“I ain’t no angel and I never was,” bisexual Ottawa singer/songwriter Tara Holloway croons in her trademark tumultuous voice, on her song titled “Misnomer.” But there must be some sort of angel smiling down on Holloway. Her real-life personality has given her much success in the music industry — without her really trying.
“I never really go looking for gigs, they sort of just fall in my lap,” Holloway says from the porch of her James St apartment, “I want to be more ambitious but it’s not really my style.”
As Holloway smokes her Camels, which may contribute to her unique voice, she’s the first to admit that she’s a tad disorganized. Yet her songwriting talents have overcome that hindrance, and her star is on the rise.
Holloway recently returned from Los Angeles, where she is producing an album with friends she declines to name.
“Living in LA was awesome. I didn’t realize that suddenly all of my friends and people I work with were flocking to LA,” Holloway says. “The city is a huge mecca for the music industry.”
Having conjured up ideas about the type of people she would come into contact with in LA, Holloway was pleasantly surprised upon her arrival.
“What’s ironic is that when you think of LA you immediately think of dealing with stuffy music industry-type people. But the managers I have dealt with in Ottawa fit that stereotype more than the people I dealt with in LA. I was fortunate in the sense that the people I worked with there were all my friends. I was ready to just dive in. I was really chomping at the bit.”
The record should be available soon, so Holloway won’t “crumble up and die out of pure artistic lameness.”
Aside from West coast friends, Holloway has many friends here in Ottawa’s queer scene as well. She performs religiously each Sunday at Club Soda, where her hardcore lesbian fan base cheers her on.
“It’s awesome, they all end up becoming my best friends,” Holloway pauses as a mischievous grin crosses her face, “or my girlfriends.”
“I love Club Soda. I call it my home and my church. When people ask me where I’m going on Sunday, I tell them, ‘Church, of course.'”
Holloway also recently landed a gig cohosting Shanghai restaurant’s karaoke Saturdays with resident diva China Doll.
“It’s so much fun,” Holloway gushes, “The people at Shanghai are so cool, they’re really close to me.”
With all this on her plate, Holloway has managed to squeeze in five shows at this year’s upcoming Ottawa Ex. Coincidentally; the Ex is where her musical odyssey began. Her very first performance was at the 1995 Exhibition, where she performed with her cousin, fellow songwriter Dayna Bourgeois, in an incarnation called Rising Under.
“That performance was absolutely terrifying,” recalls Bourgeois, now the musical director of Canadian music channel CMT and radio station Country 95.3. “It was the first time we played in front of total strangers.”
You expect a cousin to be supportive, but Bourgeois has high expectations of Holloway.
“I think her sexuality makes her more of an individual, and will help her rather than hinder her in her career,” she says.
“She’s an absolutely infectious person; she has a feel-good vibe about her.”
This recent booking at the Ex is a prime example of the 25year-old’s career coming full circle.
“I honestly haven’t been back to the Ex since then,” says Holloway, “it’s a very strange coincidence.”
It’s no coincidence that Holloway’s path in life led her to music. She’s been a self-proclaimed vinyl junkie from an early age, something she acquired from her father.
“I was born in 1980 and I don’t know a lot of people my age that grew up listening to vinyl. There was no best friend sitting around with me listening to records. My first big thing I was into was Raffi,” Holloway laughs. “By the time I was around eight I started getting into stuff like Robbie Robertson. I don’t know how I acquired such good taste at such a young age.” Some of Holloway’s more mature favourites include Bob Dylan, Etta James and Blind Melon.
“My taste is so broad that I guess you could say that I have the entire history of music as an influence,” Holloway says, very matter-of-factly. “As I get older, I become more open-minded about different kinds of music. I think I’m as open-minded as anyone could ever be, but you never know, I could be even more open-minded in five years.”
During her years at Confederation High School, Holloway was the first student to volunteer to put on the coffee houses. They were quite the thing back then, she says.
Holloway kept a high profile during her teen years, entering the Nepean Sportsplex student showcase, opening the Barrhaven skate park and frequently performing at local hotspots such as The Whipping post and The Elbow Room.
When asked if her bisexuality influences her music, she takes a long, serious pause. “Not really,” she finally offers.
“My lyrics are always honestly straight up verbatim, right from experiences in my life. I rarely write about relationships, because I was in a monogamous relationship for the past four years. I had that entire area of my emotions sectioned off.” Holloway was married to a man for four years and is now going through divorce.
Even without meaty topics like relationships in her lyrics, Holloway manages to write haunting, seamless songs. They come about in a very particular way.
Holloway says her song-writing process is equally as random as the opportunities she’s been given. If she happens to be writing with other musicians, she tends to feed off their styles. However, when writing alone she does her own thing. Her room is littered with instruments, allowing her to pick up and write whenever the mood strikes her.
“I’m constantly writing lyrics,” she says. “A melody will come to mind and I’ll sit down and fool around on the guitar and pick a page of lyrics that fits with the music. My songs are always changing; it’s always a work in progress. But that’s what I really love: writing lyrics, making music, creating vocal melodies.”
Holloway has demos that showcase her stripped down style, reminiscent of alternative queen PJ Harvey.
“I really love my demos. I like how they capture the rawness of my music. Some people will listen to them and say, ‘Yeah, you need to re-record that,’ but I love them,” Holloway says. “I really like texture and crackle. Most people from my generation are used to over-produced music that has no imperfections, but I understand.”
While it may be imperfect, Holloway’s sound is marketable enough to finance her upcoming journey. She plans to pack up her car in mid-September and make her way to Vancouver, making stops along the way to perform wherever they will have her. Holloway’s last show in Ottawa, at least until Christmas, will be at The Shanghai on Sep 1.