Never one to stand by idly, Brian Borcherdt has long split duties between his ambiently aggravated band Holy F*** and outside or solo projects. His latest endeavor is the lovely, lo-fi Dusted, a collaboration with producer and drummer Leon Taheny who has worked extensively with Owen Pallett and Sebastien Grainger.
The duo's debut album, Total Dust, was just released this week on Polyvinyl/Hand Drawn Dracula. Although the spare, fuzzed-out and mellow album was written by the Toronto-based Borcherdt in an isolated cabin, it wasn't quite a frostbitten, woe-is-me-in-the-snow Justin Vernon escape, nor a Twin Sister party house retreat; Borcherdt just needed space to think after six years on tour with Holy F***. However, Total Dust isn't completely divorced from Borcherdt's other band — Graham Walsh, Matt McQuaid and Brad Kilpatrick appear on the Dusted track "Property Lines," streamed below.
Borcherdt and Taheny toured earlier this spring with A Place To Bury Strangers and will headline at Manhattan's Cake Shop tomorrow, July 12, and Brooklyn's Glasslands on July 15. Two Toronto gigs are also in the works, at the Mod Club (July 26) and the Open Roof Festival (August 16).
The Alternate Side caught up with the traveling Borcherdt over email and he not only discussed Dusted, but the immediate — and very rosy — future of Holy F***, headed for a studio this very month to do some recording:
TAS: How does Dusted allow you to explore other ideas or sonic stories that you might not explore within Holy F***?
Brian Borcherdt: I rarely introduce any of my own songwriting into Holy F***. With only a few exceptions, Holy F*** write songs while touring, on stage or in the studio. This way the songs become the four-headed monsters they are. Outside of that world I write often, as a personal outlet.
TAS: Did you and Leon Taheny surprise yourselves with the raw, more melancholy mood of the songs on Total Dust, like the beautiful "Low Humming" or "Bruises," that seem totally different from Holy F***'s sound?
Brian: Dusted is finally a suiting medium for that. Leon and I knew that we wanted to make a moody, minimal record. The trick is to stick to that goal — not get distracted and make a more typically multi- layered rock record. I think we saved enough of the minimal live-off-the-floor vibe to give the album an overall tone. We could sometimes stray into other territories without losing that gauzy, blurry focus.
TAS: What is it about the artistic/creative dialogue between you and Leon that invigorates you? Do you both work in a similar fashion or is it your differences that keep things moving?
Brian: I had songs written and ready. And Leon had the tools and the space. That was the first attraction. But as we continued to work together we realized we had overarching ideas in common. More philosophical, I guess, at least in terms of aesthetics and work ethic. We felt that we could actually do this as a band and not just as a studio collaboration.
TAS: You seem to relish a loose, dirty guitar sound - and many of the songs are guided without drums, or just barely, and almost feel like demos. What was your vision behind the sound? Did you move quickly through the recording process? There's an intuitive, spontaneous feeling to the album.
Brian: Sort of .... I learned with Holy F*** that for me to be truly excited about something, I need to be given an aesthetic blueprint early on so that the texture becomes part of the song right from day one. I found that by playing the songs, as they were, through blown-out amps, while singing through blown-out amps, it gave the songs a sound, almost like they were mixing themselves from the first moment we hit "record." And still, the songs were remaining true to how they were written: sparse, guided by guitar and voice, not drums and bass. I learned from mistakes in the past; when I tried to blow up my little songs on to a bigger canvas, I ended up losing the aesthetic in which they were written. They became less special to me and more akin to a band I might hear once and lose interest with. They became kind of rock or something.
TAS: You seem to come from a long line of musicians who've recently locked themselves up in a cabin to write a wonderful album; what are five things that a musician should always bring to a remote cabin in the woods? What would you recommend leaving behind?
Brian: Well, first, a collection of Bon Iver records, lots of chamomile and tears, throat-coating tea, and make sure to leave your beard trimmer behind. Naw.... I don't know. I grew up in the woods. So I frequently write, record, hang out in remote spots, whenever I can get away from downtown Toronto. For me, the essentials are my guitar and something to write in. Something to record your ideas is a smart idea, either a laptop or cellphone (I know, not very romantic). For me the guitar is what I need to help me write songs, and then I can do that anywhere: a hotel room, back stage, my kitchen. The woods for me is better for recording 'cause you can focus. There's no hurrying with the final guitar overdub so that you can just barely make last-call at a bar somewhere close by.
TAS: You have New York shows this week. What are your favorite places to hang out in the city?
Brian: It's been a while. I would always stay at a friends in the Lower East Side. So everything was easy. We'd ditch our van in an underground lot and then take subways or walk. Happy Hour (anywhere) and pizza slices (for every meal). I'm always too excited to sit still in a restaurant; so I miss out on the finer dining. But then again Toronto has all that. It's all about friends, record shopping, and um... drinking (but I suppose Toronto has that too). Oh, one time I slept in a construction site across from Music Hall of Williamsburg. My phone died, my bank account was empty. I had been given the wrong address to the hotel. So, what else could I do?
TAS: Where do things stand with Holy F*** right now? It's been two years since the release of Latin.
Brian: We took time off, initially to record. But we realized we couldn't just do it all over again without some much needed downtime. Touring for six years straight can be fun, but our friends don't even recognize us any more. We grew weird humps and deformations, our skin grew scaly and our hair and teeth fell out. So know we feel well rested, revitalized. We are recording again, starting this month.
Dusted - Teaser 1 from Hand Drawn Dracula on Vimeo.