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Interviews

Interview: Holding Absence Talk “The Greatest Mistake Of My Life”, Reddit Inspired Poetry, and the Story Behind “In Circles”

By: Jessica Nakamoto –

With an elegant reflection on a lifetime of love and regret, an almost forgotten classic is born anew in Holding Absence’s most profound offering to date.

Out April 16 via SharpTone Records, The Greatest Mistake Of My Life encapsulates a bold new statement from the Cardiff-based outfit. Yet, the inspiration behind the band’s sophomore record has been a long time in the making.

Originally drawing its title from the 1930’s Gracie Fields song of the same name, TGMOML was discovered by vocalist Lucas Woodland after a conversation with his grandmother. The singer’s great-uncle covered the track in the 1950’s and it only seems fitting that Holding Absence are the ones to bring both the song and the powerful sentiment it evokes back to life over nine decades later.

Playing off themes such as the monotony of everyday life and love in the face of death, TGMOML exudes a combination of powerful rock choruses and moments of atmospheric reflection which the band has always captured with poetic ease. For whether you’re looking to mosh in your living room or satisfy your existential ponderings, TGMOML has your back.

In the meantime, as you get lost in the band’s latest single (out now), or anxiously await the new album, make sure to check out our interview with Lucas as we take a deep dive into The Greatest Mistake Of My Life, Reddit inspiration, the story behind “In Circles” and more!

Your debut album recently turned two years old. Happy belated birthday to the self-titled! Looking back, do you have a favorite memory or personal highlight associated with that release?

Thank you! It’s weird to think about, isn’t it? There was a lot going on with the self-titled, but we did do a really great headline tour and played venues that we never thought we’d ever play. We pretty much performed the album in full and I always look back at that with a real sense of pride.

The timing is actually kind of symbolic. We’re starting to roll out this new album, so it feels like a nice moment to say goodbye to the last one and move on the new record. But I feel like when you release an album it’s a long period of time, you know?

Definitely! And you guys have had the new album ready to go since last February, correct? You must be excited to get it out into the world.

Yes! We’ve been sitting on this one for a long time. I’m dying for people to hear it. It’s interesting because once a song is out, you can’t really listen to it yourself. It feels weird, if that makes sense. When nobody else can hear it, it seems different.

At the moment, I feel like all I listen to is the new album. But I know that the second it comes out, I won’t listen to it again. So, I’m enjoying it while I can.

I actually just sat down with the album a few days ago. It sounds incredible! The fans have a lot to look forward to.

Dude thank you so much! It’s funny, like you said, we’ve had it for a long time and since almost no one has heard it, I’ve almost forgotten it’s good! (laughs) It’s nice to think that anyone’s even listened to it, so I’m glad you enjoyed it.

This is really an exciting time for the whole Holding Absence circle.

I like how there’s such a special story behind the album title and your family’s history with the actual song, “The Greatest Mistake of My Life”. The fact that the discovery started with a conversation with your Grandmother is super sweet.

I think that’s why it’s so important! It honestly came to me through such an unusual part of my life. My nan inspires me in everything I do, but very rarely does she inspire me musically because that’s just a completely different planet. So, the second that happened, it felt really special. It was a two-worlds-colliding kind of moment.

Has she heard the new record?

Not yet, but I think I played her the piano version of “The Greatest Mistake”. I’m definitely going to give her a vinyl when it’s out. Hopefully she’ll listen to it, but not too intently! You don’t really write lyrics for your nan at the end of the day. (laughs) So, a lot of the time I’d rather her not know what I’m singing about!

That’s true. (laughs) I do love how poetic your lyrics are though. There are always so many metaphors and layers that people can get lost in.

Thank you, I appreciate that.

Absolutely. This also made me wonder, are there any lines from the album that as you were writing it, you thought to yourself, “I really hope that people get this” or “I hope this resonates”?

There’s actually a lot! The way I write lyrics, every sentence has at least some sort of second meaning, even compared to how I first remember writing them.

Something that not many people know is that “Afterlife” was originally inspired by Mipha off of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It’s because whenever you die, she brings you back to life.

“Afterlife” is kind of about knowing that you’re safe because somebody’s watching over you. That’s also where the lyrics “I’ll pull those arrows from out of your back” and the line “I know this bridge we built won’t last, but it’ll hold for at least a while” sort of come from. It was very on the nose at first.

Do you usually pick up lyrics wherever you go and jot them down for later?

Oh yeah, everywhere! We’ve got this song called “Dream of Me” which was the second track we released back in 2017. I actually got that title from the documentary Making A Murderer. I was watching the woman’s last phone call to the guy before one of them died. She said goodbye, I love you, and dream of me. I remember thinking “wow, how profound is it that she dreamt of him forever and that death is the longest dream?” That moved me. So, I always try to pick up lyrics from all over.

Speaking of inspiration, I listened to the original 1930’s track by Gracie Fields and enjoyed your cover of the song. When was this recorded in the timeline of creating the album?

