Album Walkthrough: Holy Holy talk their important new album, My Own Pool of Light
On their third album, Oscar Dawson and Timothy Carroll have a lot to say – and they say it.
Holy Holy have a lot to say, and they're not ones to shy away. Since their debut EP, 2014's The Pacific, the Australian duo - composed of guitarist Oscar Dawson and vocalist Timothy Carroll - have become experts at mixing light-heartedness with heaviness, most notably in their ability to disguise moments of vulnerability and important, cut-throat topics in ear-worming hooks and gentle melodies. It's something that's become further deepened by acts like Jack River and Stella Donnelly ("I’ve always wanted to lure people in with those dreamy, happy-go-lucky sounds and then trick ‘em," said Donnelly earlier this year), but it's a tactic that's been present in Holy Holy's music since their beginning - and definitely now, when it's more important than ever.
Holy Holy's third album My Own Pool of Light, arriving via Wonderlick/Sony Music Australia today, is a twelve-track masterclass on how Holy Holy have grown into this messaging throughout the last five years, combining dizzying rhythms and flourishing melodies with some of current-day's most important and prevalent topics - mental health, toxic masculinity, gender stereotypes and homophobia among them. "I wanted to write songs that really meant something on this album, that really had something at the core of why it was being written. Each song was trying to say something," says Carroll on the album's themes, and you can really feel this harnessed as the album's punchy - yet, impactful - duration draws longer.
On the album-opening Maybe You Know, Carroll tackles themes on depression and suicide above Dawson's swirling melodies ("I’ve had a few friends over the years who’ve died at their own hand, and some close friends who are battling depression," says Carroll), while on Flight two tracks later, they draw attention to the societal - particularly government-created - pressures that impact some of Australia's most vulnerable, like asylum seekers. "We need to keep those stories being told and keep drawing attention to the fact that it’s not okay what’s occurring," says Carroll and while he's definitely correct - just look at the battles they face day-in, day out - it's something often overlooked in popular music (although becoming a lot more common now).
There's more to the album (which we'll let them get to in a second), but the overarching takeaway from My Own Pool of Light isn't that Holy Holy can create blissful, catchy moments of indie-rock - that's something they've showcased for much of their careers thus far - but that they're stepping forward as songwriters eager to make a difference. Once upon a time, it felt like being political or tackling important issues in your music felt risky and un-needed; the potential backlash outweighing any positives you'll find in talking about things like toxic masculinity. Now, however, it's no longer the marginalised communities having to put in most of the hard yards when it comes to politically important music; bands - white, straight male bands like Holy Holy in particular - are now stepping up, and it's long overdue (and something we're incredibly happy to see, so kudos).
Holy Holy will be touring the country throughout September, October and November, accompanied by Carla Geneve - more information and tickets HERE. In the meantime, however, dive into My Own Pool of Light below, with a track-by-track walkthrough from Oscar Dawson and Timothy Carroll, where they dissect the album's themes one song at a time.
1. MAYBE YOU KNOW
TIM: “Maybe you know, but you’re loved by everyone. Or maybe you don’t and you feel like you’re alone.” The album opener is a strange pop song about what depression does to us and what it has the power to take away. It revolves around repeated string stabs and a dry and hooky bassline and like a lot of songs on the record, it’s triumphant and melancholy at once.
OSCAR: This song is in some ways about isolation. Even when we’re surrounded by people we know and love, and even when we have so much access to other people, both IRL and in the cloud, we can feel alone. It’s easy to forget the fact that we are often surrounded by people who love us.
TIM: The first song we wrote for this album revolves around a 60s sounding vocal loop. We wanted to make it sound like an old sample and after many iterations, we got it there. The loop, built out of vocals from Ali Barter, Ainslie Wills and myself, is the bed upon which the song builds. Driving drums, menacing offbeat synths and fast tambourines back a wide-ranging spoken vocal approach.
OSCAR: We decided we wanted this one to be driven by drums and bass. This, and Tim’s vocal. It's more based upon samples, and less on guitar. Faces is about a lot of things - online arguments; smartphone narcissism; the Australian treatment of refugees; and our ability to ignore inconvenient truths. It lays out a lot of the ideas that we've been wrestling with, and sets the tone for the rest of the record.
TIM: Emerging out of the playground field recordings of Faces, Flight catches a loping whistle to start and uses banks of looped vocal in a slow-building epic about the ongoing detention of asylum seekers and refugees on islands in the Pacific. The song uses vocal manipulation to hint at the ways people are dehumanized in the process. Shouted chants ring out the first word of each line.
OSCAR: This song was written in the same sessions in which we wrote Sandra. As such, we paired the two on the record. They have similar themes, although in different subjects. This song is more about the dehumanisation of asylum seekers, and tries to understand their lived experience as a way of re-humanising. The tempo and feel are quite similar to Sandra and the two are intended to be heard side-by-side.
