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David Holmes – Interview

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This article originally appeared on Gigwise.

“I had to do this myself”. David Holmes, DJ, composer and soundtrack arranger extraordinaire, is contemplating the introspective process of putting together his long awaited fourth album proper, “The Holy Pictures”. The new album is a monumental roller-coaster of emotion that sucks the marrow of Holmes’ life in Belfast city and commits it to tape in all its expansive technicolor. It deals with love, birth, heartbreaking loss and the ever present spectre of death and mortality, tracing it’s conceptual genesis back to his mother’s passing in the mid nineties. It’s a departure from the ostentatious fantasy soundtracks that you may expect from Holmes, an album of constant juxtaposition encapsulating the stark collision of tragedy and joy seeking that the world has watched unfurl through Belfasts streets on news reports over the last thirty years. At once uplifting yet haunting, it has certainly been the most difficult album he’s put together but it may very well be the best thing he’s ever done.

Having spent the summer reacquainting himself with live audiences across the festival circuit with appearances at events such as The Big Chill and Green Man, David is currently back in Belfast preparing for the release of “The Holy Pictures” and battling against the floods currently sweeping Northern Ireland. “It’s not so bad, I’ve been getting used to this for the last 30 odd years, so you know, but it’s been the wettest summer on record. The worst thing about that is that it just goes straight into winter which is so depressing.” The prospect of eternal winter may explain his unmusician like enjoyment of current promotional duties. “ Well I’ve been doing a lot of press for the new record, and, well interviews are fine if you actually have something to say, you get approached all the time for interviews when you’ve nothing to say, but now I do, so it’s been fun.”

Between his mothers death in 1996 and the release of ‘The Holy Pictures’ Holmes has recorded countless soundtracks, most notably working with Steven Soderbergh on the Oceans franchise, other solo albums and worked with the Free Association before finally getting down to in earnest to the process of soundtracking the experiences and themes that he had been building and storing over the last decade. Given the themes of the ‘The Holy Pictures” it is a surprisingly joyous album with tracks such as first single “I Heard Wonders” and “Holy Pictures” conjuring Kevin Shieldsesque tinged, techno-soulled wall of sound binges. “When you have a record that’s this personal, it’s roots firmly planted in Belfast and family, through major loss in your life, losing your parents, losing your friends it’s a hard process”, notes Holmes looking back, “but it’s not just about that, I think there’s a very positive air about the record too, like a celebration. I don’t think it’s a depressing record. So what I was trying to say is that it’s the process that began back then, and the whole process of this record was very organic, I just never felt ready before.”

The organic approach left Holmes with an unprecedented period of creativity producing vast swathes of material as he searched for the perfect tracks to complete his vision. “It got to the stage where I had 30 or 40 tracks so it was definitely a case of editing down for this album, and there were some cases where I was writing 4 or 5 tracks just to get one that I really liked.” Initially Holmes concept was a loose ideal, he just knew that he wanted to make an album with solidity and cohesion that captured his experiences growing up and becoming a man within his family and his home city. Pinpointing as he has the death of his mother as the beginnings of this desire it was a second death that focused his mind onto the concept of “The Holy Pictures”. “It was when my father died thats when all the lyrics started coming”, he recalls. “There were some tracks that were inspired by other people in my life, my best friend, people still alive and people lost in tragic circumstances, but it was when my father died, that’s when I went into the studio and tried to encapsulate how I felt, not just about losing my dad but being parent-less. When you lose the second parent it’s a very different hit to the first because suddenly you’ve got no one. So thats what I was really aiming to capture when I went into the studio, to encapsulate how I felt in the music and words.”  Holmes has more than succeeded in conveying the duplicity and complications of loss, nowhere more viscerally than on the albums ethereal closer “The Ballad of Sarah and Jack”, that lilts into view on a minimalist piano line and grows to flood the surroundings, sweeping the listener into its world.

But for all the loss surrounding “The Holy Pictures” perhaps one of the defining moments comes in the last 20 seconds of “Hey Maggy” where we hear Holmes’ daughter on tape for the first time. “Well I had a daughter along the way so that changed a lot of things. That was actually her first realisation she liked somebody. I was up in my control room and she walked into my live room when the microphone was still on and I could just hear her so I hit record.” The resulting recording is the sound of a child lighting up with an innocent joy so penetrating that it serves as a fulcrum around which the entire album twists. It’s a powerful reminder amongst an album inspired by such loss that life and family will always be a continuos saga. “It was just amazing to hear her expressing that she liked someone and to understand what that mean so it was a really special moment.” The album also features slightly more conventional appearances form Martin Rev of Suicide who feature on the track “I Heard Wonders”. “Martin was just someone I really wanted to have singing on the record. Most people know him as a keyboard player, but if you’ve ever checked any of his solo stuff… I just love his voice, it’s really sweet but menacing at the same time.”

The productivity of ‘“The Holy Pictures” has left Holmes with a wealth of excess material, including what he mutes as some of his best work but tracks that just did not fit the purpose of the album, “there were some tracks that people close to me really questioned leaving off, “ he recalls. But when hearing the album as a whole it is hard to imagine how it could be reworked or edited in any way. Fans shouldn’t despair though as the tracks are all intended to be released in various formats whether through downloads or bonus tracks or with magazines. Some may well even find there way into the projects that Holmes is already working on. Indeed as a man who, including soundtracks, has averaged nearly 2 albums a year for the last 11 years it is no surprise to find that the future has Holmes working on several soundtracks as well as renewing his relationship with director Soderbergh on an upcoming project . So there will be no shortage of David Holmes activity in the coming months or years, but right now “The Holy Pictures” allows us to take a look behind the curtain of an incredible musical mind to discover his roots and his soul. This is not just a soundtrack to an unshot film, this is David Holmes giving his actual self to you on  record, and an astonishing ride.

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One Response

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  1. This is a very good interview. Thank you.

    I love the new album, especially its optimistic tone. Your article helps me see more.

    feeding at last.fm

    September 24, 2008 at 8:09 pm


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