As the Canadian experimental noise four-piece get ready to release new album Congrats, we chat to keys player Brian Borcherd.
Canadian experimental noise four-piece Holy Fuck have been teasing us with sounds from their first album in six years; tantalising Instagram followers with minuscule music video clips and slowly releasing singles over winter. The anticipation is finally over as their latest complete work, Congrats, is released next month via Innovative Leisure. We can safely say that it has been worth the agonising wait.
More sound art than the grunge of your millennial-era teens, noise-rock exists in the legacy of New York’s Sonic Youth from the 1980s; a group who’s popularity brought the avant-garde genre to a wider audience. Traditionally, most noise is heavily reverb-drenched thrash. Throwing caution to the wind, Holy Fuck introduced a throbbing rhythm amongst the chaos, resulting in their unique style akin to a broken television set, which meets The Kills and Fela Kuti. The group have a dig at our self conscious pop culture, naming themselves with an expletive and playing ‘instruments’ on stage which include a 35 mm film synchronizer, toy keyboards and Star Trek phaser guns.
After years of making chaotic tunes and living a boisterous lifestyle to match, the band took a break, which saw some members separate and focus on other musical projects (such as Lids, Dusted and Etiquette as well as production for Metz, Alvvays and Viet Cong). The long awaited Congrats was entitled as a ‘congratulations’ to each other for making the album happen.
We talk to Holy Fuck’s main man, keys player Brian Borcherd about the process of making Congrats, life on the road and his unlikely penchant for camp disco records.
What attracted you to noise rock?
Initially we just wanted to bypass our own influences; to tie our hands, so to speak. How can we unlearn what we already knew of making music? Well, rather than picking up instruments that had limitless options we wanted to embrace barely-musical devices that were so limited we could barely play them. The result was very creative and exciting as well as being kinda stupid, very noisy and devoid of any melody. The tunes we came out with were mostly percussive and based around cues, moments where the colour or tone changed. Over the years we have gotten much more advanced at this approach to making music. We can influence it so much better now, make it musical and actually create songs. However, much of it is still compromised in terms of how melodic and how hooky it can get.
Is there any one country in particular that responds to your music well?
Mostly Europe, England and especially Australia have been supportive of what we do. Canada isn’t great for us.
What’s your working method like, as a group?
My main instrument is guitar and at home I write songs on my acoustic. Only about 5% of that makes it to Holy Fuck. We then meet up in a space where we can shut ourselves away from the world, at least temporarily so we can make music. We start with a seed of an idea, a beat or whatever it is and we write together. We run lines from each others instruments into our own so that we sort of become one brain. There is no midi between us, no time keeper, just ears and the moment. We’ve been using a barn in rural Ontario, which has been fun. Only two of us live in Toronto, so we meet wherever we can. Sometimes it’s Brooklyn, sometimes downtown Toronto at a rental space. The conditions are usually dreary, but we make the most of it.
What kind of idea did you have for the album?
There was no concept other than to make the best record we could. The past records we made were compromised by never having free time. We largely made them while touring, chiselling away at it when we could, whereas this time we wanted to make sure everything was a song before it was recorded. In other words, we wanted to make sure we knew what it was, how it went from beginning to end and how to recreate it night after night in front of an audience. So we wrote together first, then we took the songs to the stage. We weren’t touring much over the last five years so instead we played a few secret shows or just busted them out whenever the opportunity presented itself. It was stressful trying such new material in front of people. But by the time we brought them to studio they existed, they were real, and were the best they were gonna get. The reason it took so long is that we do this live as band in the studio, so even when all those writing steps were out of the way we still had to nail them. And if we didn’t feel we did as good as we could we’d have to do it all over again, rehearse, play them live, and then go back to the studio. After all that, when everyone went back home to their families and jobs I had the material at home to finish, mostly by sorting through all the takes choosing the best versions and further exploring the possibilities. Often, I’d end up muting entire instruments, stripping it down to the essentials and building it back up. Graham and I would bounce ideas off each other making sure the songs we chose were the best.
Is there any meaning behind the name Congrats?
Congrats is just us literally congratulating each other on this record. These past five years have been utter shit, so yeah, Congrats, we did it. The song titles are usually a twist of some earlier really random, dumb temporary title. We often name a song based on the beat or on the sound. Tom Tom is named for the throbbing sound of the low bass. It could’ve been Dum Dum or Bum Bum. Tom Tom is cooler and refers back to drums, rhythm and pulse. Xed Eyes is based on a lyric in the song – this is a rare one with actual lyrics but people probably won’t be able to figure them out. Neon Dad just cracked us up.
You’ve gained quite a lot of momentum in recent times. How do you deal with being so busy touring, creating and recording? It’s hardly a day in the office.
I’d say the momentum was really evident between 2005, when we started touring and 2011, when we stopped. I’ve learned that it is hard to rebuild that momentum from a stand-still. But maybe that feeling of standing still was an illusion. Now that we are beginning to release these little teasers it is evident that people were waiting. That there is still momentum in this machine. Personally I can’t wait to start playing every night again. That’s easier for me than being at home in Toronto. Creating music from scratch is a pleasure, but I’m burnt out. I want to share it with other people and just enjoy the moment.
What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you whilst touring?
When we were touring with MIA we were nearly killed on the highway by a hit and run driver. If MIA and her crew hadn’t done us the favour of taking our gear the night before we would’ve been crushed by it all. That was pretty weird I guess.
We want to raid your record collection, give us your top five digs.
That’s a difficult question. Last night I had a one man dance party in my basement playing my most recently purchased disco 12 inches. I have too many records to pinpoint any specifically.