Whether the couple behind the music of Holly Hunt realizes it or not, they treat their instruments as channels into something beyond simple music. Their instruments are like ray guns. The tool emitting this spectral ray may look impressive or intimidating, but behold that psychedelic beam of light: a thing that exists beyond the object producing it. Guitarist Gavin Perry and drummer Beatriz Monteavaro are the architects behind the wall of texture that defines Year One, a brilliant if heavy vinyl record that will appeal to fans of metal, avant-garde, psychedelic rock and noise. Label genres also might include sludge core and stoner metal. You can go down that road, but this album’s possible appeal across several underground music scenes comes from a discreet tension between ambiguity and minimalism. I would take its DNA as far back as the early seventies when Philip Glass experimented with what he called “psychoacoustical” music like Music With Changing Parts.
It’s as pure and unique as that. It’s chaos that depends on discipline. The texture Holly Hunt deals in stands as something more than a random roar of guitars and a clatter of drums. The first note of Year One is an awe-inspiring thing to hear unfold. It’s a sizzle wrapped in a rumble enveloped in a zip coated with a thrum. Most of the album’s great moments come from Perry licking at his guitar slowly and methodically, allowing for the reverb to reveal the density within the tones produced by his playing. Monteavaro pounds along with minimal flair. She strikes skins, cymbals and peddles in halting unison, allowing space for Perry’s guitar to produce a sound of incomparable quality. Though the structure of the instrumental pieces that define Year One are often repetitive and droney, there exists a chaos in the notes, a sort of beautiful abstraction with each release that only slightly differs from one note to the next. Even if the same in tone, each note possesses as unique a quality as each successive ocean wave crashing into rocks along a shoreline.
Perry and Monteavaro allowed for a peek behind the curtain when they agreed to a meeting at Miami’s most uncompromising bar when it comes to bands like Holly Hunt, who also rely on ear-piercing volume for its overall effect: Churchill’s Hideaway. They nestled into the corner of an outside bar, while longtime local musician Henry Rajan strangled an electric guitar indoors—with his teeth. The screeches peppered our conversation. The 6-foot-plus, bushy-bearded Perry loomed over the spindly framed Monteavaro. The two have been a couple for 18 years now, though they only recently began playing together as Holly Hunt. Monteavaro says the band’s unique sound came into existence in February of 2011, after some sonic experimenting and jamming that included them playing other instruments with Nick Klein on guitar.
She parsed out the chain of events via a conversation on Facebook:
“We usually consider our first show at pre-INC [International Noise Conference] 2011 (February) to be the beginning on the band. We did have a noise piece called ‘Carrie Fischer’ come out on the previous December on a cassette, and although it was under the name Holly Hunt, we consider it more proto-Holly Hunt.
“I play bass guitar on that recording, Gavin drums, Nick Guitar. It was a jam. It was after I joined but before we moved to our rightful instruments. I started playing with them in October of 2010 … The band had no name, and the jams were not heavy at all.
“After we recorded the piece that would go on that first tape, Nick left town for several months. I can’t remember how long he was gone, but in January he told us we could play a pre-INC show. So we worked on making that noise piece, ‘Carrie Fischer,’ more structured. That became ‘Cueva,’ and that’s what we played at INC. We played a few more shows with Nick, just playing ‘Cueva,’ or ‘Cueva’ and another version of ‘Carrie Fischer,’ but he lived in West Palm Beach. He was having a lot of trouble making it to practice, so that we could move the band forward. He then decided it would be best if Gavin and I go on without him. No mystery, geographic problems.”
Perry adds, “Nick is a good friend who helped me get up off the ground. He/we were invited to play our first pre-International Noise Conference show at a space called Cueva. We had this piece that was arranged around our current setup with Nick playing bass. The piece got its title from the space as I remember. That really started everything for us.”
There exists a brief testament to the performance at Cueva on video, which captures the layers of sonics distinctive to Holly Hunt before the poor videographer got overwhelmed by the thrashing crowd:
“We met Rat Bastard [aka Frank Fallestra, the brains behind INC],” continues Perry. “He invited us to play the next night at Churchill’s for INC proper. Shit really just kind of took off from there.”
Indeed the sound of Holly Hunt continued to flourish fine and healthy without a third member. Density in sonics like these cannot be restrained. Back at Churchill’s, Perry casually explained his set-up as the duo’s singular guitarist. “I play through two heads right now,” he says, “and that really sets up that dynamic that sort of feels like you could have multiple guitars playing. I have a sort of dedicated bass frequency, low, midrange frequency and a dedicated treble, mid-treb frequency, sort of rig, so I think that sets up a weird stereo kind of feel. You start to really feel like there’s a much broader sound, so it can’t possibly be coming from one instrument. Aside from that, all the oscillations and the buzz sort of develop other things.”
Just as Philip Glass admitted to having been tricked into hearing singing by his own layering of music during a 1969 performance of “Music In Similar Motion,”* Perry and Monteavaro both admit people have come up to them with notions of a vocalist on stage. “We get that a lot,” notes Perry. “I think in one of our early shows someone came up and asked, ‘Where’s the singer? Somebody’s got to be singing here. I can hear voices.’”
Monteavaro adds, some of the questions she usually gets include: “Is some of it pre-recorded? Is there a tape going?”
