Upon the release of her new album ‘The Real World’, the world Freya Josephine Hollick writes about has changed in ways she couldn’t have imagined at the start of her writing process.
The Real World has existed, at least as a concept, since 2019. Hollick began recording the album at the Rancho de la Luna in the Mojave Desert, an experience that even a year later would be unimaginable.
“I ended up there in the Mojave desert, like the universe had called me there, to be there with those people,” she says. “It wasn’t a place I chose, the place chose me, the wonderful people I worked with chose the band, chose the studio, chose the place, and I showed up.”
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She describes that she experienced an awakening in the Mojave- more on the specifics of that later- but it’s clear that the place, the people, and the studio itself had an impact on the album as well. She went on to say that the album could’ve been written and recorded entirely within Australia, but the Joshua Tree experience was pivotal to the songs. Looking back, it’s interesting that she drew that distinction- the album could’ve been made but the songs wouldn’t be the same.
“I felt as though I was existing in a new dimension, one where people’s intentions were so obvious, where my path was so obvious. I felt connected to an eternal hum, like my power cord had been plugged into a new socket, and I needed to let all the dead weight fall off.”
The experience of recording in spaces used by Iggy Pop, Kurt Vile, PJ Harvey among others, as well as with artists like Greg Leisz, gave the album its size as well as its scope. Recording in the desert gives you somewhere to revel in the emptiness of, well, the desert, leading to something that feels less confined because it is less confined.
She talks about amps being kept outside the studio proper due to lack of room, something you might otherwise record differently but being afforded the opportunity to do it differently given the locale. It’s hard to say how much bearing it has on the final sound, but it’s clear it had an impact on the outlook.
Hollick describes this music, and her sound in general, as ‘cosmic country’. Despite the futuristic-sounding title, cosmic country has deep roots in country that’s more California than Nashville, more outlaw than “countrypolitan”.
While the genre draws from country, it seems to be more defined by how it intersects with other genres, such as soul, rock, and blues. As that relates to this record, it gives Hollick space to operate outside of not only genre but the perception of genre.
“I feel it is my duty here to send out a vibration, to invite people in to be a part of a community, to do away with the ‘country music is for rednecks’ narrative and try to initiate change in the only way I know how.”
Country music’s history in Australia is inextricably coloured by its American roots and associations, but with ‘The Real World’ Hollick is making strides to create newer, more home-grown comparisons. That’s the root of her attraction to cosmic country: it has a different history to the Nashville country that people think of when they hear the genre. Music like hers has the opportunity to dismantle these stereotypes.
Her attractions to country music were more to do with its history in storytelling than any particular sound, inspired by its strength of song and poetry as well as artists like Townes Van Zant and Alan Toussaint. This is particularly evident in ‘Holdin’ on the Ones You Love’, a song that sees her vocals joined by Alan Power and utilising country faves like nylon string guitars and “honky tonk” piano to set the scene.
The scene-setting isn’t taken lightly, either. In fact, the way scenes are set throughout the record is something that’s clear as soon as you read the titles, much less start listening to the record. The amount that everything’s considered is remarkable. That’s an expansive ‘everything’, too- titles, arrangements, mixing, where it was recorded, influences, but it wouldn’t work if it didn’t include the track listing.
It’s always clear when the order of songs is thought out, not on a basic level but on a level where it really says something about not only the artist but the driving forces behind the artist. Here, when you ask Freya for her opinion, she’ll tell you that (most simply) it’s a single curve. Less simply, it’s like the songs are items arranged across a coffee table, where the intention of the design is to draw your eyes across it but ultimately to the centrepiece, and then gradually away. That kind of single curve.
The record’s centrepiece is ‘The Real World’, the album’s fifth track of nine but also third single of five – perfectly in the middle of both. It’s also the title track, if that isn’t immediately obvious. It’s a song that uses poetry to lament, longer and slower than the tracks around it, a palpable sense of loss. In the album context, after ‘Vivienne, June, Dolly & Jolene’, it’s almost jarring and a clear sign that the album’s going in a different direction. The key link is in its genre similarity, a testament to the multifaceted cosmic country as she delivers it.
It is pivotal to the album that the single curve not only goes clean to the centrepiece but serves the same purpose going through, and past it. This is similarly clear as the rest of the album unfolds into its second half.
Something that comes up a lot is the idea that, in addition to everything else contained within the record, it’s also music for aliens. Partly tied into the mythos of country music and the desert, partly due to the cosmic half of ‘cosmic country’, partly due to the idea of the awakening.
“That desert is a powerful place, with a powerful history that stretches so far back before the capitalist machine put its devastation there,” Freya explains. “The death place of Gram Parsons and a good place to go looking for Aliens, I felt so at home, I can’t even explain it”.
Maybe most interestingly, with the album not released, is that she’s already looking forward. She sees the album as a preface to something of even greater scale, an evolution or addition to what is put in place here.
More cinematic, working with Jack Ladder and drawing inspirations from artists like Lana Del Ray to create an album following this, an album that she sees as a prequel.
Freya Josephine Hollick’s The Real World is out globally through Cheersquad Records on September 30.