On their self-titled debut, Maryland-based trio The Holy Circle (Locrian, etc) create dramatic and ethereal synth-driven pop soundscapes. The band’s sound lies at the point where 80s moody synth-pop, post-punk and modern, highly-textural shoegaze converge. Its smoky darkness collides with its glimmering melodicism to create an aural atmosphere that is familiar and unique at the same time.
Svbterranean recently caught up with vocalist Erica Burgner-Hannum and synth player Terrence Hannum to discuss the new record and more.
Could you please introduce yourself and your role in The Holy Circle?
Terence: I’m Terence and I play all of the synths in the band.
Erica: I sing.
How did The Holy Circle come together?
Erica: Terence and I wanted to do a project was more pop than our other musical endeavors. We started writing and recording and put some things on Sound Cloud. Nathan[Jurgenson, drummer] expressed an interest in what we were doing and we started writing songs together.
Terence: I had some riffs that weren’t quite Locrian, too pop, and weren’t for my solo stuff, not techno enough. And Erica and I had been talking for years about starting a band since Unlucky Atlas ended. The Holy Circle just kind of came together, as the two of us but we were between do we use a drum machine or find a drummer. And then I’d long admired Nathan’s drumming in Screen Vinyl Image and Silo Halo, and I liked him as a person too it just kind of worked out, he liked our demos as a duo.
The band’s sound seems to draw influence from synthpop, dreampop, shoegaze, among others. What is it about these particular sounds/genres that drew you to them?
Terence: I mean those are big eras for me, in the early 1990s I would go to the ends to find like strange Flying Saucer Attack 7″s, I was just obsessed with noisey dreamy stuff in addition to my obsessions with metal or noise. I think it was somewhat cinematic, be it the Cocteau Twins or Slowdive. But I love synths, always have, my first tape was Black Sabbath but my first or second CD was Erasure‘s “The Innocents”. I’ve always thought there was something big about blasted out guitars or syncopated synths. I think that was some of my idea, like make the synths kind of shoegaze like. But synth pop is probably a lot of what I listen to just in general.
You are all involved in, or have been involved in, other musical acts such as Locrian, Unlucky Atlas and Screen Vinyl Image? Do you feel your time spent in these projects influenced the sound of The Holy Circle? If so, how?
Erica: Because UA was in the world of dark folk and Locrian was avant-metal, my contributions to both left me with a desire to explore more pop avenues.
Terence: Unlucky Atlas had a lot of rules, folk instruments, lyrics about living in a state of war under Bush. It really kind of locked itself into something. Locrian was kind of freeing in that when André[Foisey, guitarist – Locrian] and I started it we only improvised, even when Steven[Hess, drummer- Locrian]joined later it was a lot of improv, but it crystallized around a lot of our experimentation and prog-influences. I think the Holy Circle kind of came out of wanting to placate my desire to make pop music that wasn’t stupid, like a challenge to myself to write a concise song.
Compared to your time with these aforementioned musical projects, do you feel there are different challenges to writing and performing with The Holy Circle?
Erica: Speaking for myself, I don’t like to settle for anything easy. We work really hard at our song writing and we know what we want it to be now. I think that’s something that comes with maturing as a musician and trial and error. So maybe those are challenges we put on ourselves? It’s definitely a different audience than our other bands would draw so it has been interesting to see what types of people are drawn to The Holy Circle that would probably never listen to or be aware of our other projects. We’re having to work a lot harder on getting our music out to these new fans. They’re a lot harder to please and I think that is because the world is just saturated with pop music. There’s so much out there but I think what we’re doing is special and I think people hear that when they listen.
Terence: I think it is personally challenging, like to have a verse and choruses, and bridges. To know when to end it. Like three minutes is a fine song length. I also think its good, like maybe it isn’t what you’d expect from my output if you follow my solo stuff or Locrian or Axebreaker.
What can you tell us about the writing and recording process of your new, self-titled debut?
Erica: Most of the songs were already written when we entered the studio with the exception of “Hearts Called” which we wrote in the studio based on some sketched out ideas.
