(Mental Health Conversations): Matt Wall of HOLY HUMAN

Contributor’s Note:  Vocalist/guitarist Matt Wall of Holy Human sits down with Richard of Madness To Creation to discuss their music, mental health, the Florida music scene, and coping with the Covid-19 pandemic.  Out of Daytona, Florida, Holy Human combines psychedelic rock with punk, a bluesy stomp and a whole lot of harmonies and attitude.  Holy Human is composed of Matt Wall on guitars/vocals, Matt Aubertin on keyboards/vocals, Woody Moore on drums and Erick Carroll on bass.  Holy Human has recently released their album entitled “Assembly of the Saints”.  Fans can find Holy Human at the following locations:

www.facebook.com/HolyHumanMusic

www.holyhuman.bandcamp.com

Richard:  This album is killer, you mentioned that you thought of the  St. Augustine band, REELS for the intro track, what other bands went through your mind when producing this album? Where’s that sample from?

Matt Wall: The biggest thing that influenced this album was that our bass player, Anthony Santisi, told us he was moving to Chicago. We decided in that moment to capitalize on what little time we had left and record the songs we had written. This album is called “Assembly of the Saints” because it’s about us celebrating each other and our friendship in the band. We have very different personalities in our group, and we make up a weird collective. Someone once said to me, “You look like five guys who wouldn’t hang out or even know each other.”

I guess it fits with the album’s theme of “celebrating each other” that we drew inspiration from local bands that we play with like REELS. I really connected with their recordings and I remember one night, when we played in Daytona with them, I became completely entranced by their live performance. This happens sometimes, when I feel like I absorb some of the vibe of an artist on a deep level, and something of their sound becomes part of me. Another local band that influenced us on this album was Harum Scarum from Daytona. We deliberately decided to go with a “Harum Scarum sounding” ending on our song “Isn’t It Fun (New Orleans).” Their music sometimes has a dark circus, gypsy vibe, and we decided it would be hilarious if we lifted their sound for that part. We love those guys and play with them often; and we also have a continuous pretend beef going on with them, so the idea of “ripping off their sound” was quite appealing to us.

The samples at the beginning of the album came from a lot of different places. I am really into found sound and I love making sound collages of samples. The beginning of the album starts with a couple different pastors speaking the scripture from Hebrews that talks about how important it is for the saints to assemble together, so that they can make each other better and inspire each other to do “good works.” I love the idea of playing in a band and writing songs with your friends is “doing good works.” We are actually not a Christian band, but we love to use religious language in different ways to express things that it wasn’t originally intended for. That is sort of a Holy Human thing. Another sample in this “sample soup” at the start of the first track is from a gospel choir singing “Amazing Grace.” I teach chorus in high school, and I think there is nothing more emotionally powerful than the human voice in music. I have been quietly collecting samples of singers for a while. These pop up sneakily in the backgrounds of my songs sometimes.

Richard: Your second track, “Ain’t No Holy Water” is about former Gov. Rick Scott’s lackluster treatment of the red tide problem in Florida, for those unfamiliar with that crisis, what was happening in 2018? What did it mean to you as a Floridian to see your government react the way it did?

Matt Wall:  This song was actually written by our other songwriter and teacher, Matthew Aubertin, and interestingly enough, he’s not from Florida, but from Philly. I’ll let him answer this one.

Matthew Aubertin:  I suppose that I have somewhat of a unique perspective on this, being that I lived in the Philly suburbs for most of my life and moved to Florida in 2014. However, I guess I’m officially a Floridian after writing a song about Lake Okeechobee. Essentially, my understanding of the issue is that former Gov. (and current US Senator) Rick Scott did very little to prevent the pollution of Florida’s waterways (specifically environmentally unfriendly methods that the sugar industry was employing). They were polluting in the Okeechobee/Everglades region, and this led to toxic algae blooms and massive ecosystem collapses throughout the entire state. As a Pennsylvanian who was falling in love with the beauty of my new state–particularly the beautiful waterways that define Florida–I was deeply upset by Rick Scott’s corrupt decision to value business over the environment. So, what usually works for me in times of anger and frustration is to put my thoughts and feelings into music. When writing the song, I wanted to combine the idea of an authority figure abusing Mother Nature with some of the religious allusions and imagery that often define Holy Human’s music. So the end result is essentially a song about the hypocrisy of this paternal figure whose lust and corruption strip the goodness away from something beautiful.

Richard:  You’ve done some touring as a band now and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing you at some top-tier Florida dives, where are some of your favorite places you’ve played and visited on tour? What did going on that first tour mean for you as a band?

