David Holmes on The Holy Pictures
- David Holmes »
David Holmes comes across as a thoroughly decent, unpretentious chap. That he's a DJ, prominent movie soundtracker and startlingly contemporary solo artist, still, is by the by. When I start our conversation by complimenting Bow Down To The Exit Sign, his last solo release some eight years ago, he barely acknowledges it. "Well, thanks", he concedes. "I haven't listened to it since it was made". There's a pregnant pause before we start laughing. Somehow though, his tone suggest that he isn't joking. Whilst at least one of Holmes' previous solo albums (and possibly his latest, The Holy Pictures) might be considered indispensable - classic even - that kind of thinking appears anathema to him.
It's a curious trait - for someone to distance themselves from their achievements. It smacks of a modesty bordering on distaste or regret of one's own history. It might be that he's painfully self-aware of where he stands within his own record collection: The Holy Pictures (review here), maintains his incredible knack for vacuum-sealed, beamed-in correctness, but also keeps a treacherous touching distance from his influences. It's not this which keeps him from talking-up his music though...or even from speculating about it's value in a wider context. The simple fact is that the man isn't concerned with the accolades, or the sales, or the fame, or even necessarily the wider perception of his work. He's that rare breed; a creator without ego. And that means not looking back.
In the time since the release of Bow Down To The Exit Sign, David Holmes has been bubbling under the surface, for those who cared to pay attention. In addition to a pretty solid regiment of DJing, he released and toured his 2003 Free Association project; put out a white-hot DJ set - Come Get It I've Got It; put together a Cherrystones compilation; and worked on somewhere in the region of two dozen soundtracks. It seems natural then, that when we get down to questions I start by querying why he seems to have focussed increasingly on these projects - apparently eating into his own solo output:
"It's just fun. Really. This record (The Holy Pictures) I'd been doing in dribs and drabs but I wasn't prepared to just settle. When I did Let's Get Killed and Bow Down and This Film's Crap it was like 'Well I've got nine tracks so let's record another one'. A record like this one has got to evolve, you've got to be ready to do it. You can't just go into the studio and say, 'right now I'm going to do it'. Or maybe you can but for me I didn't go into the studio and say, 'Right, I'm going to make an album about my life in Belfast and my memories of losing friends and family'. It's something that just happened. One of the things that I really didn't want to do was make a collection of tracks, I wanted to make an album that was cohesive but still really diverse. So it was just something that happened through time. I'd say the bulk of the work on the album was done over the past two years. There was a couple of tracks which were maybe started six or seven years ago but they never really fully reached where I wanted them to be until the last six months of making the record."
Did you have a time scale or was it just a case of it's done when it's done?
"It's done when it's done I think. The record company wasn't putting any pressure on me so it was really good for me to just dip in and out."
You're quite lucky in that way - the creative freedom - there's no outside pressure to release?
"I've always done what I've wanted. As selfish as that sounds, the only way to make good music is by doing what you want."
The Holy Pictures, sounds to be a step in a different direction for you, it has more of a motorik feel than things you’ve done before. Would you agree?
"Yes, I mean there was definitely some driving, kraut-rock influences on Bow Down but not to the same extent as this one. There’s all sorts of sounds on the new record, you know. I’d say there’s probably three tracks that have that Motorik sort of feel but there’s other tracks that are very different. I still feel it’s an album that’s diverse and has a lot of variation."
There’s the ambient hues but maybe I should phrase what I said differently: It’s always struck me – particularly on Come Get It I’ve Got It – that you’re playing your record collection, which seems soul and Funk heavy and maybe this isn’t reflected quite so much here as it was on…
"But everything I’ve done has always been really different from the next. You know, from This Film’s Crap (Let’s Slash The Seats), Let's Get Killed, through to Bow Down, that’s three completely different albums. It’s hard for me to stand still."
It's been a long time since Bow Down To the Exit Sign, which is the last proper solo record that you did. Was it hard to revert back into that mindset after so long coming at music from a different direction?
"No. I mean I’m not for making an album that is just a collection of tunes. And by the way, I don’t look at Bow Down... as a cohesive album; there’s collaborations with everybody from John Spencer to Bobby Gillespie."
You sing on this album don’t you. That was a new challenge. You've not done that before have you?
"Erm Yeah. I did it because I kind of had to really, because of the nature of the music and where I was coming from. I started writing lyrics and did toy with the idea of working with a few different people, which didn’t work out for one reason or another. It wasn’t necessarily in tune with where the music was coming from emotionally."
