Down to Get Weird – Interview with Holy Golden
While stopped in Boise, Idaho for their second U.S. tour, Leslie Schott and Andrew Valenti of indie dream-pop band, Holy Golden, talked with WIUX about their “cosmic” meeting, biggest influences, and the power of grandmas.
Do you write songs while you’re on tour?
Andrew Valenti: Kind of. We just came up with a tune last night in our motel room.
Leslie Schott: It kind of happens accidentally. Sometimes, we’ll just start playing on the keyboard or the guitar and something will happen and we’ll record it. We’ll get the idea down and plan to record it later.
What are your favorite songs to play live?
AV: There’s a brand new one that we haven’t even recorded yet. We kind of just it wrote when we were practicing for the tour. It was another accidental kind of song. It came out of nowhere.
LS: It’s called “Locked Jaw” and we’ve been really enjoying playing that. And we have, “Arrival” which is on our upcoming album that we’re putting out in January. We’ve been getting a really good response on that live. Our favorite live song is “Where Were You When” which is our most recent single, so we love playing that. We always finish off the show with “Where Were You When”.
Starting with the band’s beginning, how did you guys meet?
LS: So basically, I was wondering around the island of Martha’s Vineyard. I walked past a record store and I decided to go inside. It was the middle of winter, a freezing cold day. Andrew happened to be working there, that was his shift. His shift was a 3 hour shift, one day a week, so it just happened to be perfect timing. I walked in and all the CDs I bought were bands he was interested in. We immediately connected over that and it’s the same story but there’s been different tellings of it. Essentially we met in a record store. I lived in LA at the time so we just immediately started collaborating on things and it just grew and grew and grew until we came to the place we are now. It was sort of a cosmic event.
AV: We found out later on that there was a lunar eclipse happening that day.
LS: So maybe that was the-
AV: “Cosmic element”.
What were your first impressions of each other?
AV: Martha’s Vineyard is a really quiet place in the wintertime. You kind of can’t leave your house without running into everybody that you know. So, I was seeing this beautiful girl that I’d never seen before walk into an empty record store. She was probably one of two customers that entire day (Laughs). It kind of knocked me out of my seat.
LS: I didn’t realize, until later, that everybody at Martha’s Vineyard knew that I was there that day because they were like, “Who is that person walking around?” Everybody knows each other. I was in my L.A. mentality. I just could tell immediately he had similar musical tastes to me and there was really a nice energy about him. So when he said to come to that concert later, I was like, “He seems like a person that you could trust to meet in some random place.” It was almost like we had a feeling that we’d known each other before, which is hard to describe. There was a familiarity on a level.
AV: There was an immediate comfort in a way but also the excitement of meeting someone you’d actually never met before.
How were you guys in Martha’s Vineyard?
AV: I was born and raised there.
LS: I lived in L.A. and had a background in acting and film. I was in New York and with some friends out there. There was a lot of different stuff going around. I was in NYC and I decided to go to Cape Cod to be with my elderly grandmother, who has passed away now. I took care of her for 3 weeks. I needed a break from L.A. I was across the ocean by ferry from Martha’s Vineyard while I was taking care of her and working on some film projects because I do a lot of film stuff, personally. I just decided that I was going to go over to Martha’s Vineyard one day. I was just kind of bored. I just thought I’ll go over to the vineyard and just shoot some film. I wanted to see what that place was all about because you hear about it all the time. I went over and my whole life totally changed. It was really weird because it was such a casual thing.
AV: Both of our lives changed.
LS: Yeah. Very interesting. It definitely changed my perspective on things moving forward. You never know what kind of a casual impulse will lead to. A lot of the times it’s just your everyday stuff. It’s interesting how little impulses like that can add up to a crazy way.
AV: You never know.
LS: And I almost got on the bus to go because it was so cold outside! I almost got on the bus to go back to the ferry but I decided to walk for some reason. If I’d gotten on the bus, I would’ve never walked to the record store. So, trust your instincts.
