PREMIERE: Listen to Holy Sons' "Boil It Down" and Get Existential with Emil Amos
If it sounds like you've heard it before, you may have—it was just in a different life.
On paper Emil Amos seems like a musical chameleon but he's really more of a sonic shaman. Although his various musical projects range from heavy (Om) to psych-rock (Grails) and even hip-hop (Lilacs & Champagne), a streak of spookiness and unease that permeates each project. Amos' long-running act Holy Sons has always been the most difficult to define and that's certainly true of their second Thrill Jockey release Fall Of Man, which Amos recorded at various studios as well as at home over the past six years. Informed by four-track recording and seventies classic rock, Fall Of Man features pop touchstones that are rooted in the past but refracted through Amos' psychic prism to create something that sounds timeless, despite the fact that for technological and psychological reasons it could only exist now. The album's first single "Boil It Down" is a perfect example of this dichotomy in the sense that you have to be in the present to really appreciate the past, which is probably why today's nostalgia-driven culture often feels so nauseating. In other words: If it sounds like you've heard it before, you may have—it was just in a different life. Listen to it yourself and read our interview with Amos below.
NOISEY: How do you think the journey toward this album began?
EMIL AMOS: [Laughs] Well, in the early 90s I was a little kid who imagined the greater world of underground music as this fantasy universe I could exist in someday. When you're 14 or 15, you perceive this whole cosmology of underground heroes and how you might fit into this galaxy and find your own orbit. At that age you develop these concrete religious philosophies about the mission of art and become completely enamored with its ability to communicate whatever grandiose things you can imagine.
So I kind of lived in this imaginary, militant cult; everything about being a 4-tracker in the early 90s made you feel like were almost part of a rebel militia or something... like the group that kidnapped Patty Hearst. It felt like you were pitted against everybody else and your job was to explore the other side of the tracks and give yourself over to it y'know.
It relates to hardcore too, right? <.br> The micro-movement I was born of was an extension of hardcore; it basically took all of the confrontationalism and self-loyalty and transmuted it into a new kind of hyper-transparent honesty. You're still breaking down the walls... they're just different, inner walls.
After that initial cult-like experience, I slowly followed a trajectory towards integrating with the rest of the world as you get older and more curious about how everybody else has been living. And songwriters are always chasing what they haven't heard or done before and always trying to find new ways to say what they wanted to drill in. So if you start off with a handheld recorder, you kind of inevitably move toward eventually making your Dark Side Of the Moon to hear the total opposite of the trench you were originally embedded in.
These songs sounded haunted to me in a way. Where do you think that comes from?
Along the way I had to learn to use the studio the same way I used to use a four-track. So that whole vibe or atmosphere is just the natural result of living with a four-track for over a decade and then transferring those techniques to the studio. I also carried with me the psychology of four-tracking and the old Syd Barrett-style school of thought, where you use the songs to shine a light into darker corners of the mind. So there's this whole semi-forgotten tradition in that approach you're picking up on.
That's really interesting because you're taking a lo-fi sensibility and making it sound hi-fidelity and something that comes from hardcore sounds nothing like hardcore in the end result.
Definitely... It’s part of a natural progression that I think a lot of kids my age went through together. There was a recent special on the influence of skateboarding on Harmony Korine the other day and he was talking about how a lot of his movies have referenced this quintessential skateboarding film from the early 90s called Memory Screen. I realized then that we're the same age because that film had also changed my life and every video I've made pays tribute in some way to it too. So even though you might not directly attribute anything in Harmony Korine's films to skateboard videos, it all comes back to these early seeds that were planted in the 80s; a very radical time in the underground that largely set up the paradigm we're living in.
You may think of the record as sounding hi-fi, but I just realized the other day that I don't even have a mic stand in my house. I have one mic and I balance it on my shoe or my computer table and that's just how far technology has come. You can almost fake anything at this point. With modern mixing methods you can really alter how someone perceives the environment of what they're hearing.
So how do you think fans of your other projects will react to this record?
With the level of oversaturation in new music today, I doubt they'll have much time to get around to hearing it, y'know? That's the situation we're in. There might be small group of people who will live with it long enough to realize how many years of my life were sunk into it. [Laughs]
There's a lot of similar techniques that I've used in Lilacs & Champagne or Grails, so there's always some overlap. At some point I realized that by warping samples you can express inner damage by using the sonic damage in stolen fragments of bizarre sound that unconsciously remind the listener of nightmarish environments they've been in. It’s a way to harness the weird affection you have for the scars of your life sonically.
So there's an element of self-identity present as well.
The attempt to analyze yourself in therapy or by making investigative artwork inherently assumes that we can take trauma and turn it into a positive realization. You can use recording to gain perspective on the various catch-22s you find yourself in and perform a kind of healing rite. Just the act of saying out loud what you’re going through feels good... an acknowledgement of where you are and what you've gone through. This record definitely deals with the damage that creates who you are and your own affection for how it shapes your life.
So given that many people may not hear these songs, what compelled you to spend six years of your life working on Fall Of Man?
Once the train of your psyche reaches a certain speed and who you are begins to really solidify around 17 or 18 years old, I think it becomes really hard to stop the momentum of your early expectations. I felt like I'd already made an ultimate choice early on... so I could either pursue making art ceaselessly as a religion or be gutted by the reality of how impossible it can be to make it work in the world. I try to find some satisfaction in what I do, but the only thing that actually makes me feel good is writing more. I'm always moving into areas I haven't been to, so I constantly feel like there are more horizons to explore.
"Boil It Down" was written in tribute to the soul-style ballads that were around me growing up in North Carolina—songs like "Drift Away" by Dobie Gray. Which is fitting because it’s about feeling the need to go back home to a place you can't really ever return to.
Catch Holy Sons on tour with Earth:
August 23 - Boston, MA - Middle East Upstairs
August 25 - Portsmouth, NH - 3S Artspace
August 27 - New York City, NY - Saint Vitus
August 28 - Philadelphia, PA - Underground Arts
August 29 - Baltimore, MD - Metro Gallery
August 30 - Richmond, VA - Strange Matter
August 31 - Chapel Hill, NC - Cat's Cradle (Backroom)
September 1 - Atlanta, GA - Earl
September 2 - Orlando, FL - Will's Pub
September 3 - New Orleans, LA - One Eyed Jacks
September 4 - Birmingham, AL - Saturn
September 5 - Nashville, TN - Stone Fox
September 6 - Bloomington, IN - The Bishop
September 8 - Madison, WI - Frequency
September 9 - Minneapolis, MN - Entry
September 10 - Chicago, IL - Bohemian National Cemetery
September 11 - Columbus, OH - Carabar
- New music