Originally published in AU Magazine, May 2010
BRIAN BORCHERDT IS single-handedly destroying his band’s reputation as a carefully-managed, well-oiled and complex music-making machine. “Rehearse?,” he laughs down a phone line from New York City. “Nah, we don’t really rehearse.”
“It’s one of those odd things about our band. From the moment we first started, we knew that there was a lot of spontaneous energy happening in the rehearsals, and we decided that we’d rather save that for the stage.”
Well, it does make sense when he puts it like that. If you hadn’t already guessed, Holy Fuck are no ordinary band. The Toronto natives (although drummer Matt Schulz is currently Brooklyn-based) specialise in the kind of instrumental groove that’s usually lazily classified as ‘electronica’, but which dips and glides through soundscapes far beyond an electronic palette.
“We’ve never strived to be part of any particular genre,” he agrees. “I am a little concerned about the ‘electronica’ thing. Electronic with an a at the end? It’s a silly word, and we listen to all different types of music, in any case. I think ‘electronica’ implies a certain amount of expertise in the field of a certain type of music, and we’re just not coming from that level of expertise – nor are we trying to.”
Borcherdt sounds tired, but happy. Fresh from an unexpectedly long promo trip in Europe with bandmate Graham Walsh, the pair were on our side of the pond to talk about their new album, ‘Latin’. It’s the third full-length outing for Holy Fuck, which originally started as a project for Borcherdt in 2004. Although he and the rest of the band undertake ventures outside Holy Fuck (both solo and with other musicians), he admits that he never thought that the band would become as big as they have over the past few years.
“I couldn’t have predicted what would happen with the band, but I think I always had this naïve idea that there’d always be room in my life to do more than one thing,” he muses. “Most of the time, I find myself able to commit to Holy Fuck, and outside the band, it’s like… clean the kitchen, or take out the garbage, or hang out with my girlfriend! But that, for me, is really cool. There’s a kid in all of us that wants to know they can play more than one game, that they don’t have to play hide-and-seek for the rest of their lives.”
Since they released the superb ‘LP‘ in 2007, Holy Fuck’s name has been uttered with a reverence amongst musos that’d cause your average religious nut to burst several blood vessels. That album’s success was arguably due to the brilliantly addictive tracks ‘Lovely Allen’ and ‘Milkshake’ – catchy, euphoric numbers that enticed curious observers into the world of the Fuck. This time, Borcherdt says, the focus was on creative something more like a set-piece, than a collection of individual and very distinct songs.
“We wanted it to be just a continuation of the same kind of expression that we’ve been seeking all along,” he explains. “But there’s definitely a moment when you’re done, and you put it on the stereo before you’ve released it or given it to the record label, where you’re like ‘Is this gonna be exciting for anyone else in the world other than us?’ I mean, hopefully it will be. You wanna be able to have these dips and valleys and hills in a record. So we actually did kind of put a bit of effort into it, in that respect. We thought we had to sequence this record in a way that it’s dynamic. We can’t just bludgeon people over the head with the same kind of droney, bashed-up rock songs over and over again. And yeah, you’re right – I don’t think there is a ‘Lovely Allen’, per se. There’s no ‘Teen Spirit’, no big hit. And that’s OK with us – hopefully it’ll just allow the whole record to shine, rather than specific tracks.
“We didn’t really try to do anything differently to the last album, but we did want it to be a complete, concise record that was enjoyable to listen to from beginning to end,” he adds. “We are kind of aware of some of the quirks of our band – I don’t wanna call them shortcomings, ‘cos these are the very things that excite us – but we’re an instrumental band. We don’t like typical pop songs, we kind of do our own thing very uncompromisingly, and so at the end of the day, we’re aware of this notion of listener fatigue. We don’t wanna just bore people, because there really isn’t a hook or a melody. There’s no lyrics and there’s no big chorus that everyone can sing along to, nothing that’s gonna become a summer anthem. So the solution to that is just to make a really good record from start to finish, and that’s it. Something that’s a complete entity.”
Holy Fuck’s propensity for using a variety of instruments to craft their sound – none of them laptops – is something that sets them apart from their peers, and ‘Latin’ marks a further nudging of the boundaries that can be achieved without programming beats and loops into a sequencer or a laptop.
“It really is just us trying to do our own thing, and we thought it’d be fun – and funny – to try to make music with Casios and toys, and things. That’s how we started out in the beginning. I think in the end, there’s a lot of things we can do, but I don’t ever see us programming things on laptops, because…. I don’t know how to do that – it’s a skill I simply don’t have!” he chuckles. “People can do really exciting, crazy things with synthesizers and laptops, and I’m sure it’s really fulfilling for them. For me, I’m doing things that I scrapped together myself, and hopefully it therefore bears some unique mark of my personality. No other person probably has a set-up exactly like the one I use, and even if I were to change it night to night, it would probably be always unique to what anyone else is doing. And that’s satisfying.”
Their improvisational ethos may be a key component of the band’s sound; it also means that their reputation as a ‘shabbily-dressed Kraftwerk’, as one waggish journo put it, is safe for now.
“I liked that,” he laughs. “I tend to be pretty forgiving of what people will say and write about us, because I’m glad people are saying anything at all. Sometimes some of the worst descriptions comes a lot from the blog world – there’s a lot of attitude on the Internet, let’s face it. And I think a lot of times, people will make their mind up before they even hear us at all, or people thinking our name means that we’re jerks, or whatever. It’s frustrating. But we’re happy to keep doing this. Like I said, I wanna be able to do everything – we all wanna continue to have very diverse lives that are exciting and unique. But this band is not such a gimmick, as some people might think. It’s more about just expanding our creative horizons, and I see us having a tremendous amount of potential to just keep making records.”