Q + A with Holy Hail by Rachel Covert
In a slightly sweaty room, with a decrepit skylight and a drum kit, I met Kevin Cooke and Jesse Sposato of Brookyn based Holy Hail. They are one part rock, one part electronica and all parts awesome. We were there to discuss Holy Hail’s recently released EP’s, Education Through Music, strong hands, dead birds, short attention spans, Morrissey, the glory of touring and their take on Brooklyn’s music scene.
Two years after releasing Independent Pleasure Club, Holy Hail are back with a new sound and a new EP, The Dying Party, which they released for free in collaboration with Education Through Music, a non-profit org. that initiates music education programs in New York City and California.
DISCOSALT: How did you end up releasing “The Dying Party” for free with RCRD LBL?
KEVIN COOKE: It’s something that we had talked about for a long time, just doing something for free for a cause…and we had a bunch of songs and knew Eliot from RCD LBL, for like, years. We checked out Education Through Music, and checked out their people, and stuff like that.
JESSE SPOSATO: yeah, we’re not asking for money, but if you wanted to pay for it…
D: That’s awesome! Music Education seems to hold some real weight for you guys. Were you band geeks growing up?
K: that’s maybe part of the reason [for the charity]
J: I tried, but I wanted to play the drums when I was in the 3rd grade, this is my favorite story because it’s so instrumental to what wound up happening, but my teachers were like, “no, your hands aren’t strong enough” which I feel like just means “you’re a girl”.
K: Are hands strong? Like a big muscular hand (laughing) like a six pack on your palm.
J: I don’t know, but I can picture myself sitting at this table and they were feeling my hands, and they were like “no, you can’t do that” and I was like fuck that, I didn’t want to play anything if I wasn’t playing the drums, so I just didn’t play anything.
D: But you did end up learning the drums.
J: I just taught myself years later, I kind of dabbled a little bit in high school and college, I don’t know. I borrowed a friend’s drum kit after college and sort of decided to start a band with two of my girlfriends.
D: That’s really cool. And how did you become a musician [Kevin]?
K: Just like in college. I was a film major, and I think every film major secretly majors in film to start a band. I didn’t know how to play. I sort of just bought a bass and started playing.
J: You bought a bass with fake blood on it (laughing)
K: Which I still have!
J: It was from ebay or something?
K: Then I got bored of bass and started playing keyboards and stuff like that.
D: Let’s talk about the new sound for a bit. The band has really evolved on the new album. I read an interview with Cat and there was a lot of talk about what genre your music falls into. There is a lot more guitar than on the first album, and I was wondering how that came about and what the plan was?
K: Yeah, no plan. I think it was just boredom. I think there is a really short attention span in this band. We’ll do one genre that we’re all into, then get kind of bored and start to get into something else and listen to it, and be like we should do something like THAT! There was never a conscious decision to get away from rappy dance music with more guitar. It was just a friend of ours that lived here was a guitarist and we were like: you should come by and play with us. And it got more “guitar” and more melody… I think.
J: Yeah, because there wasn’t guitar before. I feel like when the lineup changed the sound changed too.
K: Yeah, totally.
J: yeah, it started out being me Kevin, Cat and Andrew years ago. Then for years it was Kevin, Cat, Michail, and Matt or Alex. Then it switched from no Matt and Alex to me and Mike. So, I guess naturally it was a different sound.
D: Now, you guys released another EP on Pseudoscience recently, which I was trying to do some research on…. they are a little elusive.
K: Yeah, it’s a friend who’s an artist and mostly works with galleries and stuff and wants to start a boutique label
J: we’re the first band on his label. He just started it, and wanted to start in time to put out our record.
K: We were writing and recording with no plan, at a pretty fast pace. Like, the songs were accumulating. So we were like, yeah, we’ll throw these out…and we’ll throw those out.
D: So, it wasn’t a conscious decision to release two EPs as opposed to a full length record?
K: Well, originally we were going to do one looooong record, and then we had this idea: that it was, like, the folk songs and, then, the pop songs. When we were recording, we realized that we didn’t like the way the pop songs were coming out. Then we re-recorded them, which became The Dying After Party EP.
J: The first ones were already done and we liked those, because we recorded with 2 different people the first time. We sort of liked how one batch came out but for the other ones we’re, like, we don’t know if THAT’S what we were going for. So, we put the first ones out and waited… and then re-recorded the other ones.
