Drawing inspiration from the 1960s, Hollie seeks to recapture the essence of that time – from the romanticism and unfiltered honesty found in the lyrics to the rawness heard in the recordings. Pronounced as HMV’s Next Big Thing Carmen’s debut EP ‘Plan B’, was released in 2019 and received international coverage. With a new EP in the future and two great singles already released (Never Been Kissed and Anything Bad For Me) Backseat Mafia caught up with London’s Hollie Carmen to find out a little bit more.
Give us a potted history of yourself
Ok so I’ll try keep this short and digestable. I’m from London and since I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by music, my grandma used to sing me to sleep and I used to just stare at her in awe giggling! I always wanted to be an artist and perform but I used to be so scared to sing in front of people. I remember once I sang at my friend’s house but I made him turn the lights off and stand outside the door! I wrote my first song when I was around 8 and it was about smoking and drinking being bad for you. I loved writing stories and I used to perform them alone in my room and dance around.
The start of my professional life was in 2017. I was on holiday, there was a band playing and my boyfriend at the time said why don’t you just get up and sing with them, and I did! The second I got back from that trip, I quit my job and just reached out to anyone I knew who worked in music, writers, producers etc. I made an Instagram account and posted a cover of something which caught the attention of Marlon Roudette- who is an incredible producer/ songwriter and artist. He wrote “Finders Keepers” and “Fine Line” (along with some other bangers) with Mabel. I sent him a song I had written and recorded in my friend’s room, he told me to come into the studio and when I got there he had basically produced the song and we re-wrote the chorus and that song is actually on all platforms- its called “Butterflies.”
I quickly found a manager, started releasing more music and went on to support Zak Abel at his Manchester 02 show, sold out my EP launch, got named “HMVs Next Big Thing” and wrote and featured on a song called “Moonlight” which was part of a super successful album by Jarreau Vandal. In 2019, I was in LA on a writing trip and basically ended up signing a publishing deal which sadly had to be terminated due to the pandemic. That was a very challenging time for me that I will go into another time.
At the start of 2021, I started working with Billy Adamson. This was absolutely life changing as I felt I finally found my musical soulmate. We both love the same albums and artists and it was such a relief to be able to be myself and make the music I have always wanted to, especially after writing loads of super poppy music that didn’t feel right for me. Billy is so incredibly talented and I feel so blessed to be working with him. We wrote probably around 100 songs in the last few years. I am big into concepts, a huge perfectionist and very intentional with what I put out. This project is essentially about the unravelling of a relationship, my internal unravelling, getting sober and finally having access to emotions that have been suppressed my entire life.
My most recent release “Anything Bad for Me” just got played by the living legend Tony Blackburn, which is wild as one of the first songs Billy and I wrote was all about Radio Caroline, Tony’s radio station in the 60s! I also just played Jodie Bryant’s Discover Live which is the best new music night in London hosted by Jodie who has presented shows like BBC Introducing. Where I am at now is getting ready for release number 3 so keep your eyes peeled.
Who inspired you to start making music
Honestly, I was totally obsessed with Audrey Hepburn (and still am.) I also was so in awe of my grandma when she would sing to me, it was so special and probably the first time I had experienced pure joy and as an artist that is all I want other people to experience when they hear my music.
And the one or maybe two records that inspired you artistically
This is so hard but I’ll try! Solomon Burke’s “Cry To Me.” When I first heard that song, my life genuinely changed. That was the first song I had heard backing vocals play such an important role and it totally opened up a part of my brain it was like someone turned some more lights on up there.
If you’re trying to explain who you sound like to someone who’s never heard you, what do you say
I’ve started to say soul pop and someone recently said “a happy Lana Del Rey” which I absolutely love. Lana is a huge inspiration of mine.
Tell us about your new track
Anything Bad for Me. Where do I start. I had a realization that seemed wild to me but was very obvious to everyone around me. I was 3 months sober and had started dating someone. (It’s suggested to not get into a relationship for a year when you embark on a sobriety journey.) We hadn’t been together very long and I felt myself falling in love very quickly. I went into the studio and Billy and I always chat for a while before writing anything, and I just happened to be on a rant about all the things I love are bad for me and I think I said “even this guy! I think I love him and he’s bad for me too!”
What do you do outside of music when you need a break
I find it very hard to take a break, I am probably due a holiday! Even outside of the studio, my mind is constantly thinking of concepts, melodies, visuals etc. I navigate the world through the lens of a songwriter, life is always moving, ideas are never ending. Everything I do seems to lead back to music. It’s a gift and a curse! I love to just have a laugh with my friends and go on long drives.
Tell us how you write
Something usually happens and I feel an intense pull to write about it. Usually starts with an emotion and finding a way to conceptualize that. Billy will then play something that melodically feels right for whatever I want to write about and we go from there. It’s great because although Billy’s main instrument is guitar, he does play everything so sometimes we will write to bass or piano. I love writing over a bass line. Sometimes we will listen to some 50s jazz or an album from the 60s and see if something resonates. Billy and I actually have a joke that he isn’t allowed to play too many chords otherwise I will keep us in the studio writing forever!
Tell us about your live show what would be your dream gig
Playing live is what I live for. I absolutely love getting the audience involved and creating a fun and safe space where people can be themselves. I won’t play to track so usually it’s an acoustic set but whenever budget allows, I will have drums, bass, keys, guitar. My absolute dream would be to have a horns section and upright bass and a group of singers on backing vocals, the backing vocals are like the icing on a cake and really bring the songs alive, they are very important. I would love to play The Royal Albert Hall and also The Hollywood Bowl in LA, such an awesome venue. Another show I would love to play is Jools Holland, that really would be a dream come true.
What can we expect from you in the near future
Next single is being mixed so expect single number 3 very soon! There are other conversations being had in terms of live dates etc but I can’t reveal too much yet!
Tell us your favourite records that are rocking your headphones/tour bus/stereo
Rodriguez, Sixto Rodriguez. If you haven’t listened to his album please do!
Check out Carmen’s track Never Been Kissed, below:
Find out more via Carmen’s Facebook