That was literally the last thing we recorded. I did it in one take on a piano in this lovely live room. We had just finished spending a month there. The space was big, the acoustics were gorgeous, and we had a vocal mic, a drum kit, pianos, and amps. It kind of looked like a messy bedroom!

I was playing it at maybe two o’clock in the afternoon the day that we were leaving. I remember looking around and seeing everything packed up and thinking how poetic it was that I was doing the last song on the record as we were leaving the studio.

That’s amazing! It feels like there are a lot of full-circle moments on this record. I thought it was interesting how the words “I’m alive” were sung in the beginning and returned in the second to last song. Was this something that came about organically, or was that more of a conscious decision on your part?

I think with “Celebration Song” and “Mourning Song”, because of the names, you can sort of tell that they’re linked to one another. In a way, those two are essentially parallels because they’re both about death and how it influences life. “Celebration Song” is about celebrating the fact that you’re alive because maybe, at certain times in your life, you didn’t think you’d make it this far. And “Mourning Song” is about choosing to live no matter what because there are so many people you’ve met in your life that didn’t have the choice.

By including the “I’m alive” imagery, I wanted it to feel like a hopeful thing, you know? Like you’re alive man! Think about every hardship you ever overcame. And here you are today. That’s really special.

So, yes. Because we ultimately started with that on the album, I didn’t want the sentiment to get lost. Putting it at the end was a good way to kind of remind the listener of the point of the album.

Another song and music video you guys have coming out soon is “In Circles.” Could you tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind that track as well?

It’s funny because some songs you forget writing. It’s like “oh this one’s just sitting there in the Google Drive but I can’t recall putting it together!” (laughs) And then, there are obviously other songs you specifically remember, struggled to write, or whatever the case may be.

With “In Circles,” our guitarist Scott and I were in the studio one night. We had come up with this guitar idea and a drumbeat. Normally, I would look at my phone for lyrical inspiration and try to jam an idea, but my phone was dead and I couldn’t come up with anything. So, I thought “what was the last thing I wrote in my notes?” It was “people just go on and on in circles” and that ended up being the lyric.

The expression is kind of a commentary on the cyclical monotony of humanity and how boring and ritualistic we are as people. It’s also about how un-aspirational everyone can be by accident. We have to question if we go through the same routine and do the same things day after day, how are we ever going to dream and achieve those goals we set?

When I remembered that lyric, we thought it would be cool if this song felt cyclical in a clever way. So “In Circles” was very dictated by this idea. I love it because it’s ultimately just an anthem about existentialism!

Your songs always seem to hit these deep and reflective kind of notes. I was curious, how do you go about taking all this emotion and feeling and translating it into a music video or visual? 

Wicked good question! It’s interesting because I didn’t really get into music to make videos. I write songs to sing them. So, when it comes to this process, it’s kind of like speaking a different language. We always try our best to come up with something that looks and feels special.

With the new album, it was very important for us to have you to see the band as much as you hear them. Especially given the new aesthetic that we’re going for, we really wanted to make sure that we were on point with the visuals as well.

At this moment in time, I haven’t even seen the first draft of “In Circles” video. (laughs) But, the idea for that one was based on personal experience. When I’m feeling down, I’ll do this thing where I walk to Cardiff Bay, which is just an hour away from where I live, and walk back. I’ll take the world in and feel the air on my skin. I think it really humbles me. I get reminded of when I used to do that when I was 18 and really depressed.

I just thought, imagine if somebody filmed every time I walked down this single road. At four o’clock in the morning sometimes, at five or six o’clock, or in the afternoon when the sun is shining or it’s raining. I’ve done this same path so many times as a kind of therapy and I really like the idea of trying to translate that into the “In Circles” video. It also obviously ties in with the lyrics as well.

But, to answer your question in a more sweeping statement, I think you just have to try and do what’s right by the song. Never prioritize you as an artist trying to look cool or things like that. With the “Afterlife” video, we knew the music was epic and clean cut. That song itself is cool, so it was ok for the video to come across that way. But ultimately, you just need to do what’s best by the song.

The “Afterlife” video was indeed epic.

Thank you so much! To be honest, when we first got it back, we were like “that’s me! That’s you! Who are those people on that screen?!” (laughs)

Earlier, you had mentioned the new look for the band. You guys recently switched from black and white to color. It gave me a very cinematic vibe, like going from black and white to color TV.

Totally, you got it. I think it was something that we felt that we all wanted to do for the sake of the band. And really, what was more profound than when television started being transmitted in color or when photos started being printed this way? Even when you think of comics, it’s the same. I remember reading somewhere that the Incredible Hulk is green because they ran out of colors to use!

I didn’t know that about the Hulk. That’s hilarious!

Yes! We all take it for granted now because everything’s at our fingertips. But I think that having the black and white vibe to start off kind of bought us the opportunity to use something as simple as color and make it feel, as you said, cinematic. With the clothes that we wear, the atmosphere we try and surround ourselves in, and the photos and videos, we do want it to appear quite larger than life.