Matt Wall: I think the whole band agrees that Sarbez is our favorite place to play in Florida, and I’m not just saying that because I’m talking to you. We would be happy to play there even in an empty room, but that rarely happens because the scene shows up to see music. The people I have met there are kind and supportive and the general vibe is great. It’s a gem. I try to stop by whenever I am in St. Augustine, for any reason. When you say Florida dive, I must mention our home bar in Daytona, the infamous Tir na Nog. It is top-tier in its divey-ness. It’s kind of like a half sunken pirate ship haunted by dead and living alcoholics. I know good, upstanding citizens who are afraid of the place. However, as many know, it is a cultural center in town for local art and music. The owner has done our town a great service by being supportive toward original music and giving us a place to play in a beach town where bars just want cover bands. Touring bands play there too, and I have seen some incredible shows that felt so real and intimate.

We played so many great places on tour. Another great FL bar we played was The Green Door in Fort Walton Beach. The inner decor almost rivals Sarbez in its coolness. The sound booth is inside the front of a Volkswagen bus. It is a perfect stop on the way to New Orleans.

Going on a tour was the biggest dream of mine since I was a middle schooler. I remember watching the bands I loved drive off together after the show to the next gig and my mind would follow them. I tried to imagine what it was like to be in a van with your friends on a crazy adventure that centered solely around music. I admit this is dumb, but part of me felt like I wasn’t a “real musician” until I had achieved this milestone. In any case, it was something that I needed for myself. The fact that my partner let me go on my first tour while she was pregnant with our daughter is a testament to how cool she is. She said she “believed in the spirit of rock and roll” and couldn’t stand in the way of that.

Our first tour was a wild adventure that was probably even dangerous at some points. We were a bit out of control. I got out of control in New Orleans, and almost got into a fight with the band in the streets after our show. It was a surprisingly menacing force that rose up within me, and I think I shocked the hell out of my bandmates… and myself. The fourth track on our album, “Isn’t It Fun (New Orleans),” is about this incident, and how I may have picked up some dark spirit while roaming the streets and back alleys of the city earlier that day. I try to transmute bad memories into good songs.  Make lemonade.

We survived that crisis, and even though the tour was as hard as people say, the highs were high, and it had a profound impact on our band and made us grow as musicians exponentially. Touring made us take ourselves more seriously and we played so much better because we played every night. It cemented our bond as a band and living in a van together helped create the weird, specific vibe that is our band now, as if we were in some pressure cooker. We came out differently on the other end, more defined.  We were a lot more mature and in control on our second tour through the North East, which was the blast of a lifetime.

Richard:  This is your fourth full length release, what are you hopes for this album and the future of the band? How have you handled this release through Covid-19? Have you been doing any live streams?

Matt Wall: At the start of the pandemic, we decided to release two singles since everyone was at home and seemingly had more time on their hands. I liked that other artists were doing that, and it certainly lifted our spirits to share something new and connect with our friends.

We were quite disappointed when the Miami Psych Fest was canceled due to Covid-19. We were invited to play with some amazing bands; even the psych legend Damo Sazuki from Can was set to perform. The promoter ended up doing a cool livestream version of the fest with some of the bands instead.

Ultimately, as the pandemic wore on, we decided that the best choice for our new album was a digital release. Typically, our plan would have been to throw a big album release party at some club or venue, but all those clubs are shut down again in FL. Again, with live music put on hold indefinitely, it seemed to us like a good time to give people something to listen to while they’re stuck at home. We do have a plan in the works for a livestream coming up in the future, and we’re very much looking forward to that.

Richard:  You’ve had a lot of love and support in Daytona and North Florida, I know Daytona might be a traditionally overlooked scene but what are some things you love about it? Venues, bands, press outlets…

Matt Wall: These small music communities are always a labor of love to keep going, but the people involved are passionate and supportive. I think we really have something special in Daytona. We are fortunate now to have the local magazine Humid Being, which came onto the scene a couple years ago. Their mission is to capture and celebrate the weird and seedy vibe of Daytona that most people try to look away from.  They have done a great job showcasing the talents of the artists and musicians in the area and telling their stories. I believe they’ve had a unifying presence in our scene.

The Open Source Community Arts Initiative is another unifying force in our scene. It’s a group of artists and musicians in the community who have banded together to purposefully form an art scene and culture in Daytona, where it is severely lacking. I am involved with this group now and attend the meetings when I can. I believe in what they’re doing, and I’ve been told it is part of a wider movement throughout the nation to bring out culture and engender the growth of art communities.

