What do you do on a cold Saturday afternoon in Montreal? You interview The Holds at Hurley’s. While sipping some pints and coffee, we discussed the power of music, inspirations from the past and what we have to look forward to at the album launch on January 29th, 2016 at O Patro Vys (356 Ave. Du Mont-Royal Est). Admission is $10 and includes a copy of the EP.
Montreal Rocks: You are obviously heavily influenced by Motown and the Stax sound. How do you picture the music being played live in a club back then?
Justin (Drums): Excitement and the energy… it was a much different scene in clubs back then, and the excitement of seeing a live band is what we really love and try to push with our music.
Ryan (Vocals): Especially the fact that the music was new. Motown was its own thing, they forged that sound.
Montreal Rocks: Yes, it was the rebel music of the times, it was completely new. You could probably get in trouble as a white guy going to an all black venue. That’s where all the new stuff was being played.
Ryan: Yes, and vice-versa. But of course a lot of the Motown acts, as they came out, were playing bigger venues because of the way the label was managed.
Eric (Guitar): I just think there would be this incredible rawness that is, in a way, lacking now. Because the music is new, people are listening, it’s a party and people are engaged, moving…
Montreal Rocks: Are you thinking more free-form where they would just jam, or are they just really getting into the music and letting it flow through them? Or is the rawness, just barebones raw emotion?
Eric: I think it depends on the act, but regardless, it’s not mapped out in the way it is now. I think you hear the tube amps cooking, there is an interaction with the audience that you don’t always see today. You listen to those old blues recordings and you hear the audience shouting back. There is that real connection where the room just sounds alive.
Alex (Keys): Nowadays, there are too many layers, overdubs, tracks over tracks to finally create a song. I like the old rock and soul aspect of play it live, what you hear is what you get. You feel the vibe of how it was played at that time. It’s always different and makes it more alive.
Montreal Rocks: Maybe you could say that music is more passive now and was more active back then.
Alex: Yes, it was more like capturing a moment, but now it’s more like creating something that will last forever.
Justin: I think the big difference also back then is that nowadays music is so accessible. You can find it online and you don’t have to go to a club to enjoy and listen to music. That’s the magic of that era, the 50s, 60s and 70s. If you want to hear those bands and have that experience, you really had to be in the club, you couldn’t just find it online.
Alex: And every time it would be something different. I wasn’t born then, but even just from videos, every moment, every song was different.
Ryan: Another thing to consider is the fact that without overdubs, for a lot of the bands up until the early 70s, everything was live off the floor. So the caliber of musicianship was a lot better. Now you can do one thing at a time.
Montreal Rocks: Even the house band would be high caliber, right?
Justin: Oh my god, yeah!
Montreal Rocks: If you could jam from someone from that era, who would it be? What song would you do?
Ryan: That’s an easy one, I would jam with Jimi Hendrix…
Justin: Marvin Gaye…
Montreal Rocks: What song would you do? Red House?
Ryan: Nothing in particular, just jamming the blues.
Alex: I would like to jam with The Mamas & the Papas.
Montreal Rocks: Just bring a sandwich… (laughs mixed with “ough”s). Too soon?
Ryan: Yeah, any of the artists from Motown.
Justin: I think James Brown.
Eric: I would probably jam with Fleetwood Mac or something. That’s a joke, just for the record. (laughs)
Alex: I would jam with James Brown.
Justin: It would be a terrifying experience but I would love that.
Alex: I would also like to lay down the keys for Earth Wind & Fire and dress as funky as I can.
Montreal Rocks: Your EP goes through various influences such as the Motown infused “Can’t Go Back”, 70s mellow rock with “Hold You Tight”, blues in “Say You Will Be Mine”, and finally a mishmash of all of the above with “Here and Now” and “Tired of Waiting”. Yet, it all seems to flow together. What is the string that weaves all these songs together?
Justin: That’s a tough one. The EP has songs that we’ve been playing for years, like “Tired of Waiting”. Even before we started playing as a project, that was one of Ryan’s tracks that he’d been playing for years before. I think trying to keep some of the aesthetic of that original stuff that we were doing, which was much more towards the Motown sound to the newer stuff like “Can’t Go Back”, which we tried to make more “dancey” and more of a modern rock take on that stuff. I think the common thread is to stay consistent with those tracks anyways, and keep them updated, make them sound new.
