Chic Spotlight: Holly Spears
Cincy Chic: When did you first get into music?
Spears: My first musical experience was on the piano. My dad used to show me little things on my great grandmother's piano when we visited her. I always looked forward to going to her house because she had a piano and she was really funny. I started taking lessons around first grade and then my parents bought me a piano after they realized I was pretty good at it.
It was the best birthday. A truck pulled up to our house with a selection of pianos and I got to pick which one I wanted. I out-learned my teacher and stopped taking lessons, until we found another teacher who helped teach me modern sheet music that I liked from the radio.
Cincy Chic: When did you start singing?
Spears: I first started singing in church and the school choir. Other than that, I was really shy. I always felt a special connection with the choir teachers at school. One teacher really got to know me and volunteered me for a lead part. After the feeling I got when I sang by myself in front of an audience, I had no problem trying out for leads and hungered for the parts. Later, during my 6th grade year, I played for the high school band.
When I got to the 8th grade, I was given a lead roll in a high school's play. I continued to sing at school in every musical aspect. Then, I started singing at local fairs and festivals with music tracks behind me.
My first demo was recorded with those same tracks using equipment at the church we were attending at the time. My grandfather was there with me, as he and my grandmother were the first to buy me the tapes to sing along with.
Cincy Chic: As a talented singer and pianist, when did you become interested in playing the guitar?
Spears: I picked up a guitar when I was 15 after watching a documentary on Melissa Etheridge on the Lifetime Channel (we did not have MTV or VH1). She inspired me to want to sing and play the guitar and write my own songs. My mother bought me my first guitar out of the classifieds for about $25. It was a classical acoustic guitar.
After she realized I really wanted to learn, was learning quickly and teaching myself how to play, she ordered me a $300 acoustic guitar from Fingerhut Magazine. I still have it today; I named it Harmony.
Cincy Chic: Where do you get the inspiration for the songs you write?
Spears: When I first got my guitar, I began writing songs about things I went through, such as love. I still write about love or love lost. Hopefully, Ill have a different experience soon, but maybe it is my fate to write songs that help people in their relationships. Who knows, right? This led me to play the guitar and sing at the Fair instead of using the music tracks. One of the neighborhood boys got tragically and mysteriously killed. I wrote a song about him and was requested to play it in ceremonies surrounding his death.
Cincy Chic: When did you first decide to join a band instead of just writing songs by yourself?
Spears: After the funeral of my neighborhood friend, I met a few guys from a local band who were friends with him, as well. Through our conversation, we found out that we were all playing at the same fair. They asked if I would like to try out and play a few shows with them, including the fair. I did, and we clicked instantly.
They became my second family. After the shows they had promised me, they decided to keep me on full-time. This was until another band saw me at a larger performance and stole me from them. It was the hardest decision I had to make up until that point in my life, because they had become a huge part of me life. I went with the new band and starting playing more and making more money.
Cincy Chic: Besides playing at festivals and fairs, what other musical endeavors did you take part in?
Spears: One day, during my junior year of high school, as I always listened to the radio while getting ready for school, I heard the morning DJ announce a jingle contest. I immediately ran upstairs to my karaoke machine and started recording an idea I had, including the harmonies and guitar music. My dad yelled that we were going to be late for school. I packaged up the cassette and had my dad mail it out that morning.
After the long stretch of the contest, and having people call in to vote for my selection, which they called "The Harmony Jingle," I won. This led me to go to the studio and re-record the jingle on a more professional level and landed me a spot on their morning show, so they could introduce it. One of the jocks at the studio was familiar with my music teacher and found out how much music consumed my life. He offered me an internship.
This intensified my anticipation for the summer. By the time summer rolled around, a new band had snatched me up and the radio station booked us for their huge Chicken Wing Cookoff Celebration at one of the malls. Before that happened, we had another large concert at a different mall with The Spin Doctors, an artist named Janna and Blessid Union of Souls. All of the interns had to pick a band to help out for the day. I picked Blessid Union. This meant I had to transport them back and forth to their hotel and get them anything they needed… and hang out on their bus in the meantime. When I met their lead singer, Eliot, we had an immediate connection for some reason.
When he found out I sang, played guitar and wrote music he excitedly gave me his contact information. The radio station allowed me to make him a demo at the station. After a few months, Eliot started flying and bussing me around via Greyhounds, to a whole new world… Cincinnati, OH. For being such a small-town girl, this was a big deal to me.
Cincy Chic: When did you decide to permanently move to Cincinnati?
Spears: Even before the trips to record in Cincy, I had always known that to pursue my music I would move away from everything I knew growing up. Up until that point, I just hadn't figured out where or when.
After high school, Eliot helped me – that small town, naive, young girl – to the big city of downtown Cincinnati. I had no car, no job and no friends. But, I was extremely excited and determined to make my way.
Cincy Chic: After graduating from high school and moving to Cincinnati, did you make time for college?
Spears: When I first moved to Cincy, the timing was a little off for recording purposes, since Blessid was in full touring mode from their "Walking of the Buzz" album which featured the song "She Likes Me for Me." This led me to go to college.
I went to AEC Southern Ohio College (now, called Brown Mackie College) for audio and video production. There, I learned more about the technical side of recording and also video. I accomplished summa cum laude and Student of the Year. As I had worked with Eliot in spurts and a controlling boyfriend warded me away from working with a male, I soon moved back home to regroup and write.
Cincy Chic: Did moving back home end up working out for the best?
Spears: Many great songs and adventures came out of moving back home. There, I signed with a record label and Eliot began driving to Morgantown to work with us. After a while, he intrigued Blessid's old producer to work with us instead, and a friend of mine offered to let me move in with her rent-free, back in Cincy, until I got on my feet.
So, I left the label, quit my day job and moved back to Cincinnati to continue pursuing my dream. My friend ended up moving as soon as I got there and left me homeless with no income. The producer ended up having too many projects going on.
So, there I was again. I left everything I had behind and had nothing, but I was determined to keep going and reaching for my goal. I got some monetary help to pay for a deposit and first month's rent in my own place. I got a job and started lining up gigs and letting people know I was back in town. We started recording. Life was great. Well, except for me not fitting into the day job mold.
After praying about it and really weighing my options (even though I was pretty partial to one side of it), I decided to quit my day job, again, and just play music. I began really booking and doing all the business side of it myself. I started putting a band together (which has evolved with new players) and continued recording with Eliot.
Cincy Chic: What is your life like currently?
Spears: Today, I still perform for a living. I book many solo shows in bars, restaurants, theaters, colleges, festivals, churches and we just began performing as the Holly Spears Band, which I am extremely excited about!
All of our shows and new Holly Spears tunes are posted on www.myspace.com/hollyspears and my Webmaster updates www.hollyspears.com as often as she can. We are currently weighing our options for finishing the album and looking for the right record label and management. I'm just waiting to see where the next domino falls. So, stay tuned and ride out this musical adventure with me.