Holy Fuck's Graham Walsh Releases First Solo Track "Dummy Head"

"Holy Fuck had all of our tour dates cancelled twice because of the pandemic, and none of us live in the same city anymore, so I definitely had a bit of pent up creative energy inside me"

Photo by Julie Fader

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Aug 18, 2021

As a longtime member of electro-rock provocateurs Holy Fuck and a producer, mixer and engineer who's worked with the likes of Alvvays, METZ, Hannah Georgas and Sam Roberts Band, Graham Walsh's sonic palette is vast. Whether working with raucous noise rockers or crisp, clear singer-songwriters, Walsh is versatile and creative enough to transmute his talents to the needs of the song thanks to his seemingly endless array of tools.

Says Walsh of his typical musical process, "I've always been interested in exploring and manipulating sounds to see what kind of musical ideas I can get out of things. It's fun and quite often fruitful to see how much music you can get out of devices that are either very much musically limited in their design, or not even musical at all — a delay pedal feeding back on itself becomes an oscillator; a sample of your breaking refrigerator run through a distortion pedal becomes a droning drum loop — and I really love the tactile nature of using outboard effects and guitar pedals to process sounds."

But when challenged by the team at YSL Pro to record a new track with minimal gear, Walsh had to throw his bag of tricks out the window. And yet, "Dummy Head" — the first non-remix track released under Walsh's name — retains so many of his trademark sounds. Fans of Holy Fuck's electronic explorations will recognize the pointillist synths, chopped-up vocal samples and deceptive rhythms. The result is a moody, atmospheric track that takes a subtler approach to Holy Fuck's abrasive pop, building into a dizzying whirlwind of sound that is as melodic as it is disorienting.

When listening to "Dummy Head," it's hard to tell how different Walsh's setup was for this track compared to his usual routine. "I used a Modal Electronics ARGON8 synth and a Royer R-10 ribbon microphone to capture drums and vocals, and only used the Universal Audio Apollo x4 interface and plugins for effects," says Walsh.

Even with the limited tools, Walsh went about stretching them to the limit in order to conjure the most interesting sounds from them as possible. "I ended up pulling it off in other ways with automation, and using Pro Tools in a way that I normally wouldn't," he says. "One thing I did to get some more unexpected results and 'life' was [to] set up a feedback loop within Pro Tools through the Korg SDD-3000 Digital Delay plugin and Pure Plate Reverb plugin with a modulating MOOG Multimode Filter on it. I sent various sounds to this filtered delay/reverb to get a cool sound, but, I also sent that delay/verb back onto itself, thus creating a feedback loop, and the filtered delay/verb would bloom in interesting and unexpected ways throughout the song. I automated the level of the feedback sent up and down to create bigger swells where needed. Typically, I'll do this with my analog gear, as it's a little more forgiving, but it's also cool to do digitally… you just have to watch your levels!" He adds, "On top of that, I was pulling up the Precision EQ, Cambridge EQ, Cooper Time Cube, and UA 1176 [LN Classic Limiting Amplifier] plugins."

Walsh is a typically busy person — in addition to regular recordings with Holy Fuck, including last year's album Deleter, he's contributed to recent albums by Born Ruffians, Bully and July Talk, and produced METZ's recent Live at the Opera House album — but one of the bright sides of the pandemic is that it's freed him to be able to experiment more with his music. He says, "Holy Fuck had all of our tour dates cancelled twice because of the pandemic, and none of us live in the same city anymore, so I definitely had a bit of pent up creative energy inside me, and an unexpected stretch of time off. I knew the only way to stay relatively sane through all this was being as creative as possible. Making stuff is kind of the only thing you really have control over."

As is his wont, he dug deep into the parameters of each piece of gear to conjure the most interesting sounds: "The ARGON8 is a deep synth, but I hadn't ever used one before, so there was a bit of a learning curve to work around, but I went with it, and it was immediately fun to dial in sounds that inspired ideas. The drums I recorded with the one Royer ribbon mic. Ribbon mics are fantastic on drums. If you're mindful of where you put the microphone, what your drums sound like, and obviously the drum part itself, then one good mic is enough."

Though "Dummy Head" marks Walsh's first proper solo release, it won't be his last. "I scored a documentary film that'll be out in the fall, so it's got 'Graham Walsh' music in it," he reveals. There's also new Holy Fuck material in the works, among other projects. "Most of the bits that I write and ideas I come up with end up going into Holy Fuck songs. We have a couple new tracks coming out soon that we worked on remotely. I do enjoy collaborating with people a lot, though. My wife and I still write together a lot, and I love working on other artists' records as well!"

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