Holly Humberstone has a confession. Despite the title of her forthcoming debut album, Paint My Bedroom Black, she has never actually doused her surroundings in darkness. In reality, her bedroom in the London flat she shares with her sister is what she describes as “so girly.”
But when thinking of what she wanted her first album to signify, Humberstone kept considering the memorable debuts that preceded her own. “I feel like so many artists build such a strong world around them and such an identity, and I feel like I’m changing all the time,” the alternative pop artist says. “I’m 23. I probably should sort of know who I am at this point. I just really don’t.”
That familiar uncertainty is not only visualized by the title of the album (out Oct. 13 on Darkroom/Geffen/Polydor Records) but also felt across its 13 songs, which embrace the duality of feeling apprehensive and alive all at once.
“I didn’t do it on purpose, but to me, the album sounds like it’s got two sides to it, like there’s two sides of me that I didn’t realize were coexisting,” Humberstone says. She thinks the consistency comes through in her vulnerability. “There’s something really empowering about being able to share so much of myself with people I don’t know.”
For much of Humberstone’s career, this has been all she knows. She released her debut single, the poignant “Deep End,” in January 2020, just before the world shut down from the pandemic, but worked tirelessly to emerge a household name. She released her first EP, Falling Asleep at the Wheel, in August 2020 on Platoon; after scoring a major-label deal the following year, she released her second EP that fall. By the end of 2021, she had won the BRIT Award for rising star, and by the end of 2022, she had opened on tour for Olivia Rodrigo and Girl in Red.
For a self-described homebody who grew up in rural Grantham, England — where “there’s nothing f–king going on” — the transition was a bit overwhelming. “You just have to adapt, and writing really helped me,” says Humberstone, who wrote and recorded much of Paint My Bedroom Black in between gigs. She describes songs like lead single “Antichrist” and the dancefloor-ready “Flatlining” as more “extroverted,” while the title track and songs such as “Elvis Impersonators” “feel like wanting to shut things out and be on my own.”
That honesty has bolstered some of Humberstone’s most affecting songs and helped establish her voice — from “Deep End,” about supporting her sister’s mental health, to the more uptempo 2022 single “Scarlett,” which mined her best friend’s one-sided relationship and ultimate breakup. On Paint My Bedroom Black, Humberstone looks inward, writing about her own attempts at relationships and the guilt that accompanies being gone so often.
On “Superbloodmoon,” which features Darkroom labelmate d4vd (marking the first time Humberstone has welcomed a collaborator on one of her own tracks), the pair sing of being far from home. “It’s a cold kind of love, from a distance … It’s a desperate kind of love that I’m missing,” they sing in longing harmony. And on “Kissing in Swimming Pools,” she sings of “wanting to hold down some form of relationship with somebody that I really liked” only to realize (and ultimately admit) how her career challenges that.
No matter the production style or vocal delivery of each song, though, Humberstone’s brash honesty puts her in the same class of current stellar songwriters like fellow emerging artist Gracie Abrams and even her idol, Phoebe Bridgers. (Humberstone says the latter’s Stranger in the Alps is one of her most-loved debut albums; when asked whom she would recruit for her own boygenius supergroup, she picks beabadoobee and Arlo Parks, saying that women in music right now “are running the whole show.”)
“Honestly, I think writing my songs is my way of protecting [my personal life] because I can take control and tell the stories how I want them to be told,” she says. Even so, she does worry about its reception. “I low-key hate releasing music,” she nearly whispers. “I love the writing process, and I love having [songs] in my pocket. I feel like it’s my dirty little secret. And then when it goes out, it’s just scary.”
Her best solution so far? Keep writing through it — she’s already thinking of her next project. Coming off sets at Lollapalooza Chicago, Outside Lands and the Reading and Leeds festivals in England, she may even continue her habit of writing on the road.
“It does feel like I’ve poured a lot of myself into [this album], and I am really, really proud of every song,” she says. “I’m just grateful that I am able to make [an album at all], and it sounds really cheesy, but that people will be waiting for it on the other side.”