Hotel Constantiaby Roger Young, images Ross Hillier / 22.04.2011
Holiday Murray, the Cape Town based harmonic folksy foursome comprising of James Tuft, Ellis Silverman , Justin Davenport and Chris Carter, are about to release their sunset drenched Califonia Dreaming–esque self-titled debut album. They’ve embarked on a country wide tour and have just dropped the music video for their first single. A short chat about bowing to statuettes and drinking at Tiger Tiger was in order.
Mahala: How did the band come about?
Justin: Me, Ellis and Chris had just finished school and we had an idea of getting a band together because Ellis’ band, The Founders, split up. Ellis and me and Chris got talking and decided we wanted to start playing and we were actually out at Club Med.
Justin: La Med. In Camps Bay. And we found James there, drinking and stuff just sitting there and we asked him if he would be keen to come play.
James: I don’t remember anything from that point.
Justin: We just started jamming.
James: We had completely different ideas for our sound. We had another guy playing keyboard with us and had a few jams. I don’t know what we expected to come out with there. But that is how it started.
Justin: I think we just had an idea cause we had a piano friend, and he had this Casio keyboard, like quite a nice one, and we thought that that would be synth. We thought something would happen with it and then he was doing these like da-da-da jazzy piano breaks and we were like, no! That’s not synth.
James: Also at that time I had been in a few bands before and, I know it sounds cliché, but I’d like, lost my voice. I had no inspiration, I hadn’t found anyone that I was willing to play with or that I gelled with.
Justin: What were you doing? You were studying…
James: I was studying at UCT.
Justin: But that was your first year, right?
James: Must’ve been.
Justin: End of the first year.
James: And then we started going out with women who were very close, so it made it easier for us to get close and jam.
So are you still going out with those women?
So no Yoko?
James: Both of those relationships ended badly. And maybe that propelled our relationship forward.
Since you started gigging, have you found that a lot of bands around Cape Town have helped you out?
Justin: We played our first show in November of 2009, hey? So we got together and started jamming and writing and we had like 6 songs by that time and then Kyle, from The Curious Incident asked us if we could debut our bands together and have like a “debut night”. So that happened.
James: Well, Kyle, he helped us get the shows and Captain Stu were incredibly helpful. They’ve always been very supportive.
Justin: Because none of us had ever really played in a band that’s really gigged, besides Ellis, but not a huge amount of shows.
Ellis: We played like 30.
Justin: He played shows but I’d never played a live show ever. James had.
James: I played pretty big shows but never at clubs.
Justin: At school.
James: Yeah, I did a lot of house parties. This guy I knew at school, he was a few years older, and when I was in standard 6 we’d play at all the 18th’s and that was like bug stuff for us. Like 200 kids at these big Constantia houses.
What did you play?
James: A few of our own songs but a lot of Blink 182 and Sum 41 and Greenday and Jimmy Eat World. It was literally that screaming teenage angst thing in a very emo Southern Suburbs way.
OK, let’s talk about the Southern Suburbs then because a lot of your fans are very well dressed. Obviously the music you make is going to come from where you come from, right?
Ellis: I’m from Camps Bay. Bitch!
James: It’s hard to weigh up which one is grosser.
Okay so how gross is the Southern Suburbs? How much do you feel that you’re a part of it or not a part of it?
James: It’s only gross if you make it gross, it’s just as gross as the Northern Suburbs.
Are you part of the Tiger Tiger scene?
James: No. But we did grow up with kids who are firmly established in that.
Justin: Yeah at school we went out there, that was like where we went.
Ellis: I never use to go there.
Justin: But Ellis you’re different to everyone.
James: But it is a massive thing. That Claremont scene is more important to the Southern Suburbs mentality than people think but, and I was there a lot…
Justin: You were there late at night by yourself just drinking.
James: Yeah, I, um, had a difficult few years.
How much of what you guys are writing is about where you are from or where you want to be?
James: I think it’s more about where we want to be.
Justin: We can look back at all these songs we put on this album and I don’t think you can actually reference where we’ve grown up.
James: A lot of people have commented that there is a sense of nostalgia in our music. That may be apparent but it’s not necessarily meant to be there ‘cause it’s not like we wrote about how great our young days were. We are writing about now and tomorrow.
But maybe that sense of nostalgia and haze is because you listened to too many Beach Boys records when you were kids.
James: It’s possible.
So how does the song writing process work, as a band?
James: Usually one of us starts.
