Music Interviews

Interview: Holy Fuck – “We don’t mess around”

Holy Fuck

Holy Fuck

Sometimes it’s the people who make the most noise on stage that are the unassuming ones in an interview, and such is the case with Holy Fuck‘s Graham Walsh. It may be down to circumstance of course, as it’s 11am and he’s at his record company offices, but one of the brains behind the explosive Toronto quartet is relatively quietly spoken this morning.

When you get past the niceties of the day and on to talking about a Holy Fuck gig, however, the passion clearly burns just beneath the surface. “They’re usually pretty full on!” he says with some relish. “We don’t mess around.”

It must be a huge amount of fun to make music that moves the body as theirs does. “Absolutely, yeah. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s the antithesis of some of the other music that we make elsewhere. When we get to do Holy Fuck stuff it’s a lot of fun and very cathartic too.”

Presumably the music made elsewhere is a lot more reserved? “I guess so,” he agrees, “I know Brian’s solo project is more singer-songwriter kind of stuff, and the albums I’ve made have been more singer-songwriter as well, and I really like working on them, but it’s when we work on Holy Fuck stuff it’s a lot different.”

“In the last two years we’ve really solidified”
– Holy Fuck lynchpin Graham Walsh confirms the progress the Toronto band have made recently

Some of their music appears to be improvised, an approach he readily confirms. “It varies from song to song, but generally we definitely see the advantage in improvising and in the discoveries and happy accidents that happen when we improvise. So we try and do that, but yeah – a lot of the songs will work on a small seed of an idea, and we’ll jam it out. Often on tour we’ll have ideas and work them out, and then when we come to go into the studio we try to capture the best representation of that idea. Maybe we’ll flush it out further and put it under the microscope, and then from then on we’ll take it back to our houses and further chip away at the sculpture and mould it into something. It’s a good process.”

The quartet have more recently settled on a permanent line-up, of Walsh and Brian Borcherdt on keyboards, Matt McQuaid on bass and Matt Schulz on drums. “I guess the line-up settled on us”, he admits. “It wasn’t a conscious decision to have a rotating drum and bass player, but for the first stretch of our careers it was a side project and their other careers took precedent. Now I guess it’s got a lot busier and we’ve managed to get the two Matts together. They’re awesome, a really good rhythm section that work well together. In the last two years we’ve really solidified, and Latin is the first record we’ve done with the same line-up throughout the songs, and all recorded at the same studio. We’re starting to focus things in a lot more.”

The biggest buzz still comes from playing live. “With the bands I like, I get something from the record but when I go to see them live it’s something else”, he says, “like more of your senses are being stimulated. You’re feeling the music a lot more when you go to see it live, and I like it when bands mix it up a bit.”

The slightly unhinged element of performance is also an asset. “Yeah, well that’s rock ‘n’ roll, you want to feel like there’s danger involved and something could go wrong. I think that’s an important part of music.” Is that down to the audience as well? “Well we don’t wish anybody harm! But people have been really good and very supportive, which is more than we could ask for.”

The Holy Fuck set-up is an intimate one, with the two keyboard players opposite each other, directly next to the rhythm section. “I like the way we all set up on stage. We like to be close, and it helps that we’re not just playing the song. We tried spreading out but it didn’t work, and we really needed to be close together to communicate. I need to be able to feel what Matt’s playing on the drums and feed from that. That’s a good way of changing up how you do things from night to night, and it helps to feed off the audience and their energy, and throw it back at them. It’s an interesting symbiotic relationship.”

“That’s rock ‘n’ roll, you want to feel like there’s danger involved and something could go wrong”
– Holy Fuck’s Graham Walsh lives on the edge when playing live

Recently the band have been name checked as ones to watch by Lou Reed and Thom Yorke, a statement that still leaves Walsh reeling somewhat. “It’s very, very satisfying. It feels good when anybody can say they like when you create a piece of art, but when it’s somebody who you respect, that’s a whole new level. That’s the only way I could put it!”

Has Metal Machine Music exerted an influence on the noise element of Holy Fuck? “I wouldn’t say that specifically, but we have such broad influences from anywhere so it’s hard for me to say exactly where they come from. A definite inspiration for the noise element is the catharsis of producing it live, and just to hear it through a PA system when you’re playing in front of 8,000 people at Glastonbury. You can create a huge wave of feedback through your guitar pedals, just loud as fuck, to make that wave over the crowd, and that’s inspiration enough to make me want to keep doing it!”

So why call the new album Latin – was it their intention to mislead listeners a little? “We had a couple of ideas”, he says, “but we didn’t want to convey too much, we didn’t want to think of something that would conjure up too much imagery, because our band name is already bold and in your face. So we wanted to have something really simple. There are a few subtle deep meanings that you could come up with, such as the idea of Latin being a dead language, and us producing music with equipment that’s dying, and a process that isn’t typical anymore. The word just stuck with us for the last year or so for some reason.”

For now, he admits the band are likely to stay instrumental – “we’ll see how it goes” – and analogue, too. “Yeah, pretty much, using equipment that is fun and intuitive for us to use and play live. I want to use something I can manipulate on stage in front of people, it’s more fun than sitting behind a laptop.”

And the question that pops up every time – their name. Was it the right one to choose? “I don’t have any regrets about the name at all”, he answers emphatically. “People guess we would have more opportunities, and I guess we have stunted ourselves a little bit, but at the beginning I wouldn’t have expected any of these opportunities to happen. Everything that has happened to us has been icing on the cake, so I can’t really regret anything I haven’t got despite the name. I stand by it, and it describes our music too!”

Holy Fuck’s new album Latin is out now through Young Turks/XL. The band play at Glastonbury in June, having recently completed a UK tour. Forthcoming tour dates can be found on their MySpace page.

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Interview: Holy Fuck – “We don’t mess around”
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