Holy Other Talks Held, Touring, Showing His Face In Public
Name: Holy Other
Progress Report: The reclusive producer talks about the making of Held and anticipates finally stepping out of the shadows.
Since releasing his excellent debut EP, With U, last year on Tri Angle, Manchester-based producer and wunderkind recording artist Holy Other has managed to both wow and confound by continuing to release excellent remixes of other people’s work and generally shirking publicity (while simultaneously attracting it) by playing coy about his actual identity (a feat accomplished by always performing in near darkness with his head covered by a hood). Later this month the reticent artist will release his full-length debut, Held, and embark on a first-ever tour of the states (supporting Amon Tobin’s ISAM Live) followed by a headlining European tour. We’ve already had a taste of what Held has in store courtesy of the first two singles — “Held” and “Love Some1” — and it’s a fairly sure bet that the rest of the record will build on the pristine, haunted-house electronics-by-way-of-underwater-R&B that Holy Other has spent the past couple of years perfecting. Whether he likes it or not, as his popularity continues to rise (and with a long stint of tour dates opening for Beach House on the horizon) it will likely become increasingly difficult for the producer to maintain his lower than low profile. Thankfully, Holy Other sounds like he is almost ready to step out of the shadows for good.
STEREOGUM: Have you been doing a lot of press stuff in anticipation of the new record?
HOLY OTHER: It’s been quite minimal but I think it’s going to kick off in the next few weeks. I don’t know — I’m quite bad at this whole aspect of things so it’s kind of difficult for me. But sometimes I get nice interviews and it’s worth it.
STEREOGUM: It shouldn’t be a painful process, but I know it is sometimes. When you start out making music you usually don’t imagine it will also entail talking about yourself so much or that you will constantly have to field phone calls from people like me.
HOLY OTHER: Some people seem to want to plow through questions, but you need a bit of entry time like this, just having a little chat about extraneous things and then launching into the interview seamlessly. But otherwise it’s kind of awkward — moreso with the British.
STEREOGUM: I’m always curious to talk to people about what they make. It shouldn’t be any weirder or more complicated than that, really. It’s not in my nature to be really antagonistic with people but I know some journalists operate that way.
HOLY OTHER: I know that is a British trait as well. Trying to catch you out with a sly question — not trying to be too harsh but trying to get you with some sort of awkward blow on paper.
STEREOGUM: Well I assume that the longer you do this and the more people know about you, the more invasive it can become.
HOLY OTHER: Yeah, I see that as well.
STEREOGUM: Most people originally came to know about you with the release of the With U EP. Were you surprised by the reaction to it? And did your life radically change after it came out?
HOLY OTHER: Yeah, massively actually. It was a total surprise because I thought I’d created a vibey low-key record that a couple of people might pick up on. I was happy that it was being released on Tri Angle – which I thought would give it a bit more exposure — but I wasn’t even really prepared for the consequences. It’s actually turned from something that was just a hobby, just to pass the time, into something that’s actually my main driving force right now. So it’s kind of strange to have releasing just one EP radically overhaul your life priorities and everything.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, It’s gotta be a nice validation though. Previous to releasing that EP was your ambition to do music full time? Were you doing something else?
HOLY OTHER: It wasn’t at all. It was literally just something I started doing and I had no intentions doing it professionally. It was just something … I just put tracks online and just hoped that some people might like them. There was no intention beyond that. I didn’t even think of it as a life path or anything. I was doing other things; I was studying and stuff like that. It did come as a pretty big surprise.
STEREOGUM: Initially when the EP came out and it got good reviews, did a lot of offers immediately start trickling in?
HOLY OTHER: Yeah. It was kind of sudden because I’d been talking to people about playing shows and I hadn’t considered it really until up until the release dates. I hadn’t considered the logistics of bringing it out of the bedroom. When I started it was a few people requesting that I play live—like, actual requests for me to play live in solid venues–rather than just in someone’s house.
STEREOGUM: Was it difficult to sort out what the live presentation was going to be?