D: Who is the band recording with?
J: We usually record with Josh Clark at Seaside Lounge. He’s pretty awesome.
D: You can hear a lot of different influences in your music. Are there any bands or musicians that have shaped your sound? What are you listening to now? What are your old standbys? And what’s the band’s favorite?
J: I was just editing this interview, I have a magazine called “Sadie” that our friend Mihail did with Shannon Funchis; she is in a lot of bands, like a Light Asylum and Rose Parade, TVOR, !!!. And, I’m just obsessed with her right now. She’s a huge thing. She’s someone I really appreciate for her music and spirit. Yeah, her band Rose Parade and Light Asylum are really awesome.
D: All Brooklyn based bands it seems.
K: Yeah. And I think at the time, we were all listening to Ariel Pink a lot. Like every other “indie” is always saying…
J: But it’s been for, like, a while. We all consistently like them.
K: Its one of the few bands that we all agree on. But then, I think Fleetwood Mac is a huge one we always have gone to, since we started.
J: Yeah, that’s a good one.
K: And then our friend’s band, another brookyn band, Desert Stars. The first time we saw them and played with them, we were just, like, blown away! And I think secretly, we took certain ideas from them.
J: Kevin just saw the last night at Cake Shop.
K: They are fresh on my mind.
D: I actually saw a show at Cake shop the other night. There was not one, but two female drummers.
J: It’s becoming pretty common.
D: A mini phenomenon. Seems another phenomenon with Brooklyn bands right now, is the heavy influence of 90’s music.
J: Shannon was just talking about that at the magazine.
D: Oh yeah, tell us about the magazine.
J: Um, yeah. It’s called “Sadie” and it’s a counter culture magazine for young women and we’re trying to pick up where Sassie left off. It was this, like, really amazing magazine that existed when I was a teenager,or maybe when I was younger, like, junior high or something. They were a teen magazine that wasn’t like Seventeen or YM or whatever. They introduced RiotGrrrl to readers and all of these punk alternative concepts. And that was the only thing like that when I was a kid. So, we sort of want to give young girls all the stuff that I wished I had when I was younger. There was like one magazine ad that was it. So we want to be the voice for young girls, to get into cool stuff early.
D: That’s a really cool concept.
K: Yeah we’ve all known each other for a really long time and we are all kind of connected through the magazine. Mike and I, and Cat have written for it and do articles and stuff.
J: We might start a label through the magazine, that’s our new plan.
K: Our “brainchild”
J: We just came up with the concept yesterday.
K: I was thinking about a label for a while, I don’t know why I didn’t think to attach it to Sadie.
J: Our publicist sort of suggested that, too. So, we were, like, yeah; that makes sense.
D: So, one thing that I always read about you guys is that there are some pretty strong messages in your lyrics. Can you talk a little bit about what messages you are sending, maybe let us in on your favorite songs or some things that are really meaningful for you?
K: Forever, it has been a rule between me and Cat that we would make it some kind of political message. You know, each song had something that we were reading about and what we were doing at the time. The newer stuff, we just sort of stumbled into writing about people that were close to us, or that we knew who had died. Which is sort of a rock cliché, but we sort of got into it.
So yeah, we’ve never been light on lyrics. I think a lot of times the songs have started with lyrics. [If] We want to make this really interesting we should start with something that impacts us. Yeah, it’s always been a rule. Lyrically, we are going to come out with something big. Sometimes it comes off as pretentious or whatever…
J: but its almost like you have this platform and you have the opportunity to do whatever you want with it, so you might as well try to get out a message. If you have strong beliefs about anything, that are important to you, it’s such a great platform to get that out there; through music.
D: Favorite song?
J: I think I really like “Keymaker Summer”. I like the imagery of that guy that the songs about. Maybe you [Kevin] can describe what that’s about? I feel like you know more because you wrote it.
K: That was another death tale song that we had. A song that I’ve always looked up to is “Life’s A Bitch” by NAS. It blew me away! It came out when I was a kid….Days Of Metro. It meant a lot to me because my friend was shot a couple of years ago, who I grew up with. My best friend when I was really young. Like kindergarten and first grade. Yeah, those lyrics are pretty simple and repetitive, but it was exactly what I was feeling when I found out.
