When Tim Carroll and Oscar Dawson first sat down for formative discussions on the fourth album for their band Holy Holy, they had a possible title which they may or may not use and the pandemic hadn't properly struck. Yet, with songwriting sessions locked in and the world as we know it about to change, Hello My Beautiful World still took shape and became one of the most timely and important records of Australia's difficult period of lockdown.
"It was interesting," begins Carroll with a small chuckle, somewhat incredulous at his own explanations of how the record managed to be completed. "It was made in fits and starts in some ways. Both Oscar and I had been talking about the kind of record we wanted to make and we hadn’t yet spoken to the label or gotten any money or anything like that. We were very lucky to do one writing session together before the pandemic hit. On the back of touring [previous album] My Own Pool Of Light, we had two days in the studio in Collingwood. We had both been collecting ideas - I had a Dropbox of a few little melody ideas and Oscar had one as well and we went into this session with no deadlines and it was just us and we wanted to spend two days just writing.
"That was one of the most productive writing sessions I’ve ever done," he continues. "I don’t know, maybe we were just keen, maybe we’re more experienced now, but also we were writing in this very free way without too much weight or it being like “We need to finish this” or “We need it to be this or that”. It was really just like “Let’s try this, this and this.” By the end of that two days, we actually had written about seven ideas for songs - we had written ‘How You Been’, including a bunch of verses that stayed until the end, 'Ghosts', 'Port Road', 'Believe Anything' - so quite a bit of the album, not whole songs obviously, but the main chords and some of the lyrical flavours."
With Carroll based in Launceston and Dawson in Melbourne, the two were able to refine and improve ideas remotely once lockdown was in place, an exercise that's much easier than having to compose full songs separately.
"We were actually able to be productive and work remotely," Carroll explains. "I can record my vocals at home, which I actually did for parts of the album, but it was necessary for us to be together and we were lucky a couple of times that the pandemic broke and I was able to dash to Melbourne and we did a couple of weeks more writing and producing. We were able to go and do some sessions in a studio in Dandenong and that’s where we did the next bit of writing and had our next creative breakthroughs on the record."
Songwriters are often a product of their environment so, needless to say, recent challenges for those in lockdown certainly hasn’t provided much in the way of inspiration. However, Carroll explains that they didn't necessarily set out to make the album that we received - something that was perfectly timed, equal parts therapeutic and helpful.
"I do think there are a bunch of themes in the record ultimately about what it is like to live at this time, what it’s like to live meaningful lives and lives in which all these things are important and precious to us against the backdrop of these huge historical and environmental challenges - you know, climate change and the pandemic. It’s interesting because there’s this funny dynamic where you go through this period of a couple of years of writing music and creating music and then the album comes out and then there’s this period where you’re speaking with the press and they’re asking questions about what you’ve done and why you’ve done it. The way that I write songs is often that there’s some rhythm and melody and then comes the emotional connection and I improvise vocal melodies and then a meaning starts to emerge. It’s not very often I’ll like “I want a song to be about this”. It’s more like I'm improvising and one thing may lead to another and suddenly you’ve got this whole album of work. Often it’s not until I look back, once the record is out, that I think “What does it all mean” and “what were we trying to achieve with that.”
My Own Beautiful World, the album, sounds like isolation and collaboration simultaneously. Beautiful strings adorn certain songs, while other tracks seem to throw abandon aside and simply provide a moment that will surely soundtrack summer festival experiences. With Dawson's production prowess going from strength to strength, he takes on a lot of aspects of the creation process, even right down to the final mixing. Carroll explains that while the pair are incredibly self-sufficient, they do like to collaborate. The album features moments of outside collaboration such vocals from Sydney sisters CLEWS, a rap from South Sudanese rapper and poet Queen P, string arrangements from Brisbane's Toby Alexander, a co-write from Kim Moyes of The Presets and additional production and ongoing friendship from Gab Strum of Japanese Wallpaper. The collaborations get Holy Holy closer to the songs they're hearing in their heads.