HOLY OTHER: Yeah it was kind of difficult at first. It didn’t come too easily. Eventually once I had an idea it sort of flowed out. It seemed to be this natural movement from the bedroom to the stage. It was definitely awkward at first though. There were a lot of sleepless nights because I’d basically been booking shows before I really knew what I was doing. Seeing electronic music live can be a boring process. I wanted to try to make it as appealing as it could be. Try to make it a kind of visual spectacle.
STEREOGUM: Since you haven’t performed in the states yet, I’ve never seen you perform live … but I was watching clips of you perform online. It’s really beautiful and the aesthetic of the whole thing seems to be in keeping with the music.
HOLY OTHER: I had the fortune of knowing some talented people who were willing to help me out with visuals. It hasn’t been too difficult in searching around for the right sort of visual effect for the live show; it’s just been quite natural as well.
STEREOGUM: Well when it came time to make the full-length record did you a lot of take time off from playing live? How did this record reveal itself?
HOLY OTHER: It was quite a fast process. It wasn’t like a long drawn out thing. I’d decided that I’d block off a little bit of time — a few months — to not play any shows and to try to focus on new material. I approached it with an idea in mind and I tried to run with that. It was a fast record, it wasn’t at all like the EP, which was drawn-out, with a lot of the tracks were made at different places at different times. It is more cohesive as a statement than the EP was.
STEREOGUM: That makes sense. So often with people’s first records it’s just like “Here’s all the songs I have,” and then when you get the chance to make the second album it’s usually songs contained from a very specific period of time. People spend a few years coming up with the songs that will be on their debut album, but then are often required to make the next one in just a few months.
HOLY OTHER: That’s it precisely because on the first record it was like a “What tracks do I have?” kind of thing. I’m usually quite slow and methodical in making tracks so it was more like trying to scrape together tracks, as opposed to this this record where everything was written with a specific goal in mind. I had the ideas before I actually had the music. It was kind of the other way around with the other record. I wanted to create a concept retrospectively because I already had some tracks.
STEREOGUM: This time around, did your process change? Did you have a bigger studio to work from or use different equipment?
HOLY OTHER: It’s a bedroom record again. I just didn’t want to move out of my bedroom, actually. So in terms of process and everything it’s kind of the same — it’s just that with the EP I was just moving around quite a bit. It was written in between three cities. This was in between two because I was in Manchester and London. It was kind of similar in some ways — the process of working — and it wasn’t like I’d decided I was going to put more into the production side of things because I thought I’d like to keep more in tone with the EP, keep it low-key, rather than realize I could move out into a studio and have more space. It was written … sorry I’ve kind of forgotten the questions!
STEREOGUM: That’s OK. How long did it take to make the record?
HOLY OTHER: It was a couple of months I think. Like three months of solid work.
STEREOGUM: Going from making an EP where you’re not thinking about how many people are gonna be listening to it, to making a record where you know a certain large number of people are going to be listening to it, was it hard to put that idea away and just focus on making the songs? Did you feel a lot of pressure?
HOLY OTHER: Um yeah..it is kind of hard to approach that because there’s pressure always. This was the first time I was writing with any pressure or expectation, so I just tried to put that aside and close myself off to any critical world as well. I just tried to make what I wanted to make, ignoring other factors, which was pretty difficult. I just thought it would be beneficial to sort of close myself off from the world. I mean I wasn’t listening to music at all when I was making it — I just had to focus on writing those tracks. And I wasn’t going out, so it was kind of in a closed, solitary experience — quite a miserable one — which I’m not sure if you picked up from the record. It’s less optimistic than the last one.
STEREOGUM: I felt that, yes. I never expect people to tell me what their songs were about or what informed them, but was the vibe of this record partly a reaction to the process? Being engaged in this solitary, insular process?
HOLY OTHER: Yes, it was definitely a reaction to the process. I had a concept in mind when I started it. I wanted it to be a relationship themed record. Just about a different side of relationship drama. So yeah, I just started with that idea first. I obviously don’t want to be too explicit about what I mean because I feel like I’d like for people to have their own objective approaches. I don’t want to dictate because different songs might mean different things to people.
