In it, keyboardist/singer Ryan discussed their recent dates (including opening for The Lemonheads on their It’s a Shame About Ray tour in Boston), touring with Mobius Band, making their self-titled debut full-length (QRO review), making music with his guitarist/singer brother Hays, playing with artists from Lady Sovereign to The Walkmen, a good story about police officers, having Thom Yorke curse out his childhood friend, and more…
QRO: How have these recent dates been?
Ryan Holladay: They’ve been great. We played Boston last night, at a place called ‘Paradise’, which is an interesting… it’s a bizarre layout for a club. It’s long, but instead of having the stage on the long end, you have the stage on the short end. When you do soundcheck, the sound comes right back to you.
It’s probably about the same size as [Bowery Ballroom], but everybody’s sort or crawling over each other – which is cool – but it feels like a really small venue. But I think it holds about the same amount of people.
I heard it’s the first place U2 played when they came to the States.
QRO: You opened there for The Lemonheads (QRO live review in NYC), on their It’s a Shame About Ray tour. How was that?
RH: It was cool. It was very cool. We were kinda busy afterwards, so I didn’t get to hear it in its entirety. I was never a big Lemonheads fan, but Hays, my brother, pointed out, he was like, ‘You never owned that album, but it’s amazing how much of it, just through osmosis, you kind of know the songs’, just from being around at that time, listening to rock radio, when it still existed, you kind of know all these songs.
QRO: How does it compare with your tour with Mobius Band (QRO live review) over the winter?
RH: They were great. They were definitely a little further down the road, and that was our first tour, so it was great to have a band like that. We have a lot of similarities with them, in that they have a lot of electronics, there’s two singers, and… So the three of them sort of ‘sprinkled bits of wisdom’ as we went along, about different things they’d experienced.
But it was great, being out on the road with them, they’re great guys. And the other band we were with was Middle Distance Runner (QRO interview), they’re great guys too.
QRO: I saw Mobius at Hiro Ballroom (QRO photos). It’s sort of a weird place to have a show…
RH: We played with Lake Trout there. It feels like that scene in Kill Bill…
QRO: Oh my god, totally!
RH: I like it; it’s a different kind of feel.
QRO: Do you prefer doing one-off dates like these recent ones, with different bands, or tours, like the one with Mobius Band?
RH: That’s a good question. It’s hard, when you’re at our level, to tour for long periods of time across the States, because people don’t really know who you are.
It’s a lot more rewarding to stay focused. For instance, we’ve really been concentrating on New York, and D.C., and Boston, and trying to build a fan base there. It makes a lot more financial sense, ‘cause you don’t have to drive across the country. And it’s a slightly more… ‘tangible’ goal, I think, selling out places in these cities – we’re still a ways away from that.
I kinda prefer to do the one-offs, if only, we feel a little more energized when we do ‘em. This is just a three-day little tour we’re doing right now, it’s not even a ‘tour’, and we’re totally psyched for each one of them.
QRO: Were you at South by Southwest?
RH: We didn’t go this year. We went last year, played the Diesel show with Girl Talk and Tokyo Police Club (QRO interview). That was great, because they paid for us to go down there. This time, we just decided to forgo it, didn’t make as much sense this time. We had a lot of shows going on around here, at the time.
QRO: Do you do anything differently, at ‘industry showcases’ like that?
RH: Call all of our friends. We’re doing less and less of those, but I’m sure most bands go through this: you have these industry showcases where you have to call all your friends, and pack the place for one night.
The last one we did was in February at Mercury LoungeQRO review. That was one of those showcase situations, where we pulled every string, got everybody to come out.
QRO: Do you prefer headlining at smaller places like Mercury Lounge, or opening at bigger places like [Bowery Ballroom]QRO review?
RH: I prefer opening for somebody, now. At this level, I think it’s better – I like to play for new audiences. It’s fun – I don’t know how many people will be here tonight, but most of them will have never have heard us, so that’s exciting.
