Holy Holy on new album Cellophane, creative processes, and the Aussie music industry

Holy Holy, one of Australia’s most beloved musical acts, have just dropped their fifth studio album, Cellophane. With the reputation as one of Australia’s best live acts, it was a pleasure to sit down with Tim and Oscar and chat all things Holy Holy.

I’ve had a listen to the album, I absolutely love it! I’d love to chat about your creative processes, can you each give brief overview of your creative process for this album?

Tim: It does depend… some songs are born out of that classic style of songwriting where you sit around with a guitar, around a fire and you actually write a song, and there’s a song or two on the record that are like that. I love writing songs like that, it makes for a certain style of song…When we’re trying to write singles, we’ll often write to danceable BPM and build a bit of a beat around it, and then lay down some bass and synth and build a bit of a groove… at a certain point, when a song is coming together, Oscar will give me a nod. Then there’s a period of vocal improvisation, which is a really exciting and scary moment, because I feel like when you’re writing melodies over a new chord progression the first time you do it every possible part is open to you, but once you run through the same song multiple times you start to hit these patterns that become hard to diverge from. So you have this moment where everything is possible, but then it becomes clear that some of what you’re doing is worthy of becoming something good… I sometimes consider our relationship, in terms of melody and lyric writing… I sometimes spit out these iterations but I struggle to know out of that if anything is any good and in some ways Oscar is my editor and my ears… He will listen to all these takes and be able to point out exactly what worked, and we’ll collage it all together.

As someone with no songwriting ability at all, I’m so intrigued by the songwriting process. Do you sit down with the intention of writing or do you let it come naturally?

Oscar: I think you have to set the scene. I am not a believer, although it can occur, that you can just wait for some sort of inspiration to occur. I’m a big believer in setting the scene, whether its just having the time- you need to have time, and a space, having some microphones up… I know Tim likes having a bit of reverb on the microphone, and some headphones… we need to make it sound decent to be able to start improvising… You need to create an energy and then inspiration is much more likely to occur… we have to set that scene for ourselves. Sometimes we might be together for a few days and it takes time, after a day or so you’re warm and ideas start flowing and there is a sense where you have to just ‘let it flow’ by that point. There’s always that fear when you go into the room like, “Shit! We might come out with nothing.” And I guess you have to be comfortable with that fear, it’s okay if it doesn’t happen. Often it does though.

Tim: That’s so true, sometimes when we are doing rehearsals, sometimes we’ll set up the drums and get the mics all nice, add some reverb, some headphones, and by the time that’s all happened I’m so ready to write and not rehearse. Someone starts doing something and you’re like “That’s fucking cool! Let’s hear that again.” But one thing I’ve learned from Oscar is that I think sometimes the art is more in knowing when to stop… Whenever you start to feel bored or like the spark is not there, that’s the time to stop. The trick is, you can go straight into another song, you don’t have to stop recording but you have to stop working on that particular idea. We will often do that… Another thing is it’s really important not to judge the work prematurely. I have to work really hard not to do that. You have to let the idea sit, sometimes maybe even for a month, and then you come back and you think “that bit that I thought was cheesy, that’s actually the best bit of that whole song”.

You guys live in separate states, how do you navigate that when working together?

Oscar: It’s surprisingly- I don’t know if ‘easy’ is the right word, but it’s surprisingly workable. We make it work, sometimes we have a show and we’ll have a couple of extra days to do some writing or recording, or sometimes we’ll just get together for a week. It’s also good cause it focuses us a lot. Obviously we can zoom and do all that, but I’m a big believer that limitations can be beneficial. Time limitations and equipment limitations can sometimes really help you and work in your favour.

Tim: We’ve ended up with a series of studios that we tend to gravitate to all over the country, so if we are in a place for a festival or a show, and we’re in that writing phase, we’ll add a couple of days… There is something exciting about bursting into a new space and when you think about those songs your mind goes back to that place. Our records are constructed in all these different places at all these different times, I think that’s cool.

I know we’re all sick of talking about Covid, but how has the process of recording an album in 2023 compared to writing and recording your last album during the pandemic?

Oscar: I’ve definitely enjoyed the non-Covid time more. Covid was pretty annoying. It was fatal for some people and we were really lucky that our lives avoided all that stuff so we are grateful but in terms of making record it was annoying. I think we made a really beautiful record which was Hello My Beautiful World. But this one I have really enjoyed because we have been able to be together and do video clips and photoshoots and just be together in the same room. It’s easy to forget that actually getting to gather matters.

Tim: Even though we made Hello My Beautiful World in the pandemic era and there were things that occurred as a result of that, for example all of our collaborations happened digitally… and all the editing and writing happened independently but all the important stuff happened in gaps in lockdowns. Either of us would do a mad dash just to be together just the two of us, but it was scary because you knew that if something happened you might be trapped and not see your family. We also tried to tour during the pandemic. One time we had a gig at the forum…we had all our stuff on stage at the forum ready to go and a lockdown got called and I literally had to go straight to the airport…never went back to the venue, I couldn’t even get my guitar or anything.

