Layered in a contrast of experimentation and vulnerability, Holy Holy’s fourth studio album ‘Hello My Beautiful World’ is their boldest and most immersive body of work yet. Written as a commentary on the state of the world and the complications and beauty of the inter-personal relationships we have, it’s a record that finds the right balance of heaviness with a palatable lightness. With strong pop hooks and dance beats filtered through their already distinct indie-rock sound, it feels ultimately anthemic and ready for the live stage.
Taking the experimentation even further they intertwine beautiful strings throughout the tracks which adds a cinematic flair, and this is boldly represented on the album’s “coda tracks”. Continuing the sonical exploration on ‘The Aftergone’, ‘So Tired’ and ‘I.C.U’, they show listeners exactly where a musical idea could go if they weren’t restricted to a time restraint for radio or trying to make something punchy. Overall it creates a very immersive listening experience that will have you wanting to soak in every lyric and chord with intent.
I recently chatted to lead vocalist Timothy Carroll from Holy Holy about the thematical and sonical goals they had for their new album ‘Hello My Beautiful World’, explored the intent of the “Coda” tracks, and discussed the creative process behind ‘I.C.U’, ‘Stand Where I’m Standing’ and the title track. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: Your new record ‘Hello My Beautiful World’ is an immersive, bold, and experimental collection of tracks that hears you pushing the boundaries on anything Holy Holy has ever done before. When you started working on this record did you have a specific sonical or thematic goal with how you wanted this new chapter to feel or sound? Or was it not until you wrote a particular song that it felt like the beginning?
TIMOTHY CARROLL: We had a bunch of ideas. I have a google doc called ‘Album 4 vision’ Which we worked on before starting the writing process. In it, we talked about what we liked and disliked about our last record, and exactly what we wanted from this next one. We wanted to try danceable beats and tempos. We wanted to lean into pop writing. We wanted to create builds and drops which would work in the live setting. We wanted to try incorporating strings. We wanted to have guest vocalists and collaborators. And we wanted to try and find simplicity in the arrangements which I think we did fail on the last one. But lots of different ideas have ended up coming true.
TB: I.C.U is an anthemic track that feels like an emotional and euphoric release. Can you explain the creative process behind this track in particular?
TC: I built the drumbeat at home in Logic for a different song. That song wasn’t very good so I stole the drumbeat and just plonked some simple chords over it. I sang a few melody ideas over it and saved it in a dropbox folder to show Oscar as a possible song idea. Then a few months later in a studio in Dandenong, we opened up the session and Oscar further developed the chords and sonic landscape.
I further developed the vocal melodies and found this idea of “I dream of you while you dream of me” as a lyrical story. A couple who never see each other in reality but both occasionally dream about each other. Sometimes you dream about someone from your past and you wake up and you’re like… “What the fuck. Why are they still creeping around in my mind?”.
In the outro I was thinking about the artist Perfume Genius and the way he sings, and wanted to embrace being comfortable using the very top of my register in an almost operatic way. We also got Toby Alexander to create a string arrangement which really got a run in the coda.
TB: This record has a few “Coda” tracks for the songs ‘The Aftergone’, ‘So Tired’ and ‘I.C.U’, which are basically experimental continuations. What was the inspiration behind exploring the soundscapes further than the traditional track?
TC: Often times when we’re developing songs they can be quite long. We’re trying different ideas and arrangements and there’s no thought to radio or vinyl lengths. At a certain point, it becomes crunch time and you have to decide what’s going to make the cut. With ‘The Aftergone’, we had this long vibey outro that we were quite attached to, but we wanted it to be a single so the solution was to make this song that could be punchy and short. But then for digital streaming where length is no barrier we could have the coda where we could explore some other variations of the main motif. The other factor was vinyl. You can only put 44 minutes on a vinyl before the sound quality starts to suffer so we had that to think about too.
The codas allowed us to have some fun and follow our hearts but also be able to have the singles we needed, and have a version that would fit on vinyl. Once we had that trick up our sleeve we used it a few more times. We stumbled on a cool outro to ‘So Tired’ and knowing we could make a coda made it possible to explore that. When Oscar was mixing ‘I.C.U’ he also ended up adding this beautiful string-driven coda which is a beautiful partner to the main song.
Ultimately the codas break the narrative and expectation a bit. It’s not just song, song, song. They are spaces to breathe and be a bit more cinematic. The album is better for it I think.
TB: Was there a song that you tried to do a Coda track for that didn’t make its way onto the album? Or maybe one that in reflection you wish you did do one for?
TC: There were sections of songs we had to cut. ‘Believe Anything’ used to have a longer ending with more sections and verses that we decided to cut. But I feel good about that. I think the song says what it needs to say in its final iteration. There weren’t any other codas in the mix though. A lot that work happened in the final stretch to finishing the records and we felt like we were already pushing the envelope a bit.
