March, Lottie and Ellie from Goat Girl are supporting with their solo projects Mushy P and Edna and I’ll be doing a stripped-back set supporting Lobby the day before at The Shacklewell Arms supporting one of Lottie’s other band’s Lobby on the 8th.

H. L. Grail shows are gonna be secondary to stuff with GG as we’re at the tail end of writing our third album, which I’m incredibly excited about. We did quite a lot of touring in Europe last year and I have to say Brexit is a fucking nightmare. It’s added a lot of complications and stress to touring, which is pretty grueling in itself at times. There’s a severe lack of knowledge and understanding on all sides about how to navigate things like Carnet, which can add hours to our day and can even result in missing shows, losing our fee and still having to have paid out for flights, accommodation, sound engineer etc. There were dozens of flight cancellations last year and it sounds trivial but not joining that EU/Electronic Passport queue at passport control is a real pain in the arse. We heard of loads of bands that had been held up at customs and had to pull out of festivals. It’s making what was already pretty difficult feel near impossible at times. We’re just about at a point where we’re able to still do it as touring has become more expensive than ever and for a lot of bands it’s totally unviable now, which is shit.

Photo by Maximilian Hetherington

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