How does the Australian music scene feel post-pandemic? Do you feel as though it’s relatively back to ‘normal’?

Oscar: It’s hard to asses change because there are so many factors really. In relation to lockdowns and what not, that does feel like the past now… Music is an interesting industry because all the practitioners just love it. They want to do it.

Tim: We would do it whether it made sense or not. I mean, we did that when we were younger. We’re just desperate really, aren’t we?

Oscar: It is somewhat like the wild west a bit, the music industry. I don’t believe that we can expect job security or anything like that but it does feel like we are in a fairly unregulated environment.

Tim: It’s the craziest thing to try and do. The songwriting is the fucking least of it. You’re basically running an Internet brand, a live touring business, a fashion brand… it’s like, ‘I don’t know how to do any of that!

Oscar: And then you have to make four short films for each album… it’s a mindfuck.

Tim: And then you get on stage and it all melts away. Our fans, we were discussing earlier, seem like a really nice bunch of people. They’re very diverse, there’s a lot of women and men and old people and younger people, I really love that. The shows seem like really safe spaces as well which means so much to us. And when you look out and you just see this sea of faces of people who know the records so well and they know every song… Sometimes I don’t think that the audience realise how visible they are. I think they think they’re invisible but I can see every expression on their face.

There are a lot of features on Cellophane, did you guys go into this planning to have so many features on the record or did that happen organically?

Oscar: There’s an element of organic-ness. There has to be an element of organic-ness because it’s about personalities. You can’t force things to happen and you can’t expect them just to happen a certain way because you’re interacting with other people, so yeah of course it’s organic but I think mentally we had our minds open to it… on our last album there was a couple of collaborations on there. I really enjoyed that, it’s great musically, friendship wise, for the live show… so my mind was open to it. There was some cases where we had a gap, or some cases where Tim might have had a little vocal idea that wasn’t appropriate for his voice, so we would find someone to do that. But in every case we would always go into the room with someone or send the song to someone and say, ‘we’re keen to hear what you WANT to do’, we’re not just, like, ‘please record this.’

This might be tricky to answer but did you have a favourite artist to work with on the album?

Tim: There’s one verse on Cellophane by an artist called Many Voices Speak, the verse is in Swedish, and I get a real kick out of having a verse that’s in another language. I find Swedish to be a really beautiful language… My wife is Swedish, and I do speak Swedish a bit and I wrote a verse in Swedish and showed it to my wife and she was like, “that’s really beautiful but the grammar is real fucked up.” So, I had a meeting with Many Voices Speak and we talked about the intention of the verse… and she wrote her own stanza and it’s super poetic… so that’s one that I get a real kick out of. I can’t wait for people in Sweden to hear it.

Amazing! Do you have a favourite song on Cellophane and why?

We dropped the single This Time in a DJ set the other day and everyone was dancing to it, and so that felt really good. I’m excited about the prospect of, like, people dancing to those songs.

Oscar: Yeah, same.

I know you both have a pretty big passion for discovering new talent, do you have any artists you’ve been listening to lately that you’d recommend?

There’s this cool artist called Danika, she is amazing. She has this new song called ‘Cool Shit Bullshit’ which is an absolute tune.

Oscar: There’s this artist I’ve done some work with, she’s young, she’s still at school so she hasn’t released any songs but she’s just put a song up on Unearthed and her name is Lottie Gallagher. Her songwriting skills and her voice belie her age, she’s great. She’s got such a great voice and she’s skilful with words, it’s sort of amazing to me. I remember when I was 16… I was pathetic, she is incredible, you know? It just blows my mind. She’s just put a song up on Unearthed, the song is called ‘Adam’, her name is Lottie Gallagher and she’s one to watch.. Do yaself a favour!

Tim: Forest Claudette is another one we are both fond of… oh! And Folk Bitch Trio, they’re really cool. They’re kind of like Laura Marling, they’re definitely in the Laura Marling world in terms of sound. Empress is another Melbourne Band that are kind of like this groovy, prog-y three piece band but with three women singing in three part harmony. It’s quite a novel concept, like smashing two things together. They are really wonderful live.

And finally, what’s on the Holy Holy horizon for the rest of 2023?

Oscar: Hiding from the realities of life…

Tim: The record is finished now in terms of the songs and art, but now it’s about ushering this baby out into the world… We’re flirting with this idea of doing something that we wanted to do in the Covid times. We wanted to do this tour of listening parties where we go around the country and maybe find out Spotify top listeners and share parts of the record and stories behind the songs… so, that’s something we are flirting with and trying to see if we can organise at the moment. We might try do something like that.

And that’s just what they’re doing! You can catch the boys at one of their intimate listening parties (starting today in Hobart) and grab tickets HERE. Be sure to check out Cellophane, out TODAY – find it HERE!