Holy Balm is Sydney’s Emma Ramsay, Anna John and Jonathan Hochman, a project which started in 2006. Holy Balm have grown from experimental beginnings to become a full fledged electronic dance music outfit, and a key player in the Australian pop avant-garde underground. The trio have been nominated for a FBi SMAC award, played the Sounds Australia Aussie BBQ Showcase and the Not Not Fun Showcase at SXSW, and played multiple festivals and events. Holy Balm’s debut LP It’s You was recorded independently and was co-released on the internationally revered US label Not Not Fun, and Australian label R.I.P Society in 2012. The album received critical acclaim from various blogs and music media, was FBi’s Album of the Week, charted No 1 in the AMRAP Airit charts, and the music video for ‘Theme’ was ABC Rage’s Indie Vid of the week. The band appear in the recent Melbourne Books publication, Noise In My Head: Voices from the Ugly Australian Underground by Jimi Kritzler and they’re currently preparing for their first live appearance for 2014, which will be at the Sydney Opera House Studio for VIVID Live, alongside fellow acts on RIP Society, to celebrate the labels 5th birthday. We caught up with Holy Balm’s Anna John to see how they’ve been travelling, and what we can expect from their first live show of 2014.
How would you describe in Holy Balm in just 3 words?
AJ: Deep. Cool. Friendly.
What have you guys been up to over the past 12 months?
AJ: Early 2013 we went on a 20 date tour across the USA, with the help of an International Pathways grant, which was amazing! Then in August, I went overseas for five months as part of my studies, so that was a bit of a break after everything that lead up to the debut album, its release and following national and international touring. We are now back in the studio developing new material and look forwards to recording a second album in the latter half of 2014.
What first drew you guys to experimental music?
AJ: For me I would say that all through my late teens I struggled to find something I really identified with in music, I hopped genres and subcultures. It might sound a bit naff, but I think the materiality of weirder improv really resonated with my creative sensibilities and there are threads of that through all the other music I got into throughout the years, punk, post-punk and electronic music. I like an experimental approach over the ‘genre’ of experimental these days, I think.
What can we expect from the Holy Balm at the RIP showcase at Vivid LIVE?
AJ: A whole new set! Almost anyways. We may throw one or two previously exhausted gems in there for measure, but we have truly been working hard on a few newies that will roll out like super dance jams at the Opera House. I hope everyone else’s excitement matches ours!!!
What do you think is the biggest issue facing the Australian music scene at the moment and how has it affected your work as a group?
AJ: I think that the Australian music scene is a really multi-faceted one so it would be hard to speak generally as I am sure that different issues effect different stakeholders and artists. I think that when it comes to our ilk though, I am hard pressed to mention anything out of the usual, which are quite NSW specific, like the new tighter rules around nightlife and typical complaints about venues: cranky neighbours and venues being few and far between, the death of the warehouse scene etc. Of course these things limit shows and I suppose that effects the healthy propagation of community – artists and punters alike. But in a place like Sydney ($$$), tis inevitable. After spending four months living in Rotterdam, I would say that the music community that we most associate with here in Australia is more covetable than you could imagine. Its output and its infrastructure (if thats the right word – meaning the supports in place like labels, mini-festivals, the few venues, zines etc) is such a testament to the commitment of its members, and to share some of that spirit with my peers overseas was really something because to many of them it was very fresh and inspiring.
How important has community radio been to your success?
AJ: Also invaluable. Both Emma and I have a background in community radio, so not only did it contribute to expanding our music knowledge, but as a band we have had the opportunity to play on countless radio station organised bills, live sets and fundraisers. Plus of course the airtime our recorded material has been given, and any interviews. The reach that community radio has across its listeners and the space it creates for local artists is vital to the survival of any kind of independent music scene.
What is your favourite Sydney venue to play at and why?
AJ: I used to love playing at Serial Space. I like to play at Goodgod Small Club also. They’re both hospitable and familiar and warm. I think that often the enjoyment you get out of a show is the reciprocity of the audience, feeding back the good vibes! I used to have a thing about stages – I hated them andI wanted to play on the floor, with the people. That is a regular gesture in the underground scene I think, although I see it happening less these days. Guess we have all just gotten over it as a symbol of hierarchy or feeling separated from your audience. It’s the music that is providing the glue, not so much your physicality, you have to try and background that sometimes I think, although it is very vital to performance. Tricky!
If you could collaborate with any Sydney-based artist or band, who would you choose?
AJ: Model Citizen. I would ask them to write a crossover track for us and then we could perform it all together!
What advice can you give young experimental musicians trying to break into the music industry?
AJ: I think typically experimental music exists as an antithesis to the music industry. If you are playing experimental music you are not going to make it in the music industry, because it is not what the masses want! Carve out a space for you and your friends and be a part of the long trajectory of internationally recognised artists and movements in this country who have paralleled the music industry way back from the late seventies (and thats just to my knowledge, I am sure it goes further with experimental sentiments and new approaches to music and places where it can exist!
Any shows coming up besides the RIP showcase?
AJ: Working on a few, playing in Melbourne in June.
What’s else is on the horizon for you in the new year?
AJ: 2015 will hopefully see us with a new record and on tour in Europe via Japan. Big plans, fingers crossed!