STEREOGUM: That’s part of what makes it so beautiful. There’s kind of a wonderful ambiguity where people can attach whatever they want to it. It can be whatever it needs to be for them.
HOLY OTHER: Precisely. Sometimes I find it strange — I’ve read some critical pieces that have completely misunderstood where I’m coming from, but I quite like that at the same time. Although I do have an intention, I don’t feel I should dictate what that intent is. And if someone feels something, it’s their emotions, so who am I to dictate how they should feel?
STEREOGUM: You’ve done a lot of amazing remix work as well. Since the EP came out and you’ve played more shows, do you constantly get bombarded with remix requests now?
HOLY OTHER: Yeah, I do get a lot of remix requests. It came to a point where I was staggeringly aware of the fact that the amount of remixes I had created was almost the same amount as the original music I had made. When remix work overtakes original material I feel like there might be a bit of a problem. I don’t really want that to be the case. I don’t want to overproduce remixes and things like that, but requests have increased. It’s kind of sad because I love approaching other people’s work, trying to re-interpret through the sort of lens I’d approach my own work. I feel that it’s often more satisfying than making original work, but at the same time there is a point in which I have to say “I’m not going to make any more remixes” even though I’d like to.
STEREOGUM: You have a ton of tour dates coming up. I know you’re coming and playing in the states for the first time as well. Are you excited about it?
HOLY OTHER: Of course I’m excited, but it’s nervous excitement. I’m terrified actually of playing alongside Amon Tobin particularly. I haven’t managed to catch his ISAM show yet, but I will be catching it every night. So I’m quite terrified of how everyone says it’s the most beautiful, perfect electronic live show ever and I have to go up alongside that. So there’s that, and at the same time I’m quite nervous about playing in the US for the first time. But I’m excited — I haven’t properly been to the US before. I’m really excited to be moving around.
STEREOGUM: I appreciate the fact that you’ve been able to retain some mystery about what you do and who you are. I know that isn’t easy to maintain. Do journalists press you super hard about not showing your face?
HOLY OTHER: Yeah, I’m being pressed about it right now, actually, to release some shots of what I look like — some promotional things for the record. It’s kind of hard to negotiate that. I’ve been resistant to attaching an image — or even a face — to the music. It’s more about that than anything else. I don’t want it to be an egotistical thing or some kind of exercise in self-presentation, I just want it to be about the music. Then again, I’ll probably be having to perform without the hood fairly soon. I should just prepare for that.
HOLY OTHER: Well, sometimes things just run their course. I feel like this “anonymity” thing is kind of coming to an end. I feel like there will be some kind of radical overhaul fairly soon, I think.
STEREOGUM: Well, you don’t want that to become a distraction from the music as well. It would be annoying if everything that was ever written about you were focused on what you look like … or don’t look like.
HOLY OTHER: Yeah, it actually creates as many problems as it solves. In the beginning it was just about shying away from that side of things — taking photos, doing interviews — mostly because it all just made me super nervous. That hasn’t changed, actually. But trying to keep yourself out of things just creates this weird witch-hunt atmosphere where everyone is obsessed with just trying to get a photo of your face. It kind of sucks.
STEREOGUM: It’s admirable, that notion of trying to keep the “self” out of the process and having it be focused on the music. As someone who talks to musicians for a living, I can tell you that it’s pretty rare. It’s usually the opposite –it’s usually Let’s talk about ME! — and then let’s talk about the music, which is all about ME!
HOLY OTHER: Ha! It’s just not in my nature I guess.
STEREOGUM: I know you are playing one of the Warm Up events at MoMa PS1 here in NYC this summer, are you excited? You play with Thom Yorke.
HOLY OTHER: Yes, very excited. I’m doing that on a day off from the tour with Amon, so it will be a fun little break.
STEREOGUM: You realize that it’s outdoors, right? And in the daytime?
HOLY OTHER: I know. I’m going to feel naked.
Held is out 8/28 on Tri Angle.
Holy Other’s Held is out August 28th on Tri Angle.