Monday, 14 April 2014

It's My Kind of Interview - Holly Who

Newcastle is quickly establishing itself as Australia's new home of soul on the strength of the rocking and rolling outfit, Holly Who. We've certainly become big fans of the band and the vocal powerhouses that are sisters Holly and Jess Clayton. 'Get A Little More' from their self-titled EP hit #1 on our weekly Top 25 and it's definitely going down as one of our favourite songs of the year. The sisters Clayton were awesome enough to take the time to have a chat with us about all things Holly Who; their EP, touring, favourite music and more. Enjoy! 

Interview by Matt Bond

Hello and welcome to It's My Kind of Scene! How are you on this fine day, where are you and what have you been doing?

Holly Who: Hi there! It is a fine day, the sun is out in good old Newcastle. We’ve been working pretty intensely since the EP release pursuing opportunities. Way too much technology for us, but you got to do it while you’ve got something new. So the sun being out for a quick dip at the beach before tonight’s gig is a great thing. It’s good for the head!

You're going to get sick of variations of this question so quickly (if you haven't already), but I'm going for it... who exactly is Holly Who? What music do you make and why do you make it?

HW: Ah, yes, we’re still trying to work it out. ‘Holly Who’ was the creative baby of Holly Clayton (Lead Vocalist and main Song Writer). There is an unbelievable story in how that even came about but it’s too long for here, but essentially she threw caution to the wind, returned to Australia from LA to re-hash a music dream she’d stalemated for 14yrs. So, ‘Holly Who’ is the band, not a person.

Given the nature and talent of the musicians, they’re all involved in numerous projects, their own and other bands, so the band is interchange-able. We can play a gig with four people but we generally like to play with more. As the band builds momentum we’ve just found an incredible sweet spot with the current live line up of seven on stage. It does however make organising rehearsals utterly painful!

The band on the EP is the staple five. Holly Clayton (Vocals, piano, rhodes, percussion), Jessica Clayton (vocals and yep, they’re sisters), Adam Miller (bass, acoustic guitars, electric guitar, solo on “Peace in My Soul”), Luke O’Dea (Electric Guitar, organ, tambourine) and Dom Borzestowski (Drums). A lot of bands we draw influence from work with a similar methodology, keep the studio minimal. Absolutely bring people in and out to do their thing or a part but too many cooks spoil the broth. We had a real work mentality going into the studio, we didn’t tell anyone, didn’t spend time posting online, we locked ourselves away and worked. It was a wonderful feeling of creative seclusion and detachment and it really worked for us this time.

Congratulations on releasing the fantastic Holly Who EP! How does it feel to start getting the EP out into the world?

HW: Thank you! It feels like we’ve finally beaten the bad guy and advanced to the next level. And then, it all begins again... Fun times. 

About that whole getting it 'out into the world' thing, have you worked out some touring plans? Because I know someone in Brisbane who'd really like to see you guys live...

HW: Oh, that is very lovely. Actually, it seems we’ve had a bit of ‘Come to QLD’ going on despite us being from NSW (we have Origin lovers in the band). Just waiting on a few things and then, yep, it’s time to hit the real sunshine. We’d love to magically play BIGSOUND...

And we would love to see you at BIGSOUND (so get that application in before May 9)! Listening to your music, you really do get a sense that you're genuinely loving what you're doing and having a whole lot of fun doing it. I'm sure this translates to the Holly Who live experience too. What do you love about performing live and how would you describe the Holly Who live experience?

HW: We do love what we’re doing. Glad you can hear that! The Holly Who ‘live’ experience is essentially what makes, Holly Who, ‘Holly Who’. It’s why it took us so long to actually record something. That and the fact that it simply started out as a way to knockoff a dooming life regret.

So, we’d been building a strong reputation for our live shows for the past two years and didn’t know how to translate our live set to a recording. Our live set is unpredictable, high energy, spontaneous, it has a lot of room for soloing and just feeling out a song or writing something new, on stage. It heavily relies on a strong groove and then the other instruments dance around that. If you’re groove is solid and the sound is warm, people will stay, because they feel it. No one watches live music with the intention of walking away without an emotional response. There is a transaction that takes place in a live setting. Everything we do is emotionally charged, be it a 6/8 slow jam or a four to the floor pop structure, it all comes from a very genuine place. Sure it becomes a show but it’s not forced, people can sense that.

Our audiences are beginning to become very eclectic and no one cares because if you’re there, you respect music and that’s enough. It’s awesome for people watchers! Often bands have a specific crowd or scene and you really sense it if you don’t fit. It feels like the Holly Who crowd’s vibe is something like, “If you like music where the kick drum hits your soul, the dueling guitars peel open your heart, the bass line makes you want to shake it off, the vocalists soar you above your possibly shit day and the organ makes it all 70s kind of cool, you’re ok by me”.

We’ve got early 20yr olds saying, “It’s so weird but my Dad heard about the band and now we’re going out to watch music together” and vice versa, that is the best! Music is ageless. You don’t stop loving music because you ‘grew up’. On the contrary, you hit the ‘real world’ and you need music more than ever. We have strongly pursued that line of belief through our music, it’s special that it really is beginning to show at our live gigs.