Within that chaos of noise and reverb, lies the open-ended magic of abstractions turned hallucinogenically concrete at an aural level by the duo. Though Holly Hunt writes songs with clear melody, albeit with a droning repetitive quality, there exists dynamism to every refrain, ocean waves providing that perfect metaphor. The members remain modest to their role in the Holly Hunt sound. “I mean, nothing special, I don’t think,” says Perry. “Maybe it’s in our songwriting too, maybe some of the harmonies, discordant notes that we’re playing, the rhythm structures kind of put you into a trance.”
Monteavaro, who has played drums in various hard-edged local bands going on 20 years now, including Beings, Floor and Cavity, notes her style of drumming may assist in shaping the dissonance. “I think maybe also because the tempo is kind of slow,” she says. “It gives all the oscillating things room to sort of build … It’s not like playing these kinds of beats is totally alien to me, anyway, from previous bands, but, when starting this band, and figuring what this band was going to do, I really thought, specifically about the really open, abstract drumming like the Goslings or the first EP of Earth, which is very, very minimal drums, but the ones that are there are just like the old-timey drums on Viking ships to get people to stroke.”
“I think it’s super heavy because there’s not all this flourish and fill,” Perry says of Monteavaro’s playing. “I think that just adds to the level of impending doom, crescendo.”
If you’re listening to Holly Hunt’s debut album on vinyl at a low volume, you are missing out on half of the band’s sound. The album is divided into four sides that spin at 45 rpm, which is important to capturing the subtlety in the “subtext,” per se, of the songs. The vinyl is also decidedly clean sounding, allowing for the chaos of reverb to rumble and the high-pitched whizzes to morph and undulate below the din at high volume without distortion. These notes are sort of auras that are never purposely produced but exist in the moment and come into being from loud volume, a manner Holly Hunt is keen to perform in as well as have its record played. The album was recorded by Torche bassist Jonathan Nuñez at his home studio deep in the Miami suburbs of the Village of Pinecrest.
Perry notes that seeing Torche and Harvey Milk play a show at Churchill’s led to an epiphany that became the catalyst to the Holly Hunt sound. “I just had a very visceral experience with their amplifiers,” Perry recalls. “Their tone really just sort of struck. I really just wanted to do that.”
Year One marks Holly Hunt’s debut on vinyl after releasing and selling out two cassettes (now only available in digital form: see Holly Hunt’s bandcamp page to stream all the band’s music from proto-Hunt to Year One). Two independent labels with ties to the Miami alternative music scene joined forces to make it happen: Other Electricities and Roofless Records. Though Other Electricities is based in Portland, Oregon and releases music from bands as far off as Russia and South Africa, the label’s owner, Emile Milgrim recently dropped roots in Miami, where she could not help but notice Holly Hunt. “Having heard so much and having seen them live, I was just mesmerized,” she says. “It spoke to me.”
Plans on a release began at Miami-based Roofless Records, an indie label well-known for working with heavier bands like Holly Hunt. Milgrim says, “I assumed Roofless Records was going to release it, so I approached Matt [Preira, owner of Roofless Records] and asked him, ‘So, when are you going to release that Holly Hunt record?’”
According to Monteavaro, Preira had already designated some funding from a Knight Foundation Grant the label had won the previous year in order to release something by the band. She says the label was considering a pair 7-inches or an EP until Milgrim volunteered her resources. “I think they complimented each other very well,” notes Perry of Preira and Milgrim, “and it’s been a pretty smooth experience.”
As a dual release by Other Electricities and Roofless Records, Milgrim says, Holly Hunt had an object that paid proper respect to its sound. After some waffling on the idea of carrying on the notion to release a single or EP, the decision for a full-length album was an easy decision for all involved. “We went back and forth on whether we were going to do an EP or a full-length,” recalls Milgrim, “and then it finally came to a point where we decided let’s just go for broke. Let’s do a full-length, let’s do a double-LP, let’s make it 45 rpm. Let’s make it as massive as possible because this record’s representative of what they’re doing, and it’s massive.”
As already noted, what pours forth from the speakers at not only a Holly Hunt show, but also this brilliantly produced record, released only earlier this month, is something beyond experiential. At first listen it may seem like power chords and head-banging sans singing. But the beauty lies in the details found on that psychoacoustical level, with discreet unintended textures born of chaos. Side C opens with a quavering sustain that lasts for nearly one minute. Before the aptly titled “Molasses” lulls you into thinking the band has veered into the deep-end of ambient music, Perry strokes his guitar strings and Monteavaro bashes at her cymbals sending the track lumbering away like a score to a Godzilla movie.
To Monteavaro, the idea of Year One and civilization-destroying dinosaurs is an apt comparison (the record even includes a track named after the Godzilla movie Destroy All Monsters). Someday, when humanity passes on the way of the dinosaur, physical testaments should remain. Vinyl records could be one of those, including this thing called Year One. “It’s not like absolutely the world’s going to end anytime soon,” she says, “but there’s something really amazing about vinyl in knowing that you don’t even need electricity to get sound out of it. It’s an actual, physical recording that takes no technology. You need a pin, and it’s all there. That’s just so amazing to me. And it seems like the perfect record in case something catastrophic does happen.”
*Note: According to the liner notes on Music With Changing Parts by Tim Page.