San Diego-based band Holy Tears introduces their self-titled eleven-track album, led by Alex Burtson on guitar, Greg Gerardi on bass, and Francis Winfield on drums. Holy Tears is a blend of post-rock and heavy rock, creating a sort of music that is both immediately intriguing and structurally rich, letting you sink deeper into its embrace with returning listens.
Our thoughts on the album can be read here, however, we were extremely curious to find out more about the band and the album’s themes, so here’s an interview with the band.
Hello, guys! Can you pinpoint a particular moment that made you dive into producing these sounds?
Alex: This project was based on some initial instrumental rock songs I created on my own as a form of cathartic self-expression over a decade ago. The project first took form as a band when I met Greg in 2019. Greg responded to an ad I posted on Craigslist that said I was looking for musicians to play with. I shared with him some of the instrumental rock music I had created over the years.
We met up and hit it off. Greg is a multi-instrumentalist but expressed interest in playing bass in a band, so we started to jam with me on guitar and Greg on bass. Greg had some other musician friends that he invited to jam with us, and eventually, Francis joined on drums. We took a break from jamming during COVID-19, but we eventually got back at it in 2021 or 2022 and have been jamming regularly since then.
When creating a musical project, the name is usually more essential than everything else. Was the name ‘Holy Tears’ already on your mind, or did you have to sift through many possibilities before settling on the best one?! Does Holy Tears have any hidden meaning?
We made a list of over 50 different possible band names. Holy Tears was one of the earlier ones added to the list. It stood out to us as a strong name for this project compared to the other names we came up with. It was actually the title of a song by the band Isis, one of my favorite bands. I really like Holy Tears as a name for this project because it emphasizes the heavy emotional quality of the music while also treating it as a sacred thing.
What are your debut album’s main themes and how would it be served best?
Because we are an instrumental band, there are no explicit themes in terms of lyrics or a message. Each of the songs was given one-word names which are usually based on the feeling that the song creates. From an emotional standpoint, the sound of the album can relate to the feelings of grief, hope, beauty, sadness, loss, melancholy, isolation, freedom, and transcendence.
With this album, we basically take those sensitive, difficult, tender emotions and blast them at full volume. The stuff that doesn’t come up naturally in conversation, but contains the feelings we all feel, and allows you to feel them directly.
Please tell us a little bit about your ‘Holy Tears’. What is the message you’re trying to convey with this release?
It’s a non-verbal expression of the inner emotional landscape. It feels liberating and freeing to give voice to even those darker, less socially accepted emotions. To feel and process these feelings can become a form of self-healing. With Holy Tears, we hope we can give others the chance to say yes to difficult feelings so that they can be fully recognized, embraced, and processed.
When it comes to producing new music, where do you find inspiration? In other words, what was the source of inspiration for your debut album?
There are a few different sources of inspiration. Mainly, there are certain bands that I’ve spent the most time listening to that have influenced me heavily, and ways of playing that are natural and habitual. Bands like Neurosis, Portraits of Past, Jeromes Dream, Joy Division, and Interpol are strong influences on our sound. However, I find that I usually come up with new ideas by listening to new music that is outside of my usual wheelhouse, which makes me think differently than I usually do. Sometimes I’ll hear a riff or a rhythm that scratches a certain itch, and I start adapting the riff and playing with it until I make it my own.
On certain occasions, I am inspired by a life event or circumstance that makes me feel a particular emotion. Sometimes creating music is a cathartic way to process some of those more difficult emotions, and that’s mainly what led to the creation of these songs.
When listeners make their way through your band, what do you want them to feel?
It is our hope that sharing these songs permits others to feel the more dark and hidden emotions that are under the surface and acknowledge them so they can be fully celebrated, processed, and healed.
Take me through your sound design process. Is this a quick process, or something you might obsess over and re-visit?
I have a certain guitar tone that I’ve developed over the years, with my favorite guitars, amps, speakers, and other settings. I usually favor a brighter tone with more attack, which is why I typically gravitate toward Fender guitars like the Telecaster or Jazzmaster. In terms of sound design overall, we keep it pretty minimal and straightforward. Not too many different pedals or settings between songs. At least in our first incarnation with this first album.
With there being such a great set of tracks on ‘Holy Tears,’ is there one you’re most looking forward to playing live for people?
The song ‘Kira’ is a particularly special one that I’m excited to share with people. Kira was written to help highlight and process the difficult feelings of grief and loss I had related to my father passing away in his late 50s from a brain tumor. It has a particularly potent emotional quality to it because of the very real emotions I was feeling that the song ended up being a direct expression of.
Do you believe it’s difficult to come up with something unique that sets you apart from other bands/projects nowadays?
Music is such a vast medium that it feels like there are endless possibilities. So many genres and subgenres, so many sounds and ideas that can be remixed and re-presented in new and unique ways. I feel like the more open-minded you are to being influenced and inspired, the more possibilities there are for you to create something that feels brand new.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you?
Listening to new music, or stepping outside your regular comfort zone, is a great way to be creative. Playing with new ideas can often generate full new songs very quickly. It also helps tremendously to put certain limitations on yourself and your creative output. For example, having only 3 instruments and one default tonal approach simplifies the path forward. When there are endless possibilities, it is often harder to find direction.
What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
As I said, giving yourself guidelines or limitations is a great way to be creative. For example, by limiting yourself to only 3 notes, or limiting how many times a riff is repeated in a song, can help give structure. Sometimes having too many options can make it harder to move forward.
After releasing your vinyl in April, do you have any live performances planned?
We have multiple shows planned throughout the year, mainly in our hometown of San Diego, California, but we will also be playing some festivals this year along with some touring across North America while working on some dates in Europe and Japan shortly.
What do you hope to do with your music in the future? I mean, do you have any crazy schemes or goals?
We’ve been very satisfied with our core band configuration as a three-piece, but we are open to experimenting in a lot of different ways. We could potentially work with other guest musicians for some collaborative projects, possibly making some songs with vocals or samples. Greg is experimenting with new synthesizer sounds that might make their way onto a future album.
We are also inspired by different styles of writing. I can see us making an album where every song is under a minute or an album where every song is over 10 minutes. We have our core sound and playing style but we are also very excited with the possibility of experimentation as we continue our creative journey as Holy Tears.
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