AV: She told me like a year later that she even got on the boat to leave the island but decided to run off in a dramatic, filmic moment.
LS: I always say, we should write a script and sell it to Hollywood and make a-
AV: It’s like the ultimate, Hallmark movie.
LS: It was like the meet-cute in every script. It was very much like that. And he worked on a farm, too, which made it all the more. He just hung out at the record store. It was totally, for me coming from LA, like being thrown into a movie plot.
What is this?
LS: I was enjoying every minute. He was like, “I drive a tractor”. He like took me out on a ride in a tractor. He hasn’t driven tractors in a while.
AV: It’s been a little while.
When did you guys know you wanted to work and make music together?
LS: We just connected over it and he had just finished an album.
AV: The day after we met, I was finishing up my solo album. I drove around the island showing her around and played the album.
LS: I really liked his music. I had been casually writing stuff with friends but I guess it wasn’t until Andrew came to visit L.A. where I was living. We were living in two different places for three months. He flew out there for two weeks and we traveled a lot around California and both took some time off of work. We were on this campground across from the Hearst Castle and we started playing on the guitar and came up with our first song ever. which is “Cut Up in Rows” which is on our album, Wax Castle. That was our first song we wrote together and everyone we played it for thought it was great. It just felt like there was a lot of good energy around it so we kept writing music.
AS: And we made music videos together and it’s just been growing exponentially.
LV: We actually made music videos together before we wrote music together.
There’s a strong visual component that’s a world inclusive of the music. Does the musical inspiration come first or is there a specific photo or film that inspires the visuals before the music?
LS: We probably both had different inspirational databases. For me, it’s anything that’s kind of brooding and romantic and country-esque. This new album we have coming out in January; the whole sound was indicated by a daydream I had my entire life. It’s very mystical and kind of a dark, romantic, Dracula’s castle kind of vibe. The whole time, I basically visualized the entire album in my mind as if it were a movie. Andrew’s very much the structured musical background. He’ll create a tune and then we’ll apply the visual to it afterwards.
AV: We’re making these short films and we just posted one half an hour ago. We’ll make these short videos and then add the music in afterwards to fit the video. They’re not actual songs we’re creating for an album, but just creating a soundtrack for these weird short films that are showcasing the world of Holy Golden.
LS: It goes both ways. Sometimes, it’s the sound first and sometimes there’s a very specific story that we put a mood with sound to.
What are some of your film and sound influences? I read that you guys were inspired by Valerie and Her Week of Wonders.
LS: I love that movie. That movie is one that comes back all the time because it’s so beautiful to watch, but it also has a lot of darkness in it. I would say that that’s a major theme in all of the music, especially a lot of our upcoming stuff. It’s just kind of the dark underbelly of the romantic-[searches for a word]
LS: Yeah, it’s very fantasy driven. So Valerie and Her Week of Wonders and-
AV: Well, you’re really inspired by Maya Deren.
LS: Maya Deren is this experimental filmmaker. Her stuff has been hugely inspirational for me.
AV: I really love the whimsical worlds that Wes Anderson creates. You could see a scene of his and immediately say that’s Wes Anderson. Or even a character or an outfit. I really appreciate when an artist is able to create something so identifiable. That’s also really inspirational.
LS: The Jean Cocteau Beauty and the Beast from the 20s. They go down the hallway and there are these hands that hold these chandelier lanterns.
AV: A lot of the Criterion Collection is so inspirational.
Would you guys ever consider releasing a movie list?
LS: I was actually just thinking about this the other day since it was Halloween. I was thinking about Susperia. It’s perfect for Halloween or this time of year. We should, that’s a good idea.
AV: I mean even just thinking about Halloween ones, there’s so many. Like House (1977), that’s wild.
Would you guys ever consider making a full-length feature or a musical? Like Belle & Sebastian’s God Help the Girl?
LS: Totally! I haven’t thought about that in a while. It’d be something I’d be really interested in. I’ve been thinking more about that recently because I really love combining the musical and the filmic worlds together.
