Like most people who showed up to see Holy White Hounds at The Social, I had heard their single “Switchblade” on the radio. It’s the opening song on their debut album Sparkle Sparkle, which is packed with songs just as fresh. When you hear their sound, your mind immediately tries to categorize it. It reminded me of something Beck may have come up with in the mid-’90s, maybe some early Foo Fighters and a dash of Weezer. A few other bands come to mind. In the same regard, it was something new and refreshing. It’s hard to put my finger on their elusive factor. Could a band this soulful and fresh actually be getting radio play in a town where so much mindless rock gets more play than is merited? There is finally something new to listen to that doesn’t need to be discovered solely by word of mouth. My faith has partially been restored in local radio and Holy White Hounds are responsible for this.
It’s hard to believe Holy White Hounds just put out their debut album. It’s as if they’ve learned so much from their precursors, made influential sounds uniquely their own and came barreling out of the gate. It’s difficult to capture a sound, bottle it, label it, and then uncork it to be well received.
Wanting to learn more about Holy White Hounds, I set out to interview them alongside writer Trevor Bosmans before seeing them live for myself. What they had to say has resonated with the both us since, and their subsequent show later that evening left just as lasting of an impression.
SIGT: Holy White Hounds formed in 2013 but you have been playing together since the mid-2000s, right?
Ambrose: Brenton and I have known each other since about 2005. The band is about three years old but we’ve been playing music together for like eleven years, like various bands and stuff.
Brenton: Yeah, that’s when me and Ambrose met. And we’ve had a couple different bands and this is the band we liked the most.
SIGT: So three years, that’s pretty young for a band to have so much success this soon, how does that make you feel?
Brenton: It feels natural because sometimes it takes a band a long time to get the lineup right. We got four guys who care more about this band than they do anything else and I think naturally when that’s where your priorities are, you put your head down and you work and so as far as success goes we just enjoy the work, so it’s easy for us to do that.
SIGT: The band has been playing shows since 2013. Besides the inherent difficulty of growing outwards from the Midwest, what are some of the unique difficulties you have run into while trying to expand your audience?
Brenton: We’re light enough that people didn’t really consider us active and we’re heavy enough that people didn’t consider us indie or alternative. And for the longest time that went against us and a lot of people would tell us we don’t know where to put you guys, so we’re not gonna put you anywhere and that turned into a couple of opportunities. We try to have fun at our shows. And when people started liking the fun that we were having, the redirect changed from “you’re not this and you’re not this, so we can’t do anything with you,” to “you can do both, and now we want you to do both.” So now it’s like the best of both worlds as to where it started off as you don’t belong.
Ambrose: I would agree with that, it started off like that but now we’re kind of in a sweet spot. It’s a longer model, it’s not a shorter model.
Brenton: You know it’s 2016 and the only instruments we play in our band are the instruments we play? We don’t play a lap top, and I’m not putting down people who do, I’m just saying there aren’t a lot of bands just rocking it out and that’s what WE do.
Ambrose: And let’s be honest, we’re not sore about what’s out there. We don’t begrudge anybody about what they do; we just feel lucky to get a shot to do what we do.
SIGT: You’ve been touring all over the states for a while now, playing with bands like Cage the Elephant, The Cult, Cake, even Rob Zombie. Who did you like touring with the most and which audience do you feel was most accepting of your music?
Ambrose: To clarify, most of those were just one off shows. We drove with The Cult. I’d say The Cult, me personally … they have a lot of heart after 30 years, and they’re just nice.
Seth: They were very helpful to us. They went out of their way for us in a lot of ways. I like those guys.
Brenton: If I saw them on the street I feel like they’re friends. I will say, when we played that Cage The Elephant show, that was just after Melophobia, those guys were really kind to us and I think that record is amazing. So that was a really big one personally for me for us to get. That was really cool. There’s also another band we got to play with, Broncho, and that is like one of our favorite bands of all time. They were on this radio label from Toronto called Dying Alone Records or something and that. It was just a small show in the morning for like 20 people, but seeing them was so cool. And we play shows with bands we’re friends with like Half Loves or Matsuri or Siers and these bands are amazing and they’re friends of ours. We think of each other as friends because we came up in a scene together, a little bit. But when we really take a step back and look at some of talent we came up around, it’s really mind blowing that we all came out of Des Moines, Iowa. There’s a sense of pride being from there because there’s a lot of cool stuff coming from there right now.