Justin: It’s either lyrics or a progression or a melody or guitar chords or guitar melody or vocal melody. So it starts from one of those things and then gets extended by either two guitars or a drum beat and often we will have a section and we’ll jam it and if nothing comes of it, it gets left behind and we carry on with whatever else we are doing and we do it again next time and then something else happens and then we’re like cool that actually sounds quite good, let’s try that and the song gets built up like that.
James: A few of the songs were like collectively moved on from their positions and there were a few songs that were written from beginning to end and then filled in later.
How many songs did you write for the album? Did you have to whittle it down?
James: We didn’t have to whittle down. We probably got like these 10 songs that are on the album and then maybe 5 other pieces of songs. Ideas. Verses. Choruses. Bits that we never got to use.
So is the album a collection of songs or is there like a through line?
Justin: There is a through line but it’s not necessarily due to the nature of the songs. The nature of the songs aren’t pending towards specific concepts.
Ellis: But I think it’s also about the time that all the songs were written. We’ve jammed them all for so long that they’ve become part of an era of our music writing. I think the next couple of songs that we’ll be writing will be completely different, but cohesive at the same time.
Do you have any ideas for sound expansion or is that just an organic thing?
Ellis: It’s pretty organic.
James: Yeah but we still are very ambitious with sound.
Justin: There’s a lot we spoke about, I think just because we are all quite lazy, we didn’t get to use the sounds that we wanted to.
James: Also this is our first album. I think the simple way that we’ve left it, is better. The idea is that you can always make more albums and always write more songs. There is never a roof to your expansion.
How difficult was it to get to the point where you thought, ok we’re going to make an album now?
James: We did an EP last year that we didn’t release. Six tracks. And then the way things were going we used that as pre-production and went back into the studio and said cool let’s make an album and add more tracks onto this. And there were times where we were finishing up the primary stages of recording and we still had like 2 more songs to write to make an album… So there was a stage where we were unsure of how many tracks were going to be on the album and then we got to ten and we were like “that’s a nice number”.
Justin: There was one song we wrote completely in the studio. Copper Wire. That happened very quickly.
James: At the same time it was also a composite of many different ideas we had.
So where did you record?
Justin: At Teejay’s.
James: We did it at Teejay. Coffee-stained Vinyl. ]
Ellis: In all fairness though, it was actually him who really pushed us to do it.
James: It was amazing that Teejay was willing to give his time to us like that. He obviously had a lot of faith in the sound and has still got that and therefore just giving us the time to actually play around in the studio. We were pretty much in the studio from beginning on February last year and the CD is out now so in and out, not day in and day out. We’d be in for a few weeks and then out for a few weeks. So there was a lot of time to be creative about it.
Justin: Me and James, we were studying last year and then we both actually stopped in June/July last year and took the semester off. James decided to persue a career from this point, I’m still studying, or back studying. So we had that time to work really hard for a few months cause Chris and Ellis were still at varsity.
So how do you survive? You don’t survive from gigs?
James: At the moment all of us are being supported by our families so we don’t need the money we’ve been making from gigs to support ourselves but only to propel the band which we have been doing, but you know, that tape is going to run dry, shortly.
In terms of your future as a band, when you look at how other bands are doing, are you filled with hope?
James: I don’t know. I know it sounds terrible but we’ve always said, we don’t want to be here six years from now and having done this for six years and we haven’t made a dent. A lot of people sit in a scene for years and remain hopeful.
Justin: Power to them.
James: And respect. But I mean the way the industry is moving globally, the turnover rate is insane and people are writing great music, releasing it, next thing, next thing. Like we’re just super ambitious at this time. We want to do this quickly. We want to get as far and wide as quickly as possible.
Justin: How we came together is quite odd but we’ve kind of found a balance as friends and musicians that is quite rare. I had a chat to James Boonzaier yesterday and he was like it’s so fucking difficult because people want to play music but they just can’t commit to it because they’ve got so many other things, whereas we’ve all decided to do this and we’re all fucking extremely amped.
James: That’s why I dropped out of College because I refused to do other things. It’s just going to poison this waterhole.
Justin: I mean we haven’t even thought about trying to change the setup, I think the only thing we would do is add more people.
James: At school I really dipped into my strength to do as many musical things as possible and afterwards there was just this lull where I couldn’t even play guitar. It just felt weird. You have to still do other creative things that inspire you because being creative, whether you write or music or paint or make movies, that’s the way you articulate and some languages you speak better so you have to stick to the ones where you can actually communicate properly and always keep those other ones around, so you can remain inspired.
And the name, Holiday Murray?
Justin: We only decided on it a few days before we played that show.
Ellis: Holiday with Murray.
