Holly Auna started learning how to play her guitar around bonfires before playing hundreds of shows at venues all around the Louisville, Kentucky, area. Over the last 10 years, she has traveled back and forth between Nashville and New York City writing music and playing shows.
Growing up on a farm in a small town in southern Indiana. How have your midwestern roots influenced your career in music?
I grew up learning how to play guitar around a campfire while camping with my family and our horses. I was blessed to grow up near Louisville, Kentucky, which has an incredible music scene. After spending hundreds of campfire hours learning to play the guitar I was able to start playing shows around Louisville and going to shows of other incredible local musicians. I wouldn’t be who I am today without watching and learning from those incredible Louisville musicians. Two I have to mention by name are Danny Flanigan and Brigid Kaelin. I wouldn’t be the artist I am today without their inspiration.
Your first songwriter cut was Tenille Arts’ “There’s This Boy” on her Rebel Child album three years ago. Can you describe how it felt when you learned she would be recording your song?
We wrote “There’s This Boy” the week that I went on my first date with my boyfriend. We had asked Tenille what type of song she was looking for and she had said she needed an upbeat love song. To that, our other co-writer, Lydia Dall, said “Holly’s all in love.” And thus I began to ramble about my boyfriend and we slowly turned the conversations girls have about their crushes into a song. When I learned that Tenille was planning to record and release the song I was ecstatic. Hearing her play “There’s This Boy” at her release party with a full band for the first time was still one of my favorite nights of my career.
“When I was in high school I was in a relationship that was so close to being great. But there was something missing. I wasn’t alone, but I was lonely.” You put that last sentence in your ‘hook book’. “Is it just me Cause everyone else seems to think That we’re everything happy people should be.” Taking a gut feeling and letting it simmer with outside perceptions is a recipe for heartache. This is a song you worked on for years before its release. What kept taking you back?
This was a situation I had lived through multiple times, and after the most recent time there was a part of me that felt so broken. I just wondered if I would ever find the right relationship, one where I didn’t still feel alone while I was with someone. But I’m happy to share now that after three and a half years with my current boyfriend, I’m the furthest thing from lonely!
Writing this song with two of your best friends, Lydia Dall and Dan Kozlowski, gave you the freedom to express yourself without judgement. You shared that Dan crafted a guitar part that fit your hook idea perfectly, while Lydia took your hook from ‘ramblings’ to lyrics. The track ‘bones’ were laid in 2018, a three-piece string section and piano added last year, and the vocals in 2020. Would you agree that the time, and, in turn, understanding, helped you develop a new depth to your vocals on the track?
Absolutely. I’m very glad that I decided to recut the vocals in 2020. I’ve heard many major artists say that they wish they could have toured with their songs before recording them. Because it usually goes: write the song, record the song, release the song, tour with the song. And I’ve heard artists say that they wish they could have re-recorded their vocals after singing their songs at 100s of shows. I got that time with “Lonely.” I got to mold the song and watch it grow. I played Lonely at 100s of shows from Nashville writers rounds, to full band East Nashville shows to taking it on tour last summer across the east coast. When I listen back to “Lonely” it is an incredible feeling to know that I wouldn’t change a thing. This might be the first time I’ve experienced that with a recording.
I’m blessed to have band boys that are some of my closest friends. Each piece of the song that they added made it a little bit closer to what I envisioned and what I wanted the song to be. These boys are so talented and I’ll always feel thankful that I get to make music with them.
“If this song makes one person feel less alone, I’ll be happy.” How has the song helped you grow on a personal level?
Writing this song made me accept why some of my past relationships weren’t right. It made me understand what I want out of love and friendships. It made me realize that when a friendship or relationship isn’t right for you, it’s okay to walk away. It made me accept the part that I had played in my own loneliness. But most importantly, it made me realize I never want to feel that way again. I’ve done a lot of work on myself, learning to trust and let others in and now I’m able to have more meaningful connections.
You write a lot at Centennial Park in Nashville, the same location Taylor Swift mentions in her song “Invisible String” on her album Folklore. Finding an inspiring place to write can be key to an artist’s success. What draws you to this park to write?
I’ve been completely quarantined since March 16th. Most of my cowrites have been on Zoom this year, but a few weeks ago Tenille Arts, Lydia Dall and I met at Centennial Park for a safe social distanced write. Centennial Park is beautiful and reminds me of the countless hours I spent there while attending Belmont University. I think we chose Centennial Park for its beauty and size, knowing we would have room to successfully social distance while writing.
The Songwriter Diary is your weekly blog that includes interviews with fellow songwriters. In turn, you have performed original music on Instagram Live with many of the same songwriters. This is one way to jointly work on music while maintaining social distance. What other ways have you turned to during the pandemic?
The Songwriter Diary
Join us on Instagram LIVE at 8pm ct tonight as we talk about the making of "Lonely!" When I was in high school I was in…
Like most other Nashville writers, I’ve switched to co-writing on Zoom. It was a little strange at first but now it’s second nature. Of course I miss writing in person but I don’t miss the Nashville traffic! So everything has a silver lining.
Holly Auna on TikTok
Holly Auna(@hollyauna) has created a short video on TikTok with music Lonely. MY FIRST #1 SONG! #singersongwriter…
“Lonely” — #1 on the songwriters’ iTunes chart within the first day of its release. How do pre-saves and pre-orders impact a song’s chart performance?
As an independent artist, pre-saves and pre-orders are everything. When you pre-save or pre-order a song it doesn’t go into the system (iTunes, Spotify, etc) until the moment of release. I started promoting iTunes pre-orders a little less than a month before “Lonely” was released and every order made it the past month went into iTunes at the same time. This made “Lonely” shoot up the singer/songwriter charts all the way to #1, and even hit #184 on the All Genres chart!
Your TikTok following has grown to 350,000+ during the pandemic. You are now a verified influencer and share an hour of original music live every day on the platform. Can you share the role social media, especially now, plays in connecting fans with an artist?
Social media, especially now, is the entirety of how I connect with my fans, make new fans, play shows and share my music. I cannot say enough positive words about my TikTok community. At the beginning of September I entered a partnership with TikTok where I now go LIVE for a minimum of an hour every day. Now, in a way, I’m able to go on the tour that we had to cancel earlier in the year. Every day I’m playing all original music to thousands of people. Many of them have been coming back day after day and requesting my original songs and even singing alone in the live stream chat. It’s been more than I could have ever asked for.
Zoom Meet & Greets for fans who pre ordered “Lonely”. A favorite fan story on how your music has impacted their life?
I have loved doing these Zoom Meet & Greets! I recognize all of their names from our TikTok LIVE streams but it’s been amazing to put faces to the names. There have been many amazing moments but the most moving moment for me was when a fan played me a song that she wrote FOR ME about how my music impacted her life. She mentioned my original songs by name and talked about how my music has touched her. I cried.
From the instant connections on social media to ones made through ‘snail’ mail. You opened a PO Box for fans. A personal letter in hand has to make an impression in this age of type, click, send. What prompted you to open the PO Box and design a sticker that you mail to fans?
We were already living in such a digital world before 2020, but now we live online more than ever. In the past at least we could do shows, and real life Meet & Greets to develop this real tangible connection. But in the world of 2020, I still wanted to be able to do something personal to thank my fans for how incredible they are. There’s almost nothing more exciting than getting something handwritten in the mail.