HOLLAN HOLMES
The Spirits Of Starlight
(Hollan Holmes Music)

 

The spirit of electronic instrumental music is alive and well on the fourth solo album from Texas based synthesist Hollan Holmes. A surfacing artist for film and animation by day and an electronica wizard by night, Hollan has been honored with several accolades including a nomination for 2013 electronic album of the year at One World Music for his album Phase Shift. In 2014, Hollan is back with yet another New Age synthesized masterpiece called The Spirits Of Starlight. Hollan cites a number of synth favorites like Steve Roach, Erik Wollø and Tangerine Dream among his influences yet his own music maintains its own unique flair. Hollan is being heralded as a modern day master of ambient soundscaping. Summing up his own musical philosophy, Hollan explains, ‘Music is an escape for me. It is my sanctuary and it is essentially how I pray, how I purge my demons and how I lament. It is a deeply personal experience for me, but one that brings me joy to share with anyone who wishes to listen.’ Some might think an artist with such musicial influences might be based in Berlin or even Paris, yet coming from Texas, Hollan Holmes revolutionizes the spirit and scope of 21st century ambient electronica with The Spirits Of Starlight. www.HollanHolmesMusic.com


mwe3.com presents an interview with
Hollan Holmes


mwe3
: Where are you from originally and where do you live now and what do you like best about it? Do you travel much and what are some of your favorite destinations here in the US and abroad?

HOLLAN HOLMES: I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas USA. I still live in North Texas and have always called Texas my home. While I like where I live, I hope to someday live near the mountains and rivers somewhere here in the US and where the summers aren't so brutal as they are in Texas. I don't travel outside the country much anymore, but I love visiting the mountains and deserts of the United States. I'd love to visit Scotland someday, as well as Russia and Germany. Patagonia is on the list, too.

mwe3: When and how did you become so immersed in the world of electronic music. I read that you were very interested in Tangerine Dream and Jean Michel Jarre and you met Steve Roach and then worked with him. It must be an incredible story. Did you grow up listening to rock and then turn to electronica? I imagine progressive rock must have sparked some of your interest in electronica.

HOLLAN HOLMES: My interests in music have been diverse. I grew up listening to country & western and all the typical pop bands of the 1960’s and ‘70s. In high school I discovered progressive rock like that of Rush and Pink Floyd, both of whom I'm still a huge fan. In '81 I joined my first rock band and, having grown up with a Baldwin upright piano in my house, I naturally gravitated toward playing keys and synths. In '82, I discovered Jean Michele Jarre and fell immediately in love with his work. That same year, my grandmother loaned me $400 and I bought my first synth, a Moog Prodigy, which I still have! Around '85 I discovered Tangerine Dream on a rock climbing trip in West Texas and fell in love with this very unique sound. None of my friends were interested in this sort of music, so I started experimenting with my own compositions by myself, using a little four-track cassette recorder and a Korg DSS-1 sampler.

If I wasn't working, I was either rock climbing/mountaineering or I was twiddling synth knobs. Around '89 or so, I discovered Steve Roach and was blown away. That was the music I'd been wanting to make for years. Around 1990, while working as a baggage handler for American Airlines, I was loading a flight to Tucson, when I noticed crates of music gear belonging to none other than Steve Roach. Like a giddy fanboy, I ran upstairs, bribed the gate agent to let me onboard and got Steve's autograph. Fast forward 14 years... I've been a traditional artist all my life and in 2003, after teaching myself 3-D and digital art on a laptop in between flights, I quit American Airlines and took a job with Reel FX Creative Studios.

In 2004, on a whim, I approached Steve Roach about the possibility of doing some CD art for him. He liked the idea and agreed to give me a chance, then he found out that I was that giddy fanboy who ran up and begged for his autograph some fourteen years earlier. Surprisingly, he'd not forgotten about that day. We had a good laugh over that. Since then, I've done the art for Lost Pieces Vol. 4, immersion one, his Circuit Mandala tee shirt design and all the graphics for all versions of his Immersion Station iPhone app. I ended up hiring him to master my first CD in 2010, which was a massive honor for me, as I deeply respect Steve's work.

mwe3: I was reading about your 2013 album Phase Shift and found it interesting to read your words that even though man has achieved such remarkable technical systems over the past century, that we still fight such horrible wars and have such problems on Earth. It is such a conundrum that we’re living through these past few decades. How do you express those feelings in your music?

