by Julia Leiby
As a child and a teenager, in times of sorrow and joy, I spent my time wading in my town’s creek. The forest was walking distance from my house, and I went there often, with friends at first, and then alone. At the water’s edge I felt a great peace. Florist’s Emily Sprague can relate; she tells me of a similar relationship she has with nature, evident in her new EP, Holdly. On “Cool and Refreshing”, Sprague describes wading into Kaaterskill Creek, a creek in her hometown of Palenville, NY, a town of 800 in the Catskills. ‘I still have that feeling of water above my knees,’ she sings with nostalgia.
“I’m proud of being from the Catskills and it took me a long time to adjust to living in New York City,” said Sprague in a phone interview. “I always think about the creek. Although, [in Palenville] I didn’t have a community like I do now, nobody played music where I grew up, no one had queer feelings, and it was hard to relate to people. I was an only child and very independent and going to the creek was something I did in my own world. In my life now, I can meditate and go back [to the creek] and make myself feel better about my life here, and that’s mostly what the EP is about.”
On the opening track, Sprague evokes images of “riding rollercoasters with [her dad], / when a swimming pool in a hotel was a gift from God,” and the listener can almost imagine these childhood memories as their own because of the warmth of their delivery. Florist’s music is light - the guitar is breezy and meandering, the drumming is slow and cool, the vocals are delicate. Despite this light tone, Sprague confronts heavy topics such as the anxieties and insecurity in love and mortality with calm and sweetness. On ‘Remembering Spring’, she sings, “hold me down and tell me you don’t love me that much/ I know you won’t,” and later wisely intones, “If this is the ending of the world/ I don’t think I’d be upset.”
The final track ‘Holdly’ repeats the creek motif. Sprague sings ‘I was raised by the river and the rocks,’ and describes a moment of vulnerability in love as she says “Hold me when I’m starting to cry / I don’t want you to see it / I’m sorry.” The creek is a metaphor for a safe place that exists far into the past, and it’s a refuge for Sprague, and in turn for listeners. With repeated listens, Sprague’s soft but strong vocals make one fall into a kind of dreamy, peaceful reverie.
The EP was recorded in Sprague’s room at the alternative music venue / residential arts space the Silent Barn in Brooklyn. “The record reminded me of my love for music and writing music,” said Sprague. “It was after I had finished [the upcoming LP] and I hadn’t written a song in 6 months. It was really affirming for me.” Sprague and her partner and bandmate Felix Walworth moved out of the Silent Barn into a new apartment, just days before the recent fire at the Barn that damaged the living spaces there.
‘Holdly’ combines hold and holy, and Sprague says she coined it while playing with words, sounds and meanings. She recorded guitar, bass and vocals on an eight track and then her bandmates Rick Spataro, Jonnie Baker and Felix Walworth added their parts. Through Sprague writes the songs, she does not see Florist as a solo endeavor, and describes it as a “friendship project”, stressing the importance of her bandmates’ additions and arrangements.
Sprague describes Holdly as the band coming together after months of being unable to, after a previous record with Spataro, We Have Been This Way Forever. She was living in the city while her band mates were upstate, and for a period of time in 2014, she was recovering from a bike accident and couldn’t play guitar for 3 months. After she had recovered, she released her most recent collection of songs by herself, but under the Florist moniker, may 6 to 12 songs. Holdly is Sprague’s first record on a label, Double Double Whammy, based in NYC, and she says, “I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to be on another label. Mike [Caridi] and Dave [Benton] are friends, and it’s exciting and nerve-wracking, people knowing about you, dealing with business, and it makes me sad [sometimes]. Sometimes I regret sharing my music.” But, she adds, “I didn’t go to school, I wanted to play music, and it’s what I do.” Sprague eagerly looks forward to the release of the LP, out early 2015, and says, “I can’t wait to record a new thing.” Holdly is a brief, deep and multi-faceted gem of an EP, and listeners will want to wade in that peaceful creek over and over again.