joint collaboration by three top electronic music practitioners, Common
Ground features the combined talents of Hollan Holmes
(synths, sequences, art, design, layout, web stuff), Gary Johnson
(acoustic guitar, electric guitar, moog guitar, electric five
string fretless bass, hand drums, drum sequences, samples, loops,
cymbals, gong) and Bill Olien (synths, samples, drones and
loops). Thanks to his many fine albums, Hollan Holmes has built up
a loyal following and those same listeners who enjoy Hollans
electronic music releases will find music of equal interest on this
first ever Common Ground album. Both Bill Olien and Gary Johnson are
members of the band Resonant Drift and they bring a wealth of electronic
music expertise to this collaborative effort with Hollan Holmes. Two
years in the making, Common Grounds self-titled debut CD was
recorded in California and Texas and features the same high quality
sound and artwork that electronic music fans have come to expect from
Hollans many fine CDs. Speaking about the way that the Common
Ground album was created, Hollan Holmes tells mwe3.com, "The
Internet Age has made this sort of project quite easy in terms of
file sharing and composing music. The process was quite straightforwardeach
of us would come up with an initial idea, maybe just a minute or two
of a drone or sequence, sometimes longer. We would then upload it
via a file sharing app and the other members would download it, load
it up into our music DAW and start experimenting with additional tracks.
One track by one, we would build song ideas. This went on for well
over a year, before we decided we had a large enough body of work
that we could pick and choose the best ones and it would be enough
for a full hour of music." Overall, music fans will first
note that the combination of Hollan Holmes and the two Resonant Drift
members is a perfect sonic fit. While all three Common Ground members
have diverse backgrounds in different realms of music and soundtrack
production, they clearly channel their collective sonic resources
into one giant electronic music pool and the end result is Common
Ground's CD masterpiece of state-of-the-art electronica. www.CommonGroundAmbient.com
mwe3.com presents an interview
What were some of the key events that brought you three together?
Hollan Holmes music is receiving critical acclaim these past
few years but having not heard them till now, it seems Bill and Gary
from Resonant Drift continue getting their names out there. Were you
guys fans of each others works and was there a turning point when
you thought wow, this is going to be a great album?
Hollan Holmes: I didn't know a whole lot about Resonant Drift
before they approached me about a collaboration, but I had listened
to some of their music after seeing that Steve Roach had mastered
some of their work and it interested me. After listening to them more
in depth, the idea of a collaboration sounded exciting, so I accepted
their invitation to collaborate on a project together.
Bill Olien: I was aware of Hollans music from his first
CD. I have always enjoyed the space/Berlin School form of electronic
music and Hollan really does a great job. I found the idea fascinating
to have our more soundscape style blend with his sequencer sounds.
Gary Johnson: I got to know Hollans music when Steve
Roach gave me Hollans CD A Distant Light in 2011, around
the same time our Resonant Drift CD, Passages was released.
After listening to Hollans music and having some communication
with him, we met when I had a business trip to Dallas. It was a reunion
of sorts, I felt like we had known each other forever. An immediate
and relaxed friendship. The same kind of relationship I have with
Bill, so I knew then that this was going to be something special.
Like Bill, I knew what Hollan had to offer musically would fit seamlessly
with our sound, but Common Ground became its own entity. Not Resonant
Drift, nor Hollan Holmes, but a unique combination of ideas and sounds.
Once the first track came together, Tempest Rising, I
knew this was going to be an amazing album.
mwe3: I saw on the Common Ground CD cover art, that the CD
was recorded in both California and Texas. What was the planning,
writing recording process like for the Common Ground album including
how long the album took to record, produce and then press CDs. Was
it challenging to record the album in different locations and was
there much overdubbing or tweaking in getting the final result?
Hollan Holmes: The Internet Age has made this sort of project
quite easy in terms of file sharing and composing music. The process
was quite straightforward: Each of us would come up with an initial
idea, maybe just a minute or two of a drone or sequence, sometimes
longer. We would then upload it via a file sharing app and the other
members would download it, load it up into our music DAW and start
experimenting with additional tracks. One track by one, we would build
song ideas. This went on for well over a year, before we decided we
had a large enough body of work that we could pick and choose the
best ones and it would be enough for a full hour of music.
Bill Olien: I thought the process worked really well. After
we went back and forth through the Internet we spent several days
together which really finalized the project.
Johnson: Yes, we had assembled the tracks to a certain degree.
Then when we were ready to mix the album, Hollan flew to San Diego
and spent four days with Bill and I in my Event Horizon Studio doing
the mix down. During this time, we each added more parts to each track.
We went through each song and analyzed it as to whether it was finished
or not. Then when we actually mixed each track, we did a bit arranging,
enhancing and editing of the songs. We spent very long days together
in a small space completing the album, but it was always a joy working
together. No egos, no tantrums, more like one mind with three different
view points coming together with ease.
mwe3: Synths and sequencers seem to dominate the sound of the
Common Ground CD, but I noticed that Gary also played a variety of
guitars and drums, but you dont hear that so much. How were
the guitars channeled into the Common Ground e-music sound spectrum
and did some tracks feature more guitars than others? What synths
and sequencers did you feature mostly on Common Ground?