HOLLAN HOLMES; Composing music that expresses an emotion or a state of mind is a huge challenge for me, but I never tire of trying. For me, making music is how I pray, how I lament, how I meditate, how I celebrate. Sometimes the music comes quickly and easily in multiple waves. Other times I may struggle for weeks to produce anything of any real interest or emotional value. While I don't want all of my music to reflect the darkness and evil that seems to be growing in the world, I feel compelled to explore these feelings and these experiences musically on occasion and try to give something positive back to the listener.

Like I said, it's how I pray, meditate and purge the darkness. Music and the creative process is extremely therapeutic for me, so I dare not imagine a life where I wasn't able to create art and music. It's who I am and why I was put on this Earth at this time. I still believe to this day that music is an exceptionally powerful force on the human psyche. I'd like to think that my music has a positive effect on people. The concept of using music to elicit feelings of love, hope, excitement, energy, whatever; that excites me. That's the music I want to make; music that moves the listener emotionally.

mwe3: Following Phase Shift, you released another new amazing CD in 2014 called The Spirits Of Starlight. How does this new album fit into your repertoire and are there other themes of ideas running through the new CD and how would you compare The Spirit Of Starlight with your other albums both musically and conceptually?

HOLLAN HOLMES; First, thank you for the kind words, I'm honored. I feel like each album I've made was a subtle transition into something a little different than the one before, because I'm constantly exploring new sounds, new techniques, new software and hardware and new emotional ground that wasn't covered previously. This naturally leads to subtle, and sometimes dramatic, shifts in the overall character of my work.

Over time, much of my music has become much more traditionally structured and less of the unbroken drones. Ultimately, I like to explore somewhere in between those two states. The repetitive drone, if done artfully, can be a relaxing, trance-inducing ride through an ecstatic dream state. The structural approach, such as using various forms of phrasing and chordal movements, also if carefully crafted, can evoke various emotions, memories, feelings or thoughts. I like trying to blend the two into a short story or temporary experience.

The name, The Spirits Of Starlight, was chosen because when I was a boy, I would look up in the sky at night and imagine that each star was a spirit that is watching over us. Of course, I later learned that they were actually stars like our own Sun, but I never quit imagining them as these distant guardians, waiting for us to get our act together and learn to play nice. I want my music to be positive and hopeful. The feedback from listeners suggests that this childlike wonder and amazement for the heavens is shared by many and that my music has, at least on occasion, touched people in a positive way.

Musically and conceptually, it isn't that distant from my other efforts, but I hope that I've done something unique enough to engage not only new listeners, but past and present listeners, as well. If anyone ever says my music all sounds the same, I'll know I need to shift gears in a big way. I never want my listeners to be bored in any way. I don't mind if my music induces sleep, especially if that was my intent... in fact, I'm flattered if they vege out while listening but I don't want my music to ever be considered boring or uninteresting.

mwe3: With each new album, how do you keep up with all the technological advances in the world of electronic music and how would you describe the way the EM genre has evolved through the decades. How does your early gear stack up with your new musical equipment and can you tell us about some of the gear used to create the new Spirits Of Starlight CD?

HOLLAN HOLMES; I don't try to keep up with technology for its own sake, but I do occasionally make upgrades, both with hardware and software. I know my work is not cutting edge or innovative or anything of that nature. In fact, I rather enjoy keeping it simple. With today's software, there are some really creative things you can do, so I'm always learning new little tricks and methods for making new sounds, so as time goes by, my sound will grow and morph into a different sound or a different direction and I'm comfortable with that. Of course, I don't want to abandon my audience, but at the same time, I don't think they would want me to stop exploring new ground either.

With regard to my gear, I remember starting out in the early 1980’s, when a decent recording studio required thousands and thousands of dollars worth of gear, if you wanted to sound professional. Also, a lot of that gear were expensive analog machines whose oscillators would drift at the slightest temperature change or bump against the wall. Needless to say, I didn't have much in the way of gear. I never dreamed that we would reach the day and age where a musician could own one hundred virtual rack spaces of synths, signal processors, equalizers, samplers, just about anything that exists in a real world rack (that) has been successfully emulated by ones and zeroes in software at very affordable prices, fractions of their real-world counterparts, so I have a pretty extensive collection of tools and software for making electronic music.

