Interview // HOLDING ABSENCE
“You are your own universe, you are the most important thing in your world so never forget that.” Having recently released their debut album, we caught up with Holding Absence to chat about it in depth.
Welsh quintet Holding Absence recently unveiled their highly anticipated debut album, and it has lived up to and exceeded every expectation. With expansive instrumentals and intricate lyricism filling in every nook and cranny, it showcases every strength of the band and elevates it to another level.
Over two years in the making, it hasn’t always been the smoothest journey as their line-up changed during the recording. However, it didn’t necessarily have a bad effect; quite the opposite actually. Vocalist Lucas Woodland recalls, “I think it brought us a new sense of freedom and a new sense of excitement. It was tough originally when it happened. I used to live with Feisal [El-Khazragi, ex-guitarist], James [Joseph, bassist] also used to live with Feisal, he [Feisal] founded the band with James and he was obviously a very big part. It was tough because we were kind of scared and frightened of what would actually happen, but I feel like me, Ash and James, the remaining members, we just knew whether we liked it or not, this band is just worth more than to just fade away. So if anything, we had a newfound spring in our step, and it inspired and motivated us more than ever before really.”
James continues, “It helped with our confidence a lot as well. Sometimes you don’t know whether your band is good because you’re in it or because you’re lucky to be in it with other people and I think we really learned to value each other. At the end of the day, I was stoked that Ash and Luke was happy to sacrifice a potentially normal, safe life to do this crazy thing that we’re trying to do and the same to Scott and Chris now they’ve joined. You have a real, powerful connection when you share the same crazy kind of goal as other people.” Lucas adds, “It’s like a trust drop – it’s like we’re all holding hands and we’re all leaning back, and if anybody lets go then the whole thing comes undone really.”
I think we really learned to value each other
However, it would paint a false picture to say the line-up shift brought no difficulties. Lucas confesses, “There was a period of time where we were scared to lose him because we didn’t know if we could carry on without him and Chris [Smitheram, guitarist] and Scott [Carey, guitarist] coming to the fore has changed everything.” As for Chris, he brings a different perspective as someone who was joining the band, and he mentions, “It was super daunting at first. I was a fan of the band and I knew what the guys envisioned for it and what they wanted to do. And then it came to it, and as soon as we clicked and we all knew we wanted the same thing, I knew it was going to be a good fit.”
The thing that they all wanted was the album. Lucas begins, “When I joined, the album was what we wanted to do really. We chose to release singles to gain as much traction as quickly as possible. We wrote the first track, a song called A Godsend, about two years ago now and we played that at Download 2016 so there’s been a long lead up to this and they’re songs that have existed for a long time. St Cecilia was written for the split [EP with Loathe] and we actually had to say to ourselves, ‘Right. Stop writing the album because we need to do the split first’. It was weird; it got to the point when we knew This Is As One was a thumbs up from the label, we knew we had to step out of the album zone and step into the single zone again. It’s been a long time.”
James adds, “There was a point where the album was going to come out a long time ago and it was going to have all the songs that we currently have now on it. We’ve done a lot of growing as people. There’s been times where waiting this long has killed us, because you’ve got people around you asking how’s the band going, and you’re like ‘yeah, yeah’; there’s only so much you can do before you put an album out. It’s been hard but I think it’s been so worth waiting to this point – I feel like we’re at a critical point where everyone wants to hear it, [and] as people we’re more emotionally mature and actually proud of what we’ve done, ready to do album 2 as well. This album wasn’t an easy process; with Feisal leaving; way back when we had another guitarist, Giorgio, leave for personal reasons; it’s everyone’s first album, no one’s done an album with a prior band.”
It’s been hard but it’s been so worth waiting to this point
Despite the album being a first for all members of the band, they definitely had an idea of what they wanted to do with it. Piano-driven Marigold is one of the most delicate moments on the album with its lulling accompaniment and gentle lyricism, and this was completely intentional. Lucas explains, “It was super important to us that the album had a little bit of breathing space. I feel like all of our songs are beautiful in their own way but I feel like Marigold is blatantly beautiful and I feel like the best albums have those moments. I just felt like the album needed it, and I felt like as Holding Absence goes as a band, it was a bold statement for us to make; personally as well, playing and singing that track. For me, it was extremely nice to know that the boys believed in me enough to let me have a put on this myself.”
Another track on the album that holds huge significance is You Are Everything. Lucas remembers writing it, “It was Christmas Day and it was like 11pm, maybe later like 1am or something, and I was listening to BROCKHAMPTON and I just thought ‘dude, I’m sat upstairs playing FIFA, I can do far more with my life than just waste it away playing video games’. So I went downstairs, regardless of the day – regardless of the fact that it was Christmas day – I went downstairs and penned that.”
James discloses, “There’s a weird disconnect when you listen to your own music where you’ll never feel quite like someone who’s a fan of the band who’s never heard it before, because we’ve heard all of our songs over 100 times when we’re working on it. The first time I ever welled up and got shivers from a song is from You Are Everything because the middle bit of the song is something that I can relate to. And to be honest, pre doing the record, I never really thought I’d be able to relate to the lyrics. It was always a weird feeling because I’m putting my entire life into a band that has someone else’s words; it was kind of weird but it was like ‘Oh actually, he said what I was thinking’.”
