Gospel Music, the folksy indie-pop endeavor of Owen Holmes, uses simple lyrics and acoustic instrumentation to win the hearts of listeners. With an EP and LP, and another on the way, Gospel Music continues to create candid tunes, each more honest than the last. Holmes and his touring crew are making their way to Mike ‘N’ Molly’s this Friday, and buzz was able to chat with him about his music, his lyrics and even his other band, Black Kids.
»buzz: Do you write and record all the songs for Gospel Music?
Owen Holmes: Yeah, I make the records — the two that I put out last year and the year before. I did all the instruments and wrote everything, and then obviously there’s a female singer on a lot of the songs, so I don’t do that obviously, but I do everything else. And then live I have a full band, so we’re more of a band than a solo act live.
»buzz: How did you choose who did the female parts on your Duets EP?
OH: Honestly, they were some of my favorite singers. Magnetic Fields is my favorite band of all time, so getting Shirley [Simms] from that band was pretty thrilling, and then I’ve loved Camera Obscura for years. I won’t pretend like one or two people didn’t return my email about it, but generally, I just went through my record collection and picked out my favorite female singers, and in one case a male singer, and asked them. And to my surprise, they were up for it.
»buzz: So is that something you really wanted in your music, having that contrast between the male and female voice?
OH: Yeah, it is. I guess mainly because I don’t think anyone really wants to listen to just my voice for very long. I think a nice, pretty girl’s voice is a nice foil to my low gargle, or whatever I do.
»buzz: You’re the bassist for Black Kids as well. Is that still a thing or are you mostly just doing Gospel Music now?
OH: Yeah it’s still a thing, at least in theory. We’ve just been writing our second album for, it’s been, like three years now. It’s taken a little longer than we thought it would [laughs], but we’re just taking our time with it and making sure it’s gonna be as good as we want it to be. So in the mean time, it’s been great because I’ve had more time to record and tour with Gospel Music, so it’s worked out perfectly.
»buzz: I’ve listened to both Black Kids and Gospel Music, and I’ve drawn the conclusion that they’re about polar opposites sonically. How did that happen?
OH: In the Black Kids songs I was writing the bass parts, which I took a lot of pride in, but it was Reggie, the lead singer, who was doing most of the songwriting, so that’s the music that he wants to make, and I think it’s great. But I think the music I want to make is a little bit different, which is Gospel Music. On the other hand, I think both he and I cut out the same aesthetic in that we like short, verse-chorus pop songs. So while they might be recorded a little bit differently, it’s really kind of the same sensibility.
»buzz: How is the recording different?
OH: I guess Black Kids relies more heavily on synthesizers, whereas I probably take more advantage of, at least for the last record, more quirky instruments so to speak. Acoustic instruments. Although, with my new songs it’s sounding less acoustic-y. I’ve been listening to a lot of The Smiths, so that’s kind of my new obsession. Also, going back to how it’s different sorts of recording — I’m not going to say how much Black Kids spent on their record, making it, but it’s a fair amount of money — a really nice studio with a great producer whereas I made this thing in my apartment, and it probably sounds like that, but I’m okay with that.
»buzz: What are your musical and lyrical influences?
OH: Magnetic Fields is definitely the biggest and this band Hefner, who, the guy sings on one of the songs on Duets. They both have been big for me. And lately it’s been old British bands like The Smiths and even Pulp, the 90s British band. Just really any lyricists who are simple but clever. I don’t really go for abstract lyrics. I feel like most lyrics I hear these days are really abstract, like, you have no idea what the song is about. Maybe I’m just a simple-minded person, but I like to know what a song is about, you know? And it can still be clever and have twists and all these poetic devices, but personally I don’t want to hide behind this cloud of abstraction. I’d rather write a song that’s more direct.
»buzz: Do you think that makes it more relatable? Being precise rather than abstract?
OH: That’s a really good question. Yeah, in fact, I remember writing a song and wondering if this is getting too specific. Obviously the broader something is, the more chance there is of everyone relating to it. But I guess I’d rather err on the side of doing something genuine but also direct, versus something that just seems like a bunch of words strung together. I mean, I like Bob Dylan just as much as anyone else, but [laughs]… like, come on!
»buzz: Is that a main contrast between Black Kids and Gospel Music?
OH: Lyrically, I don’t think they’re really that different — a bit, but I don’t think they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum. Reggie from Black Kids (who’s my best friend by the way), we have a lot of the same influences and I know he loves simple, clever, direct pop songs as much as I do. So I don’t think there’s a huge difference. I think the bigger difference comes in the way it sounds, just the instruments that are used.
»buzz: About your album (How To Get To Heaven From Jacksonville, Florida, 2011): considering it’s named after Jacksonville, what kind of role did the city have in influencing the album?
OH: Well, I’ve lived there for 31 years — my whole life — and there aren’t songs about Jacksonville per se, but for instance, the lead single, “This Town Doesn’t Have Enough Bars For Both Of Us.” I mean, I didn’t sit down and say, “I want to write a song about Jacksonville,” but that song was about just running into an ex during a night out in your small town. With most of my songs, I kind of have to exaggerate to make them a little more interesting than they would be, but with that one, this girl and I were literally going back and forth between two bars. One was called Wall Street, and one was called Birdy’s. Those are kind of, at least at the time, the two bars in the neighborhood that everyone went to, so, I don’t know. Almost everyone can relate to running into an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend at a bar, but just imagine if there were only two bars in your neighborhood!
»buzz: So is How To Get To Heaven From Jacksonville, Florida kind of a “getting out of a small town” kind of thing?
OH: You know what? I hadn’t thought of that, but I like that. Yeah, totally. That’s great. Nice!
»buzz: Is there anything special about your live show?
OH: Well, I definitely don’t want anyone to have the impression that it’s just me, just another white guy with an acoustic guitar — that sounds awful to me. So yeah, it’s a full band with bass, drums, guitars and keyboards. I guess like most bands do, we just kinda recreate the album for the live setting.
»buzz: Does it sound different live than it does on the record?
OH: [Laughs] It probably sounds better because the guys I have playing with me can play their instruments better live than I could while recording myself. So yeah, it’s a good team. And it’s probably more upbeat than the record. Probably a little more lively and bouncy.
»buzz: Do you have any new Gospel Music material on the horizon?
OH: Yep, I am pretty much done writing the next LP … I’m just starting to record it, and we’ve got a January/February release date scheduled.
»buzz: So you’ll be playing some of that at the show?
OH: I’ve really just written the songs, and I haven’t started to record them yet to show the other guys, but we’re playing one new song at least, called “Candy Cigarettes.”
To catch “Candy Cigarettes” and the rest of Gospel Music’s repertoire in the flesh, head to Mike ‘N’ Molly’s on Friday, June 8.