Ryan: Basically, some of the songs evolved over time, but we tried to maintain some of the original integrity of the song. The essence of what it was way back. But “Tired of Waiting” is the only one that was that old.
Justin: “Here and Now” is an old track too, but that one has changed hugely since then.
Ryan: Yes, all the songs have gone through these huge transitions, almost rebirths. But having our main focus on the old soul music of the 60s and 70s allowed us to stay true to our roots.
Eric: We were talking about how many tracks there are on modern songs, but for this project there aren’t a million tracks on everything so that really helps in itself.
Ryan: It’s cut and dry.
Eric: Exactly, but the composition of each song in terms of the instrumentation is fairly similar. That helps from one song to another. The guitars are always there, the drums are there, and also the bass… maybe we will overdub a guitar part or some keys on a couple of tracks, but that’s it.
Ryan: That essence is still there.
Montreal Rocks: You just did a video for “Can’t Go Back” which was all shot in one frame…
Justin: Cool experience. The hard thing I hate about video production in general is that you build up so much to the day, to record that moment. You practice so hard to capture that perfect take, but then with editing, it takes forever to really enjoy the final version. But with a one shot version, it’s cool because we did it, and we could go back to the studio and watch it and go: “Yeah, that’s it… that’s good!”
Alex: We were literally watching the shot right after we did it.
Montreal Rocks: How many takes?
Justin: Eight takes in total, including the practice ones. I would say 5 or 6 solid ones.
Eric: We basically did two good ones at the end. The process of the takes before was just to analyse what has to be done differently, framing, that sort of thing. We then got to the point where we knew what we were doing and we ran two basically. We decided between the two of those.
Montreal Rocks: Yes, it takes a while to get into the zone, but once you are there…
Eric: It’s like a school production or something. Know your cues…know your roles…
Montreal Rocks: When I was listening to your music, it obviously brought me back to the Motown days with some of the arrangements. I had a chance to visit the Rock and Soul museum in Memphis that calls itself the “ground zero” of the birth of rock ’n’ roll and soul music. In those days, people used music to express hardship and everyday experiences. Field workers sang to pass the time and escape the oppressive work they were doing. What are you communicating with your music? Is there a message you are communicating to the world?
Ryan: I feel there is a lot of romance and heartache in the old music, talking about connections with other people that somehow is absent to a degree in today’s music. A lot of rock songs don’t talk about a person’s feelings with regards to another person. For example, how someone broke their heart or turned them on to something really cool. So we are trying to bring back that sincerity in the music.
Eric: I think the sincerity is a good point also. Rock songs will talk about it, but do you believe it or not. A song could really moan…
Ryan: “Since I’ve Been Loving You” by Led Zeppelin.
Eric: Yeah, you had this emotive quality to these older songs that you don’t necessarily in today’s music. Not everyone, obviously, but for those that can retain that, it’s an important thing.
Montreal Rocks: A lot of artists now are very famous, but they might not write their own songs. They are talking about heartache and lost love, but it’s not even their experience.
Eric: We just can’t afford song writers… (laughs)
Montreal Rocks: Who does the writing?
Justin: Ryan does most of the writing.
Alex: He brings most of the ideas and we work them out all together. He mostly writes the riffs, the song and the lyrics and we find a way to arrange it and make it sound like The Holds.
Ryan: Since Alex joined the band, more and more we are writing all together. Someone will come in with an idea or a riff and we simply build on it. We take it home, sleep on it, bring it back in, mold it differently and the song grows over time. I will write the lyrics, but a lot of the music is a collective effort.
Alex: I like the way we work. Some of us live in the same neighbourhood, so we meet every week and we jam. We can keep in touch with Facebook, record crappy tracks with the phones, send them around and listen to them so that when we get together, we know what to work on. We also progress using the internet while doing things on our own.
Montreal Rocks: Something Jimi Hendrix didn’t have! (laughs) Maybe faxing the lyrics…
Justin: Social media has really helped the song-writing for sure.
Montreal Rocks: If I go back to the music. I know you guys are more modern, but still keep that old essence. Back then, it was really a bridge between the races, bringing people together. Do you think that music can be a force to unify people?
