Tallahassee rebel rousers, the melodically driven indie garage quartet of Holiday Shores showcased their brand of well-written American fables to the hipsters of Brooklyn. Dave Cromwell was there to catch the show and sit down for a short Q & A with the band's front man Nathan Pemberton.
The initial press releases for the band Holiday Shores were already full of impressive accolades. With heavyweight names like Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and The New York Times singing their praises, it was certainly worth giving them a listen, if only to see what the fuss was all about. The pleasant discovery was a new, creative approach to songwriting and sound design. Enjoying the digital album right from first listen, it was then off to Union Hall in Brooklyn on the 18th of November to catch the band live.
Although the predominant creative force emerged from the mind of Nathan Pemberton, Holiday Shores now functions as a full band which includes members Josh Martin, Ryan O'Malley and Peejay Perez de Alejo.
The band opened with "Days Drag" and it was a delightfully unique interpretation of the album track. No guitars and a two keyboard attack, the glockenspiel driven melody-line captured the songs true essence. Putting the keyboards aside and picking up guitars, "Bradley Bear" was played, where you could hear Pemberton sing "get your hands please off my fable." The sound here progresses from light and jazzy to a near trashy rock & roll sound - and then back again.
Following that was the wistful album opener "Reruns." Again it's soft jazzy guitar chords for the first minute before the stronger rock feel bursts through. Next up was a real surprise as the band did a cover of the Byrds classic "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" (from their seminal country-rock "Sweetheart Of The Rodeo" album). In addition to it being a true to the original rendition, the more sophisticated guitar work gave it a near Grateful Dead-like feel.
Also played was a hopped up and spirited version of "Edge of our Lives," which kept the overall theme of jazzy rhythm guitar chords, sinuous guitar riffs, busy high-hat drumming and throttling bass ever present.
Wanting to learn more about the inspiration for this music, I peppered frontman Nathan Pemberton with a series of questions.
Q: It has been stated that your album "reads like a book of well-written memories." Yet due to the sonic presentation of the songs (murky and buried lyrics, which is actually what initially made everything more interesting to me - as we are dealing in *music* here- and not a literary work, like a book) it's difficult to truly understand what the subject matter of the songs are all about. Can you describe the literal intentions of the songs?
The songs all attempt to have some sort of story embedded within them. And I'm certainly not shooting for the "literary rock" tag of various other artists, I just appreciate when you can get a glimpse of the scene or world that a writer is trying to portray. Often, I feel as if the songs on this record are a little too over-wrought in terms of detail and not focused enough in terms of plot. That balance is something that I've been working on for a while. As far as intentions go, I suppose the main intention would be, as I just mentioned, to just provide a peak into another world or into someone else's story; to broaden some horizons. I suppose all music attempts to do this, in some sense.
Q: Many of the songs have background vocals that remind me of the pop/soul music that was popular in the 1960's. Was there a conscious intent to portray this?
Certainly. I can't express how much the Ronettes and the Shangri-Las influence my vocal writing. These two groups, in addition to the Beatles and Crosby , Stills, Nash and Young are like the Gold Standard for us in terms of harmonies and vocals. However, we're about a few thousand years away from coming close to achieving anything close to those harmonies.
Q: Growing up in your respective homes, what music was being played by your parents or older siblings? Did you enjoy listening to it?
We all had a very diverse musical up bringing. My father was a big proponent of us listening to the Eagles, CCR, and Tom Petty, oh and Edgar Winters. It was a pretty American rock upbringing. I believe Josh was fed a hearty meal of Beatles and CSNY as a kid. Peejay has mentioned to me that he just listened to a lot of Latin Music with his folks (who are from Cuba ). He doesn't speak too highly of that.
Q: What record did you love growing up, but now can no longer listen to?
I would have to say it's Billy Joel's "River of Dreams". My mother probably played that record everyday when I was growing up.
Q: Which recorded music medium do you presently use the most: vinyl, CD or download?
Digital and Vinyl would be the top two. CDs are just dead for me. I'm starting to get more and more into cassettes. I think the CD might just be too flimsy for this time period. Vinyl has such a hearty, visceral vibe to it.