TIM: Flowing out of the tail of the previous song, Sandra paints scenes from the life of Australian activist Sandra Pankhurst and her experience growing up in Melbourne as a trans woman in the 60s and 70s. The song is inspired and informed by Sandra’s biography 'The Trauma Cleaner' and is released with Sandra’s blessing and support. With driving nocturnal production the song is a little unhinged with colours of anxiety and exhilaration.
OSCAR: Sandra is a song that Tim and I worked on shortly after reading a book called ‘The Trauma Cleaner’. It follows the life of Sandra Pankhurst. Although we don’t feel like we have any particular claim to explore her lived experience, this song is nevertheless an attempt to understand and empathise. Since finishing it, Tim has made contact with Sandra who still lives in Melbourne, and she has given the song her blessing and also allowed us permission to use her name as the title.
5. STARTING LINE
TIM: An intimate portrayal of two people caught in loops of their own creating. Building over three movements it progresses from sparse single note piano and drum loop into multilayered synth-heavy mania.
OSCAR: This song was built over many months. Tim was trying out a new approach vocally, and we enlisted our friend Gab Strum AKA Japanese Wallpaper to work on some of the synthesiser sounds on this tune. It is sort of a broken love song. Toward the end of the process, another friend and a great producer Andrei Eremin added some finishing touches, which pulled it together.
TIM: Paces gives love a character in the form of a creature that creeps around the house and survives on what it is fed. Love, which speaks of itself in the plural, is a difficult houseguest.
OSCAR: Paces#1 came from the same session that brought Faces. As a result, it is one of the first songs we started working on to make this record. However, it is also one of the last ones we finished. Sometimes accidents happen when making a record and we thought this might have become one of the accidents that you hide away - although, after some time away from the song, we revisited it and decided that it should make the album.
TIM: Taking place in the wreckage of a plane crash at sea, People builds on a glassy piano riff and uses protest field recordings, banks of layered vocals, grimy basslines and an Ennio Morricone-esq whistle solo to build a portrait of the state of the world.
OSCAR: People is an earlier song we wrote for this album. We again wanted to use loops and sample-style tones to build the feel of the tune. It also features the lyrics that are the title of the record, My Own Pool Of Light. This can mean a lot of things, and to some degree is intended to - whether the literal pool of light created by a mobile phone as we lie in bed, or a figurative one as created through our actions online, or even an actual spotlight of a figure on stage.
8. TEACH ME ABOUT DYING
TIM: Built around the pop beat of a miniature battery-powered Casio keyboard, Teach Me About Dying is a two-act play about the ways death imbues life with meaning. Mellotron and a cure-esq six-string bass part give the song the feeling of an 80s coming of age soundtrack.
OSCAR: For some reason, we wrote a few songs for this record that speak to mortality. I think this song's about being alive, although you might not notice that from the title…
TIM: Opening with a crisp Ryan Strathie drum loop, Haswting uses layered and pitched vocals and obvious synthetic string patches as a bed upon which the main vocal rants a series of questions and desires to the listener. Closing with a messy ravey bass drop.
OSCAR: Hatswing is kinda weird… we wanted to make a song that doesn’t always sit comfortably on the ears, and think we might have achieved that goal here. It’s really about grasping for more and chasing temporal pleasures in our lives, which fits with the theme of the record.
TIM: Written as a series of improvised vocal performances, Frida examines the experience of raising a girl in a world that constantly leaves her out of the story. A world where girls clothes, toys and books all work together to limit and control what she can be and where the radio constantly tells stories of women who don’t make it home at night. Clean production, led by a dry melodic bassline and a tight, evolving drum arrangement leaves plenty of room for the lyrics to be heard.
OSCAR: This is the last song we wrote for the record. It almost didn’t happen but Tim found the pocket and basically wrote the theme and message in one sitting. It’s his reflection on bringing other humans into the world, and specifically his daughter and how she, and in the early stages he, will manage her journey through life and the gendered world we inhabit. In some ways, it’s a song of regret about past failings, but I think it’s a story of hope and about the future that we can move to.
12. ST PETERSBURG
TIM: An album curiosity. A one-take piano and vocal ballad on youth and desire. Recorded at the end of the last day of a long session at Melbourne’s Headgap Studio. Oscar on grand piano, Tim on vocals and drummer Ryan Strathie operating the session.
OSCAR: This song has existed for some time in Tim’s life. It began as a folk song he wrote as a part of his own solo project. We first worked on it before Holy Holy had a name, creating a demo of the song when we both lived in Europe in 2011 - so long ago. We then recorded it in the sessions for When The Storms Would Come, our first album, but it didn’t make the record. For some reason, the song re-entered the picture as we were touring our single Faces in 2018. Tim played it at a soundcheck - he tends to play songs that he has under his belt when checking - and we spoke again of bringing it back into the fold. Perhaps because this album features so much production and so many sounds, it felt all the more fitting to include a simple and pared-back arrangement of this song to close out the record.
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