When you listen to Australian rock duo Holy Holy, it’s like flicking the pages of a history book so fast that pictures take shape and whole tales of epic proportion dance past in whirls of sound. Sometimes you wonder how it all fits in there, and sits flush against relatable chunks of wisdom about love and life. Then, you hear frontman Timothy Carroll speak and realise he is spilling over with influences and ideas. It’s unsurprising that his music is so contextually rich.
We recently chatted to Carroll, who was enjoying a family holiday a few hours out of Stockholm in a little town where his wife is from, making the most of brief down time. The band had just wrapped up their whirlwind UK/Europe tour and were preparing for the release of debut album When the Storms Would Come out July 24th, followed by Splendour in the Grass and a mammoth Australian tour. We talked about the unique Holy Holy sound, taking risks, and the reception to the epic single You Cannot Fall for Love Like a Dog.
“I do feel in the lucky position of having complete creative control over what we do from a technical standpoint and with our record deal. We can always do what we want,” says Carroll. The song itself has received huge attention both nationally and internationally, and featured in our Best Songs of 2015 (so far). Complete with a soaring guitar solo from Oscar Dawson, the other half of the creative duo, it transcended all expectations of radio singles. “It takes some commitment and belief to do something like that,” Carroll ponders, “We started doing that live and we always could feel it in the band that it was a really great moment in the song, the best moment in the song, and we always looked forward to that break down and building into that moment so it felt really good to record it like that.”
“We were a bit concerned when we released it because it’s five and a half minutes long I think, so to release it as a single we were a bit like, ‘ok, we are going to release this but there is a good chance it will get a few plays and then it will be forgotten.’ But, it was great that Triple J decided to give it a few more spins. It was really gratifying to think that other people were enjoying hearing some songs that have a bit of time to do things like that. Which I think is a bit of a throwback to things that used to happen more in the 70’s when bands like Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin would often have these huge extended guitar moments. We were keen to try and reference that.”
The single provides just a taste of the songwriting capabilities of the vagabond duo. Dawson and Carroll originally met as English teachers in South East Asia and reconnected in Europe in 2011 when Carroll invited Dawson to record some demos. The pair has continued to work together since despite never physically sharing the same city. Truly belonging to the digital age, the pair mostly communicate online and give each other the creative space to pen ideas before coming together collaboratively. “It works really well. Oscar’s a composer and a writer and a producer, so he has a studio and can produce things quite high quality so he is savvy with that kind of stuff. I’m a total moron and I don’t use anything other than Garage Band to get ideas down. That’s kind of enough. We just send things back and forth,” he tells me.
“The other thing is we do have a couple of different guiding principles, like not to overthink. I think Neil Young has a thing which is ‘you think, you stink.’ You can’t over work and overthink songs, it can kill them. We try and keep things pretty fresh and pretty feeling based and we try not to do too much pre-production before we hit the studio. We just want to get the rough form of a song down and a few key ideas but we don’t want to have the song finished before we get to the studio. That allows in the studio the freedom to play around and try and have some magic in the moment, because if you can do that I think you really capture something that listeners can hear.”
Magic abounds on When The Storms Would Come. There is a strong connection to the natural world and the juxtaposition between change and patterns in human existence. Carroll recently gave us a rare insight into the inspiration behind single Sentimental and Monday, and the way the onset of winter and his wife’s migration shaped the lyrics. Originally from Brisbane, I also spoke to him about his move to North West Tasmania and what draws him to these scenically rich locations.
“I’d been going down to Tassie for a long time for various different reasons and always loved it down there and I guess I do have a deep attraction to that sort of landscape,” he says, “It’s sort of funny because in that song If I Were You it talks about going and living in a house by the lake and spending your winters there and I wrote that way before I ended up doing all the stuff in the song. It’s kind of funny that it ended up happening.”
He lives with his wife and one year old child and when he isn’t occupied with the band, works on curating and directing A Festival Called Panama with his business partner and festival co-founder Dan Rook. The boutique event caters to just 1250 festivalgoers, and is coming into its third year in 2016. “It’s kind of like our little baby and a really fun creative project that we work on… We ran it the first year and it was really good, and when the second year came around the property became available to purchase so a small group of me, my business partner and some other friends decided to buy that block of land and we moved down there.”
While living in a remote location gives plenty of time for introspection Carroll says that the biggest challenge to his creative process is time. “It’s making time to sit in a room with my instruments and recording gear. Usually whenever I do that the next part is kind of easy,” he says. “Usually I’ll just start off with some rehearsing and then some little ideas will come. But making time amongst all the different things is the main barrier. Down in Tassie we don’t have power. We are running off solar power so that does impact what I do and when I do it too. But the main thing is just making time to do it.”
As we near the end of our chat I take the time to dig a little deeper into my favourite track on the album, A Heroine. In the lyrics Carroll sings, “There’s that idea that there are only seven stories to be told” referencing a popular Jungian idea about repetition and archetypes.
“I listened to a lot of Melvin Bragg who does a podcast called In Our Time. It’s an epic history podcast and he talks to all these academics about all different periods of time in great detail,” he tells me, “I was just riding my bike around once and he was doing one on ancient China and I was really struck by these repeated tragedies and the rise of emperors, and the collapse of empires, and love and loss and all these different things that repeat themselves again and again up until now. So kind of like what inspired that song was some of those ideas.”
Then almost as an after thought he adds, “I’m glad you like that one. I like that one too.” The statement has the sentiment of someone who has spent countless hours wrapping a gift and is ready to watch the face of the receiver light up as it is unwrapped. The album has been ready for a while, and some of the songs have existed since the bands inception, so the final moments before release are filled with anticipation. “I hope that people enjoy it,” he says, “Whenever I’m making music I want to make a record that people like, but also that people want to listen to a lot of times – really get to know the whole album, rather than just be a record that has one or two songs that people like. So that’s really what we’ve strived to do with this record.”
With only days to go, Holy Holy will be taking to the stage at Splendour in The Grass this weekend before heading out on an eighteen stop headlining tour. I ask Carroll what he is most looking forward to and he tells me, “In the UK and Europe we were doing showcases so we often had 20-30 minute slots, so its going to be great to have a bit more time to play with. Im looking forward to fleshing out the set and taking our time to not just play the hits and singles, to get to play the full suite of what we do and the different songs we have on the record.”
Carroll encourages fans to spend some time with the album before the show and promises they will not be left unsatisfied, “I’m hoping some people will have the record because the album comes out a bit before… It would be really nice if people know a few more of our songs rather than just the couple that have been on the radio… I reckon we will try and play all the songs on the record and as usual there will be heaps of big band builds and we will be letting Oscar go crazy as much as possible. We have been playing a lot of shows so we should be feeling pretty relaxed. An album release is a special time for a band and for an audience so it should be good. I’m really looking forward to it.”