Published Nov 03, 2008Halifaxs Brian Borcherdt is both a singer and songwriter, as well as being the leader of one of Canadas most interesting and dynamic electronic-based instrumental bands, Holy Fuck. After forming some four years ago, Holy Fuck have gained acclaim for their exhilarating live show and their most recent album, LP, was nominated for the 2008 Polaris Muisc Prize. In between touring across the world over the last year, Borcherdt stopped by his friend Jose Contreras house to record a barebones, folk-y solo record entitled Coyotes, which is an alluring and stark expression of introspective isolation. He spoke with Exclaim! about this new record and gave us the latest news on Holy Fuck as well.
Brian, for long-time fans of your solo work, Coyotes wont be a surprise necessarily but, given your hectic touring schedule with Holy Fuck, what exactly prompted you to sit down and record these songs?
Oh God, I dont know. I guess Im always recording and writing, Im just not very successful at finishing things. There wasnt any deliberate "Im gonna start something and release it at this point in time." It just happens to be one of the few things Ive started in the last five years that I was able to finish for one reason or another. Its natural that Id want to release it and its difficult to figure out when would be an ideal time to do that. I am still busy with Holy Fuck so it just seemed like, "Well, Id better release it now or it might never come out."
So, youre constantly recording this kind of material?
Yeah, as much as I can, Im constantly conceptualizing the idea of new songs being recorded or new Holy Fuck material. With Holy Fuck, we get into the studio as often as we can but, again, were really busy and so a lot of that doesnt get finished. And then around that, when I have time off, I try to chip away at things that Ive been working on solo; things that Ive started before Holy Fuck got really busy and things like that.
Would you say this is any kind of therapeutic reaction to playing the raucous music of Holy Fuck almost every night?
Possibly. I mean its therapeutic for any and everything thats gone on in my life. Before Holy Fuck, I think the things I was writing were very similar. As I get older and do it more, hopefully I hone in on something unique or altogether my own but, then again, my idea of that changes over time. Certainly, other things you have going on will dictate how you want to grow or possibly grow away from it. Its hard to explain. I think the record I put out now is cool because its different than Holy Fuck but I think it wouldve come out that way any way.
As I said earlier, the songs on Coyotes bear a particular fragile isolation and thats a sonic aesthetic, which emerged in the work of your older band, the Remains of Brian Borcherdt too. Theyre such outwardly unique sounds and I imagine they must affect you personally in different ways; how would you articulate the different sense of artistic release or fulfillment you get from playing folk and rock music versus the charge of Holy Fuck?
I dunno, geez, I guess I just feel incredibly lucky to be able to do either but I think they both come from the same place sort of a sonic celebration but maybe its just two different kinds of parties. One of the things that inspires me most is time or place and time or the raw elements of frequency. Like, what is wavelength and what is time? And how does music age and age with the listener and what is the listeners relationship with that music and those frequencies. With Holy Fuck, from the beginning it was very much an experiment with time. Like, lets see what we can do if we spontaneously try to create something out of very compromising circumstances and imitate something but hopefully find a moment in time thats different than what other people are doing because its not really reflecting upon any current aesthetic or ideal of that era. Its hard to explain but I guess I hoped that by using compromising equipment like Casios and dollar-store keyboards to make music, which, because theyre beyond my capacity to influence them because I cant really make them sound the way I way I want them to, hopefully that compromised aesthetic will be unique and stick out. Thats one way to think about time and also these micro-second loops going over and over and how you wrap your head around that. For my solo stuff, its different. I wanna sing about whats inside my head or what Im going through but also still trying to labour out the rhythm a little bit and try to make it a little downtrodden and not bring in the big drums and bass that the audience might expect. Youre still playing with peoples expectations, which is kinda cool and what has is inspired me about music I guess.
Are there particular artists whove influenced the sombre, lo-fi approach you took to writing and recording Coyotes?
