Holy Holy: “Playing Music Is About Tension”

Written by Greg Moskovitch on 2nd April, 2014

Holy Holy: “Playing Music Is About Tension”

Brisbanite Timothy Carroll and Melburnian Oscar Dawson are Holy Holy, a formidable songwriting partnership, a dynamic onstage pairing, and one of the country’s most promising bands. Following a busy 12 months, the band have now unveiled their highly anticipated debut EP, The Pacific.

The band kicked off 2014 by announcing that they had signed with Wonderlick Entertainment, the home of such beloved Aussie acts as Airbourne, Josh Pyke, and Boy & Bear, while 2013 saw them sharing stages with acts as diverse as Emma Louise and The Trouble With Templeton.

We recently caught up with Oscar via email, to discuss the recording of the Pacific EP, the band’s time in Europe, and how the band work best when outside of their comfort zone, whether writing riffs in a dilapidated house in Brisbane or recording in front of a laptop in a snowy Berlin.

Songs like House of Cards and Impossible Like You were recorded to tape. Was this a decision made out of necessity or as an aesthetic choice to get a particular sound?

Oscar Dawson: A little from column A, a little from column B. And some from column C. We recorded with our good friend Matt Redlich, who operates a really great old 1970s tape machine, and in a sense there was never any other choice, so part of it is luck that we had such a friend and that we all get along! But certainly aesthetic choice.

It is rarely (if ever) a necessity to record on tape in these digital days, because they are hard to operate and can be expensive to maintain. It is also a question of workflow. Tape requires you to be a better, more thoughtful musician also. Less chopping up takes, and some healthy constraints which probably have the indirect consequence of making you more, not less, creative.

What was the demoing process in Stockholm and Berlin like? Can you describe that period of your life?

OD: That was an interesting period. We just used our own laptops and very basic home recording gear that we’d taken over from Australia, so we weren’t using professional studios by any means. There was probably a lot of things going on for either of us at that point in our lives, the least of which was trying to get by on very little money in a country far from home. So the demoing was a very welcome distraction from all that.

You’ve said Impossible Like You started with a riff written in a dilapidated house in Queensland. What were the surrounds like in Europe and did that influence the songs?

OD: Certainly. I can’t really speak for Tim, but I’m sure they did for him too. Definitely just being overseas and out of your comfort zone, no matter where you are, encourages creativity and gives you space to have new ideas and an open mind.

In Berlin the seasons do make a difference, with a freezing winter and a hot summer, and they do seep in to your writing. But the main thing, in my opinion, is the opening of your mind. A bit of stress can be good for creativity.

Watch: Holy Holy – Impossible Like You

What motivated the move to Europe? Did you both have ties there?

OD: I have family in the UK, but that wasn’t the whole motivation (certainly not the motivation toward Berlin in specific!). I was playing in a (different) band that attempted the full relocation to Berlin and hooked up with a label over there. It was fun but also challenging and ultimately pushed the band beyond breaking point.

A lot of artistic types go to Berlin in search of something. We made a rash choice but it had its rewards. It is a cheap place to live and can put some time up your sleeve, which is great. I have a romantic respect for Europe in general and was keen to get over and experience the place in a way that was more than a fleeting trip.

How do those demos compare to what made the EP and what role did Matt Redlich play in getting them to where they are?

OD: They certainly expanded the sound significantly. Tim brought basic chord structures with melodies and lyrics, and we fleshed them out with full instrumentation and experimented with what would be possible. We brought in some of those Neil Young, Bright Eyes and Fleetwood Mac influences that we’re so fond of. Then, Matt’s role cannot be overestimated.

He was crucial and his recording style was perfect in getting these songs to where they needed to be—recording live and to tape in particular. Ry Strathie was also crucial, writing, arranging and performing the drum parts that have expanded the sound in ways we would never have considered.

How did your musical background differ to Tim’s?

OD: There are a great many similarities. The first record either of us owned was Queen’s Greatest Hits… But if I were to seek out a key difference, perhaps it would be that I am very much a fan of music, where Tim is more of a fan of song. I hope I’m not speaking out of turn in saying that.

I have always gravitated firstly to the musicians and what is happening behind the vocalist. I am also a big fan of classic rock although perhaps that isn’t particularly fashionable these days. Led Zeppelin in particular. Tim is a big Connor Oberst fan and his solo material is quite contemplative. He writes lyrics thoughtfully. I hope that our influences meet in the middle.

What was it that motivated the two of you to start Holy Holy? Was there a precise moment or situation where something clicked?

OD: It fell into place. Tim decided that the material we had been working on was no longer purely his own and rather selflessly urged the formation of a band with a new name. He named the project and it just developed from there. There was no grand plan. It developed in fits and starts too. Right now there is flow and we’ll see what the future brings from here.

Tim said of one of the EP’s tracks: “You can feel the band pushing against each other.” Can you elaborate on that a bit more? Is there a sort of tension between members necessary for each song?

OD: Perhaps. It certainly isn’t necessary for there to be any literal or overt tension, although I could imagine situations where that might be somehow beneficial. It might be that on a slightly less conscious level there is pushing and pulling going on – like in a conversation.

Finding space, making space, pushing forward and holding back. Which naturally creates peaks and troughs which can alternate between tension and release. Playing music is all about those sorts of tensions.

Watch: Holy Holy – House of Cards

What did you guys manage to pick up from touring with and watching Emma Louise and The Trouble With Templeton?

OD: Emma Louise is incredibly engaging as a performer. She is so young yet very assured on stage. A good guitarist too, which is impressive. They have a very professional touring lineup and blend the technical elements quite seamlessly with the live elements of their performance. That’s always great to see.

Templeton are a really great example of good songs played with feel and togetherness by a live band. They all move in the same direction. Not too many bells and whistles but nonetheless very compelling. That puts the bar quite high.

What can fans who’ve never seen you before expect from the upcoming dates with Ball Park Music and Papa vs Pretty?

OD: We do extend songs and try to give the listener more than they just might hear on the recording. I’ve always felt that is important, as long as it doesn’t detract or distract from the actual songs we are there to play.

So we do attempt to make the performance more of a cohesive piece rather than a recitation. I hope it works! Having Ry Strathie and Graham Ritchie on drums and bass respectively makes the task a hell of a lot easier.

Holy Holy’s ‘The Pacific’ EP is out now via Wonderlick Recording / Sony Music Australia. See them on their upcoming tour supporting Ball Park Music and Papa Vs Pretty — full details below.


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