And that can go either way. Last night, I think people liked it, but it was definitely a different crowd. It’s The Lemonheads, so there was a lot of people that were older, who just came for that band; they’re not the kind of people who are going out to discover new music.
RH: Just through our book agent – we actually haven’t talked to them. But it seems like a good fit. And it’s a shorter tour as well. It should be really fun.
QRO: I saw [Snowden] at Roseland Ballroom (QRO live review), opening for Kings of Leon.
RH: I haven’t been to that club (QRO venue review) in ages. The only time I actually slept out for tickets to a show, when I first moved to New York, in 2000, Radiohead (QRO photos) had just put out Kid A, and they came for two shows there, and they hadn’t been here since OK Computer, and they announced tickets – people were in sleeping bags around the block. It’s the only time I’ve ever done that. It was pretty cool to see them there.
I’ve seen them a few times, and every time it’s been at smaller, or weird places. I saw them at Oxford, and I have this crazy story that I’m sure my friend won’t want me to recount.
One of my oldest friends is in The Whitest Kids U’Know show/comedy troupe, and when we were young, we went to see Radiohead on The Bends tour. It was that era when we were too young, and our parents came to the show, or my dad, and it was right after when crowd surfing and moshing was really popular. This had just passed; nobody was doing that anymore. You know how that kind of became big, and then it somehow, abruptly, stopped?
We got in right after that happened. So we went to this Radiohead show, and Zack [Cregger] was like, ‘Lift me up, I wanna crowd-surf!’ So I did that, and he knocked everybody down – all these people, this huge, gaping hole in the middle of crowd. Thom Yorke [lead singer of Radiohead] was so upset, and he stops playing in the middle of “Black Star”, he tells the band to stop, and he points at Zack, “Fucking asshole – no more crowd surfing!”
One of our first concert experiences… I thought it was pretty cool, “He talked to you”, but he was mortified.
QRO: You’re going to be playing WIUX’s Culture Shock Festival in Bloomington, Indiana (QRO Festival Guide) in a couple of weeks. Have you played outdoors before?
RH: Is that one outdoors? It could be outdoors, I think.
We did, we played with The Walkmen (QRO photos). Columbia [University] has an orientation thing; it was us and The Walkmen. We played on the stairs of the library. The library is sort of the ‘crown jewel’ of the whole quad there, so they had the stage on the stairs.
QRO: Do you do anything differently, if you’re outside?
RH: I borrowed their tambourine and broke it – I haven’t made a habit of doing that. Hopefully that’s not a typical outdoor thing.
They were very cool about it. I remember playing the tambourine, and all of the pieces, just flying everywhere. And I had to go to them afterwards, and tell them I broke their tambourine. They were really nice about.
QRO: How was making The Epochs?
RH: It was a long experience. It took a lot of different tries, with different people. I guess a band’s first record – their whole career leads up to that.
We were living in Seattle. The actual recording process was great. We went to this studio called London Bridge outside of Seattle. We rented it out ourselves, and just had a friend engineer it for us. It was a cool studio, it had a nineties, ‘that era’ – it was very big in the ‘grunge’ era. I think Alice in Chains recorded there, a couple Pearl Jam records, definitely that era. That was great.
So we did a lot of the tracking at that studio, and then we took those back, and did the rest in apartment we had in Seattle, we were living out there at the time. It was fun, but it was very disparate, because we recorded there, then we took it to our apartment, then we took it to New York – it wasn’t your typical ‘going into a studio, recording an album, and then it’s done.’ It took a little while, and at different places, to finish it.
QRO: What’s it like, making music with your brother?
RH: It’s great.
QRO: Do you have other siblings?
RH: We do, we have a younger brother who’s as different from us as you can imagine. He’s very into sports, he’s a great athlete, he listens to hip-hop – you know, like mainstream hip-hop – drives an SUV… He’s the total opposite of Hays and I. But we get along great. He has no musical urges at all. I don’t think he’s ever even wanted, tried to play an instrument.
