Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #134. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Forget thinking outside the box – with their third rollercoaster ride of an album, Holy Holy have torn the box to shreds, doused those shreds in gasoline and tossed them onto the ultimate bonfire. Aided by guitarist Oscar Dawson, Sarah Comey attempts to make sense of the ashes.
For a lot of bands, the elusive third album is the one where everything will suddenly click. They’ll have forged out an identity entirely unto themselves; they’ll know what the hell they’re doing when they hit the studio, and they’ll know enough about the wider music industry to get by in a professional capacity.
In the case of Sydney pop-rockers Holy Holy, on the other hand, LP3 offered an opportunity to dismantle everything the duo knew about music. For starters, it’s a nightmare come true for listeners who need their albums to sound entirely cohesive – every last track is its own miniature reinvention of Holy Holy’s sonic foundation – and in a stark contrast to the typically in-depth recording process that defined their first two albums, My Own Pool Of Light came together in a much more liberated, DIY-esque nature.
“We did it in a whole lot of little bursts,” says guitarist Oscar Dawson. “Some bands will go into the studio for a month and smash the whole record out in one big spell, but [vocalist/guitarist] Tim [Carroll] and I both have a fair bit going on in our lives, so I think we would have struggled to find one continuous month to work on this record. So we did it in bursts, and it’s amazing how you can find time when that’s how you work! We’d do a weekend here and a weekend there; sometimes we’d play a show and just plan an extra couple of days after it to work, wherever that may be.
“And that’s part of the way the album came together the way that it did; we did a lot of work in bedrooms and venues and on the road; I’d just sit down with my laptop, a little interface and a microphone, and whip out some vocal takes or do some editing – whatever it might’ve been. That was both a creative decision, in order to achieve the sound we were looking for, but also just something that came from how we could actually do it. So we had to get a bit creative with the way we made it work in that sense.”
The end result is an album that is beautifully convoluted – a buoyant and bombastic goulash of searing rock guitars, prickling electronics and polychromatic beats. There’s so much going on across its sprawling 46 minutes that it realistically shouldn’t make sense, but somehow feels more meticulous than anything Holy Holy have done in the past.
“Part of the vision was to not be hemmed in to any particular song-by song approach,” Dawson says. “We would just start working on them in their rawest form and build the sounds out. Ryan [Strathie, drums] would send over little MP3 snippets of drum takes – he’d record them on his iPhone or whatever, just so we had an idea of what we’d be working with, and we just decided to put them in. Sometimes we would then go into a fancy studio and re-record the drums, but then sometimes we didn’t. We just thought, ‘Well, that actually sounds kind of cool as it is, why change it?’ And in the end, you get this really cool collage of different sounds.”
Reflecting its all-over-the-shop recording process, My Own Pool Of Light is defiantly genre‑nonconforming. As Dawson elucidates, “This whole age of rock ’n’ roll bands doing a big month of recording in a fancy studio, working to get this really cohesive sound… I don’t know about that anymore! I used to really believe in that as an approach to record-making, but my mood has shifted a lot in recent times. We’re in an age where I think you’ve gotta be creative with what you’re putting out there in the world, and there aren’t really any limits to what that can be.
“And the way people listen to music, too – there’s a lot of people going song-by-song, artist-to-artist and playlist-to-playlist; I just feel like the idea of a straightforward album – that all the drums should sound the same and all the guitars should have the same effects – isn’t that exciting anymore. We wanted to do something where, when you put the record on for the first time, you’re taken on a sonic journey. It’s not just one-size-fits-all.”
As a result of their persistence to step away from the rigidity of traditional songwriting, Dawson and Carroll reassessed their approach to the guitar. Where they’d normally head straight for their fretboards to attack the bulk of their songs, My Own Pool Of Light saw them instead gravitate towards the keyboard, bringing in the guitars later down the line to ensure they didn’t overpower the creative flow of a track.
“Sometimes when I’m writing a song on the guitar or Tim’s writing one on the guitar,” Dawson explains, “We tend to go to some familiar places; the songs take on this character that we wanted to push beyond on this record. So for a lot of songs, we were like, ‘Let’s not start with the guitar – let’s get to that a bit later on.’ We didn’t want to just pick up the guitar and write a song – we’d start on the keyboards or with a drum loop from Ryan, and then we’d bring in the guitar towards the end. We wanted to feature the guitar as more of a textural element, rather than have it just be the bread and butter of the songs.”
Naturally, as a magazine devoted entirely to guitars, we’re inclined to sneer and turn our noses up at such a egregious notion. But if we’re being honest… It works. Holy Holy’s brand of offbeat and opalescent pop music is audaciously unique; the guitars are crucial to their songs, but not in such a way that they need to drive every emotion you can wring from them. And that’s one of the beautiful things about the instrument that we often overlook: it can be a lifestyle and a world unto itself, but it can also be a wonderful tool to enhance songs that exist in other worlds. Exhibit A: My Own Pool Of Light.
Thursday September 12th - Villa Noosa, Noosaville QLD
Friday September 13th - Kingscliff Beach Hotel, Kingscliff NSW
Saturday September 14th - The Tivoli, Brisbane QLD
Thursday September 19th - Mt. Pleasant Tavern, Mackay QLD
Friday September 20th - Magnums, Airlie Beach QLD
Saturday September 21st - Dalrymple Hotel, Townsville QLD
Sunday September 22nd - Edge Hill Tavern, Cairns QLD
Friday September 27th - The Gov, Adelaide SA
Saturday September 28th - Astor Theatre, Perth WA
Sunday September 29th - The River Hotel, Margaret River WA
Thursday October 17th - Uni Bar, Wollongong NSW
Friday October 18th - UNSW Roundhouse, Sydney NSW
Saturday October 19th - The Cambridge, Newcastle NSW
Friday November 1st - Torquay Hotel, Torquay VIC
Saturday November 2nd - Forum Theatre, Melbourne VIC