When Holly McNarland’s smash single “Numb” went viral as she approached her mid-twenties, she was a bright young rocker, a rookie to the record label and a hopeful firecracker quickly winning her way on to MuchMusic countdowns and Women & Songs compilations. Like any fresh face, she was ready to tour tirelessly and make her dent on the Big Shiny Tunes line-up of male-dominated alternative rock bands that ruled the genre.
And she did. So much so that, speaking with her is a little daunting when remembering a few late 1990s years spent mouthing alongside her throaty rock howl on the radio. Almost 15 years later at age 36, following her debut Sour Pie and subsequent albums Stuff, Home is Where My Feet Are and Chin Up Buttercup, McNarland is still in the game with a new album to boot – and also with a few rules to play by.
“In the past, having all of those hands in the pie never really worked for me,” McNarland says bluntly about her past recording experiences. “I ended up feeling just so bitter and pissed off, because nothing seemed like it wasn’t in the artists favour anymore.”
Despite these frustrated years, the admitted string of label contentions led Holly to exactly the place she wanted to be, but was told she might not get to – the independent release of Run Body Run, a studio album that would be slow-cooked, thought over and produced to sound just like Holly. The country-infused soft rock compilation is led by the empowered summer single “Alone’s Just Fine” –while the rest of the album oozes a liberated kind of musical enlightenment. It boasts no strings, few other hands and multiple rewards.
One of the biggest being that McNarland wasn’t made to feel bad about also working full-time as what she considers the most important role in her life – Mother to 13 year-old Nege and five year-old Coco.
“I’m a Mom, I’m not a rock star,” she laughs candidly. Visions of her chopped pixie cut and tattooed arms violently strumming a guitar pop into mind, making it tough not to chuckle alongside her confession. “I didn’t wait around for my career to hit new heights — I had kids. I cook and clean and garden, but I also play when and where I want to play without the labels getting mad at me.”
McNarland interrupts herself to tend to her son – both kids are home sick from school, and she’s playing Mom today. Neither of her children is yet asking about, or overly interested in, the fact that Mom has a Juno. Maybe because in desperate times, she’s been known to use it as a door stop.
When McNarland’s kids eventually grow to take a curiosity in her admittedly “pretty great job,” Run Body Run will be a prime point of reference for their understanding the kind of artist their Mom is. She did, after all, name the album after the experience of telling her then three year-old daughter that she can be whatever she wants.
“This album has been on my terms; it’s been about taking my time and not hating a single part of the process. For the first time, I’ve loved every single aspect of it.”