The members of Holophrase on working with Ikey Owens on Horizons of Expectation
Holophrase got its name for the technical term for the sounds infants use to communicate verbally before learning the native language of the culture in which they're raised, sure echoes of Noam Chomsky's theory of universal language. The quartet itself is comprised of what some might call outsiders to the underground music scene in Denver, and its music reflects a complete disconnect from any popular sounds you can find at most clubs.
Although their music recalls the angular and alien guitar sounds of Chrome and Magazine and the dark, expressive rhythmic ideas of Love Life, the members of Holophrase were not aware of those groups before putting together their own songs. Instead, Luis Etscheid, Jared and Caleb Henning and Polish expatriate Malgorzata Stacha challenged themselves to not overtly nor consciously follow in the footsteps of music they'd heard a lot growing up. The group is now putting out its first EP, Horizons of Expectation, and we recently had a chance to sit down with the band to talk about the EP and what its title means not just for the music within but for the band itself.
Westword: Why did you call your EP Horizons of Expectation and how did that name come about?
Jared Henning: It was a phrase I stumbled across in a literature class in college. It refers to a specific way of approaching a text that focuses on the exchange between a reader and the author. Horizons of expectation are what those individual parties bring to the interaction.
You recorded this EP with Isaiah "Ikey" Owens. How did you get hooked up with him?
Luis Etscheid: We went to see Panal C.V. de S.A. play in Boulder with his band Free Moral Agents at some bar. We started mingling and we found out what was driving him and found out he'd won a Grammy at 35 with 36 rapidly approaching, but he was still down to touring to play at bar shows. He had all these accomplishments under his belt and he still seemed down to earth. We picked his brain a little bit, and I guess he liked that, and one thing lead to the next.
How did you find Ikey as a producer?
Caleb Henning: The whole middle of "The Ninth Circle," we didn't really know what we wanted to do with it, and he helped us develop a jungle-sounding, circuit bent thing -- just where the whole song falls apart and goes into a double beat, with some Polish poetry and the circuit bent thing comes back, and it goes back into the main song. That whole part was added the day of recording.
Malgorzata Stacha: The composition was kind of long and had a lot of pieces, but he had it all charted out and tried to figure it out with specific names for each part. It was a hard song to approach. He wanted to get a feel for it and then he came up with the idea to make a section that's a release before we jump back into tension. We created that part pretty much in the studio.
LE: It was kind of a contrast part, too, in the sense that it has a swelling, meandering feel, and improvised. The rest of the song is very deliberate and complex to an extent. In addition to that, how we were playing our songs in the studio was very much influenced by the mood he brought into the room, especially in his approach to tones.
CE: Before recording it, we had all the tones sounding very different from how it came out. It was a lot jazzier and coffee shop. He made it a lot more mellow. "The Ninth Circle" sounded a lot more aggressive before we recorded it.
How many songs did you end up recording with Ikey?
LE: Seven. Four for this EP, and we may try to record some more tracks. We might just release a couple of "singles" or give ourselves some more time to get back in the studio.
MS: The songs were grouped by mood. At some point, we decided to split the songs into two parts based on the mood and the energy of them to release something more cohesive.
What's the origin of the title "Hair Gardens"?
LE: We threw the skeleton of that song together and started accumulating bits and pieces of it. As for the mindset I was in at the time I thought of it, I imagined hair growing from the ground and taking over cities and schools and cars and traffic--people choking on it. Just the imagery of strands of hair all over, time lapse style.
Like a weird J.G. Ballard novel.
LE:Yeah. We started calling it that and it stuck.
MS:Ikey gave us his own titles for the songs. Do you remember any of those?
JH: He called it "The Heat of Fusion," "Fajita Fusion." It was because the sound engineer wrote "Fajita Fusion" on the recording.
So Ikey was more the producer?
MS: Yeah, he was barking orders.
LE: I wouldn't saying "barking orders." More like "roaring orders."
CH: He runs a tight ship.
LE: He cracked the whip when he needed to but most of the time he was pretty laid back.
CH: We had band meetings every two hours.
MS: We worked eight to ten hours a day with breaks.
LE: We were there six and a half days. And we rested on the seventh day.
CH: And it was good.
On "The Ninth Circle," what poem is that?
MS: It's by a Polish Romantic/positivist writer named Cyprian Norwid. He's a guy who wrote interesting stuff but never really got recognized by his peers. His work sat in archives until people later rediscovered it. He struggled a lot and he migrated away from Poland and didn't get much help from anybody. So the song is kind of about finding the value of your life. You live somewhere else. This is not exactly where you live. This is not exactly what you have. People may think you have nothing but you have as much earth as your foot covers at any given time wherever you go. There's an imaginary state where he dwells and that 's way beyond reality. That's the gist of it.
Why did you want to use one of Norwid's poems in particular?
MS: For many reasons. One was when I dropped out of college in Poland, I had been studying Norwid, Romanticism in general, but I wrote a paper on him. Later on I had this vibe from him that even if it wasn't literally what I feel, it reminds me of feeling a little bit alienated and on my own, trying to find my way, following my values--that's more important than possessions. What I think and who I am matter more. It speaks to me even if it's not exactly the same situation. It's deeply moving.
Tell me about the meaning behind the name "Alligatron".
CH: I don't know who came up with it but the song reminded us of an alligator crawling through a sewer and it has this crawly rhythm. The bass effects when we wrote it were very robotic. So it was an alligator crawling through a sewer with robotic parts.
LE: Like a cyborg. The bass parts are toned down now and it's a different effect on the album than I use live.
You don't play as many shows as many other bands. Was this a conscious choice?
LE: We had difficult time getting shows getting started. We don't have a huge network of cool people. We also spend most of our time wanting to create music and the performance thing is also a creation rather than a party for us. We're still developing, and we want to be really deliberate about it. We're going to play more and try out new stuff but a lot of times I would say we weren't quite doing anybody any favors playing often.
CH: I think when we started out, we were sort of naive about the reception we would get from the Denver music scene, playing empty bars and losing gas money. So during the winter, we lost motivation and morale to try and get a show and whoring ourselves out, making flyers, spending the weekend practicing and two people show up and we don't even break even on gas. So we did more projects in the garage.
LE: I always felt like we didn't have much of a chance to get much of a reception because we couldn't get ears. That was the problem: playing a show that nobody hears. There's no way to gauge its value to other people. But the big part is sharing our ideas with people and it wasn't happening.
You're playing your first house show at the Molar House on July 13. Why do you celebrate Friday the 13th?
CH: It's like a battle between cosmic forces. No, it's taking all of its bad intention and pushing it. "I dare you, Friday the 13th."
LE: It was a juvenile excuse to party at first/rite-of-passage that turned into a tradition.
CH: A holiday.
A Holophrase holiday.
So Luis, you have your own interpretation of the title of your new EP that differs from that of Jared?
LE: At face value, it sounds like something that's inspirational chicken soup or something like that. But my interpretation is that the nerdy, literary terminology there, its usage was more about the meaning of a work being in constant flux created through that exchange Jared mentioned earlier. Just in the sense that ten years from now, someone may hear this album [and] have a different frame of reference to judge this work. Hopefully this album may help change some people's own horizons of expectation and how they judge other works or how they approach listening to heady music. Sometimes music is dismissed because it may have a component of the intellectual.
I would rather people just let go of that. It doesn't matter to us that it's intellectual. It's not how it was written. It got written in a complex manner because we didn't know what we were doing. We're trying to get at something. We got this wobbly, quirky feel to it and we ended up with something that's scrutinized because of how complex it is. We're not academics.
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