Terence: Working with J. Robbins was great, he was a guy I looked up to for a while with Jawbox, which I used to listen to in high school on tapes on the bus. I know he isn’t known for like synth heavy work, but he was right in the zone and had great suggestions. I just layered a lot of synths, that was my goal. Just a big deep sound. Songs we had played live for over a year really got fleshed out and “Hearts Called” came to life from a really small sketch of an idea.
What are some of the themes explored on the record?
Erica: Most of the songs explore themes of love and loss.
How do you feel the music of the record compliments its lyrical themes?
Erica: Terence and Nathan did a beautiful job of playing off of each other on the record combining heavy, but often, shimmering synths with almost tribal, live drums. It’s a sound that makes us very unique as a band. Because my lyrics are often about juxtapositions, the dark and the ethereal, it all works.
Terence: I think it compliments them a lot, Erica is pretty clear with what a song is about, so we hold off or build things up to kind of make the songs hit at the right places. To me its very melancholic, Erica’s lyrics may be pretty dark but her voice has a lot of hope. It’s that push and pull that I hope to get right, like use a nasty distorted synth with a nice melody layered in. I tend to try and juxtapose something nasty sounding with something clean.
You recently released the official video for the track “This Is”. What can you tell us about the creation of the video?
How do you feel the imagery presented in the video correspond with the song’s lyrics and tone?
Erica: I wrote the lyrics about how my daughter was my savior, in a way, because becoming a mother made me feel alive again and gave me something to care about after spending quite a long time, emotionally, in a very dark place. Terence had the idea to put the kids into the video and my main contribution was to tell him what shots I liked and didn’t like. I love how their faces are washed out with light against a dark background.
Terence: I was about to sell this old Fisher-Price PXL 2000 camera, but then I tested it out and just loved how it looked. It gave me a lot of ideas, kind of brought me back to my childhood when I used to play with one. I just experimented with it and shot my kids in front of it. All of the footage is kind of ghost-like by nature and the lighting is tough to get something clear, so I started using lights. I just wanted it to feel kind of mysterious. I don’t know, the song is really hopeful, so I think kids in general can have that feeling. I know for me, my kids do.
In addition to “This Is”, several of the album’s tracks have accompanying videos with various directors at the helm, including yourselves. What is your process in selecting directors, or selecting which visuals fit your music?
Erica: We have an aesthetic and we prefer to work with friends who get that. Once we hand the song over, we don’t involve ourselves in the process because we’re interested to see where the artist takes it.
Terence: When we started The Holy Circle I really wanted the artists we worked with to be women. So whether its Liz Nielsen on the cover of our new LP or Michelle Grabner on our EP the videos too should try and aspire to that and work with female directors. We’ve been very fortunate that Dina Fiasconaro and Danielle Damico have been so willing to make visuals for us. They are just such great filmmakers and artists. I tend to let directors do what they want. I honestly don’t give much advice. I think their raw interpretation and impression is way more interesting.
Back in June, you teased your cover of Julee Cruise’s “The Nightingale”, which is slated to appear on the seventh installment of Indie Rock Mag’s ongoing series of Twin Peaks-inspired compilations. How do you feel the music of these cult television series influenced The Holy Circle?
Terence: Well I have always admired Angelo Badalamenti’s work with David Lynch, like on Lost Highway and the theme to Twin Peaks. I am always thinking of interesting cover songs and when we were invited to contribute to this series of compilations so we tried the Julee Cruise song, kind of odd she wasn’t included in the new series. But anyway it is an ok song, we just had some cool ideas to try with it.
Generally speaking, do you feel your musical projects draw influence from film? If so, how?
Terence: For me it’s probably more the influence of soundtracks, like Angelo Badalamenti or say the Goblin soundtracks for Argento films, Fabio Frizzi for the Fulci films. Stuff like that. I’m a huge fan of horror scores maybe more then the films sometimes. You know I grew up in the 1980s so like the terrible synth scores in budget horror movies or moody sci-fi scores really made an impression on me. I mean now its a cottage industry with Mondo and all the reissue labels. I would tape things off of the TV or movie that I liked. So yeah film was big to me.
What is next for The Holy Circle in the near future?
Erica: We’re working on new material for another album.
Terence: The vinyl version is out now and we have maybe five or six new songs we’re playing and figuring out where they go.