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Holly McNarland: Music and Motherhood

By Jared Davidson on September 10, 2012

Holly McNarland has had one heck of a career. In 1998 she won the Juno for Best New Solo Artist and has since worked with the likes of Matthew Good and The Tea Party. Once best known for her hit song “Numb,” McNarland recently took a break from the recording industry to focus on her family life.

But now, after a four year hiatus, Holly McNarland is back and coming to Ottawa. This Saturday September 15th, McNarland will play Mavericks, one of only three stops on her tour supporting her new album Run Body Run.

Her first independently released album, Run Body Run is a showcase of McNarland’s impressive vocal chops, from her country lilt on “Whisper” to the fist-raising yells found on “Only Money.” Featuring the single “Alone’s Just Fine,” the album is a well-oiled machine, evidence of McNarland’s plentiful experience in the creation of well-structured pop rock music.

And it’s the product of five years spent writing. “I didn’t sit down to write it,” says McNarland. “I just kept writing after my daughter was born.” Instead of the usual pressures to grind out eleven or twelve songs, McNarland was able to approach writing on her own terms, producing a plethora of material unfettered by record deals. “For the first time, I had a ton [of written songs] to pick through,” she says. “I got to choose all of my favourites.”

She describes the production of Run Body Run as a very freeing experience. “I had no input from anybody except the band and the producer,” she tells me. It’s a far cry from her former life as an asset of the music industry, a position she was all too glad to relinquish.

“The industry wasn’t the greatest thing on earth,” McNarland remembers. When she became pregnant with her first child, McNarland began to feel a general lack of support from the industry at large: “I had a lot of people in my quote-unquote ‘camp’ going, ‘I don’t know if you’re going to be able to do this with a kid,’” she says.

Soon, it became clear that her family priorities didn’t mesh with the industry’s system. The life of touring that was required of her became impossible to maintain. “When I had my one son, I was just hating it,” says McNarland. “I can’t leave my kid for months at a time. It just felt terrible.”

Now, McNarland is her own boss. She promoted Run Body Run solely through social-media means. The album hit the #8 spot on iTunes, no small feat for a solo artist without a label behind her. “That felt really good,” McNarland says of her album’s success, “especially because I did it myself.”

And she’s able to balance her music and her family, touring less and spending more time at home. “This way I can do it and still be a mom,” she says.

McNarland plans to continue writing music. She seems unable to stop. “I don’t know what else I would do if I couldn’t make music,” she laughs. Still, it’s not always easy. “I love my kids and wouldn’t have it any other way, but it’s harder to find the time,” she admits. “Even to write a song, I have to lock myself in a room so no one can bug me.”

Catch Holly McNarland at Mavericks this Saturday. Tickets are $17 and available at the door or through the bar’s website.


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