RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW AUSTRALIAN ARTIST GORDON HOLLAND
Hiya folks thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge today, grab a brew and take a seat.
What made you decide that music is a thing for you?
It’s something that really clicked with me, when I was first learning it all seemed like such a mystery figuring out chords and how to sing and play at the same time. But once I’d worked those things out I found that music was a really intuitive way to express myself, and I was fascinated by how songs worked. Like why did certain lyrics or sounds make me feel a particular way? I’d take songs apart and put them back together again, meanwhile, I was trying my own lyrics and chords progressions, just seeing what came out. Around that time I decided that I wanted to write and play my own music someday. And that fascination and excitement has never faded, I still find it incredible how music does the things that it does.
Introduce us to you and your musical history.
I’ve been playing in bands or solo for years now, from my first clumsy attempts at songwriting and covering other bands in high school which was then followed by a few bands back in Perth where I grew up. The times I had with my second band introduced me to many people that I’m still friends with today, and we really got to know the local bands and venues at the time. After that band ended me and my best friend moved to Melbourne and started gigging and recording as The Naysayers, and over time adding to the lineup that still plays today. Moving here was a real eye-opener for us as the sheer amount of bands and venues here was like nothing else. During all of this I had written a few songs that I thought would be good to play as a solo act, I’d done a few gigs under my own name but it wasn’t something I’d pursued too much. But after a little while I got some friends of mine together to play a few shows and it all went from there. Now I’ve got two singles out and this new EP!
Name me your 3 favorite Albums.
Very difficult to pick just three! But ones I always come back to and inspire me are:
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Carole King – Tapestry
What was the first song you heard that steered you into a music path?
It was probably the first song I learned to play on guitar which was Talk Tonight by Oasis. Before that I had always had a deep love of music, I’d sing along to albums I liked and that kind of thing but I’d never learned to play anything until that one. I felt like I’d unlocked some kind of secret after learning those chords and it helped demystify so much for me.
The music industry is the hardest industry in the world to progress in, How do you feel you are doing?
It certainly can be! But I feel like the best thing to do is to measure what you define as ‘success’ against yourself rather than something or someone external. So by that I mean, as long as you’re challenging yourself, writing the songs you always wanted to write, getting better at your instrument, better at singing or whatever it is you’ve wanted to work on then you’re progressing. Often it can be quite small steps towards establishing yourself or getting your music out to more people, but that’s totally fine and it’s worth stopping and acknowledging those things.
I’m seeing a lot of debate about women not feeling safe at music gigs, any thoughts on what we need to do to help?
It’s hugely important for women to feel safe at gigs, and they have a right to enjoy concerts without fear. Music is supposed to be communal and it’s supposed to include everybody so it’s incredibly disappointing to hear about bad experiences. A lot of venues in Melbourne have been proactive about making their venues safe and anybody can speak to staff to point out someone making them feel unsafe security will make sure appropriate action is taken like ejecting them from the venue, getting the police involved, etc. I think that’s good to manage those incidences but it really shouldn’t even be happening in the first place. People need to not just have consequences for their actions but to understand from an early age that women should be treated with respect. I hope as a society we’re making progress on that, and I do feel that in years to come this situation will look quite different from how it does now. As performers we need to communicate that our shows are for everybody, everybody has the right to feel safe there and any behavior that makes women feel unsafe won’t be ignored.
As you develop as an artist and develop using socials what ways do you get new ears on your music? Any tips?
I’m a chronic Shazammer/Soundhounder so if I’m out somewhere and hear something interesting I’ll get out my phone and find out who it is. It could be in a supermarket, at a gig, at a restaurant… I just can’t help it! Then I’ll have a listen to their music, so it’s always good to make sure your music is on those kinds of services. I also listen to a lot of radio and find new music that way, whether that’s digital radio, mainstream radio or community radio stations. Podcasts are good to find new music too (shout out to Dug By Us!). But I think one of the biggest things is still word of mouth, if someone tells me about a new band or album they’ve been getting into I’ll always look it up and listen to it.
What’s your thought on Spotify’s monopoly on the music industry?
I think it’s a bit of a shame that in general that’s seen as the only place to listen to music by a lot of people, as there’s other options which I prefer like Tidal for example. But I think that with any technology it takes a bit of time for most people to explore other options. It was the same with video streaming initially but that grew after a while and people have their preferences.
