Holly Throsby On Motherhood, Creativity And Sexism In The Music Industry

"It is really sad when you’re in a same-sex relationship ... Just looking at your partner and wishing so much that we could combine our genes and make a baby together."

Motherhood & Creativity is a brand new collection of interviews with some of your favourite Australian actors, writers, artists and musicians including Claudia Karvan, Del Kathryn Barton, Rachel Griffiths, and Clare Bowditch. In it, the author Rachel Power asks questions about how parenting can fit with creative careers; do you have to choose one over the other? 

The following is an edited excerpt, featuring singer-songwriter Holly Throsby.

“I think I have some things to say,” was Holly Throsby’s response when I approached her about being interviewed for this book. “I would like to be involved but I worry I don’t have enough experience with motherhood yet. My baby girl is only five weeks old.”

Since Holly’s daughter won’t sleep in her cot during the day yet – “only on me!” – Holly’s partner, Zoë, takes Alvy for a walk while we talk. As it turns out, Holly easily has enough to say.

Rachel Power: Has motherhood been what you expected?

Holly Throsby: It’s a very dramatic learning curve. I’m the last of my friendship group to have a baby so I’ve certainly been around kids and babies a lot over the last eight or so years, but obviously you can never prepare.

My partner is an eternal optimist and I’m an eternal pragmatist, so I’d prepared myself for the worst-case scenario: ‘We’re not going to be able to do anything for months and months and months!’ We got leant a bunch of books from various well-meaning people, including this Tresillian guide called How to Stay Sane in Your Baby’s First Year, and this book is terrifying! It’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever read. It has advice like, ‘Try to strike up a conversation with a neighbour on the way to the mailbox’ and, ‘Try to chat with another mum at the shops and if she doesn’t want to hang out with you, just try again with someone else.’ So I was reading that just before I was about to give birth and thinking, ‘Oh my god, surely it cannot be that bad.’

Are there aspects of becoming a mother that have surprised you?

I’ve already been having these strong feelings about wanting my own space back, which is partly about having been complacent about my own headspace beforehand, and then realising, when that goes, how much I took it for granted.

I’ve never been a night person, ever. I’m one of those people who really shuts down at the end of the day, and I’m much more of a day person, creatively. But with the routine we’ve got going now, Alvy goes to sleep at about seven o’clock, so I’ve become this night person – I’m alive and wanting to do stuff – because that’s my space now.

Everyone keeps telling me this or that will only last for so long, so I expect it’s all just going to be a series of phases. You get quite habitual in your life, and in the way that you think and work, so I guess it will mean having to let that all go, over and over again.

So when you get that time for yourself now, have you got the energy to be creative?

Not at this point, no. I can’t even imagine having the space in my brain to be creative at the moment. Especially to the extent it takes to finish a song, let alone make an album. I feel so consumed by Alvy. I just stare at her. It’s such a new kind of love to experience.

I’m just using time I have to plan the future – the near future, hopefully. It’s an interesting time for me, because I put my first album out in 2004, and then I was doing an album every two years. My kids’ album and the Seeker Lover Keeper album and my last solo album all came out within the space of six months, and then I spent a lot of time touring those three very different records — and at the end of that touring cycle I was involved with the Crowded House tribute concert tour and a Bob Dylan concert tour. So it was this really intensive period. Then I did an overseas tour to the UK and I got pneumonia – and was going through a very sad relationship break-up at the same time.

So at the end of all that I felt so exhausted and burnt out by music that I was ready to turn my back on it. I almost felt a bit phobic about touring. I came out of it and felt like I needed to completely shut down and hide away from music and have a big break. Also I started a new relationship, which was so wonderful – it was at that point that everything kind of turned around and I started wanting to have a baby. I’d never felt ready before, partly because I was terrified, and partly because I was so driven, creatively, to always be working and making stuff. But I felt different and like I just wanted to be at home and do different things.

So getting pregnant was a very deliberate decision then?

Well, I’m in a same-sex relationship, so it had to be! I mean, we kept trying, but nothing happened, you know … It is really sad when you’re in a same-sex relationship, that you can’t create a baby with your partner. I really went through that feeling, we both did – just looking at your partner and wishing so much that we could combine our genes and make a baby together like heterosexual couples can. But of course we cannot do that, so it was very planned.

The path to pregnancy for a lot of people can be really difficult. I feel like we were quite lucky in that regard. It’s such a political area – much like pregnancy and birth, conception for same-sex people, and for women in general, is a bit of a minefield. The more I talk to people, the more I felt really strongly that it’s the most personal decision; you just have to go with your instincts.

It is really sad when you’re in a same-sex relationship … Just looking at your partner and wishing so much that we could combine our genes and make a baby together.

We were really lucky. We’ve used a known donor who’s a friend, and he’s wonderful and very creative – he’s a musician as well. It’s an interesting thing to talk about, but he’s very happy to be a donor and not a parent, but also to be available for our daughter to know him, which is the situation that we wanted and felt was best for us.

So I feel lucky that we found him and that he was agreeable and really relaxed about the whole scenario. All those terms around donor conception can be very contentious, depending on who you talk to, so I think whatever works for everyone’s family … The more people who will love our daughter, the better, in my opinion. We do have a really nice network of people around us, and I’m more of a create-your-own-family kind of person.

Years ago, when you interviewed Clare Bowditch, she mentioned that once she had a baby, the media seemed more focused on her as a parent than as a songwriter; she felt like she was meant to be some kind of spokesperson for ‘cool mums trying to do it all’. Do you think female and male artists get asked different kinds of questions?.

Oh, absolutely. Women and men in general. Women always get asked about how they juggle work and family life, and men never do. I’ve even been asked that on Clare’s behalf – I did an interview a few years ago where the first question was, ‘How do you find touring with three children?’ And I was like: ‘That’s Clare Bowditch, not me!’

But I remember thinking that if I was Clare Bowditch, that would have been my first question. So it’s obviously true that that happens. I’ve been asked a lot about what it’s like to be a female musician in a male-dominated industry, and I’ve spent my entire career being compared not just to other female musicians, but to other Australian female musicians. It’s as though, when it comes to music, nobody can draw a comparison beyond this small pool that you live in. So many of us are so heavily influenced by men too – or not just by music, but books and films and so on as well – but journalists’ references can be so narrow.

Do you think you’ll be taking to the stage again in the near future?

I just had to turn down a big show in January. I almost said yes – it was at the Opera House and it was all happening – then after two days of thinking about it, I thought, “There’s no way I can do that show.” It’s not just the show, because Zoë could come and take Alvy and be backstage for however long my set was, but I haven’t played a show in so long and to get to that point where I’m ready to walk out into the concert hall, I’d want to be doing a lot of rehearsal, and at the moment Alvy just wants to be on me all the time, and I want that too.

I did accept a show next year, though, in the Barossa Valley, when she’ll be six months old. So we’ll all go and that’ll be my first gig in what must be getting close to two years. But I feel confident that I’ll be able to get some time to practise, and it’ll be our first time doing the whole thing as a family.


This is an extract from Motherhood & Creativity, out now through Affirm Press.