The pur­suit of hap­pi­ness

David Holmes takes us through his guide to life

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

David Holmes is talk­ing about records. There’s noth­ing new about this; any con­ver­sa­tion with the Belfast man in­volves him spend­ing a lot of time talk­ing about records, mostly the ones which thrill him and move him and make him dizzy. This time, though, he is talk­ing about his own records, with an anec­dote that sums up his art of sur­viv­ing and thriv­ing and mak­ing a liv­ing from mu­sic.

“Five or six years ago, I came into my house and I said to my wife, ‘Oh my God, this is so de­press­ing, what the fuck is go­ing on with the mu­sic in­dus­try?’ I was moan­ing about down­load­ing and stream­ing and feel­ing quite low about my own ca­reer and work.

“My wife turned around and said, ‘What are you talk­ing about? You’ve never sold any records.’ I thought about it for a sec­ond and nearly opened up a bot­tle of cham­pagne. I’ve ac­tu­ally man­aged to have a really healthy ca­reer with­out hav­ing to be too wor­ried about sell­ing records.”

True, that. While Holmes has made a heap of great records since his first al­bum in 1995,

most of them have never both­ered any of the usual main­stream in­di­ca­tors of suc­cess.

But those records turned heads and led to other things. Be it sound­tracks for films like Ocean’s Eleven, Hunger, ’71 and Good Vi­bra­tions, scores for TV shows like The Fall and pro­ducer-for-hire gigs with Pri­mal Scream, Manic Street Preach­ers and, cur­rently, Noel Gal­lagher, Holmes has carved out a fine groove for him­self.

Records, though, mark out the road he has taken over the years. “They have al­ways been a state­ment of where I’m at and what I’m lis­ten­ing to. There have been so many rein­ven­tions and so many jump­ing-off points. That comes from be­ing a mu­sic lover. I al­ways tell peo­ple to for­get the ca­reer, for­get the DJ-ing and soun­tracks, mu­sic was my first love. I didn’t be­come a DJ be­cause it was a ca­reer, I be­came a DJ be­cause I’d really good records, and a DJ didn’t turn up, and away I went.”


The ad­ven­tures have stacked up along with the records. Unloved’s Guilty of Love, the moody, dazzling and stylish al­bum re­leased ear­lier this year which Holmes recorded with singer Jade Vin­cent and sound­track com­poser Kee­fus Cian­cia, was the re­sult of his time liv­ing and work­ing in Los Angeles.

“It was me liv­ing the dream,” he says. “When you’re liv­ing and work­ing in LA, you do tend to get caught up in that sort of en­vi­ron­ment. I’m a huge Phil Spec­tor fan, huge Jack Nitzsche fan, Wreck­ing Crew fan. I’d dipped my toe into the world with the Ocean’s film so I got to meet some amaz­ing play­ers.

“When I met Kee­fus and Jade, they in­vited me to their night called The Ro­tary Room which was this en­sem­ble of great mu­si­cians and they wanted me to play some records in be­tween. Then they asked me to pro­duce them and I said I wasn’t in­ter­est­ing in do­ing that so why don’t we just make a record to­gether. I had this idea of do­ing this 1960s girl group thing with these play­ers and singers. There was noth­ing more to it. I was in LA – it would be rude not to.”

Holmes has al­ways taken those side roads and di­ver­sions be­cause they’ve al­ways led to in­ter­est­ing places. “There are no rules in this game,” he says. “Peo­ple keep pro­duc­ing these imag­i­nary rule­books or say­ing ‘you can’t do that’. Why not? Who cares as long as it’s hon­est and from the heart?

“As much as I love mu­sic as an art form, mu­sic at its best is some­thing which makes you feel some­thing. It puts you in a cer­tain mood or makes you re­act in a cer­tain way. You don’t have to un­der­stand mu­sic or know why to get that feel­ing. You get caught up in the mo­ment and that’s what I love truly. Fuck be­ing in­tel­lec­tual – mu­sic is about heart and soul, it’s like ther­apy and you don’t even re­alise it. There’s al­ways a cure in your record col­lec­tion.”

That search for heart and soul also ap­plies to the films he’s worked on.

