As you might imagine, we get stacks and stacks of CDs at the Voice. Many of them have no business even being mailed to us (why hello there, Molly Ringwald’s lounge record), and it’s very difficult to find a musical act that gets it right the first time out. So you’ll forgive us our surprise when, out of the stacks, came a band with a kinda-dumb-at-first name that grabbed us from the opening chords. Meet Holy Folk, a project between LA-based song-writers Keith Waggoner, Josh Caldwell, Ryan George, and Jonathan Hylander. Equipped with a sound that feels like an edgy combination of (early) Shins, Black Keys, a Time-Machine-Back-To-Better-Musical-Days, and a couple of things you can’t quite put a finger on, they are folking–and fucking–great. We caught up with the guys, asked them about their debut, and thanked them for not having beards or wearing suspenders.
See also: Q&A: Mark Rose on Spitalfield Reunion
So, Josh and Keith–you played together in the band Les Blanks before writing and releasing your EP Heavy Hands in 2011–how long were you with Les Blanks and what drove you to team up and make music on your own?
Josh: I started Les Blanks in 2004. Keith joined in 2009 while we wrote and recorded our last album, In Country. Keith and I really started working on Holy Folk songs together because we were both out of work in 2009 and thought it would be a good use of our time.
Keith: At first, Holy Folk was just me and Josh in my bedroom writing these pop songs. They didn’t really fit with what Les Blanks was doing, so it became it’s own thing.
How did you become involved in contributing material to what would eventually become Motioning?
Jonathan: Josh and I had been writing songs together for a while in Les Blanks. We work really well together, so he and Keith brought me in to help flush out some a few of the songs they had been recording together. They turned out well, so we did some more.
Ryan: Keith and I played together in a band called Amateurs. The band broke up in 2009, but we would still collaborate on songs, or I would go into his studio and record one of my songs. He’d have me come in and record a part on tracks that he and Josh were working on, and eventually that grew into working on most of the Holy Folk recordings that would wind up on Motioning.
I’ve gotta ask about the name–how did you come up with it? When did you each have your “WHOA – this is our band now” moment?
Josh: We had talked about using the name Folk Devils. We liked the way it sounded, but felt like it might be too negative for what we were doing. So we decided to think of an inverted meaning or name for folk devil and Holy Folk just seemed to pop up. I like it because I can’t exactly tell you what it really means, but it looks and feels right.
Keith: Holy Folk was definitely a studio-only project when we did Heavy Hands. Just something we were doing on the side. And Motioning came together pretty organically. We weren’t even sure what we were making for a while, just getting together and recording. We actually have a running joke that this is our “fake” band, so my moment was after our first show and it was more like “WHOA–this is our fake band now?”.
Do you have any weird stories or misunderstandings regarding the name of your band?
Josh: The biggest misunderstanding I confront is that we’re only a folk band or that we’re religious.
Jonathan: I think the biggest misunderstanding is that Folk refers to folk music. I’m not sure that we’re a folk band at all.
Keith: This one time a dude stopped me in Downtown LA because he thought I was Jesus. He knelt before me and started praying. I had long hair at the time. It was crazy.
What do you think makes Holy Folk different from the endless stream of indie folk alt rock bands out there?
Ryan: We’re directed solely by the needs of the song, rather than any individual ego or style.
Keith: I think if anything it would be our model. Everything is subsequent to the songs and the recordings.
Jonathan: None of us have beards, and we don’t look very good in suspenders.
What has it been like working in a group of four songwriters? Has it been a challenge or have things just managed to “click” for you?
Josh: For the most part it clicked. If I don’t have an idea, then someone else steps in to make it work. I think that’s why the sound is so varied. I feel like we wrote a group of solid songs due to a sort of survival of the fittest attitude.
Ryan: I think it’s had the effect of making the record varied and engaging beginning to end. Rather than 10 takes on one person’s tastes and ideas, it’s a combination of many different influences and creative impulses. It was a challenging exercise learning to meld all these divergent aspects into a cohesive sound that worked as an album.
Jonathan: It’s actually been a huge relief. It means you don’t really have to finish your own song. If I run out of ideas, someone else will pickup the slack.
One of the things that struck me most while listening to Motioning is how seamlessly so many different genres, sounds, and feelings get combined to create this new and beautifully refreshing indie folk sound. Do you have any specific musical (or non musical) influences and inspirations?
Jonathan: I think that’s a product of having four songwriters. We’re all coming from different directions and we end up colliding in the middle, and forming a weird mushy ball of reverb, banjos, and foreboding that we call Motioning!
How did your unique musical style develop?
Josh: I feel like the style developed because there were no rules. Follow what works for the song and not how I think the song should work.
What tends to be the impetus you each have for writing a song?
Ryan: I don’t write very many songs, but when I do they tend to just fall on me without much thought or intervention on my part.
Keith: The keepers usually write themselves in my head before I sit down to work them out. It happens a lot when I’m driving, actually. Inspiration depends on what I’m listening to at the time or my motivation for writing the tune. It’s pretty rare that I sit down with my guitar and try to come up with an idea.
Jonathan: For me, I’ll have a melody in my head, figure out what chords go under the melody, then the chords and melody will give me a picture that will inform the lyrics. Then I sneeze and hits come out.
What songs on Motioning do you each have a particular soft spot for?
Josh: I’d say “Time Lapse.” Although I wasn’t sure about it at first. Once Jonathan’s vocals were added, it all came together. The emotional/soulful music needed authentic heart based lyrics. It’s a deeply rooted song.
Ryan: For me it’s “How Many Ways.” I’m a sucker for melodic, well constructed pop songs, and for me it’s the most free and natural song on the record. It’s one of those songs that seem to have always existed, without being written.
Keith: Probably “Time Lapse.” It was totally the unlikely candidate when we were putting it together, because it was so pop-oriented. Jonathan nailed the vocal and it was like instant magic.
Jonathan: It would have to be “Time Lapse.” It’s deeply personal to me, it’s about a really intense loss that I experienced, and instead of dealing with it frivolously like I wanted to, I decided to grow up and meet it head on. Also I like “How Many Ways,” cause Josh sings good….
Listen to Time Lapse on Sound Cloud here.
If you could each describe Motioning in one word (besides Motioning, of course), what would it be?
What do you envision for the future of Holy Folk? (Please visit NYC soon!)
Keith: It’s almost summer so hopefully some band barbeques! Sounds like a trip to New York is in order, so we’ll have to organize that too.
Jonathan: Where we’re going we don’t need roads!