Hollan Holmes: I used Reason 8 and Presonus Studio One II with
a ton of plugins and VST synths. No hardware synths were used by me
for this release, but that will definitely change for all future releases.
You might actually be surprised where Gary's guitars are in these
songs, because in some cases, they sound strikingly like a synth.
Bill Olien: I love Garys style of guitar playing. He
has a great gift to be able to add elements and layers with the guitar
that both blend and stand out. For me I used a few synths including
Roland JP-8000, Korg Radius, Korg MicroKorg, Alesis Micron and Moog
Gary Johnson: I used a variety of guitars and variety of guitar
sounds. My process for recording guitar tracks is I usually listen
and play along to the song once or twice to formulate ideas and then
I record one or two takes of improvising with the song. I have many
years of experience as a soloist so its a natural thing for
me to create parts in the moment. On tracks 1, 2 & 8, I used a
Fernandez Sustainiac guitar that can hold notes indefinitely. I combined
this with a 1980s Korg Space Station synth pedal. The higher
frequency moving notes that sound like whistling or violins
are these guitar parts. On track 3, Spirited Encounter,
I actually put this track together on my own. I played several synth
parts using a Waldorf Blofeld synthesizer, several 5-string fretless
bass parts, and four acoustic guitar parts played in harmony. On track
4, I played three hand drum parts along with creating a percussion
sequence. I also used the Moog guitar throughout the song playing
sustained altered chords over the drone. On track 6, I wrote this
song using the Moog guitar, which has endless sustain. I recorded
four parts of the Moog guitar and Hollan added several synth drones
later. On track 7, I experimented with distortion pedal to overdrive
the Fernandez guitar. Not what you would expect in an ambient song,
but the part really fit nicely with the chaotic mood in the middle
of the song. The guitar almost has a thick violin/cello sound to it.
Was there a plan in balancing the sound of so many instruments and
what did Robert Rich bring to the final mastering and how was the
mixing of the CD handled? What computer systems did you use to get
the right balance of sound and were certain instruments panned left,
right or center so we can know further as to who is playing what when
Hollan Holmes: I think it was a very organic, naturally dynamic
process and we kept it pretty open-ended to allow for plenty of flexibility
based on each of our own personal desires. I flew out and met up with
Gary and Bill at the end of the project and we spent three days in
Gary's awesome home studio getting the mixes right. Most of the mixes
were done live, which is a bit old school, but very hands-on and very
fun. I'd never really mixed live like that for any of my releases,
so it was definitely a learning experience, but quite rewarding. Each
of us has our own touches of personality in all the mixes.
Bill Olien: Our style of live mixing back through the board
adds an element which we believe is organic. Through this process
we are able to both focus on individual tracks but also on the whole
mix. Each element gets a special focus for EQ and effects. Robert
took it to the next level to focus the sound and EQ for the whole
Gary Johnson: As Bill said, he and I in Resonant Drift mix
our music live through a mixing board. Something we came to from our
association with Steve Roach. This was a change for Hollan who, at
the time, worked in the box doing his mixes in the digital
domain. I think the whole experience inspired Hollan to go on a rampage
acquiring a slew of hardware synths after our time together in my
studio. I can hardly wait to hear all of his new analog hardware come
to life on our next release!
mwe3: Tell us about the Common Ground logo and CD artwork?
It kind of reminds me of the ELO logo in a way! I know your web site
has a complete story on just the design of the album art and I like
the idea of the cogs and gears representing the album. Was that the
Holmes: The final design is actually the one that came after several
other ideas that we had. I was somehow able to convince Bill and Gary
to let me explore a Steampunk themed idea that I had, based on a planetary
gear set, a common engineering solution for complex mechanics such
as what is found in modern automotive transmissions. The choice is
based on the idea that three planetary gears revolve around a central
Sun gear and enclosed in an outer ring gear, all of which
represent the three of us working around a central theme or idea and
encompassed by a singular motivation. It seemed like a fitting metaphor.
I do think that I made a bit of a leap in making an entire CD layout
of rusted, grungy mechanical components against some very non-industrial
music, but then when I lit the scene the way I did, it added a sense
of mystery, which our music definitely evokes, so it actually works
in a way.
Bill Olien: All I have to say is Hollan is one incredibly talented
artist. All kudos go to him.
Gary Johnson: Ditto. The artwork was all Hollan and a masterful
and painstaking job to create a truly unique look for an ambient/electronic
album. I seriously think he should get nominated to the Grammys
for the album art category. Its that good.
mwe3: How would Hollan compare the Common Ground sound with
his solo efforts including 2015s Incandescent and for
all the artists, is it more challenging to record solo or in the company
of like minded artists? What are the pluses and if any, the minuses?
