A few times a year, an act comes through that is an absolute must see. When that band has made some of my very favorite music of the last decade, and done so in a cloud of mystery and longs jags of silence AND when that music evokes a strange timeless blanket, as if covering your body in a yesteryear of a parallel universe – well, you know what to do.
After two sublime records on Sub Pop, Holopaw is back with “Oh, Glory. Oh, Wilderness” on tiny Florida indie Bakery Outlet Records, which seems apt in a way, as their music could only come from the heavy Florida air and odd symphony of sounds that echo throughout the night. We had a chance to catch up with core duo of John Orth and Jeff Hays as they hit the road. Take a listen and be sure to catch them tonight at the Black Cat (playing on the Backstage before Army of Me.)
I feel like with each album that Holopaw is “back.” Why so long in-between records?
Jeff H: Holopaw just isn’t the kind of band that churns out tons of songs. If you listen to each record they are kind of song cycles with lots of referenced characters coming in and out of the narratives and we don’t really start writing the new songs until the last record has come out. We kind of compartmentalize things like writing, recording, touring, etc so there isn’t a lot of multitasking going on. John works on artwork when not working on Holopaw. I make babies. This time around we have made good use of our time waiting for the record to come out. We pretty much already have all the songs written for the next one so hopefully it won’t be such a long time before our next release.
What caused your separation from Sub Pop? The band underwent a massive change after this time period – can you talk about the shift in personnel and how you arrived at the current incarnation?
John: A love triangle, a box of wine and a night that I have vowed to never speak of again.
Jeff H: We had a two record deal with Sub Pop. Soon after the release of our second record, Michael Tobi and Ryan moved to Philly. John and I slowly pieced together a new band, all remarkable musicians and great folks. This lineup has actually been pretty stable for a while with the exception of Jody (drums) and Christa (cello) moving to Brooklyn. Luckily Patrick’s twin brother Ryan just happens to be a killer drummer and Matt Radick is pulling the multi-instrumental duty (keyboard, guitar, cello). With a more stable line up, we’ve been able to write more collaboratively than in the past. Songs are expansive and resolved.
Did Holopaw receive any “bump” from the Modest Mouse surge into the mainstream? I love the Ugly Casanova record and it is such an “Orth” album to me.
John: The success of Modest Mouse keeps the Ugly Casanova record in rotation. People are still discovering Holopaw by way of Ugly Casanova. We are thankful for that.
I am fascinated by John’s visual imagery (to the point of including the s/t record in one of my design books) and it ensures that I will always purchase a physical copy of any Holopaw release. Where else can I see your art?
John: My friends have an amazing space in Williamsburg called Cinders Gallery (cindersgallery.com). I have been lucky to be a part of their family for the last several years. I am part of a group show that opens in mid July in that space. Most of the participating artists are also in bands and will be playing at some point over the duration of the show. Hopefully some version of Holopaw will be playing at the opening. I also have some images at johnorthisthehobbyist.blogspot.com.
Tell me about “The Retelling” project:
John: For The Retelling project we asked some remarkably talented visual artists to respond to our last record. 22 of our dear friends have taken up the challenge thus far. We gave them no parameters, just to visually interpret or reinterpret any part of the record. Their contributions took the form of video, film, animation, drawing, painting, and collage (all contributions can be seen at holopawmusic.blogspot.com). It was a great opportunity to gather our friends under one tent. After laboring over the artwork for the cd, lp, 7”, t-shirts, pins and the poster that accompanied the release of Oh, Glory, I thought I was done with any visual contribution for this record but as the work started coming into The Retelling project I was reeled back in. To this date, I’ve created at 7 or 8 new pieces for the project.
Your music always has a sense of being from another time to me, both lyrically and in instrumentation, yet your lives must have changed so much over the last decade – how does growing older (or just “up”) inform your music?
John: It has taken years to feel at home in the world of music. I went to art school. In many ways I feel more at home in that world. Music sort of happened to me rather than me making it happen. I am finally feeling confident as a songwriter and as a singer. I’d like to think I’m getting better at both.
How does the songwriting process work, especially considering how complex the lyrics can be?
John: Usually I come to the band with a fully realized song. I have the words and the melody. I don’t play an instrument, so I sing this song to these incredibly talented and patient boys and they bring it to life. All the songs are built around my dense lyrics and odd vocal cues. I like to think this makes for some interesting song structure and unexpected changes.
Holopaw is on first this evening, and as I haven’t pushed too many “come early for’s” this year. You had best get your britches bundled up and over there in a hurry.