No, not really. Just as you called me, I was listening to a Melvins record I havent heard since I was 20. In my more impressionable years, I definitely got freaked out by bands that were kinda toying with their audience a little bit and playing with their expectations, whether by withholding snare hits right when you think theyre coming or letting feedback notes hang extra long. You really start thinking about compromise more and how, in the end, youd love it much more if you had to make an active decision, as to whether or not you liked it. It wasnt just some ear candy that came and went and went right through you like water and you said you loved it but, a year later, you forgot about it. You want something to have some kind of sharp edge or that digs into your intestine that will never be fully digested and will never leave you. I guess Im confusing myself even because Im thinking about Holy Fuck and my solo stuff. I dont really overthink either of them. Im overthinking this interview right now but I dont think my music gets overthought. I think youre catching me right at the end of a loop of mental thought on the subject but hopefully, at the end of the day, all of these things you think about or philosophies you dont wear them on your sleeve and they just become subtle things that add to the inspiration of what youre doing. They become second-nature and hopefully make you something different from everyone else.
Holy Fuck was in the news just prior to the Canadian Federal Election because the Conservative government specifically cited the band as an example, or rather a scapegoat, for their desire to reassess and cut arts funding in Canada. Their argument was based on the bands name being offensive and embarrassing for our country. Now that some time has passed and a very small majority of Canadians have spoken with their votes, what do you make of this whole controversy?
Oh, I dont know. Its just really frustrating. I mean we all know that politicians will lie to sort of swing something in their favour and divert peoples attention and they want to create hot topics to distract people from whats really going on. Its just weird when you get pulled into it somehow, which is what happened to us. We were busy touring in Europe, working hard as we always have and of course, doing it all without government support. Weve gotten very little over the years; Ive always suspected it was because of the name. But whatever, were hard working and were gonna get through it; musicians are gonna make music whether we get grants or not. Its helpful and, in the end, it helps get your music out into the world and give Canada an identity because, without that, everyones gonna call us "America junior" and not think about it too much. So its just silly but the fact that they want to divert those funds to the Olympics and stuff, they were gonna do that any way. Like you said, were just scapegoats. I just get frustrated when people actually believe it. Like someone will say, "Well, what if I dont want my money to go towards the arts or bands with fuck in their name? Id rather see it to go into health care." Well yeah, youve got a good point but guess what: its not fucking going into health care. Its going towards the Olympics and a whole bunch of other bullshit topics. So, if people really opened up the files and really saw how their tax dollars are spent, its not so clear, but its just making it seem that way. Like, "Were gonna protect Canadas identity by barring out f-words and obscenities." Well, maybe thats part of our identity the identity of a different generation but a generation that still counts and is part of this country.
Do you think this attention helped or hindered your band in any particular way?
I dont think its necessarily helped but time will tell. I think more people know about us now, which is good [laughs]. I dont know. Were just trying our hardest to do what were doing for the sake of the music so maybe itll help even more people know the name any way.
Holy Fuck have been touring the world non-stop and youve got shows booked in Europe and Australia until the end of the year. I also see that, in between that, youre touring Canada with Martha Wainwright on your own. Youve been working so hard; is there any break in your future?
There are little breaks but thats all I really want; a couple days off, here and there, between shows. Im not the type of person who wants to sit in my apartment in Toronto and watch TV. Id rather spend that time working. That is one of the things that suffers for me; I dont spend as much time recording and working as Id like to. But what I have been able to do is still find time here and there to go to exciting places and go back to my parents house in Nova Scotia and walk in the woods and clear my head. That stuff is very important to me. Were going to Australia and New Zealand soon and I think Im gonna stick around for another couple of days. Im not sure what Ill do but Im gonna do something in New Zealand and thats really exciting for me. Thats worth more to me than having time off. Thats time off in a different way; itll be a chance to go somewhere beautiful with my camera and go for a hike or something. Thats all I really want.
Wow, here I was worried about you. That sounds great man.
Yeah, Im finding time within it. As long as I have a guitar handy actually, thats the tough thing about Holy Fuck. Travelling as we do, we dont have a lot of extra room to bring anything that isnt specific for the live show so I dont have a guitar with me. I miss that so Im trying to find a way to do that.
Any other recording or musical projects scheduled that we should know about?
Well, I have a handful of stuff that Ive started over the course of the last five years or so. Its 90 percent done but Im not quite sure what Im going to do with it when Im done. The current plan, and that might change, is to put it online for free. Some of it has drums and bass, some of it is home demos and I hope to make them sound as good as possible so I dont feel insecure about letting people download them But yeah, who knows? That works well for me because it doesnt take time away from my schedule with Holy Fuck. Something like that would be fun. Holy Fuck has started recording but have had no time to finish anything. We have two weeks off coming up and well try to finish off the record then. If not, itll be a project for January and hopefully well have it out for the spring.