You mentioned Bobby Gillespie. I thought that your singing sounded similar to his; in that higher register.
"Really? (Slightly incredulously) The influences on my record in terms of singing are probably Jim Reed and Jason Pierce. Bobby’s more rock and roll. I'm almost speaking the lyrics."
In terms of your long-standing association with film, this is the first time you've approached an album without it being a soundtrack, or at least a theoretical soundtrack - as has been the way you approached previous albums.
"No. I mean, the soundtrack here was my life."
You thought of it like that?
"No, I wasn't thinking of it like that at all. I was just trying to make something with some fluidity."
Is that the way you approached something like Let's Get Killed?
"_Let's Get Killed _ was just me trawling through the back streets of New York City with a DAT recorder."
On acid, by accounts. Was that just what was necessary at the time?
"We did it because we were just young and stupid. There was no fear factor, no plan. It seemed like a good idea at the time."
Looking back though, you must be pleased with the results?
"Yeah. I have my own special memories but when once one project's done you move on. I actually cannot wait for this whole thing to be over, just so I can draw a line under it and move on to something different. It's all about the process for me."
Is that a need to evolve?
"You just follow your heart really. I don't have a game-plan, just try to follow what I'm in to. My ideal DJ gig is playing at a small venue for five hours with a full dance floor and I can just mix a big melange of different influences. If these things come from the bottom of your heart no-one can ever take it away from you. If you start to do what people expect then you're fucking in trouble. If it's from the heart then people can see it and that's something they can buy into."
Is 13 Amp *[David's record label] *still going?
"No, my two partners...basically it's a long story but it's operating under a different name. Things were going on within universal."
So you don't have a relationship with Joy Zipper, for example, any more?
"Oh they're still my friends. I'm still friends with my partners but they had a fall out with Universal. I didn't."
Has having a family slowed you down in any way?
"No, I think having a child makes you work harder because it makes you realise that you're a father and you've got to provide for them. Having a child was a real wake up call for me because it was the first time in my life I ever felt like a man - when I held my child in my arms. This overwhelming responsibility of another human being, and you're the father."
**Where do you think you're future lies? In movies?
"I'm still really enjoying DJ'ing. I feel like you can't dj for ever, I really don't want to be a fifty year old DJ but I feel like I've still got something to say with my music so I'll just continue untill I feel uncomfortabe with that. Soundtracks are something that I fell into and are a big inspiration in making music."
You've worked a lot with Steven Soderbegh, obviously.
"I've done several movies with him (Soderberg) but I've just done Hunger for Steve McQueen (Based on the last six weeks of the life the Irish republican hunger striker, Bobby Sands), I've also done Oliver Hirschbiegel's new movie, Five Minutes in Heaven. Then I'm doing another little movie in Belfast called Cherry Bomb, which is directed by two of my best friends."
Sounds Hectic, you seem pretty motivated.
"There's times you have to be in the studio but I always think that your time out of the studio is just as important as your time in the studio because being out of the studio is when you're getting inspired. After this album and I get these movies finished I'm taking like a month off. Then you can sit down, catch up on films, catch up on current music. Once you've had that time off then you're ready to go back in again and create something."
So what's pricking your ears at the moment. What are you listening to?
"I've been doing the soundtrack for this Cherry Bomb movie which is probably about eighty percent other people's music so I've been doing alot of licensing for that. There's the new Fuck Buttons album which I really love. Andrew Weatherall just sent me a load of new stuff that he's done. His new stuff is amazing, really fucking strong. The production's really tight, he just constantly keeps it fresh."
Can you see yourself collaborating with a band again in the same vein as The Free Association?
"We're going to make a new Free Association album this year or maybe next year. We made that album in a month and we said well we made that in a month so maybe if we sat down and actually thought about it, the songs and the production and spent a bit more time on it we could make something that was really good."
That's good news. Is it scary that you'd have to tour the whole thing again?
"I will never do that. They could, I wouldn't. I just don't find it that productive. Just playing the same fucking music every night gets to you after a while."
**I take it there's not much chance of you touring this album then?
It'd translate well I think.
"You could tour this album very easily but I didn't start singing to start a live band. I did it to get things off my chest, and that's very obvious in the lyrics."
Indeed it is. The Holy Pictures is a personal album that manages to deal with it's themes of loss without becoming trapped or bogged down in with the weight of it all. It's a frequently uplifting album in fact, a multi-faceted thing that doesn't keep still long enough to be tagged, much like the man. And with that we wrap it up, whilst a dog barks down the other end of the phone...