Despite their unquestionably meteoric soar through the ranks so early on in their career, Welsh outfit Holding Absence faced many speed bumps and set backs on the road to creating their debut full-length album, to the degree that at one point they thought they would call it a day and never finish it off.
Yet, here we are, and their debut self-titled record is finally upon us. We caught up with frontman Lucas Woodland on their headline UK tour celebrating the release to discuss the album, why they nearly broke up and it almost never came to be, the importance of albums over the modern day singles model, the current scene in the UK, and more.
DP!: You guys are back on the road now, and with an album of new material too. How does it feel to be back touring again?
LW: Awesome, dude. We had nearly four months off, and obviously we had the cancellation of the Europe run with Capsize, so we kind of felt a little hard done by having to miss those, but it’s super nice to be back. Obviously the UK is where we’re from, it’s where we’ve cut our teeth and it’s full of people we love, so it’s been a very enriching and complete experience. We’re off to Europe next month now too, so nothing ventured nothing gained.
The thing is, the music industry is very quick in its ways. Sometimes you’ll get offered a tour with two days’ notice, or you’ll get a tour cancelled within a week’s notice. You’ve just got to roll with the punches really. Yeah, it sucked, but this UK run has been incredible. Every show has been off the chain.
DP!: Absolutely. Of course, the Europe tour situation was bad and we won’t discuss it beyond that, but on the plus side on this UK leg all of the focus is on you guys now.
LW: Yeah, yeah. Honestly, I think it has just made these shows a little bit more special. We were going to do twelve days and then eight days with only two days off, so, you know, that was going to be quite exhausting, and at the time I saw the London show as something that’s quite far away in my mind because the tour was going to be so long, but now because it’s only a few shows it just feels a little more compact and special for us. It’s combined with the album release too, so it’s like an album tour. It’s like it’s our week and our run, and we can really bask in that.
DP!: How’ve the fans been taking to the new songs live?
LW: Honestly super well. The thing is, we were very lucky from a very early stage in our career. We kind of chose that singles model and didn’t have any EPs or anything like that, and people were getting tattoos pretty much straight away, so for us it was crazy just how much confidence people were putting in us at such an early stage. As such, we were very cautious of the album undoing the work that we’d already done if it wasn’t good enough, but people have really taken to it. It’s propelled our band in a more beneficial direction for us.
DP!: That’s awesome to hear. What about the critics? Have they been warming up to it?
LW: Yeah, very much so. The thing is that none of us have ever written an album before, and it’s like a greater plan really. When you’re writing a song it’s all short sighted, whereas with an album it’s kind of a long sighted scenario and if you haven’t practiced that kind of songwriting then sometimes it’s a lot harder than you would imagine, so we were very cautious of that. We’ve had some crazy reviews.
DP!: Well, as you were saying, an album offers a grander scope and acts as a bigger statement than obviously any single could. Was there any particular message that you intended to achieve with that whole body of work?
LW: I mean, I say this quite a lot, but because I didn’t have 3 minutes to grab everyone’s attention and instead I have 50, that meant that I could start a narrative and finish it with so much more time, so much more patience, and a lot more freedom. Lyrically, I really benefited from having the time to be able to not be so brash with my lyricism, and really be more subtle and give people insights into things rather than telling them how it was; letting people take their own kind of view with it, and by the time the album is finished really understanding it.
On a musical level, with an album you can have a quiet song, like literally ‘Marigold’ is a piano-only song, and then we can have a heavy song too, whereas with singles you kind of want a quiet chorus and a heavy verse or vice versa. Just having the time to explore different things in different quantities and to have different parts to an album was just really beneficial.
DP!: I suppose it really gives you a chance to flex your muscles as a band and as artists and musicians too, like we can do this but we can also do that, and we can also do this if we want to too.
LW: For sure, 100%. If you release a single with a certain sound you might scare people off, but having an album where people can dedicate their time to listening, you can really show off your ability.
DP!: As you’ve mentioned in the past, there had been some setbacks with the album coming to be, most notably with some line-up changes. Were there any other major speed bumps that you came across whilst creating it?
LW: The line-up change was definitely a big one, yeah. It’s just one of those things sometimes where you’ve really got to roll with the punches and take it as it goes, but it was a tough time where at one point I didn’t think that we would be able to carry on as a band or even finish the album. That was a very hard thing for us to consider, because we’d put so much in and so much had come back to us, and then to think we could’ve nearly tripped over the last hurdle is kind of depressing really. There were a bunch of other little things too, but thankfully we overcame them, and here we are.
DP!: Do you think if those changes hadn’t occurred then, obviously the album would’ve been out sooner and there’d have been different songs, but do you think the vibe and sound would’ve also been noticeably different?
LW: Definitely. My favourite tracks on the album are post-line-up change, so first and foremost tracks like ‘Wilt’, ‘Monochrome’, ‘Like A Shadow’ – they wouldn’t even exist if we had carried on in the vessel that we were prior. We really benefited from the changes, and it would’ve been a different album. I mean, we’ll never know if it would’ve been a better album or a worse album than what we’ve now created, but in my opinion this album is the album that it needed to be and it doesn’t actually really matter how we got there, just the fact that we did to me is super cool, and also a testament that in weakness there is strength. Sometimes by overcoming really arduous times you actually harden yourselves to be a better band, so, yeah, this album would not be half the album that it is if we didn’t go through so much shit in the last few months.
DP!: I can definitely agree with that. Due to the different line-ups and different songs that were made in those respective formations, was there ever a worry that might be notable and that the album would sound a little bit like a cut and shunt job?
