David Holmes is back from Hollywood. After three mega-bucks movie soundtracks, the Belfast producer and DJ is returning to his roots with a very personal fourth album, The Holy Pictures…
It’s been eight years since David Holmes last released a straight-up artist album. Eight years since he moved away from the clubbier early sounds of This Film’s Crap Let’s Slash The Seats and Let’s Get Killed and into rockier territory with Bow Down To The Exit Sign. Eight years since Hollywood came calling and he started making soundtracks for the massive Ocean’s Eleven films.
A lot’s happened in those eight years, so we shouldn’t really be surprised that David’s fourth studio album, The Holy Pictures, is a very different affair to what’s come before. Filled with proper songs, moody basslines and an almost nostalgic feel, it brings to mind the likes of Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and similar outfits that so many electronic producers cite as influences. The Holy Pictures isn’t for clubs – it’s for listening too. With more movie soundtracks in the pipeline – one called Cherry Bomb which is directed by two of his close friends – where David’s music goes next is anyone’s guess. We tracked him down to see if learning more about The Holy Pictures would give us any clues…
It’s a surprising direction you’ve taken for this album.
I think if you look back at all my records, they’ve all been different, but people, in their own weird way, expect you to do a certain thing. All my records have been different though, from the first to the last. I’m into music first and foremost, rather than just one style, so my next record will be completely different again. I can guarantee you that now.
The most surprising thing is that it doesn’t feel at all like a record a DJ would make.
It’s a very personal piece – and I was into music before I was a DJ – so it’s almost beyond genre for me. Plus I bet everyone who’s reading this has a record collection that’s really diverse.
I think that when you make music you can go in one of two directions – you can either chose a sound and really focus on that. I really respect people who do that, but I’m not like that and never will be. I’m always trying to make different records. Even the Ocean soundtracks were different, even though there’s similar themes in there.
Did you make a conscious decision with The Holy Pictures to try and move away from what you’d done before? It seems almost a reaction to the soundtracks and the more club-based music you were making.
It’s just that I just can’t stand still when it comes to music. That’s why I ended up with two albums’ worth of music when I made The Holy Pictures. And the other album’s worth of material is totally different again. I actually made the single I Heard Wonders three years ago, so I’ve moved on from then. By the time you’ve finished an album, you’ve moved on already.
But there are a lot of influences that thread through The Holy Pictures and haven’t been picked up on. There’s a German minimalist pianist called Herbert Henck, there’s an Italian composer called Joel VDB, there’s the Beach Boys, Soft Machine, the Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, so many different influences.
You do hear a lot of different influences in there. Certain tracks will remind you of certain musicians, so it ends up feeling quite nostalgic. Was that intentional?
Not really. It’s just that the records that have stayed with me are the ones with more of an emotional thread running through them. A lot of things happened to me during the making of this record – serious things likes losing my parents, having a child, losing friends in very tragic circumstances. So a lot of things really shaped the sound of the album, and that’s why I’m singing on it. I didn’t do it through choice – I had no choice. I toyed with the idea of working with vocalists, but I really wanted to avid that rent-a-popstar type of thing I did with Bow Down To The Exit Sign. I never really felt that was my record. This time I realised the lyrics and vocals had to come from me. As daunting as that was, it was very liberating, and very cathartic.
Andrew Weatherall said he worked through a lot of what had happened to him when it came to vocals on the latest Two Lone Swordsmen album. This sounds similar.
You’re releasing all these emotions. It’s like going to therapy in a way. Getting everything right in your mind is almost like a healing process. There’s a huge feeling of satisfaction and a massive weight off your shoulders when you finish a track. I never knew that was going to happen, but it seems to be quite a common thing. There’s a sense of closure – you can move on with a big smile on your face.
Have you got the bug for it now?
I don’t know whether I could sing again. All the words on The Holy Pictures are really personal and I don’t think I could write songs about things that are abstract. I’d like to come up with something that uses my voice in a less accessible way, but I don’t know how. I might never get that fire in my belly to do that.
Have you started DJing more again since the record came out?
I did a mini-tour for the album and I’ve just opened a bar in Belfast called The Menagerie. It’s a real spit-and-sawdust place with loads of character, so that’s somewhere I can just play whatever I want. There aren’t many places I can do that. I did a launch party with Weatherall and we were playing for hours, playing country, folk, soundtracky stuff, lots of weird esoteric pieces, and that built up to European psych, mad French music, Krautrock… It was a fucking joy. I love DJing like that, with no pressure from the dancefloor.
There must be a lot of people who are keen to get you back in big clubs though?
I don’t want to do it as a job. It’s not a job. It’s fun. If you’re going to do it, you might as well enjoy it.
How’s it been coming back to making an album like The Holy Pictures after all the Hollywood stuff? It almost seems like it’s a different world out there.
It is a different world, but it’s great. They were real pinch-yourself moments doing the Ocean movies. It’s really lucrative, and I never once had to compromise my credibility, but it’s good to get back and do low-budget things or DJ in bars for nothing. I’m not denying I loved doing those movies, and LA is a nice change from Belfast, but if I had to chose, it’d be Belfast every day.