2016 was a remarkably eventful year for Holy Holy, who in November finished up an international tour in support of ‘Darwinism’ which included sold out shows all over the world, packed showcases at Reeperbahn festival in Germany, their third sold out London show, and an intimate performance of Darwinism for the world renowned Mahogany Sessions/Distiller Music in the UK and a performance on the DIY stage in Hamburg. Throughout the year the band has also been writing and recording their new LP, eagerly anticipated by both press and fans alike, which will be released on February 24th, 2017. Holy Holy’s debut album came in at #11 on the ARIA Chart, and the last few years have seen the band play steadily growing venues to packed out, adoring fans, and has also seen an exciting, much-discussed development in the band’s songwriting and direction. We caught up with Oscar Dawson from the band to ask him a bunch of questions for our Savvy Seven section, let’s dive in.
PAINT is set to come out very soon, has the journey to creating this album been different to your other albums?
It’s hard to tell, one album sort of becomes the next so there’s no clear stop and start and it’s just a continuation of where we left off. I think in the first album we did, When The Storms Would Come, we didn’t really have a band at that point, so Tim had written a few songs on guitar and I got involved and started orchestrating and producing them, then we gradually brought in band members, Ryan Strathie our drummer, and Graham Ritchie who’s been our bass player for several years. So by the time we had finished that record we had a band, and towards the end of that process the structure existed for us to jam more and play together, we were also touring together and we had a functional band. So when we started working on PAINT we came at it more from the perspective that we were writing as a band and how things sounded on the stage when we were playing live. The process became more developed we were able to dig a bit deeper, for example Tim plays guitar on this record because when we were filming the first record he would come up with a tune and we would build the song around it, but this time we didn’t start at that point we started with the drums, or bass or the riff and built it up that way, and we would get to a point in the writing where Tim would say “Shit..well I don’t have a guitar part…should we just strum along”, so we tried and it wouldn’t work, but this meant he had a bit more freedom with his vocals and not be encumbered by his guitar. So things like that happened and they make a real difference to how the music sounds.
What’s a tip you would give to up and comers recording their first album?
Take your time, don’t rush, most of the time when I meet people who are writing their first album they want to do it really quickly and get it out, and they want a single and a tour and do everything really fast. You end up saving more time in the long run by taking your time in the short run, whether it’s by being more comfortable in what you’re creating, and making sure you’re feeling good about your sound and that it represents you and you’re not being blown around by the wind, or by what a producer says, or what your band mates say, make sure your comfortable with what your saying, and what your saying is what you mean. Take it easy, it took us years to get our first songs out, and I’m really glad we took that time and sometimes what you think is your first album, over time is actually a single or EP or 2, then you finally get to the album. So be patient, take your time, because if you rush it ends up being counter-productive.
What is the best part about being a musician, for you?
I can’t tell, I just do it because I started doing it and I never stopped. I feel really lucky that I can do it, and there are many reasons why I can do it, one of which is I have good people who I work with, and at a more basic level I have a family that supports me, not financially, but they support me just in what I do, they’re my backbone. I feel lucky to be able to do it at all, here in Australia there’s a really good music scene and a good vibe and a lot of great music being made, and it’s a really good place at the moment broadly in Australia with the opportunities for our music, we’re really lucky to be in this place where we can try and fail and eventually succeed.
How has your music practice changed over time?
When you play with the same people for a long time, you get more and more comfortable. So when we started out, we would just learn the songs and then play them, it was like write the song, record the song, learn the song, play the song, and it was straight up and down and it took us fucking forever, and this refers back to before about how you have to be patient with your band members and learn how you all play and communicate together. Over time, we know what to expect from each other a little more now and we’re able to converse a little more freely… sometimes when you first meet someone you take little baby steps, but when you know someone really well you just start talking shit and it’s great! I know a little more about what Tim likes, and what to expect from Ryan, and even Graham has been stepping up and trying guitar and keyboard, everyone is contributing ideas and it’s much more free flowing and that takes a long time to get there.
Can you describe what the music scene is like in your hometown?
I’ve lived in Melbourne my whole life. I don’t go out and see as many gigs as I should. It’s a really great scene, it’s interesting to see how it’s changed over the years, how musical fashion has changed. It always does and it will continue to change. There’s a lot of great bands here, I think that’s also being met now by a great scene of electronic-based acts, and that then factors into the production people are using. Over the past 10 years we’ve seen the rise of the laptop and beat making by solo artists so that’s obviously seen a huge increase. The band scene is still here, it’s a little bit different to how it was 10 years ago and the studio scene has more people in bedrooms in their own little DIY spaces as opposed to the big mammoth expensive recording studio, that’s a good thing in many ways. There’s a lot of really good grass roots stuff happening alongside the bigger stuff too – which still exists – so it’s all round a really good vibe.
Do you get nervous before you perform? How do you manage that?
I don’t get too nervous these days, it does depend on what the gig is. I manage it in a few ways, I think with nerves before you play it’s important to figure out what it is that’s making you nervous. Are you nervous because you don’t know the song? or you didn’t practice? do you not trust your band mates? do you believe in what your saying? are you worried your equipment might blow up? are you nervous because there’s no one there? or is there too many people there? would you rather play to an empty room because there’s no one watching or a full room and people turn up? There’s a lot of reasons why people get nervous, and they’re all very different. I’ve noticed for example why Tim gets nervous, and it’s totally different to why I get nervous and vice versa. For a long time I got nervous because I didn’t trust my gear, I wouldn’t know if my power or amps or guitars were working, so the way to fix that is to just make sure you get good gear, test it and have good backups. Then you have to learn to just cool your jets, and if your gear messes up on stage you take that in your stride and what you find is that no one else really cares so much. Maybe I drink too much before I play – I should probably watch that a little bit – but I’m not really drinking because I’m nervous, maybe I’m doing it because… I don’t know… Music is a moment of expression and you let yourself almost be free. I get nervous when I play hometown shows because my family and friends are there, sometimes people shake when they’re nervous and that can be a nightmare and when you’re trying to play your instrument. I would suggest you can take beta blockers for that, a lot of musicians do, it’s very common… but the main thing is you’ve gotta figure out what makes you nervous because not everyone gets nervous about the same stuff.
When you were recording PAINT, how did you record your initial song ideas?
Sometimes it’s with an iPhone, a rough idea, Tim sometimes records ideas in his laptop and sends them to us as MP3 via email. I have a studio here in Melbourne to record, and I plug into my Interface and record an idea using ProTools. You don’t need much more than a shitty recording these days, especially at the starting point.
What is your best business tip for new artists?
Be prepared for the fact that it’s likely you won’t make any money from it for a long time, and the fact that you’ll be spending a lot of money for a long time, it might happen really quickly but it might not. This isn’t really a business tip more of a psychological tip, but keep your people! Make sure whoever you’re working with, you have a good amount of trust and you feel you can work well and rely on them. If it’s musicians it’s someone you can make good sound with or your management someone who you feel you can trust, you don’t have to even love them or necessarily be their friend – it’s just someone who you can work with. Trust is the most important thing, picking your people wisely. That’s a mistake I made early on, I didn’t treat people well and that can come back to bite you.
What is your biggest career mistake/regret?
I didn’t trust myself, I dived in and tried to rush it and didn’t choose my relationships very wisely. I should have taken my time and trusted that it would happen slowly.
If you enjoyed reading this then you might also enjoy reading this ‘Week In The Life Of… Tim Carroll“, Holy Holy’s lead vocalist.
PAINT is available to stream or purchase on Friday 24th February 2017.