James: You get to a stage where you’re coming up with names where this one works and that one works and then you’re just like, just leave it and Holiday Murray sort of felt really right, it stuck.
What came first, the name or Murray?
Justin: The name came first and then we found this statue in the garage, we have a small studio at my house, we just double-bricked the wall so that it’s soundproof. It’s amazing to have our own space and the garage is quite a trip and there’s all this shit lying there.
James: I was standing with Chris and there was this African head sticking out and it kept coming. But we use him as a scapegoat, we call him Holiday Murray and that avoids having to explain, like it’s just his name and if that represents us, that’s cool.
Were his arms always like that?
James: Me and Ellis were coming back from Synergy, it was just a very happy night and I don’t think anything was really in its proper place, including Murray which was on the roof of Ellis’ car as we left and we were coming down Hellshoogte and we heard “dadoom” on the roof and Ellis was like, “that wasn’t inside the car” and just in time we turn around to see poor Murray being splintered on the road behind us and like a small lorry driving over his body and we just pulled over and we were laughing, crying, picking up his broken limbs. So I did a small fix job and gave him some bionic shoulders and we built him a sturdy box to keep him safe.
Justin: You mean a Coffin.
James: It’s very interesting ‘cause Murray has become a representative of the band and we also see him as this kind of core of the four of us.
Ellis: A fifth element.
James: A fifth element that’s really important. Before every show we kind of pay homage to him by doing an ohm to him.
And he’s there with you, on stage?
James: He used to be. We’d walk out on stage with him and it would like centre our energy or whatever and then after Synergy, Murray broke and we kind of stopped doing these ohms before our shows and shit got way hectic between us. Our relationships became like really difficult and obviously we were finishing up the album as well and there was a lot of tension and now Murray is fixed and we’re doing ohms again, there’s like better feelings and it’s like straight, it’s quite interesting, it does play a big role.
In terms of musical influences, what do you listen to?
Ellis: Cassette tapes, I started listening to my sister’s Beastie Boys on tapes and that’s like what I grew up on, the Beastie Boys, Jurassic 5.
That’s very Camps Bay.
Ellis: Yeah. Like hip hop and like drum ‘n bass and like anything funky that comes from the funk, jazz root has always inspired me, like drumming anyway.
James: Ellis loves trance.
You just accept him for that.
James: Yeah, of course. I mean there are parts of our musical appetites that cannot be fulfilled by listening to psy-trance and Ellis is rhythmic and I can totally relate to that. But I don’t know because I only listen to stuff that, um…
What is more important what you like now or what you have liked? It can be a complex question because when I first heard you I thought you were very early Beatles but I don’t know what spesific element made me feel that way because it’s not really in the music. I’m not asking where you got your guitar sound from but what influences your ethos.
Justin: Okay, look at a band like Crosby, Stills and Nash. They achieved a lot of where we want to go, in terms of harmony.
James: And musicianship…
Justin: Yeah and their attention to detail which is just incredible. What we’ve done now in this early, early stage is taken the direction that we desire and it’s come out slightly more da-da-da because it’s quite easy to do that. I think there’s a lot more intense deeper, darker things that will start coming out soon enough.
James: This is a very excited album . That da-da-da you’re talking about is us actually wrestling with our musical identity. Although it may sound like it is one complete thing, there’s elements of us wanting to get really dark and deep and serious with those details and our harmonies, but it’s also us wanting to rock out, you know? But I think what matters is what you were listening to when you were like between the ages of nine and thirteen. Cause that’s so subliminal and then you get to your teenage years and you start making awkward emotional testosterone-fuelled decisions about what you should be listening to and I cherished Blink 182 at that stage, I don’t regret that, but musically where I am now, that just seems like a bad decision. So I know I was making bad decisions then and I know before that, I was pure, I would listen to what I enjoyed like, I’d listen to my sister’s music which was anything from Faithless to Boyz2Men and Bon Jovi and then my mom liked The Rankin Family, this weird Irish folk group and a lot of Bob Dylan from my dad’s side.
Justin: I remember a KTV CD being stuck in my car.
What else is there? I was sure I had another question.
Justin: Why don’t we talk about the music, is there support for music other than derivative rock n roll in this country? Where do we fit in?
James: So many people out there are trying to play rock ‘n roll, and rock ‘n roll is not dead but it’s passed. No one’s trying to mimic the Great Gatsby 20’s Jazz scene. No one is doing swing. Why do people hanker after this rock ‘n roll dream? It’s done. There are other sounds to explore.
*All images © Ross Hillier.