Hailing from Montreal, Québec, Brigitte Naggar of Common Holly drove her way down to Kalamazoo, Michigan for Audiotree Festival 2018. We got the chance to sit down and chat with her and her producer Devon Bate about their work on Playing House, Common Holly’s 2017 release. In the interview, we discuss the process of creating the record, the history of Common Holly, and her personal connection to her music. Naggar sees a clear parallel between her soft, “navel gazing” tunes and the fragile common holly plant which inspired her project name. Through her genre-encompassing and minimalist yet powerful sound, Naggar works outside of the box. As an artist whose thoughtful words and music haunt her listeners, there are no limits to where she is going and we are excited to see what’s in store.
Her 2017 release Playing House has taken her on tour all across the world. Keep scrolling to read our convo and to hear about what’s up next for Common Holly.
How does it feel playing Audiotree this weekend?
It feels great, It’s super exciting. I think it’s gonna be a really nice weekend. Weather is good, bands are good.
This is perfect festival weather… I prefer it a little cold.
Yeah, it’s nice to be able to wear a cool jacket and not be disgusting.
Exactly. So, we were curious, what is the inspiration behind the name “Common Holly?”
Quite honestly, it started out by googling a bunch of random words. I think then I decided that plant imagery would suit the music quite well, so I did some researching there. I found Common Holly, I decided the symbolism was cool, it’s like fragile, red berries and dark, sharp leaves. So I think that that sort of symbolizes the aesthetic a bit of the music.
When you were putting Playing House together, what was the process behind that? How did it all come together?
So I met up with my producer Devon Bate for a playing session, I showed him some songs just with voice and guitar, and he took down a bunch of notes, sort of vision boarding. And then we came together again and we just started working through song by song, laying down guitar and vocals, and then throwing on various bits of the vision. It took about 8 or 9 months, I would say.
How about the Playing House cover art?
I commissioned an artist, but I found that it wasn’t really working. I found the perfect portrait of my grandma and her cousin as children. It’s from Egypt of my grandma, she’s probably like six or seven years old. I thought it seemed fitting as a young album.
You’re playing Chicago Oct. 26th at the Empty Bottle, how do you feel about that show? Are you excited?
I am so excited, I love playing in Chicago. Everytime I play in Chicago it’s a great success. There’s always really nice people there, there’s always really good pizza afterwards. And there’s usually good thrifting before.
In your album, we hear notes of all different genres throughout, so what is your inspiration when you’re writing and creating music?
I think that when I write just on guitar, I always kind of opt for music that is sincere but also not boring. It’s kind of like if you say someone is… nice, sometimes it’s an insult. But if you say someone is really nice, then it’s a compliment. So, I guess, writing music that is sincere but not boring is kind of the name of the game. So it means, like, changing up the chords, doing things that are not particularly predictable.
Not fitting in a box.
Yeah, not fitting in a box. And with bringing it to Devon, we sort of unpack that. And we go song by song asking – what does this song call for? What will bring it out of its shell?
So what’s up next for Common Holly?
We just finished another album, pretty much. It’s in mixing stages. I think it’s better than the last one.
In what ways?
I guess it’s just maybe more mature. There’s more of a sense of – both songwriting wise and production wise – it’s more referential. It’s less inward looking, there’s still a couple love songs and it’s still personal, but I also think that its not as navel gazing. Not to discredit the last one.
Is your album cover going to be your Grandma but just a little bit older?
Possibly. That’s a good idea.
Be sure to catch Common Holly live in Chicago October 26th at The Empty Bottle alongside Anna Burch and Fred Thomas. Tickets and more info can be found here!