Until now, Owen Holmes is perhaps better known for his bass-work with Black Kids. However whilst awaiting the completion of the notoriously difficult second album, he decided to set out on his own under the moniker of Gospel Music.
Late last month he released his debut EP ‘Duettes’ through Fierce Panda and Kill Rock Stars in the US which features guest appearances from Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura, SoKo, Shirley Simms of Magnetic Fields, Darren Haymen of Hefner and Cassie Ramone of Vivian Girls.
We caught up with Owen to find out a little bit more on his new project.
Would you care to introduce yourself?
Owen Holmes — long-distance runner, Democrat, mediocre-but-improving cook, naturalist (in the philosophical sense).
Congratulations on the new EP, it sounds great, How did it come about?
Thank you, Euan. Over the past couple years my songs have stopped being awful, and in maybe February I noticed I had a couple duet-like tunes in the can. I thought it’d be clever to spell the word “duettes,” which to me suggests that the songs are short and simple, so I wrote a few more duets, and ta-da.
The new EP is comprised entirely of duets with different special guests featuring on each… How did you choose your collaborators?
It was clear to me early on whom I’d like to have for each one, and lo and behold, all but one singer (not sayin’ who) agreed to contribute. It had mostly to do with the nature of each song, as you’d expect. The little stops at the beginning of the verses in ‘Automobile’, for example, reminded me of Camera Obscura’s ‘French Navy’, so I went for Tracyanne for that one. I’ve been a fan since Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi, which I discovered while “studying abroad” at the University of Edinburgh years ago, so I was happy to see it work out.
How did the recording process work? Did you get everyone in the studio or was it all done in parts in situ? Any tales to tell?
I recorded my vocals and all the music at home in Jacksonville, Florida — mostly in the kitchen of my apartment. The contributors recorded their parts in their respective places of residence and sent me the audio files. Very hi-tech, you see. No great stories to tell, though I could say that wiring money to the Glasgow studio where Tracyanne recorded her vocals might have been the most convoluted, Kafkaesque experience of my life. Don’t tell her.
My favourite track on the EP is the lead single ‘Automobile’. I just can’t get it out of my head, it’s simple and extremely catchy and your vocal with Traceyanne Campbell’s work great together. What is your favourite track, and why?
Beauty and the beast, right? ‘Are Your Parents Still Together?’ has stood out to me lately. It’s like, I don’t know what kind of music that is.
Are there any plans to take Gospel Music on the road, if so, where and when? If not, Why not!?
There’ll be a handful of shows for this record. No hard dates yet but I’m looking at either side of the new year, both in the US and UK. One of the contributors will be with me, singing on all the songs.
You’ve got a couple of cracking record labels behind you in Kill Rock Stars and Fierce Panda for this release, so what’s in the pipeline for Gospel Music? Any plans for future releases?
I know, right? There’ll be a full-length next year, sooner than later — I’ve got about half of it written at the moment. That album will just be “normal” songs, with maybe the occasional guest.
The lyrics on the EP are amazing, think that ‘Gamophobia’ is the only track I know of where I have seen Jesus and Tchaikovsky name checked in the same verse… Have you got any favourite lyrics on here? Can you talk a little bit about your song writing process?
Ah yes, ‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus’ is a hymn I sang growing up at church — not sure if it’s well-known in your parts. I’m still new at this, but I suppose my favorite lyrics are the most specific ones — about JFK, gumbo, National Public Radio (another American conceit), etc. Stephin Merritt has said songwriting is all about “the nouns, the beautiful nouns,” and I’m inclined to agree. My songs usually start with a kernal of truth — something I’m experiencing, say — that’s then embellished or twisted to be more interesting. An example from the record would be ‘I Miss The Shit Out Of You’ — the first verse is about my feelings for my girlfriend at the time, but instead of keeping it a straightforward love song, I fictionalized the second verse, wherein my lover says she doesn’t miss me quite enough to move to my backwards town to be with me.
Staying with the lyrics for a little longer, they remind me quite a lot of Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields with perhaps also a hint of Jonathan Richman and Adam Green thrown in for good measure… Have you got any particular songwriters that you admire or who have influenced you and your lyrics?
You nailed it with the first two, or at least I’d like to think so. I’m less familiar with Adam Green’s work. I started preferring logical lyrics a few years ago — who knew how much harder it is to write a song that makes sense. To that effect, other favorite lyricists include Dwight Yoakam, Lee Hazlewood, Darren Hayman and Cass McCombs.
How does it feel to be out there on your own outwith the Black Kids banner?
That’s the catch with a solo project, I’m finding out: you have all the control, and you have all the responsibility. There’s no one else there saying, hey, we’ve gotta write songs, or practice, or whatever. If you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done, and no one will ever care. At least at first.
What’s happening with Black Kids? Last I heard you were recording a second album…?
Yep, still writing #2 back home in Florida. Stay tuned.
Finally, We’d like you to make a mix tape, can you pick five tracks to kick it off?
Here’s what I’m digging at the moment:
‘A Picture Of Our Torn-Up Praise’ by Phosphorescent
‘I Can’t Talk About It’ by El Perro Del Mar
‘Just Like A Movie Star’ by The 6ths
‘Rebel Jew’ by Silver Jews
‘Jet Plane’ by Papercuts