SIGT: With the single “Switchblade,” you’ve been receiving radio play across the nation, who have you discovered is your strongest fan base currently outside of the Midwest?
Ambrose/all: Tuscan was really fun. It’s hard to get a good gauge of these things when your just driving through. Minneapolis was good. We show up to the venue and there is a line of like a hundred kids out the door and it was fantastic. Everyone knew all the words, not just to the single but every song on the album. That was cool.
Brenton: We toured with The Cult and that’s a bit of an older demographic of people. And then we played some festivals that were a bit younger demographic, and it’s weird when you’re in a band. You live in this bubble and you’re always in a van together. And you get out to play a show and that’s really all you do. You know? So if you have a show and there are tons of kids there you think ‘oh, our demographic is kids’ or another show older people are there and you think ‘oh, our demographic is 30 and up.’ But it really just depends on what you’re doing. That shit never stands and I think if you are a good band none of that shit matters.
SIGT: So what about touring outside of the U.S.? What is the limit on how far you will go?
Brenton: Apparently, a bunch of our spins are coming from Germany. We just found that out last week so I don’t even know what to say about that. We’ll go anywhere. It sounds exciting! To go to another the country, to go see the world for your job and not being shot at! Fuck yeah! You know?
SIGT: You guys are pushing over those bands that get a lot of radio play, the bigger studio, the heavier commercial bands. How do you feel about contributing the big comeback for garage, basement bands, and alt-rock?
Brenton: I didn’t know we were. I mean, that’s fucking rad. I don’t know, man. Let’s just see what happens. I don’t wanna feel fucking responsible for any of that shit.
Ambrose: If we are part of it, it’s cool but it’s not on any of our minds.
Brenton: It’s more scary than anything. I don’t want that on my shoulders. Again man, for us we are just fucking around and going where we are sent and making the best out of every night. That’s all we do. I don’t want you to get me wrong, I am flattered as shit. That is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me but it’s terrifying to think that somebody might think “Oh these guys could help out a greater cause,” because we just feel like a bunch of shitheads playing music.
SIGT: Yeah, my next question was going to be “Was it a conscious effort?” but obviously it has not been. As far as your sound goes what are some of the things that you won’t compromise as a band?
Brenton: Well we need to have fun, I guess it’s an underlying rule. If we can’t have fun then I don’t see the purpose in doing that. I know we all feel that way because we’ve all said it before. That’s a really nice compliment that has been consistent too. It’s like, “Hey, you guys look like you are having fun on stage. There’s a good repore between you and your band mates. You look like friends.” That’s important and I think there is something to be said for that in a rock n’ roll band when you look at four guys or however many people are in the band. It’s like they makes sense on stage and when you look at them outside of the music, outside of everything else, when you see them you’re like “That’s a band. Those are brothers right there.” Fun is kind of the thing that saves that because otherwise we would just kill each other.
I would say also that one thing I’ve kind of felt bad about lately is that this is all new to us. It’s new to us being signed. It’s new to us being on tour. I mean we’ve been on tour a lot, but this is a pretty new life for us and I think we have compromised on a lot of things that we told ourselves we never would. And I think right now is kind of a time in our lives where we are kinda coming back to who we are. I think we compromised a lot on telling the truth and we just wanna be authentic to people. Having fun is super important. Like we’re a bunch of goof-offs who like to fuck around and have fun and I think that people will come to our shows and see that. Maybe even people who listen to our record, like there are spots on the records where they can hear us clearly having fun and not taking it too seriously.
But at the same time, there is kind of an integrity behind what we do that we’d like to maintain. And part of that integrity is not lying and telling the truth and not bullshitting people and writing something that is a waste of their fucking time or ours. If I’m being honest, I think that the head space that I was in when we made the record of not bullshitting anybody is something that I’m drifting back to now. I think I started having so much fun going out on tour and living life day by day that I just didn’t give a fuck about what I said or what I did or anything like that. I just wasn’t thinking about telling the truth and we’ve been starting to write the next record, and it’s really been donning on me as things come up and I’m writing about things, that I haven’t been acting in a way that shows people that things truly matter to us. I really feel us all coming back to that like some sort of storyteller. I think we have stuff that we wanna say and we’re coming back around to taking ourselves and pushing ourselves mentally to where we think we are saying something worthwhile and not just bullshitting our way through a song or a show or an interview. I’ve done a lot of interviews where it’s nice to tell someone how you feel even if it doesn’t make any sense to anybody because it doesn’t really matter what they think. You know?
