Holly Golightly would seem to belong near the top of a list of transparent stage names, alongside Johnny Rotten and Andre 3000. Although our budget did not allow for a trip to scour the UK Office of Birth Records, by all accounts it is indeed her given name. “My mother was reading the book while pregnant with me,” shrugs the London-born, Danielsville, Ga. resident Holly Golightly Smith. Note her reference to Truman Capote’s original novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” rather than the socially acceptable makeover the Golightly character received for the film version. It’s the type of detail that characterizes this fascinating, multi-faceted woman.
Golightly is currently marking the release of two new albums, each channeling a separate aspect of her musical persona. Recording as Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs, she and her musical (and life) partner Lawyer Dave have reliably churned out an album of psychobilly meets roots rock meets back porch country every year since 2007. Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda is a fine addition to that continuum, wedding reverential and spirited music to often biting lyrics—“Heaven Buy and Buy” throws a sideways glare at checkbook religion, “Apartment 34” deals with the dirtbags next door, and then there’s the buzzkill holiday ditty “Christmas is a Lie.”
Meanwhile, Slowtown Now! finds Golightly reconvening her longtime UK band for a set of 60s inflected girl group pop, delivered with her vintage, no-frills charm. “We’ve been playing together for 20-odd years; three of the people on the record played on my first album,” she proudly reports. Slowtown recalls the Carnaby Street vibe of an Austin Powers soundtrack, reaching its peak on a cover of 1964 obscurity “Fool Fool Fool,” which inexplicably went to #1 in Australia and South Africa.
Their concurrent release is a matter of coincidence rather than some grand plan. “My solo record was supposed to be out a lot sooner,” she says of her first full-band release since 2004’s Slowly but Surely. It was supposed to be done years ago, but I couldn’t leave the country with no guarantee of getting back in.”
Once she and Dave purchased a six-acre farm in Danielsville in 2008, Golightly began the arduous process of gaining permanent US resident status. “It wasn’t just paperwork delays, they actually lost my application at one point,” she claims. Not willing to risk being denied re-entry (“it’s all in the hands of the agent you get at immigration,” adds Dave), Golightly remained stateside for five years until her application was approved.
Georgia Music covered the Brokeoffs’ move to the country in 2010, so think of this as the closing segment on HGTV’s House Hunters, where the crew returns to check in on the happy homeowners. Except we’ve waited five years instead of five weeks.
Their modest farmhouse still has a ramshackle quality presumably to the couple’s liking. “All the money has gone down there,” she says, pointing to the foundation. The property was bought out of foreclosure, and there “wasn’t a lot of disclosure” about structural or termite issues. They lived without running water for a time, drilling multiple times for wells before meeting with success. “We’re definitely under water restrictions here—this wouldn’t work with kids.”
Water is a particularly precious resource given that Holly and Dave are now housing six horses and a donkey on their property. Holly dismissed my likening of the operation to a canine rescue as too dramatic sounding. “It’s a holding tank, really,” she clarifies, pointing out that while she’s managed to find new homes for a few, that isn’t her primary focus. “They’re all rescues in one way or another. You also can’t be a layman and take one on. We’re pushed for space but we make it work.” Golightly bought one of the horses at auction for $125 when she “didn’t like where it looked like he’d end up.” She later discovered that horse has decent bloodlines. “He could make me some money—I might show him next year,” she says, although it clearly remains an altruistic venture. “They level you.”
“They’re a lot cheaper than a psychiatrist,” Dave deadpans.
Golightly is actually well schooled in the equestrian world—she left school in the UK at age 15 to apprentice as a horseman. She developed an expertise in training Arabian horses for endurance races spanning up to 100 miles, a skill that brought her to the US west coast for several stretches. “I was hired by a Rothschild, actually. He headhunted me and another British girl because of our backgrounds.”
It’s a surprising parallel career for a woman who first earned notice in the late 80s as part of the UK retro-garage scene fronted by Billy Childish and Thee Headcoats. Even back home, where her family left London at age 6, she led a dual life, maintaining a small rent-controlled flat in the city to stay connected to the music scene while training horses in the country. Golightly still marvels at the class inversion that affords her the opportunity to pursue her chosen lifestyle. “In England you need to be wealthy to live in the country, whereas here if you’re poor you can’t afford to live in the city.”
“Both my parents grew up on farms—they thought they were doing well by getting off the farm,” adds Lawyer Dave—who isn’t an actual lawyer, by the way. “I like to argue, though. And I have appeared in front of a judge,” he quips in his aw-shucks Texas drawl. “It’s a stupid story, but I like the name.” In the late 90s well before they were romantically involved, he was one of two Daves in Holly’s backing band. One morning he was drinking coffee from a mug that read “Lawyer,” and that was all it took.
These days Dave is responsible for most of the Brokeoffs music (as well as the occasional lyric), assembling them layer by layer in the Spartan recording shed they’ve built behind the main house. “I spend very little time in there,” admits Holly, citing her aversion to the cramped, windowless space that can barely hold the upright bass on which she does most of her writing. “Dave’s in there every day, though.”
“It’s what I do for fun,” he shrugs. “I record my own stuff as well, stuff that’s probably too heavy metal for Holly to want to touch with a clown pole.” After the duo complete a Brokeoffs album, Dave is faced with the task of learning how to play the songs as a one-man band for live performance (he pounds the drums via foot pedals). Golightly hardly sees this as a detail worth sweating. “Most people have this idea that when you play live you have to make it sound as much like the record as possible,” she scoffs.” And that’s crap, really—it’s a performance, a moment in time. Even when you have a full band, you can’t make it sound exactly the same on stage. And there’s no need to.”