Photography Sean Mundy

watch neo-folk heroine common holly's vhs-inspired video for "nothing"

The artist premieres a nostalgic visual from her debut album, "Playing House."

by Nick Fulton
Dec 11 2017, 6:12pm

Photography Sean Mundy

It’s early morning in Montreal when Brigitte Naggar, a.k.a Common Holly, answers the phone. After our interview her plan is to go buy a coat to get her through the cold Quebec winter. Naggar was born in New York in 1992 and moved to Montreal when she was 10 months old. Her parents relocated north to escape their crime-riddled Brooklyn neighborhood, where her father was twice held up at gunpoint and her mother was interrupted by an intruder while breastfeeding on the third floor of their Boerum Hill apartment building. She credits her father — who she describes as “kind of a rocker guy” and who bought her her first guitar — as a major source of creative inspiration. “He’s the one that will show up at my concerts wearing a leather jacket,” she says with pride.

On her debut album, Playing House, Naggar opens up about her first major relationship — which began when she was 18 and ended when she was 22. She explores the idea that it is through conscious thought and deliberate actions that one becomes a fully functioning adult, and how by acknowledging your differing levels of maturity you can take steps to either continue or end your relationship. She navigates this subject with a weary but conversational tone that translates beautifully into nine electro-acoustic folk songs.

“Nothing,” the second track on Playing House, is about having to sever all ties and end the relationship. She says, “[It] came from me quite sincerely not wanting to inflict any more pain on my ex.” And while it comes across as quite a sassy song, she says, “I feel pretty good about making a pretty light song of it.” She enlisted an old friend of Mac DeMarco’s to make her a sweet analog video, which you can watch above.

Your parents both play instruments (piano and guitar). Growing up, did you ever feel like you were destined to become a musician?
I wouldn’t say that the professional aspect of it was in my upbringing, because I feel like no parent really wants their child to become a musician, at least not in this generation. But I definitely was primed for it, and I think my dad especially is very happy with the choices I’ve made. I’m doing what he probably would have wanted to do, so I think it’s nice for him.

Some musicians create a persona to separate themselves from their art. How do you view Common Holly?
Choosing a name for me was really important, because there was really no chance of me being able to promote anything under my own name. I think that’s a pretty common hang-up for solo artists. Promoting yourself is really tough. Common Holly was an aesthetic choice related to the music. I liked the understatedness of a general plant, and I liked the idea of a berry, but with dark, sharp leaves. I think that stood for what my music does; it’s nice music but in a bit of a dark package with sometimes unexpected production. So all of those things culminated in the name.

The video for “Nothing” has an old-school VHS aesthetic. Where did the idea come from?
That came from Nathan Schmidt, the director of the video. I actually met him at an after-party for Mac DeMarco’s Montreal show. He’s an old friend of Mac’s. We were dancing and we talked about maybe collaborating on music, then I think we just became social media friends, as we all do these days. I just really liked his aesthetic and I liked the little clips he was putting out. He’s got an apartment full of old gear, all kinds of analog stuff, and an enormous collection of VHSs. He just loves making stuff out of that old gear, and everything he does comes from there. There are points [in the video] where you can actually see the background being drawn in. He’s got this little analog pad where he literally just draws the background.

Was it your first time working with a green screen?
It was. I had a hilarious time. What I like about this video is that I get to be silly in it. I think that my music is pretty serious a lot of the time, and it can be pretty dark, but something I wouldn’t want people to forget is that I’m a silly person.

The term “playing house” refers to playing in a make-believe world, so how does the title relate to the subject of your songs?
I feel like it’s best explained in the title track of the album . There are lyrics that say, “I’ll play mum and you’ll play daddy, and we’ll ruin us beyond repair”. I wrote the album first and then I came up with the name. I felt like the theme of the record was about two people in a relationship trying to be grown-ups – trying to make it permanent in a way that it never could have been. For me, the relationship ended because I grew up and realized that I’d outgrown it. It had its place, which was a beautiful place, for sure, but you change so much as you grow up and in a serious relationship you can pretend as much as you want that it’s permanent, but you can never really know.

Playing House
Common Holly
Brigitte Naggar