TB: ‘Stand Where I’m Standing’ is another standout track on the record that has this big euphoric Coldplay approach to the production. What was the lyrical inspiration behind this track?
TC: It’s this idea about how we all come to hold the beliefs we have as a result of the lives we lead. Whatever that might mean. So if you come across a person whose views you abhor rather than just thinking that person is evil, or stupid it may be a useful paradigm to think about what led them to hold that view. It’s perhaps a reflection on my own privilege and a call to reach out to people rather than just write them off. “If you lie where I’m sleeping, You dream what I dream”.
TB: The title track ‘Hello My Beautiful World’ is a spoken word orchestral track that has a very cinematic flair to it. What orchestra did you work with on this track, and how long did that process take to find the right arrangement?
TC: There is actually no orchestra on this track as I don’t think we‘d have the budget for that, and from making the record during a pandemic it might have been hard to get that many people in a room.
A lot of the strings are actually software strings. Software strings have really come a long way and they sound amazing now. It’s pretty incredible because it means that while making this record we could write a demo and just say “what would that sound like with a full cinematic string arrangement on it”, and we had the freedom to hear that without it costing the earth and blowing our recording budget.
We worked with an arranger in Brisbane by the name of Toby Alexander. We’d write demos with the arrangements using drums, bass, synth, vocals and guitars and he’d arrange those melodies into a string arrangement using software and send it back. We then used whichever parts of that arrangement we felt suited the song. Once we had the final composition created we did call in a little string trio and recorded some of the key parts in real life in the studio to layer over the software beds to give it more realism, texture, and warmth.
TB: Looking back on Holy Holy’s discography, if you could choose one song from your back catalog to re-imagine with a string arrangement, what song would you choose and why?
TC: I’d like to hear ‘Sentimental’ and ‘Monday’ for strings. I’m just fond of that song. And it has this liquid feeling to it. It’s one of the songs we have written that I know people connect with so I could see a strings version going down well.
TB: Another song that was a big sonical experimentation was lead single ‘Port RD’ with Queen P that fused together hip-hop with your alt pop-rock fusion. From playing that song live on your national tour earlier this year and seeing fans embrace it in such a big way, was there anything you learnt about the track and your connection to it?
TC: We were a bit unsure how that one would go down. Energy-wise it’s pretty dark and my voice has an effect on it. And then there’s a guest vocalist on top of that. So it’s a lot to take in if you’re a Holy Holy fan, and your favourite song of ours is ‘True Lovers’ or something. I thought it was a banger but wasn’t sure what others might make of it. I can say now that live; its a real vibe. With Queen P on stage and the bass thumping and the lights pulsing and with Queen P’s twin dancers Christina and Monica on stage too; It goes off. So that’s a good feeling. I think people will understand it more when they have seen that.
TB: You will be touring this record at the end of the year with some of your biggest headline shows yet. With such big soundscapes and cinematic elements, what song is going to be the hardest to bring into the live realm?
TC: ‘So Tired’ and the ‘So Tired Coda’ will be an interesting challenge. There’s all this syncopated clapping and looping samples and then in the coda, it’s basically a choir of my voice so working out how we represent that live will be interesting. We have organised CLEWS to do all the shows with us, so that gives us 2 more gun vocalists to work with. I’m sure we’ll find a way to make it translate.
TB: Let’s play a quick game of rapid fire questions. You ready?
TB: The emoji that best describes ‘Hello My Beautiful World’ is…
TC: Well I guess it would be just a block of emojis as that’s the album cover.
TB: The song that nearly didn’t make the album was…
TC: ‘Here and Now’.
TB: The song that took the longest to hone it’s sound was…
TC: ‘The Aftergone’.
TB: The song that feels the most vulnerable is…
TC: Perhaps the poem? Using my speaking voice feels a bit more naked.
‘Hello My Beautiful World’ is out now!
Holy Holy Australian Tour
Thursday 05 November – Astor Theatre, Perth
Saturday 06 November – The River, Margaret River
Sunday 07 November – Prince of Wales Hotel, Bunbury
Thursday 11 November – Torquay Hotel, Torquay
Friday 12 November – Pier Hotel, Frankston
Saturday 13 November – Forum, Melbourne – (early show)
Saturday 13 November – Forum, Melbourne – (late show)
Wednesday 17 November – UC Refectory, Canberra
Thursday 18 November – Waves, Towradgi
Friday 19 November – Civic Theatre, Newcastle
Saturday 20 November – Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Thursday 25 November – Miami Marketta, Gold Coast
Friday 26 November – Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane
Wednesday 01 December – Leichhardt Hotel, Rockhampton
Thursday 02 December – Seabreeze, Mackay
Friday 03 December – Townsville Uni Bar, Townsville
Saturday 04 December – Gilligans, Cairns
Friday 10 December – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
Saturday 11 December – Odeon Theatre, Hobart
Sunday 21 December – Albert Hall, Launceston