Ryan: Absolutely. I think music is, and always will be, that universal language that goes beyond any racial barriers.
Justin: For sure, I mean now it’s not so much about the racial barrier, but social issues in general. I think that music can say stuff that words can’t.
Ryan: It invokes certain emotions that are sometimes positive, redeeming.
Alex: Even if the song is sad, it can be a positive, viral emotion that you feel. You feel that you hear what you need to hear at that time, someone understands you. The song was made for you… but it’s not… (laughs)
Montreal Rocks: It’s funny because I was listening to somebody this week that went to some foreign country like Korea. The host brought them to a comedy club, even though the person did not know the language. The odd thing was that he couldn’t stop laughing, because laughter is infectious. I assume music is also the same… whether you know the lyrics or not, you can still elicit an emotion.
Eric: It’s been around since the beginning of man. It’s been used for communication from tribe to tribe or within one culture. It serves as many different things, but one of the big ones is that it is a unifying point. It’s like everyone watching a hockey game, a collective experience shared by a group of people. That’s what I was talking about when we talked about the shows from 50 years ago. The whole room was engaged, regardless of the topic or emotion that the music elicits. There is something in that shared experience that is so important on a human social level.
Ryan: On a spiritual level…
Andre (Bass): Especially when it’s a live concert which people still go to, surprisingly enough with all the media that is being shared on the Internet. People still enjoy live music. I went to the movies last night and it was a full room. It was a collective experience, people being in a room for one thing… for one moment.
Eric: I think regardless of the media that is available, it’s something you can’t replicate in online streaming sites. That’s the element of it that will never really die out.
Montreal Rock: You can watch on YouTube a video of Jimi Hendrix playing live but it in no way replaces the feeling of being there.
Alex: People will always have an interest in live shows. It’s just like traveling. I can’t satisfy myself by watching pictures of France and Germany. I can think it’s beautiful, I know how it is… but if I don’t go and see with my own eyes, I will never really feel how it is.
Eric: Nothing replicates the visceral experience of actually being in the environment, interacting with people sharing that experience.
Alex: Also the fact of being with so many other people, who are here for the same reason. We were talking about Stevie Wonder. When you go see a Stevie Wonder concert at the Bell Centre, there are thousands of people but everyone is there for the same reason, to have a life experience. Stevie Wonder affected their lives in some way, so even though you are by yourself at the show, you are surrounded by all these people from your own city. People around the world, it’s the same thing… this guy just moves people. It’s crazy.
Montreal Rocks: It’s that connection that gets created at those events… it weaves everyone together into one group.
Alex: Everyone’s collectively throwing stuff at you… stop playing guys… (laughs)
Montreal Rocks: Speaking of that, you went from being a bar band playing covers to playing original songs. How was that transition? How did you feel that first night you were relying on your own material rather than the classics?
Ryan: It was definitely a liberating experience because as opposed to playing someone else’s music, you are playing your own. You are expressing emotions that are more deeply rooted in your soul. Even though we would put our own take on the covers, make them our own, it was really something to let that go. I think we realized we needed to do that because we started writing music and working the songs into the set at bar gigs. But, we weren’t able to play the songs with the same energy, the same emotion. The songs didn’t pop the way they should have.
Justin: If you are playing three 45 minute sets and you throw your originals in there, you are tired and you don’t have the same inspiration as if you are doing an original show where you will do 45 minutes of your own original tracks. You can put all of your energy into that and not have to worry about playing for another 2 hours.
Eric: There is also the consistency. You were talking about the album and the common thread and that is always present in the live show, right? You plan out your set and it’s all of your material.
Montreal Rocks: You create a flow.
Justin: It was encouraging to start playing shows with just original tracks. When you play covers in a bar, you play some Stevie Wonder tracks and everyone is going to start moving. It’s encouraging that when we play our own shows and see people moving and dancing to our music like they are to the covers, it’s really encouraging.
Eric: That’s an incredibly validating feeling when you are playing something, you believe in it, and there is groove there. You see people locking onto that, it’s a great feeling because it’s not just a song that is recognized.
Montreal Rocks: Tapping deeper…
Ryan: And if they aren’t moving, you have to change and evolve the song accordingly. You have to try different things at every show to see what turns people on. I think because we have done that for so many years, we figured out how to get people moving.