Do you sign up for any conspiracy theories?
No I don’t. But that said, I feel like Cadbury Creme Eggs get smaller every year yet the price is still the same… something to think about…
Did you buy anything you don’t need during the pandemic?
I don’t think I did, to be honest! I was surprisingly pretty good with my purchases during the pandemic.
What was the worst experience on stage?
Probably not the worst but I remember once when The Naysayers were supporting a band from interstate (and were lending our amps) my guitar amp almost literally blew up in the first 10 seconds of the first song. There was this loud pop and it took a few seconds for everyone to realise there was no sound coming out of my amp. Not a fun thing to happen right away! I ended up going through the desk while some friends found another amp for the band we were supporting. Tech problems like that really throw you off.
Tell us something about you that you think people would be surprised about.
People are always surprised when I tell them I don’t have any tattoos. I have nothing against them and they look cool on other people, I just don’t think I could pull off that look, to be honest.
What makes you stand out as an artist?
I don’t shy away from a good melody and I love a singalong chorus. But I also tend to write about quite specific things, little quiet moments in time and that kind of thing and the songs can be quite personal too. So I find that I join quite opposite things together in my music: personal and universal, melancholy and humorous, specific and general. Those kinds of things.
I hear you have a new music, what can you tell us about it.
Skipping Stones On A Salt Lake is my first EP as a solo artist and I spent a bit of time writing four new songs for it, rather than recording songs that I already had in my set. I’ve written them from the perspective of four characters and had a lot of fun writing in a more narrative way than I usually do. I really just followed my instincts with these ones so there’s quite a bit of variety in the kinds of styles and how I sang or played them.
Talk me through the thought process of the new tune/s.
Some of them started with a title and an idea of what they’d be about, and some I just started writing and saw where they took me.
With Palm Tree Wallpaper, the title came from talking about the decor in a cafe or bar (I wish I could remember which one it was!) and for some reason, it stuck with me as a good title for a song, I’d written it down but couldn’t work out what it could possibly be about. Then one night all of a sudden I had the idea of somebody wanting to break some bad news to their parent but getting distracted by the wallpaper bringing up happy memories. I wrote the music and lyrics at the same time pretty much all at once.
Half A Tank was a bit difficult at first, I’d wanted to write about someone on a race against time trying to get to a country town. I found I was getting way too specific with details and was struggling with the music in the verses. I took it to my friend and writing partner Daniel Lomas when I was in Perth, and he and I finished it together. He had great advice about pulling back and not getting too bogged down in details.
Midnight At The Karaoke Bar was one of those songs that really made me work hard for it. I had the title and I knew what I wanted it to be about, but I just couldn’t come up with anything that worked. I gave it a bit of space for a little while and came back to it and finally finished it. It was one of those songs that felt like I had all the puzzle pieces but I didn’t know where they all went. But once I got that kind of woozy, late-night mood of the song worked out it became a lot easier. I had a lot of fun writing about different images of a karaoke bar at closing time.
Departure Lounge Blues was inspired by hearing the song ‘I Wonder Who You Are Waiting For’ by Mike McClellan. I loved the story and the melancholy feeling in that song and it stayed with me for a long time. He’d written a blog about writing it which I found really interesting, and I decided to write my own song in a similar setting. I had the chorus and title but no other lyrics or music at the time. I thought about who this person would be and what they’d be feeling but I felt like I had too many ideas. I was talking about it with my wife and she suggested writing from the perspective of somebody working in the airport departure lounge and it all went from there.
What was the recording process like?
It was really fun and relaxed. I recorded it with Harrie (from The Naysayers) at his place. It was on summer break so I’d drive over there in the blazing afternoon heat and stay there for hours recording. Then he’d go and make one of his signature amazing meals while I tracked vocals. It was really collaborative too, with him playing keys on one song and an awesome guitar solo on another.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new tunes?
Definitely learning the whole “forest for the trees” thing. I found that ironically, the harder I tried to write something, the more difficult it was. Every time I took a few steps back and let things have a bit more breathing room it all came much easier. I think that’s a pretty good lesson in general really.
Would you change anything now it’s finished?
Not at all, it all worked out really well with the recording, mixing and mastering process so it came out exactly as I imagined. That’s in no small part due to the people who did all of that, and how easy it was to communicate my ideas to them.