Toronto-based duo Brian Borcherdt and Graham Walsh have nice names; they’re almost certainly well-mannered people, and together they make excitably itchy dance-rock music – it, too, is very nice indeed. So why do they feel the need to spoil things by calling their band Holy Fuck?
The answer: why the fuck not? Fuck is a funny word. Say it: fuck fuck fuck. HA HA HA. What’s also likely to put a smile on your face is the pair’s second album, LP, released domestically on Young Turks. A little Battles, a little LCD, a little Trans Am, some lo-fi riffs and some retro beats: it all adds up to some of the jumpiest, most-gloriously-celebratory-sounding dance music to emerge from Canada since… um… yeah.
Graham played Q&A tennis with DiS via the medium of e-mail: we serve, he returns. Game on.
Your self-titled album's about to 'drop' in the UK? Any expectations for it at all, especially given the commercial and critical love enjoyed here by the likes of Battles, Justice, Foals, Metronomy et al - all acts that you share a sort of semblance of a slip of a suggestion of sound with... ish…
I don't really have any expectations at all. The music scene in the UK is very much different than in North America so I never know what the UK scene will think of us. I'm just glad that we finally have an album coming out in the UK, and hopefully we can build an audience over there. After a while, you learn not to have any expectations at all, but just go with what happens, and take everything in your stride. I find I'm generally more surprised and excited about stuff, which is better than expecting something to come, and getting upset when it doesn't happen (which is more often than not).
How difficult, if it was at all, was it adapting the sound of Holy Fuck in your heads, or in the studio, to the live environment? You're seen predominantly as an 'electro' band, yet so few of said acts translate live. This isn't the case with you - I take it you were always keen for Holy Fuck to be this attention-grabbing live band?
It wasn't really a case of adapting the sound for Holy Fuck. It just sort of happened. We all come from rock, and punk rock backgrounds, and have always written music with the intention of playing it to audiences. This time we created a concept of creating ‘electronic’ music with this junk we have lying around, but having a drummer and bass player just seemed natural to us because of our ‘rock’ roots. The challenge for us is capturing the live energy in the studio. You have to approach the studio and the stage as two entirely different ‘arenas’.
How does one - a shopkeep, a music journalist, some kid's mum - go about describing the Holy Fuck sound? You guys must've had to pitch yourselves to friends/foes/promoters early on - what was your angle, and who what would flyers describe you as? Seems easy now to mention your name alongside the aforementioned few, and a few more acts (Errors, for example), but these aren't bands who were established back when…
I always feel awkward explaining to people what kind of music we play, or what we sound like, and always have no matter what band I've been in. ‘Experimental’, ‘electronic’, ‘rock’? I think, in the end, it's up to everyone else to decide. The music is too personal to us, and we're not really trying to emulate anyone specific, so I can't tell people that we're trying to sound like a cross between Hall & Oates and Merzbow… which would be awesome, actually!
What led you to Young Turks for a worldwide deal? Is it key for you to have a proper UK base when it comes to touring here and in Europe? Does this deal cover Canada too?
Caius Pawson is the name of the gentleman who runs Young Turks. He's a visionary, and probably one of the most talented up-and-coming label guys out there. He is single handedly re-defining the music business as we know it. Plus he's incredibly good looking, suave, and he has a lot of grace. You'd have to be crazy to say NO when he says that he wants to work with you.
You stand out, rather, from the continuing migration of quality Canadian indie from over there to the clubs and bars of here - were you ever tempted to go down a more 'traditional' compositional route, or do you hear your own music as perfectly pop?
We were never tempted to write more ‘traditional’ compositions in Holy Fuck. We all have other side projects on the go, where we'll write more straight-up songs. Holy Fuck was started to get away from that and stretch out a bit more, to become more free. I feel that because we started doing this project, my mind is way more open and inspired when I do write more traditional songs. It's always been a bit of a question whether or not Holy Fuck will start to actually write real songs or not. We do have a handful of material that is from a more ‘traditional’ songwriting approach, but it's only because that's what that particular song required when we were working it out.
You've been lucky enough to have already played some amazing shows and festivals - what's stood out in particular? Say, narrow it to the summer just gone: was there one show that you can recall with real WOW factor? Is this still an excitingly dizzying ride for you guys? Do your hearts beat double speed every time you take the stage? Do you fear the fun-times hobby becoming the everyday habit at all?
Playing Glastonbury this summer was definitely a career highlight. We had two sets booked for the festival – one on the Thursday and one on Saturday afternoon. On the Thursday, we were slated to play right after The English Beat (!?!). We started our set, and right in the middle of our third song they pulled the plug pulled on us! They turned the whole P.A. system off! Why? Because we were "too loud", according to the stage manager. It was crazy; it felt like there were at least 2,000 people there, and we only got to play two-and-a-half songs! On Saturday we performed on the John Peel stage, got to play our full set, and it was an all around amazing experience. NME voted us one of the top new acts to play at Glastonbury, which was amazing too. We were waiting in the airport to fly home to Canada, and didn't even know about the NME praise until we saw the magazine in the gift shop with our photo in it. Very surreal.
How fresh are the tracks that make up LP? Is it designed as a coherent album, or is it more a collection of Holy Fuck 'to date'; a clear-out making space for what will come with the next album, as and when?
The tracks on LP are definitely fresh... but we have been working on some of them over the last year or so, on the road. Basically after every tour we'd do, or after playing a string of dates, we'd book a day or two in the studio, and go record what we'd worked on. We definitely didn't set out from the beginning to make a ‘coherent’ or ‘concept’ record… but after a while, after you've recorded a bunch of songs, you start to get a picture of what the album will be like, and you go from there. I think we'll continue working this way. We're constantly trying new ideas on the road, and recording them in the studio. Who knows what the next record will be like.
Ever been met with crossed arms and sour faces at a show, or do most people just get on with the dancing? How do you get over a negative reception, even if it's just one guy? Can it phase you, or are you over it? What happens when you are not firing on all cylinders - burned out by touring, homesick, whatever. Are you consummate professionals on stage, or are the occasional shows by-the-book to get the heck outta there?
I have fun playing on stage regardless of what the audience reaction is. However, our best shows are often when the audience is dancing and going crazy. It can sometimes be funny we've been in support slots, and the headliner's ‘super fans’ are quick to run right up front as soon as they get there, and it throws you off when they're just sitting there with their arms crossed, or their fingers in their ears, waiting for your set to finish.
After touring here and releasing the LP, what're your plans through into 2008? Are you planning to play the UK a lot? Is it where you see a key part of your audience being?
I'd really like to come back to the UK, and Europe. A lot of bands from Canada get stuck here, only touring Canada and never playing outside the country. (It's hard to tour outside of the country, with having to get work Visas, and it costs a lot more money to travel.) But it's always been our goal to play in as many markets as possible. We'll most likely go on a North American tour, and I'm pretty sure we'll be back in the UK before long.
LP is released on October 22 via Young Turks. More information on Holy Fuck can be found on MySpace. European dates for this winter:
2 Barcelona Razzmatazz
5 Strasbourg La Laiterie
6 Paris Trabendo
7 London Koko
8 Bristol Thekla
9 London Amersham Arms
10 Leeds Faversham
11 Glasgow Optimo
13 Brighton Pressure Point
14 London The Social
15 Bedford Esquires
16 Liverpool Club Evol with Does It Offend You Yeah?
17 Nottingham Liars Club @ Stealth