ENTREVUE / INTERVIEW
With: John Holden
ALBUM REVIEW HERE
Marc Thibeault - March 2020
ProfilProg - Hello John! I want to first thank you for taking time to answer my questions.
John Holden: Hi Marc it is my pleasure.
PP - I’ve been continuously listening to your two albums during the past week and noticed that, even though you use historical events for the creation of the majority of your songs, the guideline underneath it all always seems to relate to humanity itself and the way people act or interact. It seems to be an endless pool of inspiration for you.
JH: Well firstly, songs based on historical events allow me to go deeper into the stories of the people involved. But more importantly it gives me the opportunity to see the world through their eyes. And you are right; while technology and man’s knowledge are always growing, fundamentally human beings have not changed much in thousands of years. I explore this concept in the song “Ancestors and Satellites”. Handprints in caves dating back forty thousand years. Astronauts leaving footprints on the moon. As a species we have achieved so much but we still need to leave our mark and share our stories.
PP - What do you think differs your new album “Rise and Fall” from “Capture Light” (2018)?
JH: I know a lot of people love “Capture Light” and I think it is a solid piece of work; I learned so much in making that album. So, when it came to creating new material, I felt more confident; from composing to interacting with the musicians and also on the technical and production elements. While the musical DNA is going to continue and be recognizable as me, I feel I have improved in all areas. Therefore “Rise and Fall” feels more cohesive. Of course, I have to believe that in order to continue!
PP - Has Libby (Elizabeth Holden) always been as helping in creating stories or themes with/for you or did she get more involved with the creation of these albums?
JH: Libby was a lot more involved in this album then previously. She has always helped with lyrics but for this album she had a much more informed view of how the process works. I tend to come up with possible song concepts then as a team we refine or alter the ideas to give them a different perspective or outlook. What are we really trying to say? Is there a subtext or emotion we are trying to achieve? I then start to define a musical framework and basic lyrics. Libby then adds her own lyrical ideas and we move forward with what is working best. This process can repeat a few times as the music is created and melodies appear. Sometimes we have a brilliant lyric, but it won’t fit the music. So off we go again!
I think Libby helps keep any excess at bay. We have a rule; “everything has to earn its place”. Often songs are shortened or condensed where required. Over the years she has also started to hear things like a producer; “That snare is too loud”, “The bass is a bit heavy”. So, I listen to what she says and either alter things or justify the reasons.
PP - You have a remarkable line-up of artists on both albums! How difficult was it for you to assemble such a talented team? Did you work in studio together or did you send your files to them through the Web so they could add their parts?
JH: Having established a core team of musicians for “Capture Light” such as; Billy Sherwood, Oliver Wakeman, Peter Jones, then Joe Payne and Oliver Day. It was great that everyone was keen to be involved on the second one. However, I wanted to bring some new people into the team and have an even bigger palette of musical colours to choose from. So, additionally we have; Jon Camp and Simon Fitzpatrick on bass, Nick D’Virgilio on drums, Sally Minnear on vocals. Zaid Crowe and Michel St-Père on guitar. And finally, the amazing keyboards of Vikram Shankar. I was spoiled for choice!
Apart from some guitar and vocals everything was done remotely. I am used to getting tracks from all around the world and hopefully have become good at making it sound like we are all in the same room!
PP - You have the presence of Jean Pageau for your 2 albums and Michel St-Père for the new album. And since we love Mystery how did you get to know them?
JH: I bought their album, “Delusion Rain”, in 2016 and was impressed with how good everyone sounded. At that time, I was just starting to write what would become the first album. I had no idea if I approached anyone “famous” whether they would wish to be involved! When I first got Billy Sherwood on board, that gave me the courage to contact more people. One of the first was Jean. I sent him the demo of “Ancient of Days” and the rest is history. When Mystery did some gigs in the UK, we met up with Jean and his wife. They were so great with us that they felt like old friends. For this album I thought I would ask Michel, who I had been chatting to online for a while. Once again, he kindly agreed to add his distinctive guitar work on a track. I have so much respect for the people in this band. They are super-talented and also very caring, friendly people.
PP - Your sound and music has matured and is more polished on your second album than on the first. Did you change anything in your approach or is it due to the technical evolution?
JH: A little of both. Some of the tracks on “Capture Light” had parts I recorded early in the process and other parts were often built around them. So maybe, with hindsight I could have replaced them? But they had a good “feel” so I kept most of them. For the second album, my technical abilities were definitely a lot better. For example, I had learned not to record things with effects on them. Once the track has a reverb or delay added it’s there forever! Therefore, I now add effects later which allow me to make better choices and to easily alter things in the mix as it nears completion. So yes, I agree the production sounds more polished.
PP - Your album cover of a flying man is pretty fascinating! Did you hire someone for the creation of this picture, or do you have other talents which we ignore?
JH: The image is called “Icarus Rising” and is one of a series of sculptures by the English artist, Nicola Godden. Libby discovered Nicola’s work online and I contacted her. Amazingly, Nicola agreed immediately and was excited to use her sculpture images for the album artwork. So, once again, it shows how generous people can be!
PP - You mention on your web site that you have been playing and composing for many years and yet I can’t find anything related to you from the period before “Capture Light”. Was it for other artists? Were you playing in a band? Did you compose music in styles other than Prog?
JH: I played instruments in my teens and recorded a few things with friends in studios etc. It was probably not very good, but we had a lot of fun. I returned to playing about ten years ago and slowly started composing mostly instrumental music for myself and then for friends’ projects. It was only when I decided to attempt creating a “proper” album that things changed. The challenge to myself was, how do I go from being an enthusiastic amateur to making something that sounds as professional as anything that’s out there? It was a seriously big question!
As for musical styles, whilst I am a big fan of prog and it does influence my music, I also love and listen to many other styles. I try to write what comes naturally and feels right for a particular track.
PP - Do you think you’ll be able to reunite your team on stage for touring or will you hire different musicians? Any plans on touring in America? I believe you would be more than welcome here!
JH: I am asked about live shows quite a lot. The reality is I am still virtually unknown. Sometimes I go to the gigs of well-respected and established bands with years of experience and there may be only fifty people in the audience. So that does not really encourage me! I would want to use at least some of the musicians I work with and the band would probably need to be at least eight people! My current thoughts are to record another album, see how the sales go, then investigate the possibility of a few live shows that could be recorded.
PP - In conclusion, I’d like to suggest a series of small and more personal questions.
A) Your favourite band in your youth?
B) Your favourite artist or band?
JH: Steve Hackett
C) The first concert you ever saw?
JH: Yes GFTO Tour 1977
D) Your musical discovery of the past year. It doesn't matter what the style is.
JH: “The Courage to Be” – Lux Terminus
E) Your fondest memory?
JH: Exploring the wonders of Ancient Egypt with Libby
F) A dream to realize?
JH: Live shows (maybe – it could also be a nightmare!)
PP - Thanks again for your time and I hope to see you someday in our beautiful city of Quebec in Canada.
JH: Thank you Marc. As it happens, we spent part of our honeymoon in Canada and visited Quebec. We loved it and would love to return. If ever I decided to leave the UK… I think Canada might be the destination!