"Richard had a strong feeling that Tony would like them as the tracks have elements that are reminiscent of Peter Gabriel and King Crimson, both of whom Tony has played with, and he was right. Tony added some wonderfully simple but effective bass lines"
So, in the interests of full disclosure, I need to mention that Richard is my uncle and has been something of an inspiration to me throughout my life as he was my first exposure to the life of a working musician. Seeing him play Glastonbury with his band Startled Insects in the early 80s went a long way to set me on the path the eventually lead to this website being born, so when he came to me with news of his new project that sat nicely within the musical sphere that we cover here at E&D, working with Tony Levin of King Crimson, I had to take the chance to interview him really!
(((o))): Firstly, tell us a bit about Holomen. How did the project come about & Nick in the US? And where did the name come from?
Richard had some instrumental tracks lying around that he felt were potential song material, but due to their rather unconventional nature, he also felt they required someone with an off-beat imagination to realise their potential. So, in May 2019, rather than directly approach someone to turn these ideas into finished articles, he decided to throw it open to chance and put them up on Soundcloud with a message on socials along the lines of “anybody fancy having a crack at these?”.
A variety of interesting responses occurred including one from the USA in the form of a Mr. Nick Parker. The four demo tracks Nick returned to Richard were knock-out good. Richard had never heard a voice that was better suited to his somewhat off-centre music and he loved the lyrics too, so he immediately insisted that they take it to the next level and work towards recording them properly. After some to-ing and fro-ing getting the arrangements right and adding Tony Levin’s bass, Richard flew to the USA in late July 2019 to record the tracks in a studio in upstate New York.
Now we have four finished tracks. ‘Anything You Say’, ‘Falls On Me’, and ‘So It Begins’ have been released and are available on all the major music streaming and purchasing platforms such as Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music etc. The final track, ‘Walk in My Shoes’, will be released on September 4th (streaming below).
The name Holomen was decided on via the usual lengthy and agonising process that most bands go through. Richard was reading the complete works of TS Eliot at the time and had been struck by a poem called ‘The Hollow Men’ and suggested it as a name. The poem contains the lines “Shape without form, shade without colour / Paralysed force, gesture without motion” which suggested both the ephemeral and elusive nature of music and the ‘ghost in the machine’ nature of music technology. The poem is also the origin of the famous phrase “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper”. After much, erm, debate, we adapted Hollow Men to Holomen as we felt it more appropriate and suggestive of a presence projected only through technology, which is what we are after all, a “shape without form”.
(((o))): What was the Transatlantic creative process like? How has modern technology assisted this?
Technically, it’s pretty easy these days as with high speed broadband there are various ways to quickly send large high-quality audio files over the internet. Just a few years back it would have been much more difficult. It’s definitely a slower process than writing and rehearsing material in a garage or basement with everyone present, but it was still a real joy to send over a file and get one back a few days later with additions and amendments and it still felt like a positive creative process. Of course, when it came to the actual recording, we had to be in the same location which made it a somewhat more expensive process.
Our internationalism has had some unexpected outcomes too. People often talk of the ‘special relationship’ between the USA and UK but this mostly exists in politics and trade. Nonetheless our historical musical links are very deep and human experience transcends national borders. Holomen are proud to be both transnational and investigating a special musical relationship anew. Being international has also had the hidden benefit of doubling our potential fanbase! Given the current ease of collaborating beyond borders, we are surprised more people aren’t doing it.
(((o))): Having Tony Levin on board is quite a coup! How did that come about?
Yes we were over the moon when he agreed to contribute to the music. Richard was unaware that Nick came from a big family of artists and musicians who had quite the history in the USA. For instance, brother Chris played with many artists including Boz Scaggs, Stuff, Cher, James Brown, and toured with Bob Dylan for years. And brother Eric played with Ian Hunter, Steve Winwood, and Joe Cocker. Nick had met Tony in the late 1970s, when Nick was booked to back Randy Van Warmer on “Burt Sugarman’s Midnight Special” television show. During chats with Richard about recording, Nick dropped that he knew Tony and, as soon as Richard heard that, he said “Why not send him the tunes and see if he likes them?”. Richard had a strong feeling that Tony would like them as the tracks have elements that are reminiscent of Peter Gabriel and King Crimson, both of whom Tony has played with, and he was right. Tony added some wonderfully simple but effective bass lines that astonished Richard by showing him how just one different bass note can make such a difference to a piece. Now, he also adds fantastic value to our promotional efforts.
(((o))): What was it like working with such a luminary of the prog rock scene?
It’s a massive thing for sure to have his name on our tracks. He wasn’t available for the dates we planned our studio recording sessions but thanks to modern technology he was able to record all the tracks in the comfort of his home in the USA. There was a certain amount of email pingpong with Tony going “Do you want me to do track x this way or that way?”, and Richard pretty much replying “Any way you want!”. He really didn’t need any guidance. Tony was also a gem in that he sent back different versions for Richard to play with and a couple of the tracks now feature composites of those.
We also worked with Michael Bernier who is a bandmate of Tony’s in The Stick Men (so named because Tony and Michael play bass and guitar Chapman Sticks respectively) and a friend of Nick’s. Michael is also an extraordinary musician who very kindly did a recording session for us when Richard was over arranging the songs at Nick’s place in New York State, and he completed multiple guitar tracks on all four songs in a single day. So we have been incredibly fortunate to have both Tony and Michael as guest musicians.