Alex: Without playing “Superstition” … (laughs)
Montreal Rocks: So the question is: Does Montreal have soul?
Justin: Hell yeah, more then any a lot of other Canadian cities… I should be careful with that… (laughs) The reception of live music in Montreal is great. People come out to shows and even bars like Hurley’s, there is always live music which encourages people to go out and see live music rather than just go out to a bar and drinking.
Ryan: Another thing that is great about the soul of Montreal, and also relating to your other question about barriers… our audience is 50% French and 50% English. Everyone is getting along; everyone is cool so there are no politics at a show. Everyone is equally as passionate about the music which is really good to see.
Andre: There is an interesting thing for me, coming from a different background, growing up and playing music in Brazil. Here I notice how so many people are open to original music being playing live at the bars. That really surprised me when I moved to Montreal. You see so many original bands. You also see the cover bands, but there are so many original bands and venues hosting original music. People will go, even if they don’t know them and listen with open ears and are interested, which doesn’t happen in many other places. It’s really cool to be in this kind of scene and situation where you can do your own thing and have an audience for it.
Montreal Rocks: I think the advantage is that when you go to a show live, at least here, you have the benefit of the crowd wanting you to succeed. They might not know you, but they just want it to be good.
The Holds: Totally!
Montreal Rocks: So what’s next? You have the show coming up, which will be the album launch.
Alex: The video release…
Montreal Rocks: Hopefully, by the time you read this… (laughs)
Justin: We are starting to book some things for spring and summer, festivals in Quebec and Ontario.
Alex: We are also writing some new songs.
Ryan: We are actually including some new material at the launch, sort of a teaser to shake things up a little.
Montreal Rocks: And you will be showing a film?
Ryan: That’s right. We saw some footage of our buddy Dan who created the footage himself. He is a Montreal artist who works in film and visual arts. He will be using two vintage analogue projectors simultaneously, on a loop and changing the film himself manually while we are playing.
Montreal Rocks: If you had the choice: Digital or Analogue?
Justin: ANALOGUE! No question. Digital offers a lot of great options, but the sound that we are going for, even more then the technology itself, is the process using analogue. Making sure the sound is perfect.
Ryan: All our tracks are recorded analogue to 2-inch tape on this record. But for the final product, in the end, it has to be put through a digital platform.
Justin: Go to the dark side eventually…
Montreal Rocks: You can record analogue and distribute digital. Then you get that warmth.
Justin: It’s the process I love of analogue. It’s not as convenient or easy. You really have to think of everything through before you go ahead and do it. You have to plan.
Eric: Even look at the instrumentation, it’s tube amps. The B3 is an actual B3 on the track. I think we all sort of default to the analogue vibe for this particular project.
Ryan: We don’t use a lot of crazy pedals or effects for our live show, it’s pretty straight forward.
Montreal Rocks: Auto-tune? (laughs)
Justin: That’s a different project… (laughs)
Alex: I might use a Keytar. (laughs)
Ryan: Apart from doing the launch and then having the shows in the spring, we are always working on new material and trying to get ahead with what we are doing. We already have a bunch of tracks on the go and a bunch of ideas on the table for the near future.
Andre: It’s with keeping a constant evolution. If you listen to the first tracks and the way they are coming out, there is a natural flow of things and we are always pushing towards the kind of song that’s interesting to us in the moment.
Montreal Rocks: I don’t know if you saw the movie “Mistaken For Strangers” on The National. It was made by the lead singer’s brother and in it he asks the dumbest question ever… so I think this might be a good time to ask it.
Justin: Bring it on!
Montreal Rocks: This is literally his question: Where do you see the band in 50 years?
Justin: Hopefully still alive…
Ryan: If we are still alive in 50 years, that will be one accomplishment.
Alex: I will be alive in 50 years, at least I hope so.
Eric: That’s because you’re 13!
Montreal Rocks: That kind of goes along with: What kind of a world will we leave Keith Richards?
Ryan: With any project, people hope for longevity. We are still listening to Jimmy Page, hopefully people will be listening to Led Zeppelin in the future… if not The Holds.
Justin: We are not trying to be a flavour of the week and try to be famous right now. If our music could last, that would be great.
Ryan: But if not… just as well. We are cool.
Interview – Randal Wark
Photos – Steve Gerrard