Hollan Holmes: I wouldn't say that it was more difficult or
less difficult, just different. This is a very different release from
my own work, but the really cool thing about it is that those listeners
who are familiar with each of our own sounds will be able to distinguish
much of who did what. That it all fits together is a testament to
Bill and Gary's abilities to take my Berlin School/Space music style
and make it work within the context of their own personal approach.
The advantage of working alone is that one doesn't need to worry about
stepping on toes or causing stylistic conflicts or bruising egos or
any of that nonsense. The advantage of working with like-minded artists,
such as Bill and Gary who, by the way, never revealed any of the aforementioned
behavior, is that there was always a fresh idea that was spawned by
the ideas from the other members. I provided a lot of song ideas for
these two, but I think I most enjoyed creatively reacting to their
many ideas. It was a lot of fun to just react, rather than create
from nothing! I'm not used to such a luxury. The three of us get along
well with one another, which is important. There is always a degree
of professionalism and we always manage to find solutions to challenges.
Of course, there was plenty of silliness and cutting up, that's just
how I'm wired.
Johnson: Just a bit from the Resonant Drift perspective, working
with Hollan was a joy. All of us stepped a bit out of our comfort
zones at times and thats what makes this album not a Resonant
Drift or a Hollan Holmes CD, but the music has an identity of its
mwe3: Whats been the reaction to the Common Ground album
among the space music and electronic music cognoscenti? Do you feel
that the art of 21st century electronic music is gaining in popularity
at radio and print in general and whats your take on the world
wide boom in New Age and emusic in general?
Hollan Holmes: I feel like electronic music is gaining in popularity.
I want it to, of course, but regardless of the genre's popularity,
I will be making music that falls into these genres, because it's
the type of music that makes me happy to create. It is deeply fulfilling
to me on many levels. So far, the reaction to our project has been
quite positive and we're getting some critical airplay. I think that
will continue as we continue to get the word out about our personal
work and this collaboration.
Gary Johnson: Ive been getting very positive reactions
to the Common Ground album, even from people who are not even aware
of, nor fans of electronic and ambient music. So, I think it has an
appeal beyond the genre paradigm. Not to sound cliché, in this
frenzied and violent world, I truly feel that this type of music we
create brings a sense of peace and enlightenment, in a transcendental
way, to the listener. So, part of the gaining worldwide popularity
for this type of music, is based on people hungering for ways to raise
the planetary consciousness.
mwe3: How challenging is it to bring the Common Ground music
to the world stage so to speak? In your estimation which countries
and cities seem to be more popular for the electronic music genres
and is there a way to bring the Common Ground sound to an even wider
audience? I had discussed with Hollan the Berlin school of electronic
music. Are you all fans of the Berlin school of space music and what
artists today do you feel are carrying the torch for electronic music?
Hollan Holmes: One of the benefits of making music in the age
of the internet is that self-promotion is vastly more cost effective
and more efficient. The drawback is that, now, anyone can do it, so
there's a lot more competition. That being said, if one's music stands
out above the rest and if one possesses some decent marketing knowledge,
the game gets much more interesting. In my experience and with the
help of capturing sales metrics, I can pinpoint where my biggest fan
bases are located. The Netherlands, by far, harbor the greatest concentration
of purchasers of my music. However, it's still too early to do that
with Common Ground, but it will happen. There is still plenty for
us to do to market this first release. The three of us do have similar
interests musically, but I'm probably the biggest fan of the Berlin
School genre, but I'll let Gary and Bill weigh in on that assertion.
Artists like Steve Roach, Jean Michel Jarre and Kraftwerk are doing
much to keep the genre alive. I recently saw Kraftwerk in Austin,
Texas and I was amazed at the number of young people attending, not
to mention it was a packed house of several thousand. I think interest
is definitely growing.
Gary Johnson: I like the Berlin school of electronic music,
but Hollan is way more influenced by it. Bill and I have our influences
in atmospheric, organic ambient type music. But, that is one of the
exciting things about our Common Ground collaboration; we all bring
a niche of listeners into the fan base to create a larger audience
than what our music would generate individually.
What does the future hold for Common Ground as a musical union and
are there other projects you intend to work on in the future as solo
artists in Hollans case, as well as with Common Ground and also
Resonant Drift in the coming year? Would you consider a concert or
even a long form DVD / video at some point? What do you feel the future
has to hold for your blend of state of the art electronic music?
Hollan Holmes: We're already talking about our next project
together. I'm releasing another solo effort at the end of 2016, but
after that I'm going straight into the next Common Ground project.
We have, indeed, talked about putting together some concerts and I
think that would be really fun to do. We're certainly excited about
the possibilities and our future as a collaborative group.
Gary Johnson: Bill and I have some ideas for a future Resonant
Drift release. Im releasing an album later this year with German
drone master, Tomas Weiss. But, Im really excited about pursuing
more releases with Bill and Hollan as Common Ground. I think we just
scratched the surface of whats to come. I can hardly wait to
go deeper into our combined sound worlds. Its going to be amazing!