Track By Track: Holy Holy Give Us the Inside Scoop on ‘Cellophane’

Holy Holy | Credit: Michelle Grace Hunder

Holy Holy reached out to a number of their favourite contemporary artists to bring together their fifth album, Cellophane. Along with singles featuring Kwame, Medhanit and Sumner, Cellophane hands the spotlight to Tasman Keith, Darcie Haven, Tia Carys and more. At the centre of this ad hoc community are Holy Holy’s founding members, the two-person songwriting, production and multi-instrumentalist team of Tim Carroll and Oscar Dawson.

Carroll and Dawson have turned Holy Holy into one of the country’s most successful contemporary rock bands over the last dozen years, but on Cellophane, the pair said goodbye to genre and embraced their manifold musical impulses. To coincide with the album’s release, Carroll gives us the low-down on its conception.

Holy Holy: Cellophane

1. Neon St (feat. Medhanit)

Tim Carroll: When we wrote this one, we had a feeling it could work as the opening moment on the record. We wanted to make a sort of chilled, groove-based tune in the vein of Mac Miller’s ‘Good News’. The day we wrote this was the day that Kwame came down to finish off the recordings for ‘Messed Up’, and if you listen closely, you can hear Kwame doing some BVs, which add a lot. He has such an amazing tone.

The feature is Medhanit, who’s a songwriter from Tasmania. I know her from Launceston given it’s basically a country town. Her family own the local music shop. She takes the back half of the song and you really get to go places with her vocal range.

The main refrain here is, “We’ve got too much time,” which is an interesting line. I guess we’re so used to always living under the idea that life is short, that there’s never enough time. But this song looks at a lifetime – say, almost 100 years – as actually pretty epic. If we’re lucky, we each get a century. So we start with that.

2. Pretend to Be

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night.

Tim: This song was one of those rare ones where we had the chorus lyrics first. “You are what you pretend to be.” I heard that somewhere and knew I wanted to make it a chorus. It’s a song about the two sides of that idea. The kind of fake it till you make it, do something you don’t know how to do long enough, and you eventually master it. You become the real thing by pretending.

It also has another side, a darker side. Sometimes we might do things we know aren’t right. And maybe we give ourselves the excuse, “Oh, this isn’t the real me. I’m just doing this now.” Well – you are what you pretend to be. You are the sum of your actions. So, go carefully.

We were going for a dancey, memorable, satisfying, feel-good groove. Starting out with an acoustic riff over a driving bass line and some high-end claps and bottle bells. The chorus is a group-sung chant that feels good from the first time you hear it. We collab’d with Bag Raiders on some of the finer production elements, which really gave the song some sparkle.

3. This Time (feat. Tasman Keith)

Tim: ‘This Time’ is a liquidy, dancey collab with Tasman Keith. A song about being incapable of moving on. Of living in the past. Of reliving moments and conversations. Of living in memories, as we all do. It’s an interesting song to try and describe and categorise. It’s one of our favourites on the record and it has a super strong groove that is built around the hero motif of the bassline, bolstered with acoustic guitar, percussion and tight driving drums.

Such a privilege to get to work with Tasman Keith on this one. We fell in love with his record A Colour Undone, especially the song ‘Tread Light’, which is an incredible tune. Tasman is a Gumbaynggirr man from Bowraville, New South Wales. He’s one of those triple-threat people. Can sing, can dance, can rap. He has killer style. He is a super creative and thoughtful dude.

When we started chatting with him, I remember being worried he might find some of these works a bit too pop for his taste, and he was like, “Nah – I fuck with that shit.” Turns out he’s a huge pop music guy, loves MJ and Prince, so it was fun to see him using that part of his talent on this track.

Kwame also had a hand in the production of this one as did Jack Glass from Bag Raiders. We have secretly played this one in a couple of DJ sets recently, and it went down well. So we’re looking forward to having it out in the wild for real.

4. Heroes (feat. Darcie Haven)

Tim: The day we wrote this song, we were sharing a writing space with WA artist Darcie Haven. We had to walk through her session to get out for coffee and breaks, and she had to walk through ours to get to the bathroom. So we inadvertently ended up hearing each other’s songs. We wrote this chorus and we thought it could sound nice with her vocals, so the next time she came in, we just asked her. She jumped on the mic and knocked out this feature in about 15 minutes.

There’s also a little child choir in the mix of this. I recorded my two kids and their two best mates one day, and they’re in there being cute as fuck. The very ending is my favourite bit – it reminds me of My Morning Jacket meets RATATAT.