"Because Oscar was mixing, there was a danger that it would be completely in-house so, wherever we can, we would do some writing with Kim, get Gab to have a listen to the songs and so on. It only adds a richness to the result. I think because we’ve been doing bigger shows and bigger festivals, we wanted to have songs that would translate in the live environment, that would get big crowds happening. As the band gets bigger, we end up being on festival bills later and later and that means the type of songs that make sense later at a festival are more like bangers basically. Oscar and I are intrigued by, interested in and excited by the prospect of trying to write those bangers. It’s also funny because this album is the result of us trying to write “pop bangers” and it’s not really a pop banger album, it’s kind of a weird, slightly experimental electro pop, cinematic thing. I always have this faith, that I can try and be as poppy as I can and the result is going to be something that, for most of the world, is still pretty alternative. That meant playing around with literal danceable BPMs and certain kick drum patterns, and we wanted to have big builds and drops and things like that.
Nearing the end of the process and Hello My Beautiful World, the theme and the album's title, starts to reveal itself.
"My son said that a couple of years ago and I had written it down somewhere. It was kicking around and I remember when we were doing My Own Pool Of Light, we considered calling that Hello My Beautiful World, but it didn’t feel right for that record. When making this record, I remember there were the bushfires, it was dark in Tassie - the smoke was thick and the sun wasn’t coming through and for some reason, that album title just felt right. I came up with the idea for the emoji-based album art and sent it to Oscar and he liked it. We thought that it maybe might make sense. It was about in the first third of the album that we started to think that maybe this would be the name. You never know though, we’ve ended changing things last minute before. It ended up feeling right and it was much later that I actually wrote the poem that was the riff on the album title."
The poem he speaks of is the striking centrepiece of the album, the title track and spoken word element which seemingly pulls the whole project together. While it could've just as easily become overly-confronting or cringey for Carroll, his spoken words sit beautifully atop an initially-ominous, ultimately comforting bed of strings, evocative in that you can almost envision an Attenborough-like montage of nature scapes and animal action while it plays.
"I felt good about it," he reveals. "To be frank, my fear is that people would think it was lame or obvious. In some ways, the poem isn’t new territory, but I enjoyed writing it and I could experience the imagery. I was kind of proud of it and I was up for taking the risk of putting something like that on the album. Critics can be cynical and can try and read more into it or attribute motivations to us, but sometimes I just think about the fans, especially our young fans who might not have listened to much poetry or had that kind of experience. The idea that it just might mean something to them made me feel good about it being on the album."
When all said and done, Holy Holy are four albums deep into their illustrious and illuminating career and keep upping the ante - they keep growing as musicians, improving exponentially as songwriters and becoming more and more experimental as producers.
"Ultimately, if my passion was my making retro- band-guitar-music then we’d do that," Carroll explains. "The main motivating factor is making music that I’m excited by and would enjoy listening to and I just don’t feel excited by the idea of making more albums like our first one. I’m really proud of that album and I’m fond of it, but I definitely don’t want to do that forever. A lot of this album is really beautiful in a similar way to what the first album was and I’ve always had a love of strings. I’ve always wanted to collaborate with a string arranger and the idea of having beats and strings and vocals and guitars - I like that palette of sounds.
"Because we’ve had some success and we have a fanbase who love us, I think I’ve become to overcome some imposter syndrome and be like “Yeah, I am an artist in the landscape of Australian musicians and I can trust myself and I can follow my vision and it’s going to be worthwhile.” Maybe there’s a certain amount of confidence of getting to where we’ve gotten to that means we can kind of do whatever we want."
HOLY HOLY'S HELLO MY BEAUTIFUL WORLD IS OUT NOW
AND IS WAXX LYRICAL'S RECORD OF THE MONTH FOR NOVEMBER 2021.
- Limited Edition First Pressing
- Clear vinyl
- 24 page lyric/emoji booklet