What are five albums that have shaped your life and why?

HW: ARGH NO! These questions are so painful. By leaving so many people out you feel a weight of creative betrayal... Maybe we’ll hit this with artists that have heavily influenced what we do and the recording of the EP, surely that’s a fair deal?

Your terms are accepted. 

HW: “Live at The Bitter End” - Donny Hathaway. This is one of the most spine tingling live albums, ever. The band are so good it’s scary but at one point the crowd spontaneously breaks into four part harmony on “You’ve Got A Friend” (Carole King) and thankfully the the sound engineer was a genius and put up a few crowd mics before the set and it’s clear as in the master. It’s the perfect example of how you can go to a gig and it’s nice and the music is great and then you can go to a gig and there is a transaction between musician and audience and suddenly, it doesn’t matter where you’re standing, stage or seats, the magic begins. A Holly Who set can get pretty magical when the crowd is right there with us.

“Tapestry” - Carole King. This album has sold more than 25 million copies! Carole King is one of the greatest modern songwriters, her first #1 at 17. She had The Beatles and Aretha Franklin in a bidding war over some of her works. But it wasn’t until 27-28yrs old she had a solid crack at releasing as a performing artist in her own right. Carole King heavily influenced our EP. Our live gig is very guitar driven but most of the EP tracks were written on piano, rather than probably fail replicating our live show we took the pressure off and decided to have it alot more acoustic. This inturn meant Holly had to play piano on the record. That was a big decision which influenced the overall sound. Tapestry was a big clincher in that.

“Great Barrier Grief” - Oh Mercy. This album is exquisite! We saw these guys support Steely Dan and they actually held their own in front of a crowd of Baby Boomers, who’d paid hundreds of dollars to be ‘Reelin in the Years’. They were incredible live and then the album just topped it. One of those special albums that don’t happen often. It was simple but still musically complex, lyrically speaking, it’s a treat and the recorded sound was complimenting to the music. It took on that acoustic vibe and the live set was a little more rock and roll. Another clincher in rationalising that the recorded sound didn’t have to be the live sound.

The Rolling Stones - It’s cliche but cliches become cliches for a reason. There is nothing perfect about their music and yet, that’s where the beauty lies. Their key, keep it simple. We were aware how crazy studios can get with more and more parts but ultimately we wanted to be able to have every song work, simply strummed on a guitar. These guys are an awesome yardstick for that...

“Try” - JM3. Steve Jordan and Pino Palladino, what a rhythm section, the simplicity and groove on that live recording is hands down comical, in a good way, where you just laugh because you can’t believe it. It doesn’t matter what song you hear, they are so tasteful yet so in your face. Steve Jordan cracks his snare at the beautiful and timely point between late and wrong. How can a snare be so musical and moving? This rhythm section influences alot of Holly’s writing, Steve Jordan is referenced alot in rehearsals.

Coming from Brisbane, I'm always curious to find out about other music scenes in Australia. What's Newcastle's music scene like and who are some of your favourite local acts?

HW: Newcastle’s music scene is wonderful and like all areas it envelopes a wide array of styles. It’s always been a great breeding ground for music. There are alot of musicians who play in a lot of different bands and so the scene and genres cross pollinate, which is tops! There are a few venues that are strictly ‘original’ music. You can go see a band just finding their legs which is great then sometimes you’re there and are flawed by the talent and you think, “Who are they?” and you find out they’re locals and they’ve been playing recorder in another band and finally put a few of their own tunes together, ok probably not recorder, but you get the idea... It’s a wonderful scene but you have to be in it to win it.


Your favourite gig of all time is... 
HW: Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto

The first album you ever bought was... 
HW: “Take Five” - Dave Brubeck

Your music guilty pleasures include... 
HW: Delay pedals, tambourines, anthemic choruses

A dream collaboration would be between you and... 
HW: Rick Rubin or The Police

The last song you listened to was... 
HW: “Scarlett Town” - Gillian Welch

If you weren't a musician you would be... 
HW: Eating better.


When they air the Holly Who 'Behind The Music' special in forty-eight years time, what are they going to say about you?

HW: Hopefully, something nice. Whatever they say the inclusion of the following words would be perfect: happy, genuine, creative, talent, success (money wouldn’t hurt either), top Aussie export, determination, accessible, underdog superstars (that’s a cool name for something), eclectic and world travellers. But happy and genuine top that. We’d want people to always connect us with a genuine love of music, the rest is a byproduct, some good, some bad.

This is a question the lovely Jo (my fellow blogger) asks in interviews and I've decided to steal it. You're the blogger, I'm the artist. What do you ask me?

HW: Cool question! Ok... you’re writing a song inspired by something happy. Do you head to a major or minor key?

I would head straight for B-flat minor. The most magical of all the scales. What? 


A massive thanks to Holly and Jess Clayton for taking the time to answer our questions. Ladies, we're serious about you getting that BIGSOUND application in ASAP! You can catch Holly Who over the ANZAC Day long weekend should you be lucky enough to be attending the Pacific Palms Music Festival and they've also been announced to play the Wollombi Music Festival in September. Stay up to date on all things Holly Who at their official site or via their Facebook page! 

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