5. Messed Up (feat. Kwame)

Tim: ‘Messed Up’ was the first single we released from this record. A big hero feature from Kwame opens the track as he speaks confessionally into the mic. The song opens up with the one-line chorus before my vocal enters. The back and forth between the two vocals is the magic of this tune. The two singers are so different in style and tone, and yet together, it works.

6. Two Minds, Two Days, Two Mornings (feat. Tia Carys)

Tim: This song is about our relationship with our forebears; our parents and grandparents and how the lives they led inform who we are and how we see the world. How their experiences echo down through the generations and inform how we speak and what we value, and how we relate to one another. For me, this song takes place on a beach in Ireland with the waves coming in endlessly.

We collaborated with Tia Carys on this one. She’s a London artist we found online, and we fell in love with her vocal tone. Oscar travelled to London to record the collab and she shared her take on the theme. It’s a special song – not the kind of thing you could really set out to write, but one of those that just comes along.

7. People Change

Tim: My memory is that this song came together quickly in the studio. The melodies felt right from the start. It’s a spacious and carefully crafted song about remembering that people can change, and that when they do, we sometimes have to allow that to happen – to let go of old baggage and recognise that, over time, we can become completely new creatures.

8. Ready (feat. Sumner)

Tim: ‘Ready’ is a synthy nocturnal duet between two people. The verses take the form of texts back and forth. Over the night, you learn what the characters are doing and thinking only via their messages. The song is a collaboration between us and Sumner, with the Tasmanian duo helping out with writing and production and Chloe taking the vocal duet role and starring in the film clip with me.

We had the song mostly written when we approached Sumner, but Chloe brought the post-chorus part to the session, the bit that goes, “I just wanna stay / Wanna stay all night,” which fitted in perfectly.

9. Ready – Coda

Tim: There’s a big long coda to ‘Ready’ on the record, where Oscar gets to stretch his fingers in a guitar solo that is repeatedly muted to the beat.

10. Can’t Relate

Tim: When we’re in the early stages of writing a record, we try to have a really open mind. Anything goes. All ideas are valid, and it’s a time to try things and stretch out. The enemy, in some ways, is mediocrity. It was in one such session that we wrote this tune.

There’s an anger in the main character. He can’t relate and he doesn’t want to. It has some ’60s spaghetti Western vibes, and if you listen closely, you’ll hear horses whinnying and pistols firing in the background. My dream is that we get this song in a Western movie.

11. Rosé

Tim: Just when you think you have the record worked out, it takes a turn. ‘Rosé’ is a super simply produced ballad, a song that’s all about lyric, story and character. This was an old song I wrote years ago and had kicking around in the cupboard, so to speak. We recorded this live in one take, out at my farm, Lone Star, in Tasmania. The loneliest place on earth is by your side.

12. Oh Listener

Tim: A farewell to the listener as the record comes to a close. Using Kanye’s – and Bo Burnam’s – tried and tested method of ranting over church organ. We used crowd noise from our own concerts. It gives me Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band vibes.

13. Cellophane (feat. Many Voices Speak)

Tim: My wife was born and raised in Sweden. When she was 20, she came to Australia, we met and fell in love, and she moved here. Leaving behind her family, her friends, her mother tongue, her whole life and history in some ways. We go back to Sweden when we can, but she’s been here now for over 15 years.

The pandemic meant there was a stretch of time there where we didn’t get back for four years. Our kids did a lot of growing in that time, and their Swedish grandparents missed a lot. We visited Sweden last summer. Spent six weeks with her family. Sailing in the Swedish archipelago, dining out in the quiet, tree-lined pedestrian streets of Stockholm and picking mushrooms in the forests of the north.

As our trip started to draw to a close, a familiar feeling started to return. That feeling that we were leaving again. Something in the way her family started looking at my wife and our kids changed. There was a deep sadness there. ‘Cellophane’ is a song about that feeling.

The word ‘Cellophane’ in that song stands in for that feeling. A feeling of knowing you’re about to lose something. About to start missing something. It features a collab with a Swedish artist Many Voices Speak, who sings in Swedish about that feeling.

We tend to oscillate between long wordy album names and single-word statements. When the Storms Would Come. Paint. My Own Pool Of Light. Hello My Beautiful World. And now, Cellophane. It’s a beautiful word. A visual word. A cheap and tacky word too. A word that brings up memories of childhood gifts and bright colours.

Holy Holy’s new album, Cellophane, is out now. Listen and purchase here

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