Lonnie Holley may not be a household name, but the Atlanta-based singer, poet, musician and visual artist is a staple in creative circles. His 2023 album Oh Me Oh My features collaborations with Bon Iver, Michael Stipe and Sharon Van Etten. On the visual art front, his sculptures have been displayed in the White House Rose Garden as well as some of the world’s most prestigious museums. In 2018, his short film I Snuck Off the Slave Ship debuted at Sundance Film Festival, adding another creative title to his growing list.

So it’s a special honour indeed to have Holley performing not once but twice at the inaugural Volume, a 17-day festival running from September 22 to October 8 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The last time Holley was in Australia, his performance at Melbourne International Jazz Festival was met with rave reviews, and this time looks to be no different. On his upcoming trip, he’ll be accompanied by his full band, including genre-defying Ohio ensemble Mourning [A] BLKstar and one of his former students, Alabama-based vocalist Lee Bains.

“I call it ‘thoughtsmithing’,” says Holley. “Going into the well of thought: it’s like riding a carousel. You’re picking up on all these different images and bringing them together … And they turn out to be this wonderful spread of information. And it totally amazes me, just as it amazes my audience.”

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Holley thrives on collaboration, whether it’s with members of REM or Deerhunter in the studio or with a revolving cast of players in his live performances. “I have to give everyone a chance to fit in,” he says. “And that chance comes within seconds after we get on stage. Everybody falls in tune … Everybody picks up on that rhythm and it begins to flow together.”

Holley specialises in improvisation, assuring audiences there is no risk of him clamming up onstage. “For me as a human, I get a chance to visit these different places,” says Holley. “So, I’m gathering thoughts about where I’m actually at. I’m hearing and seeing different human manners, no matter whether I’m in America or Europe or wherever. I’m still on the same Earth, and the Earth atmosphere is the overall atmosphere that matters.”

Also appearing on Volume’s packed line-up are Zambian musician, singer and rapper Sampa The Great; South Korean–Japanese psych/drone musical family TENGGER; Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker; and American indie rock great Mount Eerie, with Swinomish/Inupiaq singer-songwriter Katherine Paul’s Black Belt Eagle Scout as his backing band. There are also free daily dance and musical performances around the gallery, and kid-friendly workshops culminating in live performance from the participants.

Lonnie Holley will perform on (Tuesday September 26,) [https://volume.sydney/events/tuesday-26-september-evening/]supported by local folk experimentalists Maissa Alameddine and Hamed Sadeghi, Mourning [A] BLKstar, Hilary Geddes and Jess Parker. Films and original music from a globe-trotting array of talent will play throughout the night as well.

For Holley, a seasoned collaborator, a solo set will be a special experience. “I have to hear less, and I have to hear myself more,” he says. “I’m trying to deliver emotion, and in those emotions I’m telling [the audience] about myself. I’m an open book.”

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