PLAYLIST: Holy Fuck’s Songs That Inspired “Deleter”

Keyboardist Graham Walsh explains how E-40, Oneohtrix Point Never, and other artists influence the band’s music.

Every so often, Holy Fuck grace us from on high (Canada) with a new LP of high-energy, instrumental electronic rock that sounds like it could soundtrack a DCOM about blackhats (I guess the band would have to release it under a pseudonym if they wanted to be billed in the credits). Since “Lovely Allen” earned them commercial success in 2007, the group’s sound has slowly evolved over four subsequent releases, most recently landing them in the realm of krautrock and neo-psychedelia on their new record, Deleter, which they dropped last week.

After fifteen years together, the band attributes their development to the amount of time they’ve had to collectively hone their craft—as well as an ever-expanding palette of musical influences to draw from. But when I talk to keyboardist Graham Walsh, it quickly becomes clear that it isn’t so much Spotify’s Discover Weekly feature that’s informing their taste as it is personalized playlists from friends and peers. Walsh excitedly recommends up-and-coming Saddle Creek signees Disq and, more so, their Current Enjoyments Spotify playlist, as a recent source of musical obsession.

“This is a subject we’ve been thinking about lately with the record: algorithms, artificial intelligence compiling things for you,” Walsh muses. “‘Well, if you like this kind of music, then here’s more of this that you like.’ How do you disrupt that? It still takes human interaction to shake you out of it. This is a prime example, when a band themselves put a playlist together—that’s the way to do it.” 

The foursome have elected to pay it forward with their own playlist, with Walsh serving as the mouthpiece for their picks. Spanning everything from Albinian post-hardcore to Aphex Twin, Walsh details the broad parameters of influences on their fourth LP.

Deleter is out now via Last Gang—you can order it here.

How did you go about selecting songs for this playlist?

Some songs have more direct connections, and some are just songs that we were either collectively or individually listening to in and around the time of recording—so I still think that qualifies as an influence, if something’s particularly resonating with you while you’re recording, it kind of seeps in there. And then there’s a couple songs that were maybe not direct influences on the album, but poignant to the timeframe that we were recording, or had a connection to us as a band. I think that E-40 song in particular is one of those.

Yeah, that was one of the one’s I thought seemed odd—with that one, Nice as Fuck, Big Black, and Sonny Sharrock in particular I was kind of like, “I listened to the album, I don’t really hear any of those influences…”

[Laughs.] Yeah, well, I think what this also demonstrates is that when we do these kinds of playlists, it sort of sheds a light on how we are as a band—we have very diverse tastes in music. We’re omnivorous—we just love all types, we bring all these different things to the table. The E-40 song was one that I put it in there. When we’re working on the record, often I’ll make a mental list if there’s something that I’ll reference when we’re working on something—these playlists become sort of a drop-box, “I’ll put it in there cause you’ll never know.” So that E-40 song…our sound guy was playing it all the time when we were on tour. We recorded this record over a big span, so we were going on tour in-between, and he was soundchecking the PA system with that song. Alejandro is like a member of the family, so that’s why I put that song in there—it meant something to all of us at that time, and we all got a kick out of it.

Our drummer [Matt Schultz] put [Big Black] in, that was his contribution. He put that and the Brainiac song in there, so you can see where his headspace comes from. The Sonny Sharrock song was our bass player [Matt McQuaid], and he was just listening to it a lot at the time. We’re just listening to whatever, so I think that all sort of seeps in during the writing and creating process.

I’ve done dozens of these playlist posts—I know these artists, I know what kind of music they make, and I always expect them to compile songs that sound like them. But it’s always the most diverse stuff. There’s always a song by The Cure on there. I mean, obviously everyone likes The Cure, I don’t know why it’s still so shocking to see that.

Definitely! I think we definitely have found a way of expressing what we want to express, and then can listen and take reference from certain things in an odd way. For me, some of these songs create an atmosphere that I think is inspiring and really cool, and that’s what I was listening for particularly. Maybe not picking out a particular sound—although there’s a couple songs in there with certain sounds that I liked, or a general vibe. Or like the Oneohtrix Point Never song, “Child of Rage,” is like an idea of what a song can be, and I was listening to that record a lot around the time and being like, “What is this? This is amazing!” I know there’s a lot of artists that do this, but that one in particular kind of changed my perspective of what a song could be.

That’s another artist who I’ve seen on a lot of these playlists.

It’s cool to see the band’s bands, the artist’s artists! I’m sure he shows up a lot, he’s very inspiring. And The Cure for sure bring the songwriting, and the vibe is definitely something to get inspired by.

