Holy Holy On Their Sonic Evolution, Forthcoming Album & How Washing Dishes Inspired Their Single ‘Darwinism’

Australia’s own Holy Holy frontman Tim Carroll is no stranger to writing music in compromising spaces. Think small, like a stair well or a storeroom. After releasing their first album When The Storms Come in 2015, last month Holy Holy gave us a taste of their first new music in over a year. The creative sparks for Darwinism, their latest single, got fired up while Carroll was holed up on the floor in a Darwin bathroom.

Despite the song’s humble origins, Holy Holy are on the up, with no intention of slowing things down anytime soon. Darwinism has given us just a hint of what we can expect from their two-thirds-of-the-way-finished sophomore album, which is due for release early 2017. But before that, they will be finishing up this productive year by embarking on a UK, European, and Australian tour.

Music Feeds were lucky enough to grab a few moments with Tim to talk about the band’s sonic evolution, cartoons that inspire songs, and recording in a London studio the size of a cupboard.

Music Feeds: Can you talk about the initial creative sparks for your new single Darwinism?

Tim Carroll: It’s always a bit of a jigsaw puzzle of different inspiration and moments where it all develops. We were on tour in Darwin and it was our first and only time up there. We went up a day early and just had a night sort of rolling around Darwin and ended up in this great pub and there was a 20 piece swing band playing and free pool tables. We had a really great night and the next day we were laying low and just waiting for our show and the guys were all asleep. So I locked myself in the bathroom and was just playing around and that’s where I kind of stumbled across that opening riff. It’s kind of got slightly odd timing and I found a couple of melodies within it and I remember I recorded it on my phone and when Oscar woke up I was like “listen to this! Do you think this could work?”

I kind of sat on that for a while. Being on tour you can sit down and chat about how it might turn out and what kind of direction you might take. I could feel how it would sound with the full band and how the guitars might sound and so on.

MF: How did the song evolve from there?

TC: We were in London on one of the European tours last year and Oscar was doing some writing with an English artist over there and he had this tiny little studio. There was a day spare so he and I just jumped in the back of this studio, which was the size of a cupboard, and we sort of bashed out a more developed demo and worked out the song a bit further. And then the lyrical content sort of came together in a few different bits and pieces.

MF: Apparently a Leunig cartoon was part of the inspiration?

TC: I did see this Leunig cartoon once called The Seven Types of Ordinary Happiness. It has one bit about doing the dishes. I feel like I spend half my life doing the dishes, and I could really relate to it. ‘Cos all your other troubles kind of melt away in terms of, you’ve got this task and it just slowly goes from being uncompleted to complete and there’s a kind of satisfaction in that. I guess it speaks mainly to the troubles that you have when you’re not washing the dishes and how the dishes kind of alleviate that for a moment or something. So that was just one fragment of lyrics that ended up making the final cut.

MF: I guess washing dishes is comparable to meditating?

TC: Yeah! That’s a good way of putting it. Yeah, it is like that.

And then in terms of how the song developed further, we had this really jagged opening riff but we wanted to take it in a different direction. We were inspired by Midnight Oil’s use of horns and The National and some of Bon Iver’s work in terms of the use of orchestral type horn parts rather than choppy soulful horn parts. The horn parts [on Darwinism] almost play the role that’s often played by synths and strings and so on. Big, sweeping cinematic pieces.

So Oscar put together some parts on his computer and then we reached out to a couple of horn players, some guys that tour also with the Cat Empire crew. They had a look at the parts and we had them in the studio in Melbourne for a day. That studio also had a grand piano so Oscar ended up putting some down on the song as well. So in the beginning that song was really sparse and bare, not even any bass in the beginning, just drums and guitar and vocals. By the end there’s grand piano and four horn parts and all these vocals and so on. I guess that’s one of the ideas that the song plays, a big steady build and how to get those parts to all work together.

MF: The use of instrumentation and texture in Darwinism really makes for quite an emotional song.

