Sometimes a body of artistic work will inform its title: the artist will do their thing, then look at what they’ve created and choose an appropriate name to baptise it. More unusually it’s the other way around, which is how guitarist Oscar Dawson describes Holy Holy’s second full-length release. “It was Tim’s idea to call it Paint,” Dawson says. “He had that idea completely independently of having a collaboration with any artist whatsoever. [The title] affected the way that we wrote and recorded, too. It was this ping pong match between us and the title; the title would kind of communicate back with us.” Pretty soon, the fascinating Painting With PAINT project was conceived. “We were trying all these [cover art] ideas out, and then I suggested, ‘Why don’t we speak to James Drinkwater?’ I thought it was a long shot because he’s off doing openings in London.”
Oscar’s friendship with artist James Drinkwater began back when the former was living in Newcastle. Dawson wrote a long email explaining the cover art idea, and Drinkwater promptly “replied with one line: ‘Yes. Great. Love to do it.’” Then came its rapid expansion, via Drinkwater himself. “The idea was to get four different artists, [James] included, and have each of them paint a piece based on one of the songs of the record. Four songs, four artists. And they do it in the moment.”
All filmed in Drinkwater’s studio (“it’s a shed in his backyard – it’s a lovely spot in Newcastle”) by Charlie Ford, the artists involved are Charlie Horder (painting to Shadow with bleeding watercolour and Indian ink), Ben Kenning (painting to Send My Regards with his intricate patterns of black and white acrylics), and Lottie Consalvo (painting to Willow Tree with bold strokes of acrylic and her own earthy, mixed powder pigments). Drinkwater chose to paint to That Message, with bright acrylics, aerosol, charcoal, conte and mixed media, and often using a palette knife, his fingers or a pretty vicious right-arm slug to apply the paint.
What about the music? Well, Paint is beautiful – exultant guitar lines that fall into tiny patterns around Tim Carroll’s vocal melodies, powerfully cinematic synths, and lyrics both sage and curious – but its main success is a solidification of ideas, its precision. Oscar says even the title was a reaction to the band’s first album, When The Storms Would Come. “It had this slightly more ambiguous, soft title – I guess we wanted to try and be more bold and a bit less sentimental,” he says.
That’s communicated through Dawson’s particular approach to guitar, for which he comes up with an excellent analogy. “I think it’s really important to be able to be clear. It’s important to be able to make yourself heard. It’s like speaking – I think it’s important not to mumble when you speak. That’s not to say you can’t put heaps of effects on [your instruments] and make it sort of washy at times, but I think you have to pick and choose when you do those things. On this record I really wanted not to use as much washiness, and I think that means you have to know what you’re saying. When people mumble, it’s like they do it ‘cause they don’t know what they’re trying to say. Actually stop and think and decide what you want to say – it’s more economical, you know. You don’t have to say as much to [get out] what you want to say. I was always really bad at being succinct when speaking. I probably still am, as you can see by how much I’ve crapped on here. Maybe I should try to use this as a learning experience.”
Paint is out now via Sony.