Words by Keane Fletcher
The wait is over! Indie-rock legends Holy Holy have finally dropped their much anticipated new album Hello My Beautiful World and in many ways it's their most ambitious yet. Following on from singles 'Port Rd', 'How You Been', 'Believe Anything' and 'The Aftergone', HMBW is - as the title would suggest - a paean to our complicated modern existence, bristling with an awareness of life, death, and the cycles of the natural world.
'I do believe this is maybe our best record,' says lead vocalist Tim Carroll. 'I think the production is interesting, the songs are dense and full of ideas and melodies, and the songs are emotive. I hope it's the kind of record people will want to listen to deeply and repeatedly.'
Drawing on a host of different collaborators (CLEWS, Queen P, Japanese Wallpaper, Kim Moyes of The Presets, and string arranger Toby Alexander) HMBW extends Holy Holy's sound into sprawling and cinematic new places, delivering complex but quaffable tunes that run the gamut between danceable and anthemic ('Believe Anything', 'The Aftergone') to intimate and philosophical ('Hello My Beautiful World', 'Here and Now').
To celebrate its release we sat down with Carroll to talk more in-depth about some of the HMBW's inspirations, the process of writing and recording, as well as how he and bandmate Oscar Dawson were able to make the best album of their careers during a pandemic.
Check it out below!
Let's talk about the new album. How did it come together? Was there an organising principle in mind, or was it more a process of experimentation?
We had a few guiding principles. We wanted to make some danceable songs, lean more into the electronic, and push into the producer sound rather than a 'rock band'. As our band has gotten bigger, we have found ourselves playing bigger rooms and bigger festival stages, and so we were seeking to create music that would feel great on a big festival stage at sunset, so some big euphoric banger moments. Not sure the degree to which we achieved that, but that was the intention. After that, the practicalities are just Oscar and I finding time to get into a room and try ideas. We usually start with some small nugget of an idea and then flesh it out a bit and then improvise over it for a while and see where it takes us - then we refine and refine and follow our guts as to what feels like a vibe.
Living in different states means you're no strangers to working and recording with each other from afar. With that in mind, did the Australian lockdowns have much of an effect on you? Did they unlock something different in your process, or was it pretty much business as usual?
We were able to do quite a lot while the borders were closed. We refined songs, and we reached out to collaborators. The string arrangements could happen online and remotely, so all that progress took place during the lockdowns. Towards the end of the process, the borders were sometimes open, and Oscar and I could have some time in the studio together. That was key. Working remotely has its place - and there are some things for which it's perfectly fine - but having some time together IRL to write and bounce off each other and go down rabbit holes is essential. I know that now.
The album bristles with an awareness of the natural world, and indeed many of the songs feature sounds recorded from nature (waves on the beach, cicadas, rain falling). Can you talk a little about the impact of nature on the album? How does it inspire you? Was there something particular about the process that drew you to connect more with the natural world?
Yes. It's interesting, a lot of the songs are very human and not about nature or the natural world at all, but there is that theme there sitting behind the whole thing. I guess it's this awareness that while we live our lives and get lost in our troubles and trials - the natural world is always there, existing it its magnificence. You know when you go somewhere amazing - like some lake or some mountain top or some forest. I sometimes think....this is always here.
The album has a great sense of flow and features some magnificent codas that give the whole thing a real cinematic feel. What was the inspiration here? Was there a conscious choice to move the album away from your typical sound?
Often what would happen would be that we'd be writing and we'd have all these ideas, and then we'd have to cut the songs down to not end up with all these 7-minute songs, but we were too attached to the parts to delete them. So we made them codas. Or other times, we'd stumble on a vibe right at the end of a song and be too tempted to see where that road would go. Or sometimes it would be that there was some part - like a string part - that was so beautiful that it deserved some time on its own. We like making immersive records and songs that bleed into each other and so on.
The title track, 'Hello My Beautiful World', is a beautiful spoken word piece featuring one of Toby Alexander's stunning string arrangements. At what point in the process was it written? Would you say it encapsulates the message of the album in a way?
It was written about halfway through the process. I was listening to one of Toby's arrangments that was based on a composition Oscar had written, and we already had the album name, and I just started finding that rhythm. 'Hello this' and 'hello that'. And I just got lost in that pattern and the idea of a poem that sought to acknowledge the natural world systematically. The repetition of the poem echoes the repetition of life and death. The poem jumps between huge sweeping scenes and then dives right down to these super intimate moments. It's a work I'm proud of, and I'm looking forward to seeing what people make of it.
Would you say you consider the album to be a more complete work than your previous releases?
Not really. I think each of our albums is complete. I do believe this is maybe our best record. I think the production is interesting, the songs are dense and full of ideas and melodies, and the songs are emotive. I hope it's the kind of record people will want to listen to deeply and repeatedly.
The album also features some fantastic collaborations, including songs with Queen P, CLEWS, Japanese Wallpaper and The Presets. How do these collaborations usually work for you? Does one of you approach the other with an idea ready to go, or does it happen more organically?
Well, from the outset, because we were writing, engineering, producing and mixing the record ourselves, we were keen for some outside influence. It's fun collaborating, and it adds depth to what is possible to create. Generally speaking, we'd reach out to people and send them demos and bring them up to speed on what we were doing and see if they were up for being on board. Some of our collaborators are people we've worked with in the past (CLEWS and Japanese Wallpaper) and for others (Kim, Queen P and Toby) it was our first time.
Has the success of your previous releases changed the way you approach music? Do you feel more pressure or is it freeing to know you have so many listeners out there waiting to see what you'll drop next?
I think it's more the latter. Some of the things are pragmatic. We have a label now that give us a budget to make albums. That makes it so much easier than it used to be. They have been great too. They gave us complete freedom to make what we wanted. But within ourselves, I find that success leads to a confidence to trust ourselves. To believe that what we're doing means something to people and to dig deep within ourselves to try and create something worthy.
And finally, can you talk a little bit about your upcoming tour? What can people expect from it?
Fuck. Well. We have a massive tour booked all around the country. We're doing all the shows with CLEWS singing in the band and Queen P joining us as a guest so they'll be fun shows. Our shows are super vibey, and we're lucky to have awesome fans. A good mix of women and men, young and old, and people are good to each other and that makes for a good vibe — lots of sing-alongs and dancing. The question now is - will the pandemic be under control enough to tour. Hopefully, if not, we'll postpone and come back when we can.
For touring info go to: https://www.holyholymusic.com
Thanks for stopping by Hipland!