I was scrolling through Twitter the other day and I thought it was funny how someone had jokingly asked your permission to use the black and white since it’s so linked with your brand.

Oh yeah! That was literally last night. (laughs) It was funny because I found a Tweet from 2018 where I posted something like “I can’t believe Holding Absence invented black and white photo filters!”

In the past, the band has talked about wanting to have a timeless aesthetic. I know this is only your second full-length, but if you had to project yourself into the future, is there something that you’d like people to say or remember about Holding Absence as a band?

I think it really depends on where we are in ten years’ time. If we’re an arena band with five albums under our belt, then I’d love people to look back with fondness at our old stuff and still be enjoying our new material. But I like to say that even if Holding Absence were to split up tomorrow, I’m very proud of what we’ve done. I’d like to be remembered as a band that just cared about everything. About the people that listened to the music, about the things that we were saying, about the attention to all of these things. And if people connect with our output with the same amount of effort that we put into it, that’s all you can really ask for.

I think longevity is truly the greatest achievement a band can accomplish. Some of the best albums of all time weren’t popular when they were released. I’d like to think that this music will last a long time. That’s kind of the point of using “The Greatest Mistake of My Life” as a reference. This song is 90 years old! And now some emo kid from Britain has named an album after it! Everyone involved in that original song is probably not around anymore. But that’s part of what makes it cool. So, if in 90 years’ time, a progressive lo-fi jazz trap band wants to name an album after a Holding Absence song, that would be wicked!

Oh man, I want to hear that remix now!           

(Laughs) That sounds like it would be a cool album wouldn’t it?

A hundred percent.

One of my last questions for you is about the ethereal sounding monologues in several songs on the album. Who is voicing or singing these parts?

Interestingly, the singing is actually my sister. We had originally planned to have different guest vocalists, but it ended up that I had written a duet song. We wanted somebody who felt right for it, and the album is already so ingrained on a personal level with my family and my nan bringing it to me. It just felt like, who better than my sister to sing that song?

But at the same time, the monologue is something that we’ve really enjoyed doing on this album. This part was recorded by an American actress with a lovely voice. The things she is saying are passages of poetry that I’d written. I kind of paraphrased comments on a Reddit thread which asked “what are the greatest mistakes of your life?” There were loads of comments and I picked three very different ones and turned them into poems. Then we got the actress to speak on the album. It’s kind of meta and over the top if you think about it, but I just liked the idea of no one having to listen to this album alone.

This woman is always there and processing things with you. She’s one of the whispers at the beginning of the album and is also at the end. So, well spotted.

Thank you. I feel like those Reddit fans are going to be like…

(Both simultaneously) “That’s me! That’s me!” (laughs)

The band has a tour scheduled for October. If all goes to plan, is there a song that you’re most looking forward to performing live and sharing with fans?

Yes! With some records, there are songs that you don’t write with the intention of performing. They’re just cool, album songs. But this one was really written to play live.

I know eventually we’ll do the whole album front-to-back, so nothing’s off the table really. For me though, I think ending a set with “Mourning Song” would be obnoxious as hell and just a really emotional experience. I also love “Curse Me With Your Kiss”. That’s one of my favorites and it’s a really boppy track. But honestly, I’ll take pretty much anything. At the moment, I’m just excited to bloody play!

I can’t wait for you guys to visit the U.S. so I can come rock out too!

You’re in San Diego, right?

Yes, the magazine is based in Toronto, but I’m from San Diego.

Fingers crossed then. It would be lovely to see you at a show!

You as well! Until then, in addition to the new record, is there anything else that you or the band are excited for or have coming up?

Just the world starting back up and shows happening again. I was watching the Billie Eilish documentary. She’s one of my favorite artists on Earth, and watching her play and feel the music and sweat, oh my God! It just made me miss gigs so much! We’re ecstatic for this album to come out, but playing shows again is the next dream.

To wrap things up, I’ve got a couple fun fill-in-the-blank questions. Would you like to give it a go?

Sure!

When I’m not playing music, I love to…

Read comics, play video games, eat and sleep!

You’re even working on your own comic and book, right?

I am. It’s a million miles away, but I love writing, storytelling, character development, and the English language overall. I also started playing Dungeons and Dragons lately and that’s opened a whole new chasm in my brain!

One random thing I always have in my fridge is…

Heinz curry ketchup. Incredible stuff!

If I could collaborate with anyone past or present, I would pick…

Either Gerard Way or Billie Eilish.

My ideal vacation would include…

Loads of my friends! I’ve never been to America. Oh dude! It’s actually kind of what touring is, but I’d love to just go in a van from one end of America to the next with as many people I can possibly fit. I’d love to tour America.

Last one, something I’m obsessed with right now is…  

Dungeons and Dragons for the moment! I spend all night looking up sub-classes and spells. (laughs) Oh God, lockdown has changed me!

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