Q&A Scene: Oscar Dawson of Holy Holy

Tell us about your new single / tour / album.

Our new single is called Darwinism. It’s about the evolution of a relationship. Tim wrote the initial idea for the song in Darwin whilst we were on tour there last year. It features our first ever foray into the world of horn arrangements, and we’ll be bringing the horn section along for a couple of the shows on our upcoming tour. It’ll be quite a racket. There’ll be seven of us on stage. We’ve never played Darwinism live in Australia before, so it’ll be interesting to see if we can’t fuck it up in front of people who already might know it.

As for our album, we are experimenting with more textures – obviously guitars, vocals, and drums, but also horns and more pianos; and, some more synthetic textures. Continuing to use synthesisers, but in a couple of cases drum machines too. We are picking things up where we left them off at the end of the last record and following some of our ideas to their natural conclusion, at which point we’ll take stock.

What’s your favourite work at this point in time? 

A better question might be ‘which work do you least hate’.

I wrote a song when I was a kid, it’s on a cassette somewhere, that was fun. At the time I thought it was the best thing anyone had ever done.

From Holy Holy … I dig ‘You Cannot Call For Love Like A Dog’. It feels good and has meaning. And, I get to shred at the end.

How would you describe your sound in food form and why? 

Well, having just been on tour for a couple of weeks, truck-stop sandwiches (filled with crisps).

Tell us a quick, on the road or studio, anecdote.

We were in the studio once, and I was doing guitar takes with Matt Redlich, our producer. I bunged one of the takes up, and said to him, ‘Ah shit, I fucked it’, so he stopped record. I said to him, ‘Could you please take it back 8 bars, and give me a couple of bars count in this time’ and he said ‘Ok’. This time he hit record and I didn’t fuck it up. Sadly, we deleted the song.

What, or who, inspires you?

Normally just things that happen in life – experiences, observations, arguments with my band-mates, and so on. The music of other people does inspire me, but I am cautious to not to let it do so too much. I think that life sets the scene and creates the design, and the sounds we use are just the tools.

Which song do you wish you wrote?

Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen. Then, I realize…there is no way in hell I would have ever written that song, so – why would I wish I wrote it?

What’s next for you?

Heading home from this tour of the UK and Europe. Then, getting back in to the studio to keep working on this second album of ours. I’ll be doing some other production work with and for some other artists – I’ll be working with Ben Wright Smith and Ali Barter on their upcoming releases – and then, Holy Holy are straight back out on the road around Australia throughout November.

What’s your scene?

I never had an easy relationship with scenes. I always wanted to be part of the gang, but then as soon as I felt like I was a part of it, I’d want to be separate from the whole thing again. So it’s a bit push-pull. As a result, now I tend to just find things that I love and they often don’t tend to be a part of a single scene. Sometimes I think scene-ism is a form of tribalism that can add blinkers, rather than open one’s mind.

Three years ago, a band took to the stage in a tiny upstairs venue in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. The few people in attendance clung self-consciously to the walls as the house music died and amps were switched off standby.

I remember I had asked the venue to change all the stage lights to pink and we brought along our own smoke machine that Oscar was operating with his foot in between songs...” The band was HOLY HOLY and that night they lurched their way through the first show of their career. “…It was a bit a tragic in retrospect…funny, and tragic.” recalls co-founder and vocalist Timothy Carroll.

Now, three years on, HOLY HOLY have now released Darwinism, the first single from their much anticipated sophomore album. Debut When The Storms Would Come, released in July 2015, debuted at #11 on the ARIA chart & hit the top 10 on iTunes. With 6 songs added to rotation on national broadcaster triple j, HOLY HOLY have sold out tours across the country. They have toured nationally with Vance JoyThe Preatures and Boy & Bear; played coveted spots on national festivals including Splendour In The Grass and Falls Festival; headlined BIGSOUND; received stunning reviews for both their album & their live show; and won the 2015 APRA ‘PDA’. The band have also toured through UK & Europe, selling out London shows and playing festivals such as Dot To DotLiverpool Music WeekPrimavera Festival(Barcelona), and London Calling (Amsterdam). Europe has welcomed them warmly, with airplay in the UK, The Netherlands, Germany. The band have a third UK/EU tour slated for September/October 2016.