SIGT: Is there anything you would like to experiment with on the next album that you weren’t able to do on the first album?
Brenton: Yeah, I wanna be brutally fucking honest about the way I feel stuff. I feel a lot of ways about things that I’ve found don’t go well in conversation but if you write a song about it, everybody just accepts it and so it’s the best way to get things off your chest. Everybody here is a songwriter, it’s not just me. I shouldn’t talk so much. The first album is much more of a one guitar album and now we both have so many duel guitars parts on everything we wrote. I don’t know if that’s something to expect or not. That may change by the time it ends up being recorded but that’s something I look forward to at this point. I think when people hear the next album, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I would love for our fans to get behind us and push for the next album with us because we wanna do that fucking album soon and I think it’s gonna be great and I just really wanna fucking crack some heads open in the studio and just like….I wanna bleed!
Just after the interview, they looked down from window in The Woods across the street from The Social. “Is that for us?” they said, getting amped up for the show. When I say they are thankful and fully appreciate the support and love people are giving to them around the country and in our city of Orlando, I mean it. It was written all over their faces.
When Brenton said that they just “try to have fun on stage,” in the back of my mind I thought to myself, don’t all bands do that, though? I was wrong. They were, as I came to find out, an entirely new type of fun which I hadn’t really seen before.
You could see the solidarity and commitment of this band as they did a pre-show huddle. What came next was a blurry barrage of jokes, anecdotes, impressions, and most importantly, straight up talented, high energy rock. They were in all of our faces: blunt, unapologetic, knowing exactly who they were and what they wanted to deliver. They had fun, so we had fun. It was just contagious. Everybody in the room couldn’t help themselves.
The most paramount thing to understand is how real these guys are. For instance, after the opening song, Brenton announced with no shame, that the next song would be the single that most of the people in the room showed up to hear. He also said they had no problem with that, informing us after the song we were more than welcome to either leave or stick around and rock to everything else they had in their catalog. He just simply acknowledged it and gave people what they wanted right up front. I’ve been to shows where the audience was almost made to feel bad for wanting to hear the hits and singles.
After performing the single in a much more spirited way than is captured on their album, we had really just gotten a taste of what we were in for. The rest of the show was THE SHOW. “Switchblade” was recognizable, but it is hardly the best they have to offer. They played songs off the album, songs they were working on, a song James had wrote himself (alluding to a higher incorporation of twin guitar riffs in the future) and songs off their next album. There was never a dull moment. Time whirred by. This was by no means a “one-hit wonder” band. Everyone was glad they stuck around. The size of the merchandise line after the show said it all.
Each of them contributed exactly the same amount to the band in their own way. Nobody out-shined anyone else and the dynamic was perfect, everyone was just brimming with personality. You would never have known Seth and James had joined the Holy White Hounds original members and long time friends, Ambrose and Brenton, relatively recently. In fact, they had known each other since daycare, rocking it out in their cribs together.
James, who was a couple of hours earlier, was a seemingly quiet individual during the interview, lit up the stage. Not only an absolutely amazing guitarist he was hysterical, contributing so much humor and personality to the band. Lead singer Brenton took full advantage of it by setting him up to knock us all down. They worked perfectly together.
Seth and Ambrose were each in their respective zones as well, tying up every song with an awesome little bow. They set the rhythm and pace of the entire show really effectively. Ambrose crafted out unique and smooth thumping bass lines and Seth just murder-killed that drum set, he must fly through drum heads.
I would love to give a play-by-play, recant every joke, (and when I say jokes, I don’t mean they were joking around, but literally telling jokes) but I don’t want to spoil the show.
Lucky for those who missed them the first time around, they have another show coming up quickly at the House of Blues Orlando. Touring to support The Pretty Reckless may not be headlining, but something tells me they are going to cram as much quality into their allotted time on stage as possible.
GO TO THE SHOW. You can listen to them all you want, and the album is just great, BUT you, like me, just can’t appreciate who and what they are as a band until you see them perform together live.
Whatever you do, don’t simply try to classify Holy White Hounds. Don’t make a note of their single and put them on the shelf to be forgotten. We are all guilty of doing this from time to time, but that’s not how we should be experiencing music. It can be a bands’ momentum killer. Go out there and see them and get ALL of what they have to offer, support them, they truly appreciate it. This is the kind of band to get behind.
Holy White Hounds Live Review + Interview by Peter Olivares and Trevor Bosmans, edited by Matthew Weller.