Side projects, indie rock all star guest appearances . . . unfortunately these things have become more of a red flag than an attraction. It can seem as if somebody has something to prove or may even feel like a namesake is enough to justify its existence. But with Gospel Music, project of Owen Holmes, bassist for Black Kids, it feels completely genuine . . . and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Holmes captured a sound that would comfortably fit in an early 90s K Records sampler—hooky, down-home bedroom pop songs minus the gloss.
The name of the EP is Duettes and Holmes has added an extra helping of intrigue by enlisting the vocal talents of Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell, French singer Soko, The Magnetic Fields’ Shirley Simms, Vivian Girls’ Cassie Ramone and the token dude duet is with Hefner’s Darren Hayman. We had the opportunity to speak with Holmes about the EP and his own musical evolution. Hallelujah.
When and how did Gospel Music come about?
I started writing songs about four years ago for a folk duo my friend Reggie and I had for a spell. It was called The Kettles; we played a half-dozen shows around town. After that went sideways, I kept writing my own songs, and here we are.
I love the name Gospel Music. How did you come up with it?
Speaking of Reggie, I took the name from him — he has lots of names for bands he’ll never start. But yeah, my choosing it is a nod to the way I was raised. I grew up in the Southern Baptist church, and while I stopped believing in that stuff many years ago, I still think about (some might say obsess over) the whole thing, all the time. I guess that’s to be expected after growing up in such an intense, specific way. Anyway, I deal with it by doing things like naming my decidedly non-Christian band Gospel Music.
I’m gonna go back a little further and ask how you got involved in music in general?
Through MxPx — how else? They were the first band I really fell for. It was probably 1995. I bought a cheap Fender P-bass and learned MxPx songs and played them with friends. We gradually shifted from the covers to writing our own songs. We should have stuck with the covers.
It is crazy to see you evolve from previous bands over the years, definitely a cool evolution. How do you see it?
Ah, thanks man. I guess it’s been fairly linear, from loud, aggressive music to not-so-loud-and-aggressive music, which goes for most people as they get older, obviously. I guess it could also be viewed from the perspective of songwriting style, which would be more circular — I started off liking and playing in bands with verse-chorus songs, and then I got into more abstract, less structured music, and then in the past several years I’ve come back to believing pop is the answer.
I found the lyrics intriguing. What are some of the themes or subjects you deal with on Duettes?
Every song on the EP, I recently noticed, has a reference to both food and booze — the things that make life worth living. Romance is central thematically — I also recently realized that each song is about, at least in part, a dysfunctional relationship. It’s not deep stuff, but I think I also touch on the intersection of high-brow and low-brow culture, which is personal to me. Like, being into things such as the New Yorker while also liking boiled peanuts.
I hear a lot of 90s indie rock influence in GM. What artists or records influenced this EP or GM in general?
That’s funny because I totally missed out on all that stuff when it was coming out. (I was into punk.) But yeah — bands like the Silver Jews, Magnetic Fields and Hefner have meant a lot to me the past three or four years.
What made you decide to go with KILL ROCK STARS on this effort? Can we expect a full length?
I sent them the record, and they said they wanted to put it out, which, as much as I like the music, is still crazy to me. You can most certainly expect a full length — I have most of it written. I’ll start to record it early next year.
Where did you record this EP and whom did you record it with? I know you snagged members of Magnetic Fields and Camera Obscura. How did that come about?
I recorded it in my apartment, in the kitchen (except for the drums, which were recorded in my other band’s practice space). I bought a mic and pointed it at whatever I was playing. I did have the thing mixed by a professional, however — Charles Newman, who records Stephin Merritt. As for the guest singers, I just sent each of them the song I had in mind, and they agreed to contribute. Life lesson: just ask.
Any touring or live engagements anytime soon? Will it include some of the people on the EP as well?
I just started practicing with a drummer, so I think we’ll be ready to play in town in late January or February. I’m going to get Soko, who sings on “I Miss The Shit Out Of You,” to come out from LA and sing all the songs with me.
I really like the artwork on this EP, and the fact that you are releasing it on 10″ vinyl. Who did the artwork for it?
The ideas for the art were a combination of mine and my friend Kevin Snow’s. The execution was entirely his. I love running, more than anything else possibly, so that’s why I’m running on the cover. With a girl, like a duet — get it?
How was growing up in Jacksonville, FL? How is the music scene in Jax in the recent years?
Like growing up anywhere, it seems good enough until you realize there’s so much else out there, and that a lot of those other places are far more progressive and adjusted. As for the music scene, I’m the wrong person to ask — I was out of town for a couple years with my other band and haven’t seen too much since I’ve been back. That whole noise scene is interesting — I can’t stand the music but admire that they get shit done, playing shows and making tapes with handmade art and all that.
What do you have on the record player as of late?
The Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti record that came out earlier this year. Also just discovered the first Concretes album — I can’t believe I lived without it for this long. Oh, and Dwight Yoakam. I start every day with his “Ain’t That Lonely Yet.”
Have you seen any shows worth mentioning lately?
I’m still reeling from Jonathan Richman’s show here in February.
Well I appreciate the time Owen, any parting thoughts?
Thank YOU. God bless Gospel Music?
Listen to “Automobile” from Duettes.