Talk Show Host: 024: Dead When I Found Her

About a year ago, I spoke with Michael Holloway of Dead When I Found Her, to get an insight into his thinking around industrial music and the dense, complex soundscapes that he creates. The album All The Way Down ended up being the amodelofcontrol Best Album for 2015 (to follow Rag Doll Blues getting the same honour in 2012), and with the success of it, and a follow-up album already imminent, I caught up with Michael again on e-mail to update on things. Michael, good to speak again. You’ve had a busy summer – a number of well-received shows (including festival appearances in Calgary, the UK and Chicago), and your profile seems rather higher than it was a year ago. How were those gigs for you – did you find you were potentially finding a new audience to your music?

Dead When I Found Her: The audience reaction seemed very strong at all three festivals, and especially strong at Cold Waves in particular—so it does feel like we found some new fans by playing three festivals in three months. But it was a blast to do, either way! Also, the potentially “difficult” nature of All The Way Down (an album that you had to invest time in) seemed to draw even more people in. Did that surprise you?

Dead When I Found Her: It did surprise me, yes. People very close to me heard a lot of semi-frantic rambling when I was finishing up ATWD, of the nature of “nobody’s going to go for this! It’s long and weird and sometimes really quiet and people won’t have the attention span for it!” Some of that was just normal second-guessing that always rears its ugly doubt-filled head whenever you’re wrapping up a project; but I was genuinely thrilled at the hugely positive response the album received. I was predicting more that hardcore fans would love it, but casual fans would be put off. It seems like it really connected with just about everyone, though.

eyback In addition, after a near three-year gap between albums two and three, just twelve months will have elapsed by the release of Eyes on Backwards this time. You detailed last time your working methods, that you said slowed you down. Did you find things worked out differently this time, or were you already working on this way before?

Dead When I Found Her: In terms of the actual production time, the way this album was made was no different than how ATWD was made; the long wait for ATWD wasn’t because it took three years to make that album, it was because I stepped away from making new industrial music for nearly two years and worked on other projects (game soundtracks, my doom jazz album), and then came back to industrial full force after the break. So, EOB didn’t have that gestation period before hand, for good or ill, but the writing and mixing process wasn’t really any faster than previous albums, for what it’s worth. It began during the period after ATWD was done, but before it was released – I was still feeling very amped up on production and just wanted to keep going full speed, but with a specific change of direction. Having heard the lead song on tour this summer (the pummelling Tantrum), it was very clear from the off that there was a very different angle being taken here – and indeed, having heard the rest of it, am I correct in thinking that this new album has a theme based around a mental breakdown of some sort?

Dead When I Found Her: The theme this time is actually nostalgia — but your reading of a mental breakdown isn’t too far off, because it’s about how an obsession with the past can lead to a total loss of meaning in the present. And also, it follows, a disfiguration of the future. That said, I specifically wanted the thematic element of this album to be less obvious than it was for ATWD. That was sort of a one-off idea for me, making something that specifically on-point about one thing. I could do it again if a good enough theme occurs to me, but in general I prefer non-concept albums. When things get too concept-y, it’s actually harder for me to relate to the music. Typically I prefer the selfish approach to music, where there’s enough room in the thematic content to read in your own meaning. Otherwise there be that trap of literalism, where you just can’t relate—“It’s entirely about veterans suffering from PSD after Vietnam? Ok, but what’s that got to do with my life?!” And so on. OK, so it’s far from upbeat, but Eyes on Backwards has a more…uptempo feel at points, like a heartbeat racing from stress at points, admittedly, but the difference from All The Way Down really is striking. Was a different path necessary in your mind?

Dead When I Found Her: Musically, I knew I wanted to follow up ATWD with something much more immediate—something that was instantly aggressive, high energy, loaded with restless momentum. I wanted to make the two albums feels somehow complementary: the first being a slow funereal dirge, at first reflective but eventually just swamped with lethargic sickness, so to speak, and the second being an aggravated but energetic blast of energy. That’s how it started, anyway; and so you get songs like Tantrum and The Big Reverse and Midlife Eclipse, which are all upbeat rhythms and, well, screaming. Inevitably, though, my typical songwriting tendencies wormed their way back into the process, and so you have tracks like Unsolved History, which have a mid-tempo feel and unfold over the course of seven or so minutes. Ultimately, I’m happy with the mix, because it means you get both a newfound aggressive side of the project, but also the slower, melodic side as well.

dwifh_eob We’ve talked before about your use of a dense web of film samples. Has the cinema as much an influence on your work and development as music has? Did any particular directors or films cause particular changes in your outlook?

Dead When I Found Her: I think it has, yes, and this actually ties in with the theme of nostalgia that plays throughout the album. Like many people, I’m the sort of art-lover who forms a deep, seemingly life-long attachment to my favorite films, books, albums. My love for 70’s and 80’s horror and sci-fi is more than just a love of movies: it’s a feeling, a sense of place, an era that feels as much a part of who I am as it is a part of entertainment history. Nostalgia, as I said: it’s a really powerful thing, it’s really built entirely of raw emotion, feelings that connect us to our deepest sense of self. It follows, then, that the movies I love play a big role in my exploration of artistic terrain—almost as if, by writing songs, I’m trying to add my voice to that domain, not just of music, but of these bygone eras and the feelings they bring out in us. Watching the movies, sampling the movies, bringing their world into my world—it’s like performing surgery in an attempt to bring us all together. A sort of multi-media Dead Ringers style splice work, you could say! And if you could soundtrack the work of one director, who would it be?

Dead When I Found Her: Cronenberg, of course, but I’ve said that before and everybody already knows it. Second place would be Stuart Gordon, easy. I haven’t sampled his movies much, but films like Re-animator, From Beyond and Dagon are very much a part of that world I’m talking about. He was obsessed with Lovecraft, which is neat because it shows up in every one of his films in different ways. It seems like it has been a really busy year for you. Do you take a break after this album, or are you already working on the next steps?

Dead When I Found Her: One thing I’ve realized about myself during these past seven or eight years of semi-professional musicianship is that I never, ever stop. I might take a break from one style of music, but that just means I’m working on another; there’s not a week that goes by that I’m not writing one, two, maybe three new pieces of music. My mind never really stops racing, either: I’m always thinking about what’s next, what should change, what should stay the same, what would be awesome to try my hand at… it’s a good curse to have, I’d say.

Eyes on Backwards is released on Artoffact Records on 04-November, and can be pre-ordered here.

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