HOLY HOLY work differently from most; From Launceston to Brisbane and Melbourne, songs are sent back and forth. Ideas are captured in different cities, then come together when the members meet up again, be it for a tour, rehearsal, sound-check or show. Their long distance music affair has resulted in a truly unique sound: layers of melodies, evocative storytelling, and passionate rhythms.

They have also continued to evolve since inception. “We were writing new tunes as the album dropped last year…” says Oscar Dawson, guitarist, co-songwriter & co-founder with Carroll, “…we found ourselves diving headlong into more writing and demoing, ahead of more recording. I generally prefer doing things that way. If things slow down I get restless”.

Darwinism got its start in a hotel bathroom, Carroll locking himself in while his band-mates slept following a night out. “I remember the boys were all asleep in the apartment and I was looking for a place to play so I locked myself in the bathroom and was making some recordings on my phone. I felt straight away it could work as a full band track.” Weeks later, Dawson and Carroll explored the idea further, fleshing out Carroll’s initial phone recording in a tiny studio set-up in London in between shows on a UK/EU tour.

Finally, two months ago, the entire band gathered at Head Gap Studios in Preston, Victoria, and invited trumpet and trombone players Ross Irwin and Kieran Conrau to join them for the song’s huge, sweeping horn section. “The horns are a fresh thing for us,” says Dawson of its effusive energy. “We wanted the horns to be textural, using a band like The National or Radiohead as examples.” Pitch shifting effects pedals and other such tools help provide new tones and straddle the balance between authentic and synthetic. They couldn’t resist utilising Head Gap’s grand piano.

So the track starts really stark and sparse, with that melody from the bathroom. And by the end it is a big orchestral mess: hopefully in a good way. It was a lot of fun to make. The mixing was the real challenge – how to get it to all to work together. We had to work on it for a while but in the end we found it.” says Carroll. “It feels like a fresh approach for us – a new studio and a new city to record in. It’ll be interesting to see what people make of it.”

HOLY HOLY’s music draws you in, urging you to dig deeper. Carroll’s lyrics having a way of cutting through, and Darwinism is no different, bringing to life a couple’s relationship juxtaposed against the song’s driving riffs and melodic lines. “The song’s lyrics are about how a relationship evolves over time and one of the lines was inspired by the idea of ‘Seven Types of Ordinary Happiness’ from [cartoonist Michael] Leunig.

It’s a promise of big things to come; new beginnings and exciting directions that will unveil themselves when the band return to the studio later this year to lay down the rest of the album. Says Dawson, “I want fans to feel like they’re in the band, like they’re in the same room,” he says. “Lifted up and brought along. I don’t want people to feel like they’re outsiders looking in.”

Carroll & Dawson are joined in the studio and on the road with band mates Ryan Strathie, bassist Graham Ritchie, and their producer-turned-band-mate Matt Redlich (Ball Park MusicEmma Louise) on keys.

DARWINISM is available now through Wonderlick Records.
HOLY HOLY will be touring the UK, Europe & Australia from September – November 2016.
Their sophomore album will be released in early 2017.

Australian and UK/EU Darwinism tours – Buy tickets here

Brand new single “Darwinism” out now – Listen or purchase here

Debut album “When The Storms Would Come” out now worldwide
CD – order here  /  Digital – order here  /  Spotify – stream here




About Mary Boukouvalas 1612 Articles
Mary is a photographer and a writer, specialising in music. She runs Rocklust.com where she endeavours to capture the passion of music in her photos whether it's live music photography, promotional band photos or portraits. She has photographed The Rolling Stones, KISS, Iggy Pop, AC/DC, Patti Smith, Joe Strummer, PULP, The Cult, The Damned, The Cure, Ian Brown, Interpol, MUDHONEY, The MELVINS, The Living End, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against The Machine, The Stone Roses –just to name a few - in Australia, USA, Europe and the Middle East. Her work has been published in Beat magazine, Rolling Stone magazine, Triple J magazine, The Age Newspaper, The Herald Sun, The Australian, Neos Kosmos, blistering.com, theaureview.com, noise11.com, music-news.com. She has a permanent photographic exhibition at The Corner Hotel in Richmond, Victoria Australia.