Do you have any examples of specific ideas in songs that you carried over to this album?

I think with the Cure song, maybe, you could point to the bass tone on “Near Mint” on our record. Or the Mike Dunn song or the Adonis song, maybe, are more vibes. “Luxe” on our album doesn’t sound anything like those songs in the end, because we’re running it through our process, but maybe the start of the idea came about from listening to stuff like that that was inspiring. I know that Crystal Waters song was one that [keyboardist Brian Borcherdt] put in there. Obviously we aren’t trying to copy anything, but the soul of the vocals in that was what drove him to make the vocals in “Free Gloss.” It was kind of a little beacon to follow.

The Nice as Fuck song was one that we were listening to as a band around the time, and I think it was just a general vibe that I think inspired us when we were working on the songs. Those ones I mentioned were maybe a little more direct, but I don’t think there’s really going to be anything that’s like, “If you hear the synth sounds in this song, you can hear where we came up with that.” I don’t know, I like the environment they put your headspace in.

Your music has sort of changed over the past fifteen years. Have you noticed your taste in music changing with that? Has the way your taste evolved changed with the way your music has?

“I think we can get inspired by many different types of music and bring inspirations from all these different sources into Holy Fuck, and because we’ve evolved as a group we can then churn it out and it will be distinctively a Holy Fuck song at the end of the day.” 

I would say no, actually. We’ve always been very open to anything—our musical taste has always been very diverse. Early on we were really learning how to work together and do this thing we wanted to do. We were embracing the limitations of gear and exploring that way of creating within our own musical limitations. By creating these limitations we were really able to grow as a group and figure out a way to write songs together. So now that we’ve figured it out, we’ve really been able to branch out. Again, I think we can get inspired by many different types of music and bring inspirations from all these different sources into Holy Fuck, and because we’ve evolved as a group we can then churn it out and it will be distinctively a Holy Fuck song at the end of the day. 

The other day I likened it to some sort of machine, where at the top you can input any raw idea of any kind and it’ll make its way through this machine and come out the other end a Holy Fuck song. You can put in a really minimal drum machine beat, or a crazy drone, or guitar line, or keyboard line and we’ll flush it out into a song, and it’ll be—we feel—distinctively our own thing.

I was noticing listening to the new album that it seems sort of psych-heavy, but I didn’t see a lot of psychedelic artists on this playlist. Do you think the Holy Fuck machine is kind of psychedelic now?

[Laughs.] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Again, there’s a spirit there—when we hit on an idea, and we hit on something we like, there’s an air around it that is distinctive, and maybe that is psychedelic in its own way. I don’t know, I use really terrible adjectives like it’s “levitating,” it’s “euphoric” and things like that, and I don’t know if those are distinctly psych references, but I can hear that for sure in our music. We have lots of delay and whooshy sounds.

I always think about bands who have been around for a decade or so and I wonder if it’s ever like my experience of going back to my hometown and running into my classmates from high school who I didn’t really associate with then, but I get along with now. Did you guys have any contemporaries from the mid-’00s who you’re just now starting to appreciate as artists, or as friends?

We’ve become friends with Wire, and that’s pretty awesome [laughs]. They saw us play at All Tomorrow’s Parties years ago and liked it, and introduced themselves. Our drummer’s kept in touch with Colin a bit, so that’s been really cool. The !!! guys we’re friends with, which is also pretty awesome. I think the first one ever was when we first started out and we were the backing band for Beans. I guess that was someone I’ve always been aware of and always loved their music, but then we got to play with them. 

Were there any other specific songs on the playlist you wanted to talk about?

Not really. We have fun putting these playlists together, though. When I thought about answering these questions and connecting them to the record I thought about the idea of writing what we liked about all these songs rather than connecting them to anything particular on the record. There’s nothing really super direct in our playlist that has super direct connection to the record, but it’s sort of a general inspiration. 

That’s kind of what a playlist is—you compile songs from a certain time and you have that to look back on, like, “Oh yeah, I remember recording this thing, I was listening to E-40.”

Yeah, it shouldn’t be too overthought, and you shouldn’t be too precious about it—it’s a mixtape. I don’t know how other artists are, but you’re interviewing artists around album release time when we’re really vulnerable and thinking about ourselves a lot and forced to talk about ourselves, trying to make these really deep connections with things, and talk about them in a deep, smart way. Meanwhile, you’re like, “I don’t know man, I just listened to the E-40 song a bunch of times and it’s cool! I don’t know how to make it sound poetic, like I’m really intelligent!” [Laughs.] FL

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