We took the chance to chat to Tim of HOLY HOLY ahead of their national Paint tour this June and July.
Firstly, are you looking forward to the Paint national tour in June-July?
Yeah, I am. I haven’t really gotten my head entirely into that space, it’s been a really busy year for me and all of the band. I think it’ll be nice playing some bigger venues. We have played some of the songs off Paint on our last tour, but on this tour we’ll be playing almost all the record and they’re a fun collection of songs. I think it’ll be a good experience.
So that’ll be the first time you’ve played the album live, in its entirety?
Pretty much. We did a little pop-up show, just a free show, for fans on the release weekend, and there were a couple of songs we hadn’t played before that had their first run there, but by and large this tour will be the first time. We still haven’t worked out exactly how we’ll organise instrumentation and so on. A few things are in the works at the moment; we might even be co-opting one of the members from one of the support bands into the band to play some extra parts and stuff, which will be fun.
The album cover is certainly eye-catching. Where did the it come from?
Well, funnily enough, we had the name for the record Paint quite early on in the project, well before we had written the whole album. It was just a word I had kicking around my head, and I shared it with Oscar and he liked it as well, so the word ‘paint’ was kind of hovering above us as we were writing, doing demos in the studio and so on. I think we liked how stark it is in a way. It’s just a one syllable word, and that said something about what we wanted to do with the music on the record, the direction we wanted to go from our last record, which was called When Storms Would Come. Quite a wordy album title, and a bit nostalgic as well. With Paint we wanted to move forward and try some different things. So that was kind of there, and I guess one of the reasons we liked the name was how visual it is and all the different meanings it could have.
It got us thinking about a friend of ours- James Drinkwater- who is a painter from Newcastle. He was living in Berlin when Oscar and I first started writing together. When Oscar and I first started writing songs together, what would later become Holy Holy, that was in Berlin in about 2011. Drinkwater was in Berlin working on his painting and we were there writing songs. When this record started to come to completion and we started thinking about artwork, it seemed fitting to reach out to him and see if he had any pieces that he thought could work for the album title. He sent us a bunch of works, and that particular one was very striking and fir with some of the colours and themes that HOLY HOLY has had as a band over the past three years or so. I’m really pleased with it, it looks great on the vinyl.
Yeah, it does. You mentioned your first album When Storms Would Come. Paint is your second album. How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist since the creation of that album?
We were in such different positions with both records. With When the Storms Would Come, when we first went into the studio to start recording that, we didn’t have the band name Holy Holy, we had barely done any live shows. In some ways, it was just sort of a writing and recording project. There was no pressure on any release date, there was no label, no management, we were just friends making music in a studio. That was really wonderful, and I really enjoyed that process. We recorded that record over two years, going in and out of the studio all the time on long, lazy Queensland afternoons, and we recorded songs multiple times and ditched them because we had that luxury of time. Matt, our producer, was a friend of mine and was doing me a favour by doing this record. He was in Sydney, and when there was a spare afternoon here or there we’d go in and do overdubs and so on. The record that was made kind of reflects that in a way. It was very natural and organic and we recorded a lot of it to tape.
I was really proud of that work, but with this next record I think we wanted to move forward, make a record that was a bit more contemporary, take a few risks and so on. Also, we had been on the road for two or three years, playing a bunch of club dates but also big theatres like the Sydney Opera House and arenas. We went on tour with Vance Joy and playing overseas, at festivals in Spain. We’ve done so many live shows in the intervening years, so I think that influenced us as a band. We were way more coherent as a band, we had moved on with our tastes as well since we first started. I think Paint reflects that journey. I sort of gave up a lot of guitar playing on this record; there’s not very much rhythm guitar, it’s just bass and synth, lead lines and vocals, whereas on WtSWC I was often kind of strumming away on an electric guitar. With this record we wanted a bit more space so those other elements would really have room to move.
Did you feel like moving away from rhythm guitar was a bit of a risk?
Not really, I feel like with a lot of things that are music-based, I judge things by getting a sense, and it’s fairly easy to tell, in some ways, whether something’s working or not. Just thinking about it, I don’t think me strumming away with my limited chordal knowledge would really add that much to a song, and the idea of creating space for Oscar to move and for this space synth interaction and the drums to be heard, kind of makes sense. Oftentimes when I’m listening to music and listening to songs that are amazing and beautiful and striking, the feature that links all those songs is minimalism- just three great ideas interacting. It’s rare that you think ‘wow, this song’s amazing’, and then you think ‘oh, it’s because of fifteen different things interacting’. Minimalism and clarity of ideas is a feature of good songwriting, so pulling that out made sense and also allowed me to focus more on singing and lyrics and the meaning behind the words, and so on.
You were finalists in the 2016 Vanda and Young Songwriting Competition with your song Darwinism, that must have been a good confidence boost?