LW: [laughs] Yeah. You could argue that the album was written by two different bands, and I fully agree, and, honestly, that was the biggest issue for us at first. We sat down, and ‘Like A Shadow’ was the first song that we wrote as the three of us, and when listening to the demo we were kind of like “Uh, is this too poppy?” and “Have we just u-turned?”. The other issue was that not only did we write the album in two halves, we also recorded it in two halves too. ‘Perish’, ‘You Are Everything’, ‘Marigold’, ‘Your Love’, and ‘Godsend’ had all been tracked already, so to us it was like “Well, we can’t u-turn completely” because there are still elements go what we already were that have to go on this album because we’ve spent money recording it, so that was a huge, huge caution of ours. The thing is that we thought about it a lot. We were very cautious, and we very meticulously chose every step that we took and there were no accidents.
DP!: I mean, it’s your debut album, so this is the very point in your career that you don’t want to risk.
LW: Just talking about it with you now is stressing me out. [laughs] Yeah, you’re right. It is the worst time in your career to have a drastic sound change or a line-up change when you’re supposed to be crafting the most hardened music that you could ever write, and some of my favourite bands of all time have u-turned and I’ve loved it, but I would never have loved them in the first place if they’d u-turned too early. I’m sure that we’ll change direction and genre over the years, and I embrace and welcome that, and I think a big part of our band is that people will also be there when we do that, but early days you just really need to prove to people what you are. That’s why the name Holding Absence was the chosen title for the album, to say that this is the most pure form of Holding Absence.
DP!: As you had those four or five songs recorded, was there ever a discussion to release those as an EP and to then do a full album with the new line-up?
LW: It’s a good thought, you know? That could’ve worked, but I honestly just think that we’d bought too much time with the singles, and I think that people just needed this album now. It’s funny because we’re not an arena band and we’re still quite a small band, so you could argue who cares? To the eight billion people who don’t know about us, who cares? But I think a big part of our band is the connection that we have with the people who listen, and also we’ve always done everything that we could to make this the best experience for them, so I think just throwing them an EP and just being like “Oh, there you go, here’s another not album release” I feel would’ve been – whether people would’ve said it or not, I would’ve felt like we’d let them down. I feel like it would’ve been a bit of a cop out.
DP!: You mentioned before that prior to the album that you’d only released stand-alone singles, and with the way that music is being consumed nowadays it’s mainly building songs to be featured on playlists over the album experience. Did you ever talk about continuing down the singles-only path?
LW: You’re 100% on the money because it has changed completely, and it literally has changed in the last year or so, and ironically that was when we started putting together a full-length record. It was something that we were incredibly mindful of, but, like I said, we owed it to the people to do an album, we were well aware of that, and also, it’s not the best advice to give to anybody, but sometimes you really just have to go against the grain a little bit and really do what you feel is right. For us, yeah, we could’ve released an EP and have every song on there playlisted on a big playlist and getting as many streams off an EP on Spotify as we would with an actual album, but I just grew up worshiping albums like ‘The Black Parade’ and ‘American Idiot’, and you could never recreate those kinds of ideas and concepts through singles.
I think that as music consumers, regardless of the fact that I’m a musician myself, we just can’t let albums die. It’s too important. They’re too life changing. I honestly think that. The world changes in whatever way it needs to and super often, and very rarely can we have a say in it, but I just think that we can’t let go of albums. Regardless of the fact that single listening and playlist listening is now the way, as music consumers we need to support albums now, and then as a music consumer making music I knew that an album was right.
DP!: For the song ‘Monochrome’, you did a video where for a few moments you ditched the grayscale aesthetic and introduced some colour. How did it feel to step out of that comfort zone of the aesthetic and feel of the band?
LW: I think it was a nice change, first and foremost. It didn’t grind anybody’s gears, which we were cautious of, and I just think honestly, because it was our tenth video, I just thought that we had to do something with colour in some way. I had the idea of doing a well coloured video, like Modern Error, but in black and white, so it would look really weird but it would still be our kind of thing. But, I just thought we should step out of our comfort zone like you said and just taking a risk, and also using it as a way of elaborating a narrative. The video starts in black and white, it finishes in black and white, the guy found his home in the situation and everything was at peace in the end, but, yeah, the whole video did feel like being dangled out of your comfort zone really. It felt like a necessary change.
DP!: What do Holding Absence have planned for the rest of 2019?
LW: Honestly, we just want to tour. I feel very proud of this album and very proud of our live show. We are all just ready to leave our lives behind and just do this as hard and for as long as we can really. The UK scene is thriving at the moment, I was literally thinking about it earlier. Look at Parting Gift, Modern Error, Lotus Eater, Loathe, Dream State, Blood Youth; I could name them for hours, and there’s so much difference but also such a unified thirst. It’s fucking mad. We’re climbing over each other at the moment, and I really feel like there’s a British music era and that it’s the best, best time really.
DP!: What’s great to see as well is that these bands aren’t afraid the experiment a little bit and not tread down the well-trodden past so rigorously.
LW: Exactly. We know that we can’t all just be scene bands. We all know that we can’t just keep doing breakdowns and all that or whatever, and we can’t keep stepping on each others’ toes but everybody has to start in a place. I love that Parting Gift are sounding more and more like The Cure and shoegaze-y. I love that Blood Youth are sounding heavier with every release. I love Dream State and CJ is this phenomenal and enigmatic front woman. We all started doing post-hardcore and kind of screamy stuff, but everybody is so hungry to move on, and I love that.
I just can’t get over how many good bands are standing on their own legs, signing to international labels, and touring with massive bands. It’s just a fantastic time for UK music at the moment, and I just want to be a part of it and do it as much as we can.
The band’s self-titled debut studio album is out now through SharpTone Records.
Founder & Editor for DEAD PRESS! | Atheist and antitheist. | Judge of the quick & the dead since 1989.