D: Have some of your real life experiences leaked into the imagery in your music videos? In the video for “Feels Like Forever” there is this dead bird imagery.
J: I knew you were going to say the dead bird thing.
D: What was the concept behind that video?
K: I had been pushing for a Coney Island video for a really long time. It’s another New York cliché but its pretty, you know, before the summer comes and it’s desolate. It just looks awesome. And there were a couple of videos in particular that I wanted to feel like that. So, I talked to the director and Jesse’s boyfriend (who makes films) shot it and they just totally got it. I wanted it to be melancholic like that, “Every Day Is Like Sunday” Morrissey video, where its sort of, like, you spend a mildly mundane day with someone. Which, I think, is really awesome.
D: So how do the birds fit in?
J: The birds were….We found those birds.
D: Oh, so they weren’t staged?
J: No, those were there and we were like: this rules!… and we should add this to the video. I think that’s sort of the whole point of doing the Coney Island video. The natural scenery is so amazing that you don’t need to do anything.
K: Yeah, It’s mostly improv. Just on what we saw. There was scouting, but mostly, it happened that day.
J: Yeah, there’s just so much amazing stuff there I feel like.
D: There is another amazing locale in the video for “Carry On”. Where did you shoot?
K: Big Surr. Mike was just driving through and he shot it. It’s not an “official video”. It was my birthday present from him. He was driving in Big Surr because he’s a gallery owner and he was checking out artists on the West Coast, and he shot it out the window.
J: It’s kind of “unofficial”, but its pretty.
K: It looks awesome, and I feel like, it feels, the way the song feels.
D: One of my favorite Holy Hail songs is “Antioch”. Any inside scoop on the meaning of those lyrics?
J: It’s an awesome song. I love the lyrics in Antioch.
K: the lyrics are kind of funny….its fiction. We’ve played Memphis a lot, and Cat kind of grew up in Memphis and we have a lot of friends there. So, we just came up with this idea of a Memphis insane asylum. It is one of the few fiction songs that we have. It’s the idea of someone in this insane asylum not getting along with people.
D: You were most recently on tour with Florence And The Machine. How was the whole tour experience and how long did the tour last?
K: It was awesome! It was pretty short, less than a month. It was great, she doesn’t like to have extensive tours so she just played the major market cities. Every city we went to was really awesome
J: It was really fun. We have friends in a lot of cities and stuff, so that just made the experience really nice.
K: It was vacation-ish
J: We had a goal every day, but there was always stuff, like staying with our friend Laura in Seattle… and we had the best meal ever! It was an Ethiopian restaurant. It was just insane. It was like eating in someone’s kitchen. We had those [types} of experiences in a lot of places.
K: And we got to play with Florence in awesome places.
D: What was the crowd response like?
K: It was really good. Florence is like a star, y’know? She’s got her audience and they are devoted. She got the Brit award right before we went on tour. And we were just thinking: are we going to be too fucking weird or something? And our first show was Philly and I felt completely uncomfortable. And then we played, and it was great. The crowds were pretty much great the whole time.I mean not to toot our own horn, but we had a really receptive audience. I think mood wise we fit her fans.
D: I’ve heard a lot of tour stories and I’m guessing there must have been some trying moments.
J: There was once…oh god!, I don’t even know how to say it….
K: I feel like we are not going to get into it…we lost gas a certain moment and it didn’t prey on our best emotions at that moment.
J: I did it, it was me. I ran out of gas in Ohio, and the turn out was…eh.
K: Not what we hoped for… [all laughing]
D: I’m guessing that’s all I’m going to get out of you guys on that. So, what’s on the horizon for the band? Anything you want to share with Discosalt’s readers about upcoming projects in the works?
J: No, not really…
K: We are pretty much on haiatus….we’re burnt out. We’ve been vaguely talking about doing a couple shows in London, but we aren’t sure that we’re going to do them.
…15 minutes later, I got an email from Jesse. She and Kevin have recently started another band called Love Tribe. It’s a combination of a bunch of bands that they’ve been in and they are excited and want people to know about it. As soon as they record some song’s, Discosalt will have an Mp3 for you!
[photo : https://myspace.com/holyhail/mixes/classic-my-photos-361860/photo/88913816]