The pursuit of happiness
David Holmes takes us through his guide to life
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’