To be honest, I never really know what means what, like how a big a deal that is, but yeah, it’s always nice to be recognised, especially with that song. That song was a funny writing process: it was in fits and starts, it was a little idea, and then it was on the shelf for ages, and then Oscar and I were in a little studio in London and we made another demo of it and had a really different– sort of a bit more pop-y– sound. We showed it to the band and they were a bit unsure about it, then in the studio we reworked it and added the horns and grand piano and so on. It was interesting, the way that song developed, and it was nice that somebody or some judging panel thought there was some merit in it.
On that note, at one point Darwinism was the number one most played track on triple j. Are you able to tell when you’re onto something special like that, or does it take you by surprise?
It’s always difficult to know how other people are going to experience music. I usually know when I’ve made something that I like, that I’m proud of, but sometimes the songs that do well are the ones that I struggle with, myself. My favourite songs on the record are probably not going to be the ones that do well, but I guess that’s the nature of it.
You’ve had some big events under your belt, such as Splendour in the Grass and Falls Festival, but what was it like to headline Big Sound Festival?
Well, I love Big Sound. I’ve played it three times over the years, and because I’m originally from Brisbane I love it so much, I would go every year if I could. It’s such a great event from so many different perspectives. Purely as a music lover and punter, I think that ticket represents the best value festival ticket you can get in the country, because it’s 60 bucks or 80 bucks or something, and there are just hundreds of bands playing all over Brisbane on a Wednesday and Thursday night, so it’s not the usual kind of apocalyptic scene that (Fortitude) Valley is on the weekend. It’s at a great time of year when winter’s starting to ease off and the warm, balmy nights are coming back and there’s just all these amazing bands playing all over the place. There’s a real excitement and buzz about it. All these people who make a living from music are there to see bands and catch up with each other, chat, talk. I find that every queue you’re in, every time you’re buying a beer or taking a piss or something, you’re meeting someone, having an interesting conversation about what they’re doing in music. I really love it and it’s always an honour to be a part of it, in any way: as a promoter or a booker or an artist or whatever, and I really enjoy that event.
You’ve done three tours of Europe and the UK and have had numerous sold out shows here. Do you find it’s affected your relationships outside of the band?
Yes, it does. I’ve been doing less performing in the last little while, for a range of different reasons. In the thick of it, when we were on the road for years touring incessantly, I did kind of notice I hadn’t seen a lot of people, and I wasn’t at this person’s 21st or 30th, you know. It was hard to make weddings, barbecues, and stuff. It definitely comes with the territory. You’re in a bit of a bubble and it can be hard to stay grounded with your friends and family. In another way, you’re travelling around and you get to see these all these people all the time, but oftentimes you see them in that environment of “hey, I’m just about to go backstage and, you know, do a soundcheck and then I’ve got the show”. After the show, you might see people, but the degree to which you can have a deep conversation with people is limited. It is interesting, the touring life and what it means for friends and family. I mean, it has its pros and cons, but it’s pretty amazing and exciting and addictive. I think, for a certain part of my life, it’s definitely something that I value and want to do.
Sounds good. So what’s the plan once you finish this tour in July?
I’m going to Sweden, personally, for a family trip. I’ve got some family over there, so I’m going over there for a couple of months. I’ll probably do some writing over there, some writing for us and some writing for other projects, which is exciting. I’ve just recently signed publishing with Universal.
What project is that with?
Well, with publishing, the way it works is, it’s me as a songwriter, and then they represent my work in whatever projects I write in. Being a part of a publishing company opens doors to work with other people who are essentially looking for melody and lyric writers and so on. It’s a new world that I’m a little bit terrified of, but really excited to learn more and trying that. So I’ll be doing some of that in Sweden, which will be a good place to try.
Later in the year: conversations are happening now about whether we’ll do another tour later in the year or string together enough festivals and one-off shows. Just what’s going to work for getting around as much as possible, being in front of the most people, and trying to get to some of the places. On this upcoming tour we made the tough decision of not going to Adelaide, and trying to get Tassie, because we haven’t been to Tassie in a couple of years, and I actually live in Tassie. Not the last couple of years; the last couple of tours we didn’t include Tassie, and so we were like “alright, we’ll go to Tassie and we’ll skip Adelaide on this run”, but then there was a big outcry from Adelaide, people being like “why are you missing out on South Australia?”. So maybe we’ll try to pick up something special down there, later in the year, to make it up to them.
Sounds good. Just to finish up, what’s your favourite pasta dish?
Probably gnocchi, actually. I mean, I don’t know if you would call that pasta, would you call that pasta?
Yeah, that counts as pasta.
Alright, cool. Yeah, if I see that on a menu I rarely pass that up.
Sounds great, good choice. That’s about it, is there anything you’d like to add?
Nah that’s cool man, I’m happy with that.
No worries. Thanks for your time, it was great to chat with you.