But it’s great.
You don’t always have to feel this immense pressure. Which is part of what being in a band in general is – I can’t imagine doing it as a solo artist.
It’s been great – but we definitely have those moments of sibling quarrels…
QRO: How does the rest of your family feel about the two you doing this?
RH: They’re so supportive of it. I was fortunate enough – well, not ‘fortunate enough’, I guess, not the right word – to have graduated from NYU. Hays, who’s a little younger, when we decided to do this more seriously, he actually took time off at Columbia, and they were all for it, they were really supportive – and still are. I mean, that was a few years ago, and their support for what we’re doing hasn’t really changed.
Both our parents, and Kevin’s parents, and Kotchy’s parents – they’re all very supportive. It’s like having ‘one big family’. I mean, Hays and I stayed at Kevin’s parents’ house last night in Connecticut, Kotchy’s mom will send us cookies…
QRO: How did you meet (drummer) Kotchy and (bassist) Kevin [Smith]?
RH: We had a few different drummers before Kotchy, just for limited stints, nothing too serious. It was really difficult to find somebody who understood what we were trying to do with electronics, but also could just really play. A lot of times, when you find people that are drummers, but also into electronics, they kinda that way because they’re not that good at drumming…
But Kotchy’s a great drummer. We found him just through auditioning different people, which is a long process, just finding different friends who have friends who are drummers. And Kevin, we found through that, just through a friend of a friend. But, both of them were through an audition process.
QRO: Why is Kotchy sporting the one name?
RH: His grandmother named him ‘Kotchy’ as a nickname, when he was young, and he hated it for a long time, and then at some point, decided to embrace it.
QRO: Does Kevin hate the director, Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back)?
RH: You know, when I first met him – I think for the first month I met him – he went by ‘Stu Danbury’, for some reason. I found out later that wasn’t his real name – he quickly dropped that stage name after we found out his real name was ‘Kevin Smith’.
Everyone points it out that we haven’t yet had somebody come to show being disappointed that ‘Kevin Smith’ isn’t actually in a rock band, the director, that is.
QRO: Do you have any material that’s been written since The Epochs?
RH: Yeah, quite a bit.
QRO: Do you play any of it live?
RH: Yeah. This album is actually pretty old, for us. A lot of these songs we’ve tried to release, at different ways, at different points, but, for one reason or another, we couldn’t get it out.
We’re pretty far along. We’d like to put out an EP and another record within a year, at most.
QRO: How was shooting the video for “Love Complete”?
RH: It was great. We have these friends, down in Florida. They found this place in Florida that was this old ‘civic center’ that was about to be torn down, so they just let us go in and use it. It was this really cool room – I guess Elvis played there and all these people, back in the fifties, it was kind of a big ‘hot spot’, but it goes totally unused now.
We just decided to do just a ‘live shoot’ video, and we didn’t expect them to be so pro about it, but they brought along three cameras, a huge crane, and pulley… It was really fun; we’d never done anything like that.
It worked out really well, because that was during the Mobius Band tour, and we had one day off, and it happened to be in Orlando. It was very cool.
QRO: Are there any songs you really like playing live?
We don’t really have any guitar solos in our songs. When we wrote that song, we were listening to [The Talking Heads’] Remain In Light at the time, and the first song on that album, “Born Under Punches [(The Heat Goes On)]”, has this crazy, cut-up guitar solo, and I was like, “Hays, we should just do that, exactly, just rip that off.” That’s how we got away with doing a guitar solo in a song.
But it’s fun, ‘cause he does it really well. And it’s always fun, because he changes it every time, a little bit.
The Epochs playing “Mouths to Feed” live @ Mercury Lounge, New York, NY:
QRO: Are there any new songs you really like playing?