AV: That’s been a dream of mine, or a goal. To make music for film. We’ve made short films before.
LS: We’ve done a few short films before. They’re sort of deep in the internet, but we did one when we first met that we premiered at a film festival and stuff. It’s fun and I really enjoy that as well.
Is collaboration ever a struggle? Do you guys have different ways of working that have challenged you and helped you grow as artists?
LS: Definitely. We both have very different processes. They complement each other really well. For us, it’s really important that there’s so many ideas. Constantly, I’m throwing out ideas. I can become kind of trapped in this tornado of ideas. I get sort of stressed because I want to see them all materialize but they’re all sort of trapped in my subconscious creative mind. It becomes a fiery need to make them happen. Andrew’s is calmer, more collected. He’ll want to bite off as much as he can chew at a time, in a sense. What’s really good is for us to come together and storyboard things. Once we’re working together on an idea, it just works really, really well. We have a different way of coming to ideas. Once we’re working on a project together, it just flows really really nicely. It’s kind of about directing the river in the right path so it doesn’t become an overwhelming flood.
What a vivid description!
LS: Yeah. Just the other day I really wanted to work on this short, episodic film. It was a week ago and now we’ve already done two episodes of it.
LS: Initially, it’s kind of this overwhelming feeling, but then we sit down and we go here are some ideas we could actually do, and find time to shoot them.
AV: When it comes time to execute the ideas, it just really happens so naturally.
LS: It’s kind of like forcing yourself to exercise. It’s kind of overwhelming until you’re there and you just say “ok I’m just going to do this”. I do all of the editing of the films and I really enjoy that process. Andrew’s really great about doing the camerawork, recording. He’s more of the technical side, in a sense. I am more controlling about being the one to sprinkle the fairy dust on it at the end and get it to be exactly how I want it.
AV: I could spend two days figuring out the tone for a guitar solo. That’s part of my process. We have different processes. And yeah, we do complement each other, like Leslie said.
LS: It’s funny we were trying to, before this, shoot a new music video in the next couple of days and we were looking over some new locations in Boise and we went to this weird romance motel. (Laughs)
AV: Which there are actually quite a few.
LS: There are a lot of them. They have these crazy rooms called The Secret Garden and the room has all of these fake plants. We ended up deciding not to stay there because it was kind of weird, (Laughs) but it’s nice to have someone who’s game to do that. You have to learn to get used to making strangers really uncomfortable. People are always like, “what are they doing”, when they watch us and we’re outside and filming and wearing weird outfits. It’s just nice to have someone who’s down to “get weird”.
I can already see the article title, “Down to Get Weird”.
LS: Yeah. Could be your Tinder profile. Or a band dating site.
Where do you guys get all of your costumes?
AV: We spent like two hours at a vintage shop today.
LS: We spend a lot of time at vintage shops. We’ll kind of find them and go in. We’ve had pretty good luck with that.
AV: When we lived in Rhode Island, we made really good friends with this one vintage shop, Maison DNA. They were so supportive and they’re still really supportive of us.
LS: They would just let us borrow anything we want. They styled a lot of our shoots when we were out there. And we’ve also been weirdly lucky about finding things from the 1800s. You have to get off the beaten path a bit and be willing to just kind of dig and see what you find.
AV: We’re also getting more into making our own things now. I always wear a cape on stage and it’s kind of hard to find a cape that you like. (Laughs) That’s not like super costumey or really heavy 1800s wool cape. I’ve been making those. We’ll find a vintage dress for Leslie and make it and tailor it.
LS: We’ve done a lot of sewing. (Laughs)
AV: That was a huge part of tour planning. Just sewing.
LS: The week before we left, Andrew was just a madman on the sewing machine. It was really funny. He just kind of had to learn how to do it. If you want to make things the way you want them, sometimes you have to literally make it yourself (both say at the same time).
Have there been any physical locations that you’ve had a really good response to? Or specific places that really inspire you?
