Q+A: 5 Minutes with Holo
If you wander down into the Melbourne streets tonight, chances are you’ll find some pretty cool sounds echoing around however, none quite as unique as local Holo and his latest single, ‘Bleu’ fresh off the Houseum presses. The song was created as a nod to Bicep’s ‘Glue’ with a light blue colour entering the mix in Holo’s mind: “Sometimes I get that when making music – a really strong mental image, whether it be a colour, or a scene.” The single is a glimpse of the producer’s upcoming EP, In Limbo which will be available on the 11th of March via Houseum’s sub-label Ellipse Records.
Hugo Horwood (aka Holo himself) draws from unexpected genres, including pop, classic rock, acid and 90s hip hop, to create a sound that is truly his own, a tactic that has worked so far for the producer as he’s quickly gaining recognition around the world. Naturally, we were curious about the rising artist and the intricate workings within his creative mind. Find it all in the exclusive interview below.
Set the tone for us. Why the arts?
I grew up in a very musical household – my Dad loves music, writes songs and taught me to play the guitar. My Mum’s a writer and is super creative too, so I guess it’s in my genes! I’ve always loved music, and I can’t remember music as something I chose to do necessarily … I’ve always done it and I don’t think I could stop doing it even if I wanted to. I get really excited by the process of making music, from the initial writing phase all the way to the final mixdown … I love everything about it.
Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?
As most producers would probably say, it depends. I often get inspired by a synth preset (Arturia’s Analog Lab and Spitfire Audio LABS plugins are my go-to’s) and come up with a melody or chord progression more easily when I like the sound I’m using. But I’m also an instrumentalist – I play guitar and bass on a lot of my tracks – and so I often come up with ideas by just messing around with the record button on. I often start with samples too, but I try and never treat them as ‘the idea’, rather something I can treat as a starting point, and re-contextualise completely with another idea.
Does your material feature any collaborations?
Not at this stage, but it’s something I’d love to do! I have plenty of tracks in the backlog that could do with vocals. I’m also working on a side project right now called New Monika, and we’re writing tracks that are songs, and are half-electronic half-guitar based. We’re considering collaborating with other artists for that project.
What’s on your current playlist?
You can listen for yourself here!
While that playlist is electronic stuff, I actually listen super widely. I once read that Daft Punk didn’t listen to electronic music much at all, and it shows in their music. They combine influences from all sorts of genres, and I think that’s a part of the reason their music is so unique and admired. I try and do the same, and usually listen to Disco, Soul, Classic Rock, Pop, stuff from all eras and genres. I’m so excited for the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album too with John Frusciante back in the band… he’s an absolute idol of mine.
Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.
With lockdowns in Melbourne in the past two years, there hasn’t been a huge opportunity to do gigs. I’ve been working on a live show for a while and I’m planning to start DJing in Melbourne too, once I’m ready.
What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?
Several things come to mind.
When I play the guitar, I play a lot of arpeggios up the neck. I like to play a lot of open strings and come up with interesting voicings of chords… Johnny Marr from The Smiths is a big influence in this respect.
When I play the bass guitar, I try and keep it simple, but not do anything too obvious either. I play the bass over programmed drums, often layered with drum break samples, so that mix of quantisation and imperfection is a big feature of my music.
When I play keys, I try and never quantize my recorded MIDI, as the part feels more natural that way. It’s another thing I read Daft Punk did too. Imperfection is missing in a lot of music we hear today, and so I like hearing a few mistakes in my playing, so long as they’re ‘good mistakes’.
Finally, I like to use samples but use them in a way where they serve the track in a supporting way, rather than exist as the core idea.
Take us through a day in the recording studio.
I’ll often start with an 808 kit and just lay down a 4/4 kick drum.
Then I’ll usually open Analog Lab and browse through presets and mess around on my keyboard until I find something I like. If I don’t, then I’ll pick up the guitar. Maybe I’ll try layering effects – I’m a BIG user of Ableton’s Stock Reverb – but I’ll keep switching instruments and sounds until I find an idea (or two combined) I really like. It’s a gut thing. I find once I’ve got a cool core idea, then usually writing and arranging everything else is relatively easy. I find it useful to have the kick drum playing along as I try and find the core idea because in my opinion the kick is the most important aspect of a house track, and it’s so important that the rest of the elements fit around it nicely.
When I write, I follow my gut without the finished product in mind. It’s a hugely important part of my process because I free myself from any internal expectations. I can write based on how I’m feeling at the time, experiment in multiple genres, have fun, not judge myself and most importantly do things that are unusual, such as combining elements from different genres. If I always set my mind to writing a specific type of track then I’d have to tell myself “No, you can’t do that”, which isn’t much fun. And I need to be having fun to write good music.
Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?
I think I’ve always wanted music to be something I do full-time, but I never entertained the thought properly until recently. I suppose I started thinking about it when Houseum posted my track “Atlas” that I emailed them a couple of years ago. As I’ve started to sign releases with more labels, read YouTube comments on my music, chatted to people on Insta, and I hear my music improving, the more I want this to be my full-time career.
Any emerging artists on your radar?
Barry Can’t Swim is so great! Hasn’t been around for too long but is absolutely killing it.
Other than that, no one really comes to mind! As I mentioned earlier, I listen so widely and to a lot of older music too so I’m not particularly clued in as to emerging artists. I should change that.
What gets your creative juices flowing?
Listening to music mostly. If I’m really feeling something I’m listening to, I often start writing something that is inspired by that track.
A sample that catches my ear can really inspire me too. Or a synth preset. Or just waking up on a Saturday morning, not hung-over, and with tons of energy to put into the music.
I find it relatively easy to get the juices flowing, but actually finishing things is a whole lot harder! I love the process from start to finish, though.
Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.
In order of importance:
Arturia Analog Lab
Arturia Keystep 37
Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster
Hofner Bass Guitar (just a cheap Chinese one)
Takamine Acoustic Guitar
Ableton Stock Effects (Reverb, Compression, QR)
Roland TR-8s (but I hardly use it now, to be honest)
Event 20/20 BAS V3
Any side projects you’re working on?
Yeah! I’m working on a side project right now with a friend called New Monika.
We’re working on an EP. The tracks sound like I’ve produced them, but they’re not Holo tracks. The songs and are kind of half-electronic, half-guitar based. I’m super excited about it and to stay tuned, follow us at @newmonika.music
How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?
I’m better at mixing and arrangement and making good musical decisions within each. For me, musical intuition isn’t something where “you’ve either got it, or you don’t”, but rather a learnt skill like anything else, so I’m often watching tutorials on YouTube and trying to improve. I also listen to music really analytically, pulling it apart, which helps a lot.
I’m also less naive about electronic music since my debut EP was released. More aware of its conventions and the rules I want to break.
I’m more willing to experiment. I want to write a track in 5/4. Or sample a kazoo, and turn it into a pad for example. Do weird things that others aren’t, and make it work.
Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?
My new EP from Houseum Records’ sub-label Ellipse Records is out on March 11th.
I also have another EP coming out via Deliciuese Records’ Noire & Blanche a month or so later.
Finally, I have my second release on Shall Not Fade records coming out later this year.
Famous last words?
I want Holo to be an open-source kind of project, where I’m completely transparent about my production process in order to help others learn and improve.
If you’re reading this and you’re a producer, there are Ableton tutorials for my tracks here:
I’ll upload plenty more soon!