Nearly ten years removed from their debut full-length, Holy F**k continue to take electronic sounds and reconfigure them on the fly. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with keyboardist Graham Walsh ahead of next week’s Cork gig.
Emerging in 2004 as part of a musicians’ collective in their home city of Toronto, Canada, four-piece Holy F**k take a live performance approach to electronica, that verges on indie-friendliness without sacrificing abrasion. The band are heading to Cork next week as part of touring for the Bird Brains E.P., newly released on digital stores and streaming services. Keyboardist/live effects man Graham Walsh provides some insight into the creative process behind the record, and the no-nonsense attitude the band takes to finishing a release. “The creative process wasn’t really too different than other records we’ve done. We had these songs ready, and really wanted to put them out. We’re very much a four-headed beast when it comes to writing. With most electronic music, it’s usually one person on a computer, but with us, it’s the four of us in a room all hashing out ideas together, and working them into songs.”
Last year, the band signed with independent Innovative Leisure internationally, after a long-standing relationship with British trailblazers XL. Keeping music independent and widely available has presented a well-documented challenge for artists and labels over the years, but Walsh feels well-represented in the band’s output, past and present. “We’ve been very fortunate to have wonderful support behind us from everyone since the beginning. Both XL and Innovative Leisure, and Last Gang Records who we’re with in Canada, are hard-working indie labels, who are savvy to what’s going on. The music industry over the last ten to fifteen years has changed and evolved so much, that it’s great to be with companies like that who can adapt, and be creative with the art of releasing music. As a band, it’s just up to us to keep creating, which is kind of the way you want it.”
The band’s process of creating organic electronic music has been chronicled and fetishised by gear enthusiasts, not to mention demonstrated comprehensively on stage. But aside from sounds from non-musical instrumentation, which non-musical influences or concepts inform Holy F**k’s music? “I think we’re very much influenced by the idea of inserting as much human influence into our electronic music as we can. Most music these days is recorded and produced on computers, ours included, and the tendency is there to try and make everything as perfect as possible. You can Autotune things into key, align every beat perfectly to a grid, and polish everything to the nth degree. We make electronic music as a band. Use real drums and bass, and manipulate sounds with analogue guitar pedals, mixers, and other things. We try and use instruments and gear that you can’t automate perfectly, but have to dial in manually. It might not be precision-perfect but those tiny imperfections are where the beauty lies.”
2016’s full-length Congrats saw the band take a wider step out onto a new label and Walsh is beginning to garner an idea of its place in the band’s body of work. “Congrats was definitely a growth record for us. Then again, I think you should be trying to grow with every record, otherwise, what’s the point? We still feel proud of all the songs of course, and are using the experience of making that record to prop ourselves up as we forge into the future.”
The band’s name, aside from being something that they must surely be sick of being questioned on, was most notably used as an excuse for the Canadian Conservative party to try to pull government-issued PromArt tour funding from new bands and artists. Of all the sensationalism the band’s name engenders, one wonders where a political party putting the band’s name in their mouths to further an ideological agenda ranks. “It was definitely a firsthand view into how the government and press work together. The government have to build a story around something so they can get the general public behind a plan that might not go over too well. If they can shift any negative press away from themselves, and on to a few small scapegoats, then I can see that they’re going to take that opportunity. The irony about the whole situation is that the very small funding we received from that grant paid for a plane ticket, so we could fly to London, England and play. It was on that trip that we signed our first record deal, and really began our careers. In a way, we were the perfect case study for that program working (laughs). We then became a viable Canadian business, who were then investing back into the Canadian economy. Instead, the government framed it differently, so they could take that money back, and use it for something else! Meanwhile, there were plenty of other artists and institutions who lost out big time because of that move. Arts grants are also a very controversial subject, so it definitely riled a bunch of people up. Funny enough, we received a LOT of press about it around that time, so I’m sure that kind-of helped us in a way!”
Walsh himself is a long-tenured producer for Canadian artists of all stripes, including success stories like METZ and Alvvays. It’s a process away from the band’s own compunctions and dynamic, and one which informs his own take on creativity. “Every artist and band works differently, obviously. So, as a producer/engineer it’s important to be adaptable to all the situations you might find yourself in. This can be challenging, but that’s where you really learn and grow as an artist/producer/engineer. Some artists come with very raw song ideas that need fleshing out and arranging, while other bands are already dialed right in, and you just need to stay out of the way, and capture the magic. I get to see how different songwriters and bands create, and really learn from that and get better myself. I can also take those learned experiences with me for every other project I work on, and be as helpful as I can.”
The band plays on August 15th at Cyprus Avenue as European touring for the new E.P. kicks off with a run of Irish gigs. While Leeside road stories are thin on the ground in the Holy F**k camp, their Irish excursions have yielded positive results. “We’ve had loads of fun playing Whelan’s in Dublin. We played Oxegen festival back in 2008, and it was amazing! R.E.M. played, and we got a little shout out in the press from Michael Stipe, which felt great!” Walsh is short and sweet when it comes to what happens after the band’s current jag around the continent. “More touring! And working on new material of course.”
Holy F**k play Cyprus Avenue next Tuesday at 9pm. Tickets on sale from cyprusavenue.ie and at the Old Oak.