I do still have a lot of my old analog synths, though, because I can't stop loving them. Steve Roach has mentioned on more than one occasion to me that he loves the tactile act of tweaking a knob to interactively create a new sound. He lives for analog. He spends most waking moments carving out new soundscapes using his intimate knowledge of his analog gear. I like to do the same, I just use a mouse more than I do real world knobs, but the passion for that creative process is the same.
Ultimately, it is a great time to be a musician, because what once would have cost a musician tens of thousands of dollars in gear to achieve a high quality recording, can now be done with just a few hundred bucks, at least in the beginning. Of course, the musician still must write music that people want to hear. There's no app for that. If there were, I'd be screwed.

mwe3: You have worked with Steve Roach on the mastering of your albums in the past and on The Spirit Of Starlight you worked with Chad Kettering. What is involved in mixing and mastering your music in order to keep all the sounds synchronized for maximum audio perfection? Who else is involved in the making of your album releases?

HOLLAN HOLMES; Since there is no way that I could physically play the complex arpeggios and sequences that I write, I rely on software sequencers for virtually all of my composing and arranging. All the synchronization takes place in the software, based on the desired BPM and time signature settings. I honestly haven't the technical prowess to play much of anything on the keyboard these days, since I let what chops I may have had wither on the vine, in favor of a different approach. This is why, when people comment about me as a musician, I'm quick to point out that I don't have enough skill to be called a musician, so I'm more comfortable being referred to as a composer and sound designer.

When I first started doing this in the ‘80s, I played everything on a midi controller or synths directly into a four-track recorder. I had no choice but to perform most of the songs and I loved it, but with a sequencer, I'm able to arrange musical compositions that I could never achieve by playing the notes on a keyboard.

When I started taking this music-making thing really seriously in 2005, I didn't really know what I was doing, so many of my mixes were terrible, sometimes harsh, and often of questionable sonic quality. Poor Steve Roach was tasked with taking my first CD's tracks all mixed down to stereo with no individual channel tracks, and turning them into something listenable. I really gave him pretty low quality data, but he turned it into something very listenable and much higher quality than the original files.

As time has gone on, I've learned a lot in terms of producing better mixes, better sounds and higher quality audio fidelity, so that now, when I hand off a CD's worth of music to Chad Kettering for mastering, his job is a little easier each year, because I'm handing off much better sounding material. Kettering then makes it shine in a way that I cannot yet achieve. I think it's voodoo. He has a big jar of chicken entrails and tea leaves somewhere in his studio, I just know it.
With regard to who is involved in the making of my music, it's really just me, although I do like to share works-in-progress with a few trusted individuals whom I know will provide honest feedback. An objective viewpoint is always appreciated, even if I decide not to implement their suggestions when they have them. It's worth noting, too, that while I'm proud of the work I've done, I never know how listeners are going to react to a new release. I'm always a bit apprehensive, but so far, I've done okay.

mwe3: Tell us about your work as an animator and how it compliments your work as an electronic musician. What other plans do you have for 2015 as it relates to music and other artistic endeavors? Are you setting your sights on the next musical achievement?

HOLLAN HOLMES; I work as senior surfacing artist in Dallas based animation studio, Reel FX. Think of surfacing as digitally painting the surface of a 3-D model as one would paint a plaster sculpture with a paint brush. For instance, in the animated feature, The Book Of Life, my job was to take a character, prop or other digital asset and create all of the various surface qualities, based on reference art and the desired look of the film. Having been a traditional artist all my life, it was an almost seamless transition into the digital realm and, of course, the creative process is extremely similar, only the tools have changed. I don't know if I could pinpoint how these skills have benefited my music, but they have certainly helped in creating the imagery for the CD covers and package designs. I created almost all of the art for all of my CDs.

My time in the film industry has also translated well into the production of my music videos for Youtube, which I love making, but rarely have time, because the music production, my job and life in general keeps me very busy. I try to make two or three videos per year, though. Videos are a great promotional tool.

2015 is going to be a very busy year for me musically. My fifth CD is scheduled for a spring release, after which I go directly into a continuing collaboration with the West Coast based ambient duo, Resonant Drift, so possibly two releases in 2015. I've always got something going, even if it's on the back burner, so I've been able to release new material every year. I've been blessed beyond measure that my music has been so well received and that there is a demand for more. That's a very great honor for me and it does not ever go unrecognized or unappreciated. Well received or not, I'd make music anyway. It always restores my soul. I simply can't resist the creative process. It's very rewarding.

Thanks to Hollan Holmes @ www.HollanHolmesMusic.com

 

 
   
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