First-time Smokefreerockquest contestant Holly O'Sullivan, 14, from Ōtaki College has won the solo/duo category at the Manawatū heats.

Inspired by family friends who were camping down the road and who always seemed to be bringing out a guitar, Holly asked her parents if she could learn.

"They brought their guitars everywhere and I was like 'what's that, can I play it?'

"I didn't know any chords or anything so I just started with open strings."


Teaching herself for a year or so and then getting a few lessons from a family friend, Holly was playing around with melodies and chords from the get-go and started adding lyrics a year later.

For a 14 year old, Holly is a deep thinker who encompasses thoughts, feelings, political ideas and questions about problems in society into her song writing.

Smokefreerockquest aims to motivate young musicians to prove their ability in the music industry and encourages the creation of original New Zealand music.

All songs must be original songs performed live.

Holly's winning song Someone to love me talked about her own feelings about love.

"It was about how people think everyone needs affection but I actually don't."

Entering Smokefreerockquest was quite last minute for Holly who only had a few weeks to prepare.

"I had a few originals that were at that standard, so I just changed the notes around and added a little melody and they sounded a lot better after that.

"I hate writing songs about my feelings but it's just so easy to do that I end up doing it a lot."

Having won her heat Holly has made it into the next stage which involves submitting a 12-minute video of her performing to be viewed by a panel of industry professionals from which the top 30 will be chosen to perform at the national finals.

Happy with her performance, Holly will refine her songs and performance before she enters her video.

"My second song for the video, Fast Cars, drones on a bit, so I need to make it a bit more captivating.

"I'll work on them both more but there is a risk that it could be detrimental to my performance if I change it too much.

"But then there's the other side of it in that it could improve them exponentially which would be beneficial.

"But you only really alter your song if you know specifically what's going to make it better."

Also doing well at the regional heats was Kāpiti College band Birds Make Me Anxious which will be performing again on June 8 at the regional finals.