Coming In From The Dark: Hollie Smith talks hope, grief and the 'coven' of female singers helping her survive lockdown

Hollie Smith has just released her first studio album in five years and she's got nowhere to perform it. 

The 'Bathe In The River' singer's carefully curated summer tour has already been pushed back once - now there's several more rounds of contingency dates in place due to the level of uncertainty about when and how live music will return to Aotearoa. 

Of course, she's not the only one. Smith has been surviving the current COVID-19 lockdown with the help of bi-weekly Zoom calls with what she calls her "coven" of music industry wahine including Anika Moa, Anna Coddington, MC Tali and Tami Neilson, among others. 

"We've got a little hub," she tells Newshub.

"It's been really good to bounce off each other and have a bit of a giggle while we're at it.

"I think people think that for creatives in lockdown it's like 'great, you spend time at home and get creative', but I think just the energy shift makes it so difficult - there's nothing to draw from.

"Everything's really flatlined, so to try and get inspired or motivated from that is really difficult. And [it's hard to] find motivation when I could be sitting here planning the world's best tour, but it's like, I don't even know if it's going to happen." 

Coming In From The Dark: Hollie Smith talks hope, grief and the 'coven' of female singers helping her survive lockdown
Photo credit: Steve Dykes

But while Smith might feel frustrated and stagnant amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the tracks on her new release Coming In From The Dark sound apt for these uncertain times. 

The title track tells the story of emerging from a time of turmoil to find that things are beginning to feel more hopeful - a concept many Kiwis can hardly dare to dream of right now, but one that feels resolute in Smith's voice, especially when accompanied by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. 

"All of a sudden that shroud of burden feels like it's been lifted and you're snapping out of that dark zone, that when you're in it, you don't see the end of it," Smith says of the inspiration for the song. 

"Then you realise you've done it and you're like, 'oh, everything feels a bit lighter and the world feels a bit brighter'."

Coming In From The Dark: Hollie Smith talks hope, grief and the 'coven' of female singers helping her survive lockdown
Photo credit: Steve Dykes

There's also a buoyancy to be heard in 'Something Good'; a warm, soulful song in which Smith professes: "I believe in you, I believe in something good". But this record traverses many different moods and emotions - and grief is among them.

'Billy' is a tribute song to Smith's first love, who she remained close friends with until he died of a rare form of lymphoma only a year after losing his young son in a terrible accident. 

"His body I don't think coped with that," she explains. Smith was with Billy on the day he died, and went home, picked up a guitar and wrote the song in five minutes flat - lyrics and all. 

"I wrote it in comfort of feeling that, you know, he was just happy to leave this place and go home, which is what the song's about - about him going home to look after his son." 

Not one to shy away from a tough subject, Smith also recently lent her voice to Aotearoa's vaccination efforts during the Super Saturday Vaxathon last weekend.

"The whole vaccination discussion has become so divisive and really difficult to approach on platforms," she explains. Smith says that she's spoken with other well-known Kiwis who have wanted to support the drive for immunisation, but haven't been able to cope with being ripped to shreds online. 

Coming In From The Dark: Hollie Smith talks hope, grief and the 'coven' of female singers helping her survive lockdown
Photo credit: Steve Dykes

"I don't want to offend anyone but I've got to the point where it's like, look, I'm pro-vaccination, I believe in the science. I believe in the medicine. I've talked to several doctors about some of the things that I've heard online," she says. 

"I'm not getting medical information from Facebook memes or TikTok, so I feel confident about it.

"But it is a difficult topic and I can appreciate why people don't jump all in with their views because it's pretty nasty out there at the moment on the old internet." 

That hasn't stopped Smith from jumping in to defend her friend, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, when pundits and social media users turn on her. 

"She is working sort of 13, 14 plus hour days and when I know that she hasn't had a day off in seven or eight weeks or something, that's some crazy shit," Smith says. 

"She's just in between a rock and a hard place, right? She's always going to have a barrage of negative comments amongst the good. 

"It's definitely not a role I would be envious of and definitely not a role that anyone should be disrespected in with regards to thinking that she doesn't work hard."  

In the blissful respite between lockdowns midway through last year, a photo shared by Ardern's fiancé Clarke Gayford (incidentally, Smith's ex-boyfriend from many moons ago), shared a photo of "Aunty Hollie" and the couple's toddler, Neve, in the recording studio together. 

"She loves music, she loves singing, she loves the piano," Smith says of Neve, who she often chats to on the phone these days. 

"I got her a harmonica for her first birthday. Any obnoxiously loud toy I love getting."

It must be a special thing to watch for Smith, whose own musical passion was prevalent from an early age - so much so that she was given an extra study period to work on music during her sixth form year at Northcote College. 

"It was obvious that I had a path, but they also asked me not to come back in seventh form," Smith laughs. 

Given the chance to address her teenage self now, Smith says she'd advise her to not take everything so seriously and stop being so precious. 

"I could go on!" she says. 

Would she have had any idea of the success that lay before her, back then? Three number one albums, numerous awards, a career spanning two decades and an indisputable spot as a Kiwi music icon? 

"I just thought it was gonna be more on a Lorde scale," she says. "There's still time! Anything could happen." 

Coming In From The Dark is out now.