TC: Yeah, it’s an interesting one. I actually don’t know how I feel abut the song. I mean one thing about it is, it’s always fairly easy to play. It’s one of those ones where the song kind of drives itself forward. It has its own energy and you just have to hang on and sing the parts. We haven’t ever played it live yet, so on the upcoming tour we’ll be playing a bunch of songs for the first time in front of audiences.

MF: Do you think when you take Darwinism to the stage you’ll feel more connected to the song, like you own it a little more?

TC:: Maybe… You know they say songs are like children. I definitely feel very attached to it already but I think it will be good to perform it live and people might see the song a bit differently when they hear what it sounds like and what it looks like when it’s actually performed.

MF: So what is it about this song that makes you feel unsure about it?

TC:I don’t know, I think its just a natural thing that happens when you record something and there’s all these mixes that go back and forth and you listen to it again and again and again and again. Kind of like when you say a word a hundred times and then you start to think “what the fuck is this sound?”

MF: Like, “is that even a word?!”

TC:: Exactly! It can be a bit like that. So once we release things you just let them go and see how they go in the real world. And we’re working really hard at the moment on all this other stuff, these other songs that we’ve recorded since that time. We’re writing and have mixes going back and forth all the time so I’m sort of in that world of the rest of the record at the moment. It’s really starting to come together. We’re over two thirds of the way through it.

MF: Great news! And you have heaps of tour dates ahead, Europe, London, Oz…

TC: I’m going up to Brisbane in a couple of weeks for BIGSOUND to try to see as much music as I possibly can and to catch the conference there and then I’m going to stay up in Brisbane. We’re playing small festival there on the 16th September and then the whole band are flying to Europe. We have our first show in Amsterdam at Paradiso so that’s going to be a lot of fun. We’ve got about 10 shows in Europe (which is) where we’ll really road test the show that we’ll be doing in Australia. I think were going to do about half new songs and half songs off When the Storms Come in Europe. In a way I’m glad for that ‘cos it means by the time we come back to Australia and are playing bigger rooms hopefully we’ve got our shit together.

MF: So comparing your first ever gig in Brisbane with BYO smoke machine and pink lighting, to where you are currently, you must be feeling pretty good right now?

TC: Yeah, I am feeling good right now. There’s been challenging times, there’s also been weird times. In the very early days the band wasn’t as solid. There were a few different drummers, and a few different bass players for a while. There were times when Oscar wasn’t able to come up from Melbourne and we had someone else filling in for Oscar’s parts for a while. So, looking back on those times, you know, I was still playing an acoustic guitar in the early days. So, it’s funny looking back on that.

I can’t believe that we stuck with it and people encouraged us to keep going with it. So it’s feeling really good now. We’ve been playing with the same group of people for a couple of years and we’re all really enjoying the process and writing a bit more together in the group and pushing a bit more into some exciting sonic territory. I guess moving away from the singer songwriter stuff and some of the ’70s retro, guitar-based stuff that influenced our first record, and moving more towards a clean slate of what’s possible to do in a studio. And the results are really exciting. What we’re coming up with in the studio feels really good. I guess largely, I’m not too worried about what people will make of the record because I feel really good about it and I’ve enjoyed listening to it and as long as that’s the case then I guess that’s all that really matters.

MF: Totally. So, Matt Redlich plays synths with you now after producing your songs in the past. Is he also part of the writing process?

TC: Matt is doing some writing with us now and he’ll be credited as a writer on the new record. Ryan Strathie our drummer is also involved in the writing process. It’s weighted a bit differently. Oscar and I are the main writers for most of the works. In the beginning Matt was just our producer and then he was playing parts in the songs on the road but now he’s like a part of the band and a part of the writing process and he’s definitely an asset. He’s got good taste and good ideas. Sometimes a lot of what we’re experimenting with is kind of pulling things out and letting the songs have a bit more room in them and being a bit more picky with what parts we need to cut and we’re finding that’s bearing fruit as an approach.

MF: You’ve also taken the digital approach this time round rather than analogue like your first album. Does this decision tie in with the evolution of your sound? What was behind that decision?

