Austin-based folk singer-songwriter Ali Holder has never been one to shy away from taboo topics, but they take front and center in her third full-length album, Uncomfortable Truths. The first single off the album, “Bruja,” adapts the Pueblo myth of La Loba (the Wolf Woman) to create her own story of avenging the women murdered by the Mexican Cartel.
The second, “Bad Wife,” describes feelings of inadequacy as a spouse: “I’m just a bad wife / always causing a fight / I’m just a bad wife / I don’t sleep well at night / I’ve never been tidy, never been clean / I can’t manage to wash the dishes or do the laundry.” Singer-songwriter Grant Peeples covered it for his album, Bad Wife, a collection of covers of songs by female artists.
After the Uncomfortable Truths release on April 10, Holder plans to go on tour and spend some time as artist-in-residence at the Roots HQ in Fayetteville, AR. We talked to her about the inspiration behind her new single and album.
AF: Tell me about what inspired “Bad Wife” and what message you’re conveying with the song.
AH: My husband and I married after six months of knowing each other. His visa was up, and we were faced with having to get married or break up, essentially. So, we decided to take a risk for love. As much as we were in love, we were still practically strangers. It was a very intense shift for me to go from a single person to a married person. I felt like I had lost my identity. Your thoughts, actions, motivations, everything changes.
I believe our best partners bring things out in us that allow us to heal. There were a lot of growing pains and healing going on during that time. I wanted to convey that marriage can be very tough and that it’s okay to talk about it. I don’t know why we don’t talk about these things. There is no shame in struggling. We are so much better off to share our struggles with others so they know they’re not alone, so we know we’re not alone.
AF: What was it like for Grant Peeples to cover it? What additional meaning do you think it gave the song to have a male artist cover it?
AH: Grant is a friend and such a good feminist. It made me really happy to hear he was going to cover it. I think perhaps when a man hears that song coming from another man, they are less threatened by it. It’s less about them being attacked or feeling guilty and more about the storytelling. Grant is a particular male artist. I am not sure many men could have pulled it off. Having such a feminist man sing it feels like a flag being raised for all women saying, “I understand you, I am rooting for you.”
AF: What other topics are addressed on the album?
AH: This album explores all of my uncomfortable truths: chronic pain, mental illness, privilege. It also explores my uncomfortable truths and others’ on a larger scale, like sexual assault, not apologizing for being who we are, revenge… all the things we as women are not supposed to feel or talk about.
AF: Why did you decide to bring the myth of La Loba into the album? What does this character mean to you?
AH: I was reading Women Who Run with the Wolves, which is where I first learned of La Loba. I love that she was half-wolf (wild) and half-human. I loved that she created new wolf women from the bones of the women that came before them. That wildness in us is something we are so lucky to have, no matter what we’ve been told. She allowed me to forgive myself, accept myself, love myself for exactly who I was. She allowed me to cherish the wild in myself and the wild in other women. She taught me how powerful that can become when you surround yourself with and celebrate other wild women.
AF: “Bruja” calls attention to women who died at the hands of the Mexican cartel. How did this topic become of interest to you?
AH: I lived out in West Texas for a time. I saw an art installation that had 300 plaster cast hearts to represent 300 women who had gone missing via the cartel. That always stuck with me, haunted me. I go out to that same area once a year to write, and I finally found the revenge I was seeking for them through the La Loba character.
AF: Who were your biggest influences on this album?
AH: Honestly, my own struggles. At one point, I just became overwhelmed. Writing and singing about them became my catharsis. Music was getting to feel icky for me. Always promoting myself, always asking for money… I knew that I needed it to change somehow. I am about to quote Oprah — don’t judge me! — but I heard her say, “You know you’re on your path when it involves helping others.” That’s when the lightbulb went off and I thought, “What do I have to offer?” The answer was my own pain and struggles. I’m offering it up in hopes that others feel less isolated in their own pain and struggles.
Uncomfortable Truths is out April 10. Follow Ali Holder on Facebook for ongoing updates.