Holy Housemates

9 August 2012 | 7:00 am | Cam Findlay

"We were all living in a sharehouse at one stage... We were, more or less, just hanging out in our house, playing records and messing around with instruments."

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Holy Balm are not your usual band. Maybe you could tell that from the name? Hailing from Sydney, the three-piece ride a weird, left-field line between avant-garde sounds and catchy, dancy pop music. Their stage set-up is simple; two keyboards, a few cymbals and drums, the necessary wiring and a penchant for getting zoned into a beat. They've been silently building their name in the underground Sydney art and dance scenes, and are now ready to present the country with their debut album It's You, which bottles up all of that weirdness and pumps it out of your speakers.

“Hi, how are you?” comes the affable and friendly voice of Emma Ramsay from her Sydney home. “Thanks for the interview!” Pleasantries aside, Ramsay goes into the process of how they've been getting ready for their tour. “We've just been working on the songs and kind of organising, I guess,” she explains. “We've been getting the songs off the album down pat, and working on a bit of new material as well. It's all been taking shape over the last few months. All of the material we had for the album, we've had for a while, so the set will end up being all the album plus that new material that we're trying to test out in front of crowds. We started doing demos for the album in about August last year, so those songs we've had fully constructed for about a year. Now that the album's out, we're just really into developing some new stuff to play every night.”

Ramsay is clear that the process of writing and developing material is pretty relaxed, something that could be attributed to the style of music they play, but maybe more to the connection between Ramsay, Anna John and Jonathan Hockman. “We were all living in a sharehouse at one stage,” Ramsay continues. “We were, more or less, just hanging out in our house, playing records and messing around with instruments. That was probably from John; when he moved in, he brought quite a lot of instruments with him. So yeah, we really just went from there. That was quite a while ago now. We started off playing a lot more experimental and thrashy stuff, but we always had this underlying sense of melody that has become really important in our music now. I guess over the years, the jams just became songs.”

Everyone knows spending to much time with your musical co-workers can spell disaster; it seems pretty unusual to see a band that have managed to keep friendship and professionalism central to their work. “I guess it meant that we could create something that was really unique,” Ramsay ponders. “We all came into it with different tastes and interests, but I think we were able to really bring it all together, just from that time we spent hanging out and talking about music. It was about exposing each other to different kinds and eras of music, which was exciting for us, and still is in a lot of ways.”

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The result is – and forgive this scribe for the overuse of the word – weird. But weird in a good way. Whilst they could easily have their critics, the fact that Holy Balm are creating something wholly unique may be the most exciting part of the group. That does of course mean, though, that putting a pin on what exactly Holy Balm's music actually is becomes a little difficult. “It's a tricky one, I guess; if I hear a band that has a whole bunch of references thrown together, it isn't usually that good,” Ramsay laughs. “For some reason, I think there's a lot of absorbing and reworking that happens through the band. We all come from visual arts backgrounds, so bringing that aesthetic process into the music just really works for us.”