“You choose to do those films for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. When I was do­ing Hunger, I wanted to do that film be­cause I could really re­late to the story and grow­ing up in Belfast at that time. I was work­ing with some­one who was three feet higher than ev­ery­one in terms of what he could do.

“Hunger was an in­cred­i­ble film. You can’t even com­pare it to the other Trou­bles movies; it’s not about the Trou­bles, it’s about hu­man­ity. It’s the only film apart from ’71 that I’ve seen in Belfast where peo­ple have ap­pre­ci­ated it on both sides of the di­vide. They got it, they tapped into it.”

His next re­lease is a con­tri­bu­tion to the Late Night Tales se­ries. Holmes has a good track record with com­pi­la­tions, as shown by Come Get It I Got It which helped rein­tro­duce Ro­driguez to the world. It’s ob­vi­ous from how he talks about the new re­lease that this set of tunes, fea­tur­ing Chil­dren Of Sun­shine, Buddy Holly, Jeff Bridges, Stephen Rea, Neo Maya, Geese, Jon Hop­kins and many more, is a deeply evoca­tive and per­sonal se­lec­tion box tied into an­other re­cent project.

“I made a short film called I Am Here about the death of my brother and it’s very much con­nected to Late Night Tales. It’s about re­con­nec­tion, fam­ily, mem­ory and love set in the af­ter­world. For me, the af­ter­world isn’t clus­ters of an­gels on a cloud play­ing harps. It’s a cot­tage in the woods with your lost loved ones and a fresh pot of tea, a bowl of stew and a hot fire. I like to be­lieve that re­con­nec­tion ex­ists. If it does, it does and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t, but it doesn’t stop me be­liev­ing I might see my par­ents and broth­ers again some day.

“Com­pi­la­tions like this are like film scores in that you can’t think your way through them, you have to feel your way. You have to look at ev­ery scene and what came be­fore and what comes af­ter­wards. DJ-ing is a bit like that too. All three of them are sim­i­lar. It’s a thought process through feel. You al­ways know when some­thing is right, but you can’t ex­plain why.”

God’s wait­ing room

It all comes back to DJ-ing, which is the rea­son for his lat­est visit to Dublin and a new twist on a great night out. “I do this club called God’s Wait­ing Room in this pub in Belfast,” Holmes ex­plains. “That’s not the pub’s name but it’s what peo­ple call it be­cause it was of­ten the last place the old-timers were seen be­fore they passed on. Clas­sic dark Ir­ish sense of hu­mour, but there’s a lovely metaphor in that.

“I wanted to play mu­sic that peo­ple could lis­ten to with­out hav­ing to dance. It’s ac­tu­ally sim­i­lar to play­ing to a full dance­floor but in­stead of peo­ple com­ing up go­ing ‘what is that?’ they’re sit­ting down and en­joy­ing a drink and still won­der­ing about the mu­sic you’re play­ing. It’s the same re­ac­tion.

“I’ve been run­ning clubs since the early 1980s and you re­alise it’s not rocket science to put on a good night. You need four or five things. Num­ber one, the room and how it looks and how it is lit. Num­ber two, the sound sys­tem. Num­ber three, the mu­sic se­lec­tions. Num­ber four, the peo­ple. You get all of them right and you’ll have a great night. When you walk into a room and it’s lit prop­erly and the whole thing has been really thought out and the sound is crisp and clear and the right mu­sic is on, you’re go­ing to have an amaz­ing night.”

David Holmes DJs at Hennessy Lost Fri­day at the RHA, Dublin on Oct 7. Late Night Tales is re­leased on Oct 21

There are no rules in this game. Peo­ple keep pro­duc­ing these imag­i­nary rule­books or say­ing ‘You can’t do that’. Why not? Who cares as long as it’s hon­est and from the heart?

I wanted to play mu­sic that peo­ple could lis­ten to with­out hav­ing to dance. It’s sim­i­lar to play­ing to a full dance­floor but peo­ple are sit­ting down and en­joy­ing a drink and still won­der­ing about the mu­sic you’re play­ing

Holmes on where his heart is

‘As much as I love mu­sic as an art form, mu­sic at its best is some­thing which makes you feel some­thing’

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