Since the release of Paint, Holy Holy’s second album, I’m not sure I’ve made it one full day without listening to at least one of the tracks on the record. That’s no exaggeration, I’ve fallen in love. After seeing the band perform at festivals such as Sounds of the Suburbs and Mountain Sounds Festival, I knew I loved their sound, but their sophomore album was something I didn’t realise I was waiting for. I genuinely like every song on the record, which is rare. I wasn’t fully aware of my love for Holy Holy until my friend in the passenger seat questioned the music that was playing as I drove, “Is this album playing on repeat?”. It was, it is, I can’t stop listening.
The band started as a creative outlet for long-time friends, vocalist Tim Carroll and guitarist/producer Oscar Dawson. Their first album When the Storms Would Come was released in 2015 and was written while Tim was living in Stockholm and Oscar in Berlin. Making a return, with more band members, more impact, more great tracks, Holy Holy have made a statement with Paint and the accompanying visual projects featuring Newcastle artist James Drinkwater.
Oscar was nice enough to answer some questions I had for him and the evolving sound of Holy Holy, along with his other musical projects keeping him busy.
Hey, thanks so much for taking time out to chat. Are you up to much today?
It’s kind of a shitty day down in Melbourne, although that’s just Winter coming along so I’ll probably be indoors. Just going out to the airport now to pick up my wife. Probably a bit of work from home then going to see a gig tonight.
I’m going to see Alex Lahey play at The Howler in Brunswick.
Alex Lahey is great live!
Yeah, I’ve seen her once before so this will be the second time seeing her.
I’ll jump straight into questions about your latest release… A lot of bands struggle with their second album, especially after a successful debut album. To me, Paint is such a strong album, with no ‘fillers’- but were there any difficulties in making this record?
Nothing beyond the normal difficulty that is making a record, nothing out of the ordinary. I mean making a record is always difficult, for various reasons, I’m not saying that it’s the hardest thing in the world to do because there’s plenty of harder things that humans seem to manage to do.
It can be a bit of a mind fuck at times, there’s a lot of things you need to juggle, making an album with other people. I think that if there’s something more difficult about the second record than there is the first, which is pretty much the big cliché of music, that of the difficult second album.
It’s the expectation that changes, rather than what the artist does, so I think that there’s this series of expectations in the world and that’s what is challenging. Whether people want you to or expect you to do the same thing, or whether they want you to or expect you to do something completely different, or whether there’s something in the middle…
There’s all these different possibilities on how people perceive the project and I think that’s where the challenge is. It’s not that people get writer’s block or feel like they don’t know what to do, it’s more that the audience might have a set of expectations. I feel that’s what’s interesting about a second record.
Yeah, you explained that really well. Do you think the differences between the two records have anything to do with your physical environment at the time? You were in Europe when writing your debut album- were you exposed to different sounds?
I think to some degree, your environment is always going to influence you in one way or another, even if you don’t notice it. The bigger influence was time and the nature of the band. When we wrote the first record there wasn’t really a band around it at that stage, it was mainly Tim writing songs and then me coming in and we built it up from there. By the end of that first record we had a fully-fledged band and having done a bunch of touring around that record, when we’d come to this second one, there’s a band that already exists and there’s a sound that we can start from.
Less of starting songs on an acoustic guitar, there was a bit more of a folk influence with the first record. Simply because Tim would write a song on the acoustic guitar, that was where we would start it and we’d built it from there. We didn’t do that so much [on the second record] and a result the instrumentation changed, more synthesized, more electric guitar, probably more drum beats. We weren’t satisfied with the sound we made as a rock band in the room and we would dig deeper.
Tim plays less guitar on this record, half the time just because he didn’t have a part and if we tried to write one afterwards sometimes we’d keep it and sometimes we’d say “nah, it sounds cool without a strumming rhythm guitar”. Those sorts of decisions were just things that would happen, simply because we’d have a bunch of musicians that already exist now as a band.
How did you connect with the Newcastle artist James Drinkwater for the cover art for Paint?
