Oscar Dawson talks and walks along a Melbourne street, evidently in a circumspect mood, as our phone interview interrogates the east coast tour for the new Holy Holy single, Faces, and his production work with Gold Coast emerging alt-pop sensations San Mei. Small talk aside, Dawson explores the catchy vox hook of Faces, perhaps surprisingly for some, sans guitar.
“It could be guitar hook but it’s totally not. Tim (Carroll) actually came up with it. It’s engineered to sound like a choir; Tim, along with a great Melbourne artist we love, Ainslie Wills; and my wife Ali Barter all layer the vocals. Sometimes I work with Ali and sometimes she works with us. Like a contra deal. Actually, a never-ending contra deal. That’s pretty much what a marriage is.”
Dawson ends his thought philosophically, diverging from talk of the song. Back on track, he recalls how he and Tim decided on the plan for recording some of the new material.
“I remember us saying ‘let’s just have rule and NOT write with guitars and see what happens’. Frankly, it’s been exciting. Ryan Strathie, who’s a great drummer; our drummer; is now bringing his drums to the front, driving a more percussive focus.”
“Personally, musically… well,I’m a guitarist. I know it’s always been a feature for us at Holy Holy. Iam just bored. I’ve been playing for over half my life now, and I’m just bored of it. I was curious to try a bit of different stuff.”
Dawson explains there’s no answer yet for how they’re going to put the live show together, having been a guitar driven band with a guitar driven show. Describing it as a minor meltdown discussing how they’re going to perform and noting the tour will actually be the first time they’ve played ‘Faces’ live, he lets slip support band Clews might be involved.
“Yeh, we’re getting them on stage. I’m not sure I’m allowed to say that. But by the time this article gets to the Gold Coast, the Newcastle crowd will have seen…You might be pleased to know that Gold Coast is a few dates into the tour. I feel a bit sorry for Newcastle, who are first up. I’m hoping we’ve worked it all out by the time we get to Marketta. Ha!”
With the first show under their belt, Josh Leeson of the Newcastle Herald was impressed with the Clews set, comparing their sound to “Veruca Salt at their most accessible – bright, harmonic and with enough serrated edge to remain exciting.” But Clews aren’t the only support for the east coast dates.
Gold Coast’s San Mei has been associated with Dawson’s production interests since 2017, after front-woman Emily sent a few demos to Oscar and piqued his interest. They’ll now be touring with Holy Holy and Oscar lamented never actually having seen Emily on stage. That being said, he said it was just simply liking the tunes he’d heard on the demo that prompted him to head up to the Gold Coast to record them.
“The first song we did together was Wonder, in late 2017. Her band were rad. And she’s great! I think she writes really interesting songs. Her demos have intricate ideas and good sounds. I find her music sounds like catchy pop tunes, but also weird and unique. I like that. She’s also a good person to hang out with. You have to like the person you’re working with.”
Dawson’s links to the Gold Coast become clear when he remembers the earlier days of Holy Holy when some of the band members were based in Brisbane. They’d record or practice in Brissy and then head down the highway to relax pretty regularly. He and his wife Ali love the Gold Coast, he says, and would love to move there but every time they talk about moving anywhere something comes up and it doesn’t happen.
“I’m useless though, living here in Melbourne. I’m always at home or in my studio. I reckon even if I lived at the Gold Coast I’d probably never see the beach. I probably could be alright at surfing but I don’t reckon I’d have the courage or patience to get any good. The cafes and coffee shops and restaurants on the Gold Coast are awesome though. We love visiting. It does seem like it has changed a lot over past years.”
The interview evolves into a discussion of the variety of life more apparent in production than performance, and the advent of social media, along with the digital proficiency of younger emerging acts with whom Dawson works. As Dawson wrestles with advice he’d give to acts he’s working with, trying to make a living out of this music thing and pursuing interesting music, he reflects on Holy Holy’s catchy riffs and how rookies can do it too, closing the interview on what Gold Coasters can expect from the show and why they should drop in.
“Oh, I don’t know on catchy riffs… maybe ‘Copy your heroes, kids’. Actually I don’t mean that. Actually I mean that a little bit. Imitation is the finest form of flattery, until you get sued.
“But just come and see us! San Mei and Clews are bands we like so come see us for them too. We’re looking forward to seeing them for the first time! We’ll be playing some of the tunes we know our fans like. We’ll also play some new songs too, if we don’t screw them up.”
Unnecessarily humble and self-deprecating, Dawson hides his tongue in his cheek, playing down the accolades of the superior live show experience and the wonderful music of Holy Holy.
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Holy Holy will be well worth the ticket price as they play Miami Marketta on November 23, supported by Clews and San Mei. Tickets available at Oztix.