LS: Definitely. It’s funny how energy shifts in different places. I remember being in certain cities a long time ago and I really liked them and then this time, it’s fine, but I just don’t really feel any attachment. We talk about this all the time.
AV: Just like people and cities give off their own special energies.
LS: And they change. I’d say we both have been on the same page. We really loved Louisville, Kentucky. Everybody was really nice there.
AV: Boise’s cool. It’s got a good vibe here.
LS: We had a great time in Denver. There’s so many people moving to that city right now. I’d say we’ve had good stops everywhere, for the most part. Everybody we’ve met, everywhere we’ve gone has been really nice. Which is a good feeling. It makes you feel like you’re attracting the right kind of energy. We had a great time in the midwest; Louisville, Indianapolis, Columbus. Going through that whole area was really great.
AV: It’s a really special part of the country, I think.
LS: I get this feeling from the midwest that these cities are having a resurgence or redefining themselves. It’s cool to see things come from that. Cincinnati was where I was born and raised and I’ve been really enjoying visiting there.
AV: Cincinnati’s’ really cool. You’re in Indiana, and just I think that part of the country has all of that genuine warmth of the midwest and the southern hospitality blended in this really unique, great thing. It’s so nice to visit and be there.
LS: Everything’s cool. It was really exciting to see the mountains on the horizon. It’s just like a totally different planet out here. Everywhere we go, people are like “where are you going to live”. We’re not ready to commit to any place right now. We just like being on the road.
AV: I feel like you can find inspiration anywhere. You have no choice on where you were born or raised. There are great artists and musicians and people who come from all over the world and they get inspired no matter where they are. I’m finding inspiration everywhere I go.
Have there been any locations that you’ve wanted to go to but you haven’t been able to?
LS: We almost had a show in Salt Lake City, but that didn’t work out. It seemed like an intriguing place to me. All these mountain towns that are so far from anything. It would’ve been a cool show. There and this will also be the first time we’ll play in the Pacific Northwest. We’re excited about that. We didn’t get to go to Pittsburgh. We were curious about Pittsburgh. Definitely Canada and Europe.
AV: Also Argentina.
LS: We’ve gotten an unexpected following in Argentina. We had someone come to our show in New York he was like, “People love you in Argentina, if you come it’ll be huge.” Who knows? (Laughs) It’s definitely fun to just see who knows about you in these different places. You don’t want to get obsessed trying to book every single city.
AV: And one thing we’ve committed to on this trip is letting go of expectations. Going to every next stop with an open mind and being ready for the biggest, best show of our lives or playing a show to the bartender. You never know so you have to put your best foot forward.
LS: And places with such strong reputations. You can get so in your head about it.
AV: Even some of the bands we’re playing with. We’re so excited about all of the bands we’ve already played with and the bands we’re going to be playing with. You can psych yourself out a bit.
LS: You’ve got to keep it real and just see what happens.
AV: We love what we do, our own thing, so we just remind ourselves about that.
In response to having a following in Argentina
LS: I think it was because we did a cover of The Smashing Pumpkins song, “1979” that was really popular there for some reason? Maybe somebody on a music blog. On Spotify, we were curious what would show up in our music radio. It was us and then a bunch of Argentinean indie rock bands.
How did your band’s name come about?
LS: We had been writing and playing music for a little while when we were trying to find a name for our whole creative world. A name that wasn’t just what our friends called, Leslie and Andrew’s thing. Andrew’s grandmother is a Reiki master.
AV: Right before we moved to LA together, my grandmother tuned me to Reiki.
LS: Which at the time I didn’t even know what that meant.
AV: She can see auras so she saw my aura and it was golden. We were on the highway, headed west, always going towards the sunset. There’s something within people that’s a natural thing to go west, kind of chasing after this sun or this golden thing. It’s sort of like reaching for this ultimate.