RH: There’s one song, we’ve been playing for quite a while, called “Hyena”, and that will be the first song we play tonight. I don’t know what we’re going to do with it, because we’ve never quite been able to get it right, recorded.
Then there’s a song, “Caught Up In the Laughter”, which is a new one, that we play as well. That’s it right now, I think, that’s new.
QRO: How many times have you played [Bowery Ballroom] (QRO venue review)?
RH: We were trying to figure that out – this is our fifth time here.
The first time we played here, we played here twice in one week. And both of them were shows that were kind of a weird bill: Lady Sovereign at first, then Spank Rock, all in one week.
QRO: How was playing with Lady Sovereign and Spank Rock?
RH: It was great. At the time, we had the same manager as Spank Rock, and Kotchy is old friends with one of the guys in Spank Rock. So that was fun.
Lady Sovereign was great too. We never met her, but it was a fun show. There was a girl in the front row – that show was really crowded, even when we were playing – there was a girl in the front row that looked exactly like Lady Sovereign (or at least, so we thought), and she kept screaming at Kotchy for his hat.
And we just didn’t know what to make of this. We were like, ‘If this is her, I guess we should give her the hat – we are the guests of the show…’ Later, we found out it was not her – he was like, ‘Why did I give this girl my hat?’
Spank Rock, that was one of my favorite records last year. I saw them open for Björk, too, a little while ago. They play with all sorts of people.
QRO: Are there any songs that you can’t play live, because of the arrangement, or just don’t like to play live?
RH: There are a number of ‘em that we’ve played at certain points, but… Even the first song on the record, “Thunder & Lightning”, we played it for a while, but we felt like it never was communicated right.
A number of our songs – I guess “Love Complete” is another one. We’ve played it before, but it’s never come across as well as we like. A lot of that song is based on the string arrangements.
QRO: Do you ever feel bad about having a video for a song you don’t like to play live?
RH: Ha-ha – we should, right?…
We’ve always just tried to keep it fresh for ourselves, too. We did play that song; that was sort of a staple for a long time. Now we’re getting a little bit tired of it.
QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing at?
RH: [Bowery Ballroom] is probably our favorite venue to play, just because the staff is wonderful here.
Other places we’ve played that have been great?… The Black Cat, in D.C., was really fun, but mainly because Hays and I grew up there, and we’d never played at that venue. We played with Travis Morrison; he’s kind of a ‘D.C. legend’. So that was a fun show to play in D.C.
I like all the ‘Bowery [Presents]’ places, [Bowery Ballroom], Mercury [Lounge] (QRO venue review), both are really fun to play.
QRO: Are there any particular special cities and places that you’re going to that you’re looking forward to?
RH: We’re playing at University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, and I hear it’s the most beautiful campus. It’s apparently on some mountain, and it’s supposed to be gorgeous. I think we’re playing outdoors for that one – so we might be playing a few outdoor shows – I don’t know that for sure, but I’m kind of looking forward to that, because it won’t be your typical, dingy club.
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
RH: Unfortunately, we haven’t toured too much yet, so we don’t have a lot of ‘crazy stories’…
It wasn’t actually when we were on tour, but it involves our van. When we were in Seattle, recording, we were living in this neighborhood called ‘Belltown’, very up-and-coming, but still a little bit shady. And our van got broken into. We were out of town at the time, actually, but our van was there.
The only thing that was in the van was our merch. But, these guys took our merch out and… tried to sell it on the street. They put the shirts on, tried to sell it on the street.
While we were in Seattle, we were DJing at a place called ‘The Chapel’; we were doing a regular DJ thing just while we were there, just to keep busy. There were posters around the city, for this event.
He didn’t arrest them, because he knew that, if he did that, all the merch would become evidence, so we wouldn’t get it back. So he got all of our stuff back, and took it to the place where we DJed, The Chapel, and we got everything back.
So it’s a good story about police officers…