Q: In the song "Dens" there are references made to "monsters" and "bears". What's going on here?
Dens kinda started off as a lullaby. Eventually, it shifted to song about lullaby's and bankruptcy. It got a little too dark for where I am now. You probably won't see too many more songs like that.
Q: "I'll Spend Money I Don't Have" is quite atmospheric and dreamy. The use of what sounds like a music box provides a unique texture. However, the piece is almost shapeless - like a Brian Eno ambient work. Is he an influence? Or someone like him?
Brian Eno is such an influence. I'd love for any of our records to sound anything like Another Green World or Taking Tiger Mountain . The song was written and recorded after a period of not listening to Eno for a year or two. However, once we started playing Another Green World around the house, Josh and myself did a double take and realized the parallels "Money" has with Eno's ambient side.
Q: "Errand Of Tongue" has a great drum and guitar intro. The organ then adds a deep soulfulness. A predominant sonic texture throughout your record is a "clacketty" percussive element - be it sticks on the rim, high-hat cymbals and tambourine. Additional tom tom work creates a sense of motion that keeps everything from being static and boring. Do you approach the writing from this percussive point of view? Additionally, the lyrics states that "I was left upon the tower searching for my native tongue." Is this then, in fact, the "errand" of the title?"
That clacketty feel comes up a lot throughout the record. Like you said, that sense of motion was a very important element to me. I didn't like the idea of songs not being pushed along by some other force. I feel the extra percussion just added another sense of depth to the songs as a whole. In some cases, I think they might've bogged things down, but in this instance the overall effect works. I was listening to a lot of Brian Eno during this recording. He had a habit of adding to two kits to his songs. Each would be doing these completely different things, yet they still managed to work so well together.
Lyrically, you're right on point. The errand also refers to language barriers. I suppose the over-arching lyrical metaphor in this song would be the Tower of Babel . (Yes, I got a bit biblical).
Q: What artist or band would fans of Holiday Shores be surprised to find out that you like?
We all like early to mid 70's such as King Crimson, Yes, and Genesis.
Q: The clackety stick on rim percussion is also quite prominent on "Bradley Bear." Again, a bear is mentioned. Does the "bear" imagery have a specific significance for you?
This rim percussion on this track was developed by the various drummers who used to play with me. Our band rotated drummers quite frequently and each drummer, when being taught this song, would all naturally play a beat quite similar to the one on the recording. I suppose this made me realize we had to use that beat. The bear imagery was borrowed from a story my best friend started writing with a girl who proved to be quite a bit of trouble for him. I used the story of them writing this story about the bear as the basis of the song.
Q: What solo artist or band would you choose to cover one of your songs?
Arthur Russell, since we covered one of his songs.
Q: At any given moment, what might one find playing on a member of Holiday Shores' sound system?
Huge question here. Afro-Pop compilations, Prince, The Byrds, and Dirty Projectors. Steely Dan, too.
Q: "Edge Of Our Lives" is probably the most commercial sounding song on the record. Almost like a Steely Dan song. Has there been any thought given to put this one forward at some point, as a "radio friendly" song?
Well, I can't say we really think of things in terms of radio friendly or not. We'd like to write crushingly good pop songs. And if commercial music and radio didn't have their heads up their asses, I suppose we'd be seeing a whole shit-load of indie artists on mainstream radio.
Q: "Days Drag" could be my favorite song on the album. I like the harsh carnival organ that drives it along. However, it is the dream-like and joyous "la, la, la, ooooh, ooooh's" with glockenspiel enhancement - like a marching band is celebrating how you "don't go out much" that is uniquely appealing. Is this some kind of daydream fantasy? All of this "celebration" only resides in your head?
Days reminds of that Kinks song "Sitting by the Riverside ." They both have this oblique carnival organ type feel. Both songs also seem to be basking in the acceptance of apathy, in my opinion. I just now realized this. It's more of a lament to lazy relationships, I think. The celebration of a realization...
The boys take off on a guitar and vocal exploration