TC: That’s a good question. First of all I should say I don’t get too involved in that side of things. But it just seemed to be the natural choice. I guess, when we did the first record Matt was using the tape machine a lot and it was his way of operating. The kind of music we were doing, like being a little bit ’70s inspired, and we did a lot of it live with the tracking all together in the room and it was really fun and exciting to be recording to tape and it suited the sound. But Matt’s moved to Melbourne now and he doesn’t have his own studio and we’re bumping in and out of a couple of different studios to work.

There’s something really freeing about working in a digital space. You can catch sounds at incredible quality and you have a lot more freedom to change things and add things and go back and forth. Often at times we’re working within tight time frames ‘cos we’re all living in different cities so, we’ll work as hard as we can for 12 hours a day and put down all these ideas and sometimes it’s hard to get perspective. In the digital space you can get a whole lot of ideas down and then over the next couple of weeks as we’re all listening we can look back over what we did and put together the works the way we want them to be.

I guess we were never ideologically tied to tape. Our approach with the band is that we’ll do whatever is going to serve the song best. I like to think that we’re not tied to any particular sound or instruments or ways of recording. Whatever serves the song and sounds good and feels good is what we will pursue.

MF: There’s a nice quote from Oscar about your upcoming album: “I want fans to feel like they’re in the band, like they’re in the same room… Lifted up and brought along. I don’t want people to feel like they’re outsiders looking in.” Any ideas on how this will be achieved?

TC: It’s a nice idea. I guess there are lots of different ways and techniques and tricks with music that the purpose of which is to engage the listener and make them feel a certain way. It’s just inherent in music, in certain chords in certain patterns to evoke a certain feeling in the listener, all those things. Moments of lyrical clarity, a few phrases that someone will hear that will mean something to them. There seems to be a bit of a thing developing in the next record of these reasonably long instrumental sections. There’s no vocals and no lyrics and it’s just purely a sonic journey. Those things tend to evoke a certain feeling in the listener.

With the band now, if we just leave the tape rolling at the end of a song and just start going through a progression there is this build that wouldn’t happen if we’d stopped it. It’s a really natural momentum that just builds with the rhythm section. And with Oscar writing top lines across [them] it all just happens really naturally with the band, so it’s something we have to think about and decide how often we want to go there. But when we do go there, it’s a really good feeling.

Holy Holy will return to Australia this November for a big national tour. Catch all those details below.

Holy Holy National Tour

Supported By I Know Leopard & Alex L’estrange

Presented By Music Feeds

Thursday, 3rd November

Fat Controller, Adelaide

Tickets: Official website | 1300 Get Tix | All Moshtix Outlets

Friday, 4th November

Prince Of Wales, Bunbury *

Tickets: Official website | 1300 Get Tix | All Moshtix Outlets

Saturday, 5th November

Amplifier, Perth *

Tickets: Official website | 1300 Get Tix | All Moshtix Outlets

Sunday, 6th November

Mojos, Fremantle *

Tickets: Official website | 1300 Get Tix | All Moshtix Outlets

Friday, 11th November

Corner Hotel, Melbourne

Tickets: Official website | 1300 724 867

Saturday, 12th November

The Workers Club, Geelong

Tickets: Official website | 1300 762 545 | All Oztix Outlets

Sunday, 13th November

Karova Lounge, Ballarat

Tickets: Official website | 1300 762 545 | All Oztix Outlets

Thursday, 17th November

Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle

Tickets: Official website | 02 4968 3093

Friday, 18th November

Metro Theatre, Sydney

Tickets: Ticketek | 132 849 | All Ticketek Outlets

Saturday, 19th November

Uni Bar – Wollongong, Wollongong

Tickets: Official website | 1300 Get Tix | All Moshtix Outlets

Sunday, 20th November

The Basement, Canberra

Tickets: Official website | 1300 762 545 | All Oztix Outlets

Thursday, 24th November

Miami Marketta, Gold Coast

Tickets: Official website | 1300 762 545 | All Oztix Outlets

Friday, 25th November

Solbar, Sunshine Coast Qld

Tickets: Official website | 1300 762 545 | All Oztix Outlets

Saturday, 26th November

The Triffid, Brisbane

Tickets: Official website | 1300 762 545 | All Oztix Outlets

*Dream Rimmy appearing in place of I Know Leopard

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