For a band that took 10 years to fully form and to this day refuse to practice, Canada’s Holy Fuck could teach other post-rock jammers a fair few tricks
Holy Fuck are a band that have been tagged, branded and labelled more than most. From perennial, lackadaisical progressive jammers to electronic impostors, their place on the musical map has shifted almost as much as one of their heaving, bugged out tracks.
It’s no secret that their earlier days were characterised by a firm, ‘no-practice’ approach to practice, and that it either bred the no-safety-net, balls-out live show that had the band by the seat of their pants and the audience by the throat, or a shambolic, imploding catastrophe. Either way, Brian Borcherdt’s insistence that the band didn’t want to “have too much fun playing for each other” rang proudly true with every incendiary tour the band played, as much as their time limitations made a lack of rehearsal a necessity.
Unsurprisingly, it became Holy Fuck’s calling card; they just happened to be a band who practiced in front of a few hundred people and now, three albums in, it’s an ethos Brian, and other serial member, Graham Walsh, have no intention of abandoning.
“We sort of happened on the stage and I think it’s the only way we could have done it,” Brian explains as he peruses the shelves of his local supermarket, multi-tasking his shopping trip – via mobile – with trans-Atlantic questioning.
“It’s changed a lot…we’re essentially a real band now. If we’d have done things a little more conventionally, people probably would never have heard of us and we’d just be putting a record out now. I played my first show as Holy Fuck alone, at the start of the decade and it’s never really been a creative project so to speak, more a concept that’s developed into what it is now.”
Development is a vital element to Holy Fuck’s ever evolving state. Ostensibly Brian and Graham’s labour of love, the pair typically made up the band’s core line-up with various friends and musicians roped in to fulfil various live dates. Although the pressures of the early days have slackened, slightly, with Matt McQuaid & Matt Schulz completing a more settled roster, Holy Fuck’s emphasis still lies squarely with the live shows.
“This band takes up all of our time,” Brian states. “It’s one of those things that works live and most of the opportunities we’ve had have arisen through being a really dedicated live band.
“We always treated it as a full band. We always had people coming in and playing with us and the people we were working with were friends we’d known since we were kids. It was an approach that I think worked then but we just needed a more dependable line-up.
“The attitude never shifted, in terms of how we approach doing things, but I think at the beginning we made records that people maybe didn’t understand or recordings that didn’t really translate. Live, it has a lot to do with seeing how we create our music. I don’t think our band could really exist without having a live counterpart to the record.”
A sonic amalgamation of insistent rhythms, battering percussion and swarms of guitar and feedback, Holy Fuck’s speciality lies in its polarity. Merging the all consuming facets of post-rock with a synapse-cracking electronic beat, in the same way Errors offer much more than just a guitar-heavy Mogwai blueprint or how Fuck Buttons’ (more on that later) are intent on sending you to some dark, distant nebula via coruscating static and glitchy melody, Holy Fuck have as much in common with Caribou’s soaring ambition, Battles’ rampancy and Foals’ wired energy. Blurring the divide has arguably always been Holy Fuck’s most potent weapon, allowing them to create music through the unconventional means open to them.
“It doesn’t have to be unconventional but it has to challenge us. We have a lot of fun doing this and I always find it a silly question when people ask, ‘are you guys ever just going to pick up a laptop?’ because we don’t see ourselves in any particular genre. It’d be just as ridiculous if we were a DJ and someone asked ‘when are you going to pick up a guitar?’.
“No one would ask that of anyone else but they ask it of us. I guess we kinda got tagged but we never thought we’re a laptop band or we’re an electronic band. We’re having a blast doing what we’re doing and I don’t see any reason to change. At the same time it might be interesting to produce sounds through a distorted mic, to add a human element, so there’s always things we can do to keep exploring but at no point do I feel we need to make it a departure.”
It’s this ambiguity that’s often used against, or even to dismiss, them. With no foot firmly in any genre, they’re often a band without a home and a neat, advisory label.
“I don’t mind people that want to put something in a genre and I’d probably do it too for an easy description, but what bothers us the most is that we find there’s a lot of laziness where people aren’t even bothered to find out what we’re about and just dismiss us. That sucks.”
It’s a damaging claim typically levelled at nefarious blogsters (probably) irked at having leaked tracks pulled from their site, but the more established press is more than capable of doing its bit to undermine.
“It’s when they make associations with the name Fuck Buttons and Fucked Up and now suddenly we’re a ‘fuck band’,” Brian scoffs “and then some people might compare us to dance music but we don’t want to be played in clubs! It’s a little discouraging when people make the associations. We live in a day of information but I think a carrier pigeon could carry more sometimes.”
With their third album ‘Latin’ released to warm acclaim, and the current line-up allowing the band to look ahead without the worry of finding last minute replacements, a sense of calm nostalgia seems to have washed over Brian as the band’s progression slowly but surely continues.
“We definitely weren’t one of those bands signed in our teen years. With the kind of music we make and the band name – we’re never going to be in that world. And that’s cool because we don’t want to be. But, yeah it did get difficult; sometimes we’d go on tour and people would back out or we’d have the opportunity to go on the road and play some big shows and then the week before we still didn’t have a drummer.
“Sometimes no one was available and we didn’t want to say no to the opportunity. Those were the crazy years. That’s when we should have had a reality show or a blog or something. Every show was like a flaming hoop jump or stunt we had to pull off. I don’t think anyone in the audience knew how much it took out of us just to make those shows.”
Holy Fuck’s continued existence up to this point is pretty remarkable. For all the tours and the turmoil, the time constraints and death by live show, it’s a set up that should have destroyed both Brian and Graham as it would have most bands.
You could admonish their outlook as reckless, accuse them of being brave or brazen but their ambition and dedication stood and still stands long after the storm.
“We’ve always got our hands free to bring things live, and we’re always trying to do things better,” Brian readily admits. “I think the creative course we started off on; we’re making more sense of it. It’s nice to take a breath, relax and survey how to do it more effectively in the same kind of spirit we’ve always been pursuing.”
And still there’s not a practice room or laptop in sight.
By Reef Younis
Originally published in issue 18 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. June 2010