James is an old friend of ours, I met him initially when he was living down here in Melbourne, he was playing in a band at the time, I was playing in a different band and we did a tour. After that we stayed in touch, he moved overseas and it was really a coincidence, we ended up both living in Berlin at the same time, that was roughly around the same time that I started writing with Tim, the demos that eventually became Holy Holy. Tim met him around that time as well, we just had that old connection there. Then when it came time to making this record, Tim had the idea to call the record Paint, and that was an idea he had before we’d even finished the album, it gave us a direction for the record, an ethos to write towards.
It got to the time where we had to start thinking about things like artwork and having followed James’ artwork since I met him, I thought his artwork was quite a perfect visual illustration of, at least how I feel about the record and how we made it, having observed him paint before and the way he approaches it. I thought it was an almost uncanny link. I just asked him if he’d be interested in contributing to the cover art and I was very happy that he said yes.
The piece of artwork that is on the front cover isn’t something he composed for us originally, it’s a piece of artwork that’s based on time he spent in France in 2015.
With the idea of the visual projects that went along with the album- did that come after the album?
It came about just a bit after this came to life, James came on board. James’ wife is also an artist, her name is Lottie Consalvo, she’s a visual artist and a performance artist. I can’t even remember whose idea it was, someone had this idea to extend the collaboration and have a project where different artists paint original artworks in collaboration with the songs on the record. There were four artists: James Drinkwater (“That Message”), his wife Lottie Consalvo (“Willow Tree”), Christopher Horder (“Shadow”) and Ben Kenning (“Send My Regards”). They kept fairly true to their style, they weren’t reinventing their style to fit the music, the song would just influence, maybe even subconsciously, what they painted.
I would never had dreamt that we’d be able to do such a collaboration, especially with such great artists but it happened, they wanted to do it, and it was cool for us to see that unfold.
You’d be pretty busy with all of your other music projects and Tim with running a festival…
Yeah, Tim runs a festival called “A Festival Called Panama” but it’s really Panama Festival. I do a bunch of different production things and writing with other artists, keeping my plate pretty full, trying to make sure I’m never getting bored.
The Yours & Owls Festival line up just dropped and you’ll be there with Holy Holy and your wife Ali Barter, are you involved in any other bands?
Yeah she just played in Brisbane, I’m picking her up now. And Alex Lahey as well, she’s playing Yours & Owls too and I’ve been working with her as well, we’re finishing some music at the moment. The dark web stretches.
How are preparations going for the Holy Holy national tour?
Yeah it’s going well. Right now, we’re sort of planning the tour, so we’ve got about a month until we hit the road, we’re planning what we’re going to play, how we’re going to play it. Certain songs on the record we haven’t played live before, some of them we have, so we have a bit of an idea around them, but the one’s we haven’t, we’re not quite sure how we’re going to do it. We all live in different states, Tim’s down in Tasmania, as is now Ryan our drummer, in different parts of Tasmania, Matt Redlich our producer and I are in Melbourne and our bass player Graham is in Brisbane so we’re all spread out. It’s not like we can have endless rehearsals, we have to have a lot of conversations and then hit the ground running.
One really good thing about having two albums out now is that we’ve got lots of songs to choose from. When you’ve just got one record out you have to keep fucking scraping the bottom of the barrel and playing some song off of your first EP that you don’t want to play anymore. Now we can pick and choose which is a really nice feeling.
Yeah, that’s good and I guess you’ll have a few hometown shows as well.
Yeah, it’s funny. Brisbane was traditionally our hometown because that’s where everyone except for me was from. Tim, Matt and Ryan were all from Brisbane, so that was our hometown in a way. Melbourne is kind of a funny hometown now because obviously, I live here but now Matt lives here too, it’s nice, it’s really great for backline we’ve got drumkits and guitar amps in all of these different states. It’s a nice vibe.
I’m looking forward to getting on the road, I always enjoy coming to Newcastle so looking forward to coming back and playing. It’ll be nice because it’s coming into Winter, not that Australia’s Winter is that horrible but it’s nice to come up north.
Big thanks to Oscar for chatting with us!