For the recording sessions, we were also lucky enough to borrow a fantastic valve microphone which took an extraordinary two hours to warm up from another friend of Nick’s, Robbie Dupree, who had had a massive hit with a song called ‘Steal Away’ back in the day. Robbie is also a great blues harmonica player and wanted to play on one of the songs. Of course, we said ‘sure thing!’. When Robbie came to the studio he wanted to play on Falls On Me and we let him have a go but weren’t totally impressed by the results. Richard then suggested he played on Walk in My Shoes and Robbie immediately hit a melody and riffs that added a raunchy bluesy flavour that fitted the song perfectly. Funny how it goes sometimes.
(((o))): It’s been quite a while since you released any material, I believe? How are you finding things have changed since you were last promoting a record by a band?
Yes, Richard has had a considerable break from the music business and it has changed a lot. As a result, we mostly take advice from people a lot younger than us! Mind you, we found it much easier to distribute the tracks to the online outlets than it was to get your record into the shops a few years back, so that’s definitely better. Now you have much more control over the where and how and what and we like that too. Before it would have been some ass in an office in Chiswick making all those decisions for you. Having said that, now pretty much anyone with a computer can make music and put it on the web so we are faced with a much higher level of market saturation and competition. Richard once described it as “like waving a blue flag in a sea of blue flags”, so it’s much harder to get noticed. You have to have something special and we have Tony Levin and some unique music haha.
(((o))): One massive difference must be marketing things online & social media? How’s that learning curve been?
It’s been steep and we are nowhere near getting on top of it. Fortunately, both Nick and Richard had reasonably large networks of friends and acquaintances that have been very supportive of the project. We started our promotional efforts by holding an online poll and asking friends and family to vote for their favourite track promising that we would put the winning track out first. Those that voted for the winning track (which was ‘Anything You Say’) were then put in a random prize draw to win an exclusive Holomen t-shirt. That went quite well, gaining us hundreds of plays on Soundcloud. However, hundreds of plays on Soundcloud does not necessarily translate into downloads and streams. We decided to release the four tracks slowly over a few months in order to try and maximise the promotion and publicity we got for each one. So far, this seems to have worked reasonably well with each track released getting more plays and interest than the last. We will also release all four as an EP towards the end of the year.
(((o))): And obviously you released it right in the middle of the COVID crisis! Did that change your plans at all?
Not really. Happily, we had done all the recording and mastering before the pandemic hit so we could still take the project forward. The thing about digital is it hasn’t much been affected by the crisis. In fact, it has somewhat worked to our advantage as people have been bored and online more! We had no live concerts or personal appearances planned either. The biggest worry was that it would take one of us out. Fortunately we have all come out unscathed. The one thing it has affected is that we were hoping to have recorded some new material this year. This has plainly not been possible and we’ve had to put it back to next year.
(((o))): The record has been out a few weeks now; how have you found the reaction to it?
It’s a slow process, but those that have liked it do seem to have really liked it. So far, we’ve had a great review in an American publication called The Well, the tracks played on American radio stations WAPJ and WKNY, and hundreds of plays and downloads from the USA, UK, Austria, Canada, Russian Federation, Argentina, New Zealand and Lithuania! So we’re hopeful that one of the tracks will catch on fire at some point despite having no PR machine nor videos nor live performances planned. It’s all about the music at this point – old school style!
(((o))): Your Facebook page describes the music as having a “focus on issues that are front and centre of modern life”. Can you elaborate a little on that?
One of the reasons Richard liked Nick’s approach was that he was brave enough to take on some quite tricky subjects outside the usual love and ‘woe is me’ topics. And not in a polemical way but a personal one. For instance, Anything You Say is Nick’s personal take on lies – whether in love, life, or leadership – that undermine our understanding of what’s real. The song was also partly inspired by Valery Alekseyevich Legasov’s line in the fantastic TV series Chernobyl: “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt must be paid.”.
Falls On Me is described by Nick as an ode to looking within to promote love and goodwill in perilous times. Richard adds that it’s about the dilemma of personal responsibility when faced with threats that go beyond national or ethnic differences, such as environmental destruction. Thus Holomen recognise and try to cover some of the more pressing topics on the modern agenda and express both the fragility and power of the individual within those. Holomen gain inspiration from the pivot of these two apparent opposites. It’s also why we chose the iceberg as our icon representing beauty, hidden depths, danger, fragility and power. It also references environmental degradation and the breakdown of benign social values.
(((o))): If we *ever* get back to some semblance of normalcy for live music; are there any plans to take the ensemble on the road? I imagine the logistics of it may be prohibitive?
Not as yet. At the moment Holomen is what it was created as – music without concrete form. Whether this changes in the future remains to be seen. It’s possible that technology may provide a means for some kind of live appearance in the future, but we are a little way off that at the moment.
(((o))): Is Holomen likely to be an ongoing project or is this a one off release?
We have several more songs in the pipeline including one that has no drums and no time signature. Currently entitled ‘Why Do We Do This To Ourselves?’, the song considers the inhumanity of humans and explores the oft-contradictory behaviour of humankind versus the idealism and beauty of our art and spirituality. Due to the pandemic, proper recording of any new material has been impossible and it looks to remain that way for a while, so we don’t expect any new Holomen material to become available until at least next year. But you never know. Despite being an ephemeral entity spanning two continents, Holomen is a digital construct with a future!