Holy Fuck

Unholy noise from Toronto

After a few unsteady gigs, Holy Fuck exploded out of Toronto’s indie rock scene in 2004 with a sound that blends driving rock rhythms with wailing synthesizers and a grinding pulse generated by a 35mm film synchronizer, broken toy keyboards and an array of effects pedals. Their music mixes elements of new wave dance music, avant-garde noise and a free flowing jam band mentality that feeds off the energy of their fans to create open ended tunes that move from moments of placid meditative stillness to window rattling, brain melting, electronic freak outs. Songwriter Brian Borcherdt checked in with SOMA from their tour van on the way to a gig in Portland, OR.

Despite the intensity of your stage shows, your new album, Latin, seems a bit laid back.
There’s a visceral feeling you get in a live show; you’re feeding off the energy of the audience. You don’t get that in a studio, so we made the album as dynamic as we could, showing off the full range of sounds and textures we put into the music. We didn’t arrange the tunes to build up to a climax, then end with a mellow everybody kiss and hug and be on your way home song. We wanted an ebb and flow that would keep listeners interested.

You played your first gigs with no written material. Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do?
Graham [Walsh, the band’s other keyboard player] and I started out with cheap old keyboards, damaged pedals and toy instruments. Most of them didn’t work right. One day we’d plug into an effects pedal and it’d sound dark and gothic, and we’d use the same effect the next day and hear something bright and buoyant. We just started playing live to see what would happen, making sounds that were dictated by our limitations. Our first three gigs were total disasters and the third was going to be the last, but drummer Glenn Milchem (Blue Rodeo, The Swallows) saw us. Despite how poorly we were received, he wanted to play with us. Having a great drummer helping us got the ball rolling.

Does being Canadian figure into your unique approach?
Canada has no unifying identity and most Canadian music is overlooked. That gave us the freedom of doing a band for the fun of it, with no expectations of being popular.

Was calling the band Holy Fuck a stroke of genius or self-destruction?
It’s hard to tell. It was helpful in the beginning. We came from nowhere and had to get attention. When you fill out a CMJ or SXSW form to get on a bill, it may have helped, but it probably took some opportunities away. The band is about freedom, spontaneity and taking risks; the name is a reflection of that. The name was a kind of self-depreciating joke. We started playing in a bedroom with crappy little, broken keyboards and thought we were destined to play crummy shows in rooms above Greek and Mexican restaurants in Toronto.


– J. Poet

photography by James Mejia