LS: It’s a search for this Holy Golden. We got the golden from Andrew’s grandmother but then Holy Golden was reaching for this golden, perfect thing, which is what you’re always doing when you’re creating. You’re always trying to come up with the next thing that’s going to grow from what you did before. Something even better, more pure and speaks what’s in your heart. We came up with the name much more naturally than thinking about all that. Then afterwards, we realized that the name had all of that in it. Kind of the search, for the holy being. The perfect thing that you’re always trying to create.
AV: The ultimate beautiful thing in your soul that you’re always reaching for. That you’re always trying to grasp and sometimes you do grasp it! (Laughs)
LS: I guess if Andrew’s grandma saw it already going on, maybe he’s already got it.
AV: That’s our roundabout, long way of that answer. (Laughs)
LS: We saw his grandma at a wedding this summer and I asked her, is his thing still golden and she was like “Yep, it’s still golden”. Luckily, she wasn’t like, it turned to a dark gray. I was like, thank god! She’s sweet. She lives in Northern Vermont and knits all the time. We have her to thank for our indie rock band name.
Thank you to grandmas all over the world!
LS: Especially for all their clothes! All their vintage clothing! (laughs) All thanks to our grandmas.
Any poetry recommendations?
LS: I am in love with Anna Akhmatova. She was a Russian poet that just has an amazing body of work. Some of it’s dark, but I always find a lot of lyric inspiration in her work. I have a huge, thick book of everything that she wrote. Terrance Hayes is a poet out of Pittsburgh who has some really amazing poetry. A lot of it was inspiring. I haven’t read any really recently.
AV: I’m not as much of a bookworm as Leslie is but the poetry that I find is more connected to visual artists that I’m interested in. Oftentimes, I’ll find some zines or small publications that typically have poems with other visual art, which we like to do with our photo stories. They’re all Leslie’s poems.
LS: Andrew will be like my editor, again. Look it over. Those two are the ones I’ve been reading a lot. I just got a book a little bit before we left of Michael Earl Craig. A poem of [Anna Akhmatova]’s was inspiration for the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind. They’re just very visual. If I have writer’s block I can read something of her’s and it’ll open up kind of a visual that’s like a map into how to write something.
AV: We’re totally obsessed with Edward Gorey.
LS: That’s a big inspiration behind our films.
You guys need to do a film, book, and poetry list!
LS: Someone should pick us up to do a monthly thing on a blog or a magazine or something.
AV: Holy Golden’s List.
LS: We’re trying to be good about taking in other people’s work as well. When you get into making your own stuff, sometimes you can become too obsessed with your own stuff. You have to remember to look outside of yourself.
AV: And traveling is such a cool way to do that as well. We’ll find so many local artists in all these different places we’re visiting that are just amazing.
What are some current projects that you want your fans to pay attention to?
LS: Our EP we just released in September, “The Licking River”. We have the “Where Were You When” music video. We’re about to release another music video that we finished this summer for this song called “Lifeline”, which is also on there.
AV: Our vinyl just got released on Wallflower Records which we’re really happy about.
LS: Our focus is on our EP for our music videos. Once the winter sets in, we’re shifting gears and focus on our upcoming album. We have one music video for that that’s waiting in the wings.
AV: More of our one minute films, music videos, music.
LS: There’ll be a lot. In terms of what’s out there right now, our Wax Castle and The Licking River EP.
AV: And to just come see us live. It’s just a totally different experience.
What’s Holy Golden’s comfort food on tour?
AV: Noodles! It’s been like the noodle tour.
LS: We’ve had so many soupy noodles.
AV: Like phở.
LS: Like Vietnamese food. If we can find a hot bowl of broth with rice noodles, we’ve probably eaten at least ten bowls of that on our tour. We ate it last night. That, and trail mix is a total addiction.
AV: Rice cakes.
LS: We’ll have a bit of a rice cake habit after a show cause we’re so hungry.
AV: But on our spring tour, it’s so much Mexican food.
LS: It depends on the season.
AV: And where we’re traveling.
LS: We’ve been eating pretty well, though, on the road. We have like a little camping stove and an electric kettle so we make our own little coffee and tea. Pretty gourmet. Lots of soup.