Since releasing their imaginatively-titled second album, LP late last year, four-piece Toronto instrumentalists Holy Fuck have been ripping up stages around the North America and most of Europe for the past year. This month they’ll be hitting Ireland for the first time and Irish audiences will get to see just how imaginative and original their live show really is.
When State talks to Graham the band are in Atlanta, Georgia packing the van for the gig that night in Chapel Hill, North Carolina roughly 290 kilometres away. Graham is extremely gracious and jovial as he tells State that this is the first tour they have a soundman travelling with them, which they are very thankful for. Much has been made of the band’s modus operandi of creating electronic music without modern techniques or the convenience of laptops, software, samplers, loops etc. The live set-up consists of the two Matts on drums and bass (Schulz and McQuaid respectively) and then Graham and Brian each have a table full of guitar pedals, Korgs and keyboards. Graham describes the live show with one lone word – ‘LOUD’. It’s also live, lo-fi, dirty and danceable so it’s not difficult to see why a soundman is so important. Graham insists if there is anything governing the band beyond those rules it is ‘…to make cool sounding music and to have fun. We get inspired by sound, grooves and rhythms.’
Playing live is important to Holy Fuck, so much so, that the band the kernel of a few tracks on LP in live sessions and they made it onto the album as Graham explained – ‘We’d been touring so much that we didn’t have the luxury of going into the studio for an extended period of time, so we would work out these ideas on the road. Then, come home from the tour and book a day in a studio and lay it out. A couple of the songs were recorded live for a satellite radio program and they let us keep all the files and give us permission to do whatever we wanted with them. We liked the way the sessions worked out so we worked on them some more, fleshed them out so they became some of the tracks on the album.’
The band’s previous EP (yes, titled Holy Fuck EP) was a lot more abrasive and electronic, yet it also doesn’t resonate as much as LP. Graham reckons this is down to the attention the band paid to assonance – ‘The first record we went into the studio, didn’t have an pre-conceived idea and just decided to make an album with whatever we recorded, just to see what happened. The first was a lot less melodic than the 2nd record, blippy bloopy. I really like it for that, the minimalism of it, the sounds we came up with. With the second album [LP], I don’t know whether it was a conscious decision on our part to make it a little catchier; there was definitely a want to incorporate more melodic elements to the music. ‘
Anyone who has heard the beautiful melody of ‘Lovely Allen’ can attest to that. The track is soaked in the the string work of Owen Pallet aka Final Fantasy. The band met Owen and a festival and promptly asked him to join them on-stage – ‘We met at a festival, just outside Toronto. We thought it’d be fun to get him up on stage. He’s like a virtuoso player. He didn’t know the song at all and he came up and played along with it. Subsequentially, he came into the studio, we got him to double it and in the bridge he wrote a beautifully amazing melody line that brought the song to a new level. ‘
Thanks to tracks such as ‘Lovely Allen’, the band have been on the road for most of the last year. In their personal lives, it means the band can afford to focus on the music and leave the day job behind. Graham in particular has an interesting job he occasionally returns to for freelance work – ‘I write songs for television commercials so that helps pay my bills Some people know I’m in Holy Fuck, some of them don’t. I wrote a song for a chain of hardware stores in Canada. I don’t think they knew I was in Holy Fuck, it was funny to me ‘The guy from Holy Fuck wrote the songs for their hardware stores’. Not that the song sounds anything like what we do, it’s a typical jingle!’. State suggests should Holy Fuck ever get to compile a best of, that a disc of Graham’s jingles could serve as the bonus incentive – ‘That would be the rarities side! That would be hilarious!’, he chuckles.=
Job oddities aside, the band love the live arena and try to mix it up as much as possible. State wonders whether their setup allows them to chop and change the set list and improvise a little – ‘There’s a good portion of it that’s improv. I equate it to the same way jazz musicians improvise. It’s not like we go up there with no idea, completely willy-nilly, we have songs; some with more structure than others. There’s at least a framework there so we know what we’re gonna do but within that framework there’s room to stretch, room to play with the crowd a bit. Sometimes if it’s packed and everyone’s going crazy we’ll take a song a certain direction as opposed to other nights when the crowd is different.’
Recently the band played six shows at SXSW and have gigs lined up in Europe for the next month, then onto Coachella, then more touring in June, July, August including some European festivals. They have been documenting their travels in entertaining blog-form. A mention of a sport called Speed-cabling got State confused. Seemingly, a bewildering sport in which the aim is to unravel a bunch of Ethernet computer wires in the fastest time possible. State was sure it was a joke but apparently, It’s taken off in North America big-time. No surprise really that Holy Fuck would express interest in such as a bizarre activity, with so many tables full of leads and wires to de-scramble in the coming months, they may need the practice.
Holy Fuck play Speakeasy Bar, Belfast on the 9th of April and Whelans on the 10th of April.