By Allan Sko
“We like to pull a bit of a move with the first single of a record and do a song that’s a bit outside of anything we’ve done before. Like a palate cleanser. Whatever you’re expecting, let go of it and see what comes next.”
So says Holy Holy co-founder Timothy Carroll about new single Messed Up featuring Aussie rap sensation, Kwame. Indeed, it is unlike what has gone before. An arpeggiated synth floats under Kwame’s confessional lyrics before launching the track into a kind of drum ‘n’ bass beat; post drum ‘n’ bass, if you will.
This surprise is unsurprising for those who have followed Timothy Carroll and musical cohort Oscar Dawson’s six-plus year journey. They like to keep their audience, as well as themselves, entertained with the unknown.
What is for certain, though, is the sheer pumping, ebullient energy of their live show, which us lucky punters can witness when the chaps hit the road for the Messed Up tour. And further to Carroll’s comment on its wipe-the-board sonic nature, it further serves as a salient single choice due to the story behind it.
“We started writing the song around the time of the bushfires, actually,” Carroll reveals. “When I was living down in Tassie, the smoke from Victoria was coming across the street and blacking out the sky. It was all feeling a bit apocalyptic.”
“I remember sitting up on the deck one night with my wife, conversing about, ‘Oh, my god, like, how bad is this going to get? What would we do?’ Gaming out a bit of an apocalyptic scenario. So that’s where the song came from. Then there was the pandemic, which was a whole ‘nother kind of messed up.”
Further turbulence came in the writing process.
“As we were coming down the straight from the last record, something about that song didn’t quite feel right,” Carroll says. “We had a different chorus…. I wasn’t really feeling it. So we let it be.”
“When we started making this new record, both Oscar and I independently went back to that song. There was something there; the melodies and lyrics had value. One day, we were collaborating with Tasman (Keith, renowned musician). As they were leaving, we texted him a link to the Dropbox with all the demos of the songs. And Kwame found an instrumental version of the song, which would have been called messed-up.wav, or something.”
“He didn’t say, hey, I want to do a bit on this or anything. He recorded his first verse, wrote the chorus hook, and sent it back to us. We realised we could pair his work with one of the verses from my original song. After writing another little bridge part, the song came together beautifully.”
What follows, of course, is the fun part; playing it live.
“We’ve been playing it on the road, which has been great,” Carroll enthuses. “Kwame is such a charismatic performer. These guest collaborators bring so much to the stage; I feel like I’ve got to lift my game to keep up. He’s a great performer; guiding the crowd through the song.”
And let us not forget their established bandmates.
“The band is a pretty powerful machine,” Carroll states. “Our drummer, Ryan Strathie, is an absolute savant; our bass player, Graham Ritchie, I’ve worked with for a decade… The musicianship on stage is really good. And we’ve got a great team doing the front of house too.”
“When you combine that with the songs, and the heart and passion behind the project… And then the audience, many of whom have been listening for years. It can be a pretty magical kind of synthesis.”
In this lengthy chat, many topics are covered. On his progression with singing, Carroll states: “As I went on during my career, I’ve been writing in a higher register with more complicated melodies. I have to actually train my voice now.”
On the striking Messed Up artwork, which also features in the music vid, and its potential meaning, Carroll says: “We wanted something austere and minimalist. We’ve actually worked it into the live show as well. We’ve got a big physical circle that sits above us at the shows. Our lighting designer turns it into like the moon and the sun and various different pulses to the beat.”
And on the Messed Up music video, where Carroll shows off a future Tiktok dance craze with a move I’ve dubbed The Carroll Crab Crawl.
“Look, it’s a bit embarrassing, especially next to such a stylish and rhythmic enchanting man Kwame. I feel like an absolute dag.”
From this, talk turns to the serious business of inspiration and songwriting.
“My approach to songwriting has changed a lot over the years,” Carroll tells. “It’s naive, maybe, but I had this idea about writing that it was like divine inspiration; one you could never depend upon happening.
“Oscar has been a great influence on me. He’s the producer. When we’re in the studio writing Holy Holy stuff, he’s there. When I leave and go back to the other life, he’s still in the studio, producing other bands. Just writing songs, having creative ideas, day in, day out.”
“For him it’s like going to work as a carpenter, or a chef. You arrive at work, you have the materials that you need, you go to work, and it happens.”
“I trust that process now. I can go for a four day studio session with Oscar and be certain that we’ll have written six good songs. I don’t need to be anxious about that happening.”
As this insightful chat draws to a close, I venture for details on the upcoming album. Carroll is refreshingly forthright.
“Yeah, I’ve actually been experimenting; I used to always be quite like tight lipped with the press,” Carroll says. “But I’m experimenting with being loose-lipped and dropping all kinds of bits and pieces.”
“So yeah, the record’s in good shape. We’ve got a solid 11 songs, ten of which are pretty much done and just require a bit of nuancing; a bit of spit and polish.
And there’s one that’s currently just a weird jam. But I think it’s cool. I kind of want it on the record. I think we’ll just let it be and not try and like to turn into anything else.”
And finally, what we’ve on been waiting on… The show.
“We’re playing a brand new, unreleased song on the tour,” Carroll beams. “The next single is called Pretend To Be. It’s been submitted to the Spotify gods, awaiting its release. I’m excited that the audience, rather than getting a digital premiere or some email where they click on a link, will hear the song for the first time in the room with us, performing live. That’s been a fun moment in the show.”
“And we’re also performing a song called St. Petersburg off the last record, which is the first time that song’s ever been performed as well. So there’s quite a few bits in it.”