At a time when most toddlers are speaking their first words, Holly Brook was singing hers—harmonizing on “Happy Birthday” with her mother at the tender age of two. It was an auspicious beginning for this affecting young singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist from Mazomanie, Wisconsin. But it was only the beginning.
At age six, Brook began to perform professionally with her mother, Candace. By 15, she had recorded three independent albums of folk and family music with her mother under the name Generations. With the money earned from gigging, she bought a rebuilt 1913 Baldwin baby grand piano. By the time she reached high school, Brook was sneaking into nightclubs and befriending jazz musicians. She says “the musicianship was absolutely mind-blowing.” With the help of a friend, jazz bassist Jeff Eckels, Brook put together her first band and they played their first show at the Concourse Hotel Bar in Madison. Brook was 15.
Holly is single-minded and steadfast when it comes to her music. And nowhere does that drive come through more purely than on her debut album, LIKE BLOOD LIKE HONEY an intimate collection of dusky, sepia-toned piano-driven pop gems. Think Fiona Apple if she underwent anger management, or an edgier, darker Sarah MacLachlan. Both women are artists that Brook admires, but her main influence is Joni Mitchell. “I love her poetry and her chords, and her depth,” she says. Indeed Brook’s own lyrics rely more on abstract images than literal story-telling. Brook also adores Mitchell’s willingness to explore musical territory outside the accepted confines of pop music, a trait that Brook shares. Who says a girl who can strum a heartrending ballad on a lap dulcimer can’t be a pop star?
A move to Los Angeles in 2003 yielded several music-making partners, including Grammy Award-winning producer, Jon Ingoldsby, who has worked with Madonna and Elton John. “Jon and I instantly clicked,” Brook says. The two have become writing partners and he produced LIKE BLOOD LIKE HONEY.
Brook’s song “Curious” serves as the album’s mission statement as she plaintively sings, “I’m so damn curious to know / And there are too many unanswered questions / that we hold onto to” over a stark piano and string arrangement. The song signals Holly’s relentless search for answers.
The album’s centerpiece is the cathartic ballad “What I Wouldn’t Give,” which is about “wanting to start over and get a fresh start in life. It’s hopeful song.” Brook puts her own sultry spin on the vocals, infusing the music with a deep yearning. Throughout LIKE BLOOD LIKE HONEY, the spare quality of the arrangements, (the vocals are often backed only by piano and washes of strings) perfectly complements Brook’s pensive, impressionistic style of songwriting.
It’s not a musical approach one might expect from the first artists signed by hard rock kingpins Linkin Park. The band’s guitarist, Brad Delson, loved Brook’s demo and offered her a deal with the group’s label Machine Shop Recordings, which will release LIKE BLOOD LIKE HONEY in early 2006. Now Brook is fulfilling her dream. “Music and performing are what I love,” she says. “If I can do that for the rest of my life, I’ll be happy.”