When Holly Humberstone first took the stage as an opening act for Olivia Rodrigo’s North American Sour tour this spring, it was a “pinch me” moment in more ways than one: the 22-year-old Brit was getting a chance to connect with fans in real life after blowing up during the pandemic — and she just happened to be doing so alongside one of her favorite artists, too. “It genuinely has been my dream since I was about 11 to be out here [on tour performing], so I’m just really grateful,” Humberstone says excitedly, sounding like she’s still processing it all. “I still can't believe I get to do it.”
With her nostalgic indie-pop production and raw, vulnerable lyricism — “The Walls Are Way Too Thin,” the title track from her 2021 EP, sounds as intimate as eavesdropping on your roommates mid-fight — she’s drawn comparisons to the likes of Lorde and Bon Iver and cemented herself as one of pop’s brightest new voices. This year alone, Humberstone, who uses the pronouns she and they, hit the road with fellow breakout star girl in red, played Coachella, and won the prestigious Rising Star Award at the 2022 BRIT Awards (past recipients include Adele and Sam Smith). She’ll open for Rodrigo through the end of May, then embark on her own headlining tour in North America this November.
In a conversation over Zoom, Humberstone’s warm and unassuming demeanor reflects her quiet upbringing in rural Lincolnshire, a small town three hours outside of London. The youngest of four daughters, Humberstone says music always came naturally to her — she spent her childhood surrounded by art, often writing small songs at the piano after school, even if she didn’t imagine turning it into a career. “Not many people that I know come out of rural Lincolnshire and want to do music, because you don’t learn that it’s a legitimate job,” they explain.
The pandemic was when things really started changing for Humberstone: She released her first track “Deep End” at the beginning of lockdown and began to amass a big following on Soundcloud and through BBC Radio as she continued to release singles over the next few months. “I couldn’t really believe that there were actual people out there, like strangers, invested in my journey who really connected with me,” she recalls. But at the same time, it didn’t really feel like a breakthrough moment for Humberstone. “I couldn't see my friends. I didn't really have anything to write about because I didn't have anything going on. It was this weird juxtaposition [of people liking my music] and me having a lot of self-doubt,” Humberstone says. “But being able to come out here, literally on the other side of the world, and a few people in the crowd knowing the words [to my songs], it's really sick.”
Notably among those early fans was Rodrigo, who DM’d Humberstone a year ago to compliment her music. They soon struck up a friendship as they ran into each other at shows and bonded over shared music tastes. “After she released ‘Driver’s License’ and this amazing album, I was instantly obsessed,” Humberstone says. “Throughout the past few years, I've been extremely inspired by female writers who are so vulnerable in their lyrics — and I just think it's sick that she's down to support other female artists.”
Humberstone has picked up a lot from being on the road with Rodrigo, like how to carry herself on stage and win over new audiences. “People are just so down to support me, I feel like I come off stage every night fully love-bombed,” they say. “I’ve learned a lot about being able to have a rapport with the crowd and not be as awkward as I am in my day-to-day life with a crowd full of people in front of me.” The shows have also given Humberstone, who performs her set solo with just a guitar and keyboards, some ideas for her next trek: “I know that I can play a 40-minute set on my own and keep the energy up, but watching girl in red with her band and watching Olivia with hers just looks so fun.”
Offstage, Humberstone has realized the importance of looking after her mental health, especially when it comes to eating well, exercising, and keeping “a little diary” — per her mom’s recommendation — to write it all down. Writing has always been a “safe space” for the artist, a way for them to process what’s happening in their life, even when things are going as well as they are now. “When I have a lot on my mind and find it hard to focus on what's bothering me, the process of going into a studio and trying to pick out the lyrics from my brain to make sense of everything is so therapeutic,” she says. She pauses to find the words. “Turning something stressful that I'm going through into a three- to four-minute song that I really like the sound of — that’s the best feeling I've experienced so far.”
As she prepares to head back into the studio, Humberstone is trying to keep her process the same and tune out all the other noise. “I really hope that I can just carry on writing for myself versus trying to tick a box or make it good for TikTok,” they say. “Because I feel like once I start trying to be somebody that I'm not, then I'll start hating it. And I really, really don't want to start hating my favorite, favorite thing.” While her debut album is still coming together, she hopes it’ll serve as a snapshot of where she’s at right now: “So much in my life has changed in the past few months. I have a really hard time accepting that I'm growing up, that I'm an adult, and that I have to actually exist in the world and be independent and stuff. I’m just feeling like I'm growing up a bit too fast, to be honest.
“But more than anything, I've learned that I really want this to carry on because it's really fun,” she says with a smile. “And I want this for myself for hopefully years to come.”
Photographer: Ally Green