Holden Hillis experiments with sound in new album Twenty Summers

Elise Sanders, Campus Life Reporter

In the final twilight of summer break and under the dawn of the back-to-school season, junior Holden Hillis released his latest album, Twenty Summers, to Spotify on Aug. 24.  Its acoustics, electrics and nostalgic vocals seem to whisper “goodbye” to those torrid months, while still reminiscent of the comforting heat. 

Twenty Summers is by no means a debut; Hillis has been writing songs since his freshman year of high school and has undergone significant artistic evolution over the years. Hip-hop and rap were influential in his earlier songs, striking a stark contrast to the sound of Twenty Summers. 

According to Hillis, he draws much inspiration from his musical environment and what he’s currently listening to, which he attributes to his evolution into such a versatile songwriter.

“When I look back on it, it’s kinda like those artists that I’m listening to, combined with some sense of my style,” Hillis said.

Hillis cites Elliott Smith, Oasis, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles as inspirations for Twenty Summers.

However, these influences don’t drown out the artist’s unique voice.

“It’s just mostly a process of putting what’s in your mind onto a recording. People care a lot about quality, but I think it’s cool to just create something and have it be something that came [straight] from your mind.” 

Hillis’ approach to songwriting is rather spontaneous. When it comes to sitting down to write an album, his inspiration comes from that of a creative surge rather than an intention.

“Oftentimes, I’m not trying to write a song. Sometimes, when you try to write a song, it’s like the opposite effect where you just can’t. And then, when you’re just playing, it kind of just comes out.”

According to Hillis, writing songs in great quantity has allowed him to hone his craft, as well as given him material to choose from when composing an album. Although his style is constantly evolving and experimenting, apprehensions still thrive.

“It’s kind of tricky, because I don’t always know if something sounds good. There were a few songs on this album that I was thinking about not releasing. And then, when it came out, people were telling me, ‘Oh, those are my favorite ones.’” 

Hillis puts much care into composing, recording and producing his songs, teetering towards perfectionism. 

“Always with writing an album, it’s fun at first: creating the songs, and trying to come up with the idea of the album. And then, in the later stages, when you’re putting the final touches on it, it just gets kind of exhausting. You’re just trying to get everything perfect. I guess I just try my best.”

Hillis’ labors are not unrewarded; his music has found an audience that enjoys it immensely, lauding his sound and lyrics.

Tim McKenna, a senior and friend of Hillis’, praised the album for its instrumentals.

“What I like about this album,” McKenna said, “was there were a couple of songs with the addition of a little electric guitar riff, or an electric piano melody that would classify more as, ‘indie rock.’”

Troy Peternell, a freshman and bandmate of Holden’s, was partial to the lyricism and emotions of the songs. 

“The songs were a cohesive part of an album; they all fit together well,” Peternell said. “I would definitely recommend, if you were to listen to one track, I would listen to the acoustic version of ‘I Just Wish I Could Forget You.’ That version has, for me, the peak emotional point of the album.”

McKenna and Peternell have different criteria for what they look for in music; Peternell places more importance on lyrics and emotions; McKenna enjoys the sound more actively. Hillis’ music was able to unite these two, with their different interests, under one album. 

More than anything, the album is personal, given that it comes from someone on campus and a member of the Whitman community. 

“A big part of the reason why I enjoy the album is I know Holden,” McKenna said. “And it’s cool having a friend or someone you know on campus, seeing them make music. And then it’s awesome when there’s one or two songs on the album that’s like, ‘Wow, I would download this, even if I didn’t know this guy.’”

Twenty Summers is available on Spotify.