You Are Everything does not serve only as a song title, but also forms the name of the band’s fanbase. Lucas points out, “It has two meanings; the first meaning is where it originated, from when we were writing thank you notes in our merch back when we first started. We did a big thank you, and at the bottom it just said ‘You Are Everything. This Is Holding Absence’. James came up with it, like ‘how do we make ‘This Is Holding Absence’ more than just a tagline, how do we incorporate people?’ Originally, it was a way of letting whoever was buying the shirt know that without them buying the shirt, we would be nothing really, like they are everything to us. And then later down the line, when I wrote You Are Everything, I spun it in a way where it’s basically just about self-belief and how you are everything; you are your own universe, you are the most important thing in your world so never forget that. So it’s definitely got a double meaning.”
James follows this, saying, “I think it’s one of those things where 14-year-old me who wasn’t that happy with how things were going, I would have loved it if a band could have given me a phrase that empowered me as much as I hope that ‘You are everything’ will empower other people. So from just buying a t-shirt, and just receive it in the post and be like ‘cool’ to actually getting a thing that says ‘you are worth something’ or ‘you are worth everything’ is really cool. A lot of the stuff we do, we do it looking back. Like Lucas writes lyrics to his 14-year-old self or from his 14-year-old self with a phrase like that.”
The song was first released as a single before the album came out, but it wasn’t the easiest process to get it passed as a single. James recounts, “It’s a funny one, we had to work hard to get it to be a single because it’s not a single, it’s not going to get played on the radio, it hasn’t got the typical big chorus. I think it’s a bold move, because trying to do a band as a career, you want your MANTRA [by Bring Me The Horizon] or you want your Thirty Seconds to Mars song or whatever. But for us, at the end of the day, we’re not trying to please the masses right now, we’re trying to nurture this community that we’ve grown. I’d rather play The Underworld for the next 20 years to the people we currently have, than a stadium of people who don’t really care.”
We’re not trying to please the masses right now, we’re trying to nurture this community that we’ve grown
It can’t be doubted that the band has definitely nurtured a dedicated community; on their upcoming headline tour, the band are expecting at least two different people flying over from America for their shows! Lucas exclaims, “It’s crazy! I’m really grateful that our message has really spoken to people and people really believe in this band now, which is awesome. I’m glad that through a computer screen, somebody could think we’re so sick and believable that they want to travel the world to see us. Like that’s just the biggest compliment.” The band is also blown away by fan tattoos, which “are a constant really. It’s funny now because it doesn’t even feel real anymore. It’s like every other day sometimes – I remember one time there was two tattoos in a day and I was just like ‘this is beyond now’. It’s mind-blowing knowing that we are with these people forever.” Chris quickly adds he never fails to be blown away by “how generous people are. I even had a fan that I’m friends with actually make me a pedalboard, which was one of the craziest things I’ve ever had – I’m blown away by that, everyone’s generosity is absolutely amazing.”
Another single from the album is Monochrome, and for Lucas, “Monochrome was an important, powerful word to timestamp where we are right now and to be honest, it wasn’t done in a cheesy way, it literally 100% makes sense with the lyrics. The song is about looking in hindsight so the lyric ‘I still see you in monochrome’ is kind of like a tag. It was totally natural, but it just felt like the right kind of word to paint the world a little bit more for us.” Fittingly, the word also describes the band’s aesthetics. When asked about how it came about, James answers, “The first thing I would say is we’ve always been inspired by bands that have a timeless feel to them, regardless of whether we like the music or not. Bands like The Cure and The Smiths and things have that real timeless [feel]; you go through Camden Market and you can see their shirts from the ‘70s and ‘80s and they’re still worn today. We really like that. The other thing is that black and white is quite visual, especially because we go for quite a high contrast between the lights and darks. There’s a nice duality between light and dark, and for us, of our music we have the highest highs and the lowest lows and the imagery that goes alongside it. It gives it an overall angsty, ethereal feel.”
Lucas finishes, “It also doesn’t say too much about us anyway. You don’t have a clue what we’re playing, judging by our photos, which is kind of sick to be honest. If it was like blood red, or shoegazey and blue, it would say a little bit about us but the point was to be timeless from the off but also not give anything away.”
The band are sure to be timeless not only visually but also sonically, and there can be no doubt that they will only continue to grow their tight-knit community. In an age of trying to fit in and be in line with the times, it is refreshing to see a band trying to do the opposite and transcend the constraints of time, making Holding Absence an incredibly exciting act to keep your eyes on.
Holding Absence is out now via SharpTone Records. For more information visit here.
The band is also doing a run of headline shows, and you can catch them at one of the following dates.
21 – Southampton, Joiners
22 – Birmingham, Flapper
23 – Leeds, Key Club
24 – Hull, O Reilly’s
25 – Glasgow Garage
27 – Manchester Rebellion
28 – Cardiff Globe
29 – London Underworld