From Arrowtown bedroom musician to country music song awards – Holly Arrowsmith’s journey

3 minutes read
Posted 10 June, 2024
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Arrowtown-raised Holly Arrowsmith is making waves in the country music world. She recently picked up her second APRA Best Country Music Song award, re-establishing her in the ranks of past winners Tami Neilson, Reb Fountain and Jenny Mitchell. She’s working on a new album to be released later this year and will be doing a tour around New Zealand, too.

Arrowsmith’s dad is American, and her mum is Kiwi, so in addition to growing up in Arrowtown, she was born on the high desert in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and has spent time living in Auckland. Now settled in Christchurch, she’s really enjoying the music scene up there.

“A pretty special place to be a kid,” is how she describes her time growing up here. When she hit high school, the arts had piqued her interest and she was ready to embark on her musical journey. Today, she is known as a leader in New Zealand’s contemporary folk and alt-country movement, delivering a mix of smooth intimate sounds and powerful vocals.

“I spent lots of time fishing, hiking and all of that,” Arrowsmith says. “When I was a teenager, at high school I took music and I started getting into song writing. I was pretty shy though, so I never did the musical or anything like that – I think I was more of a bedroom musician at that point. It wasn’t until I left school that I started doing more performing around Queenstown, like busking and open mic nights.”

From Arrowtown she headed up to Auckland and lived there for a year. Next was time spent travelling around North America, performing and exploring her father’s stomping ground a little more. Her first album was released soon after and then she headed back to Te Waipounamu. Today, New Zealand continues to influence her sound.

“I think that nature is often a big influence for folk music in general, but I think in Christchurch in particular there’s a really strong music scene of Americana / alt-country / folk song writing going on. I guess it’s like New Zealand’s own interpretation of those genres, which are largely quite American genres. I’m influenced by that too – the other musicians around me making this kind of music here.”

'Desert Dove' is the award-winning song, which came out in January of last year – Arrowsmith describes the win as a real honour. The song was inspired by the loss of her grandfather, who owned an antiques shop in Santa Fe. Her grandparents’ house served as an anchor point for her during her childhood as she was moving about – whenever she stayed there she would hear a dove cry out each morning.

“I wrote it as a tribute to my American grandfather. He was an art and antiques collector, who lived quite a colourful life. He had an antique shop in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he had all sorts of legendary people come through like Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Every day he’d put on his cowboy hat and his big belt buckle – he was this really larger-than-life character, and bigger in my mind as a child, and he really influenced my taste in this kind of music and aesthetic. I wrote it in memory of him and it felt great to be acknowledged for the song for that reason, because I felt like I’d done him justice.”

Desert Dove was Arrowsmith’s first release in several years – the pandemic created a hiatus, and then she became a mother so was slowly working on her new record. On 9 May she released another single, 'Neon Bright', which will be included in the upcoming album.

Arrowsmith still frequents Arrowtown as she still has family living here and hopes to be able to include Queenstown on her next tour. You can listen to the award-winning song, Desert Dove, and find out what Holly’s up to at hollyarrowsmith.com


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