Straight Up: Hollie Smith opens up on music, legal woes, and getting through dark times

Singer-songwriter Hollie Smith is one of New Zealand’s most successful musicians – but her journey has not been without its challenges, including a legal fight that Smith describes as “the hardest challenge” she’s ever faced.

She opened up about her journey as this week’s guest in the NZ Herald podcast Straight Up, hosted by Niva Retimanu and Beatrice Faumuina.

Earlier this year, Smith released her newest album, Coming In From The Dark. It comes 16 years after she broke out in 2005 with Bathe In The River, which was written and produced by Don McGlashan and has become the song Smith is most well-known for.

However, she told Retimanu and Faumuina it has taken time to appreciate that song and its success.

“I wanted to be known as a producer, songwriter. It was a really amazing journey but it took me a really long time to understand how important that song was for people and how important it was for me.”

Smith said that as she’s moved through her career she’s learnt that her music is so much bigger than herself.

“It has been a really iconic part of people’s lives…that’s when you sort of realise that song is far bigger than me and my ego, it needs to be respected for all those people that it meant so much to”.

The song’s success helped Smith land a record deal in the US with Blue Note Records, a sought-after achievement for any musician, but when her label was merged into a larger label, it led to a major legal battle to get back the rights to her music.

“They [Blue Note Records] basically stole the masters, took my album and contractually I couldn’t write or release anything until that was cleared.

“That was definitely the hardest challenge I’ve ever faced in my life. Mentally, physically, spiritually and musically.”

Internal changes of the record label meant that her 2007 album Long Player was never released internationally. Despite this life-changing period in Smith’s career, she appreciated the “huge highs” that came from it too.

“I went to Philadelphia and worked with James Poyser. Had Adam Blackstone on base who now plays with Kanye, played with Jill Scott, Justin Timberlake. So that was a pretty incredible moment.

“Those experiences are so important to me and so grateful to be able to have them”.

She reflected on how this experience, ironically, helped her to realise how much she needed music in her life.

“As much as I hated music at that point and didn’t see myself doing it again, to get through that time was also recognising that music was my catharsis. It was also going to get me out of it”.

Smith said despite her struggle, she has realised she is “incredibly lucky” to be able to make a living out of music and to have her talent, even with things uncertain.

Asked what advice she would give to her younger self, Smith had a simple message: “Don’t take yourself so seriously. And release things that you can’t control”.

“There have been so many moments I could’ve got through a lot easier if I’d just gone ‘it’s out of my control’.”

• Straight Up with Niva and Beatrice iHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. New episodes come out on Saturday mornings.

• You can find more New Zealand Herald podcasts at or on iHeartRadio.

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