We have some great performers and talented songwriters in Daytona who make me proud of our little scene. John Harvey is an incredible songwriter, bordering on genius-level lyricist, and his voice has that special way of pulling on your emotions. He does a fresh take on blues and country, that is sometimes uncomfortably honest and often hilarious. Harum Scarum and Last Electric Rodeo both put on epic, theatrical performances and their shows are always a party. BrockTV is an artist who has recently emerged who sounds like a younger, chiller Leonard Cohen and I have been digging his recordings. And always a source of jealousy and inspiration for me, my brother’s synth pop project Denj is well worth checking out. His songwriting and recordings are sleek and his production is so trippy and textured. Lately, I’ve been really proud of the recent success of bands like Virginity and Nullberry who seem to be gaining the attention of a wider audience outside of our scene, and we’ve also seen the rise of more girl fronted projects to join Wounded Shadow, like, Flora LiCrame, Petricor and Emerald Ensorcell.

Richard:  Is there a story behind Modern Day Jesus? Is that your single?

Matt Wall:  This was another song written by Matthew Aubertin: “Yeah, “Modern Day” Jesus is one of about three or four singles that we’ll be releasing before the album fully drops. One thing that Matt Wall and I always joke about is that my songs are always sarcastic and unflattering social commentaries; I rarely write personal songs. However, this social commentary is also somewhat personal. Several years ago (before I met my wife), I tried out the whole Tinder/ Bumble online dating scene. Honestly, I’m well aware that both the Internet and online dating are inherently superficial, and not much can change that sense of electronic narcissism. However, I felt both disillusioned and guilty when using these apps. Indeed, I was “swiping left of right” on actual human beings, and they were doing the same to me. So I wrote the song from the perspective of a woman who was trying to find “the perfect guy” (or, in my terms, a “Modern Day Jesus” whose “Ford truck is red, which clearly means he’s good in bed”). Haha, I even made fun of myself in the song, when I said “he’s far too thin, his glasses askew.” If there’s a happy ending to my angst-filled dating song, it’s that I met my wife–not online–but at a Holy Human show at Rain Dogs in Jacksonville.

Richard:  How does this album relate to your other releases? In A Cracked Mirror, Spectral, Epiphany? Are you continuing to tell a story anywhere, are there similar themes? Have you and the band grown since that first album?

Matt Wall:  When I started this project, I was alone as a solo artist, but my hope was always to draft members and form a band. I wrote and recorded the first two albums, “In a Cracked Mirror” and “Spectral” mostly by myself, with a few guests. “Epiphany” was the realization of my vision of having a full-band Holy Human, but in a lot of ways we were still getting our footing as a group and figuring ourselves out. With “Assembly of the Saints,” I feel like we have finally achieved full bandhood. Multiple parts and songs were written by other members besides me on this album, and it was truly a communal group effort to produce these songs. I’m proud of every single one of them.

Richard:  I know a few of you are teachers, has the occupation found its way to your albums lyrically?

Matt Wall: Not yet! But I’m sure Aubertin is going to write a banger about it someday. We could probably write a whole album, truth be told.  We did, however, use Aubertin’s English classroom once to record our Tiny Desk submission for NPR. We sneaked onto campus on a Sunday with all our gear and a cameraman. And yes, we won first place in the central FL contest, in case you were wondering.

Richard: How are you and the band staying mentally well during this time? What does mental health awareness look like to you?

Matt Wall: I have always struggled with depression and overly intense emotions, and music has always been my refuge. For me, writing music has been a kind magical act that involves capturing painful thoughts and feelings and sort of trapping them into a song. It’s like I can control my suffering and maneuver it better once I put a handle on it.

We definitely have had members struggle mentally during quarantine. It’s been a rough time at points. I know all the band misses our weekly practices. We miss each other. Even during normal times, our practices are a cathartic and healthy ritual that helps us all get through the week. It has always been an anchor for me.  It kind of feels like we’ve all been adrift during quarantine, and it has sometimes been necessary for me to reach out and pull a member back when they’ve started drifting out too far. The bad thing about quarantine is that it is hard not to focus solely on your own insular world; we all felt so separate and far from each other for a time. Under those conditions, it is easy for a person in need of help to go unnoticed, and for too long.

I think it’s not enough to make a post that says, “If you’re feeling bad and need someone to talk to, you can message me.” It’s a nice sentiment, but I think mental health awareness involves being proactive and reaching out when you see signs that someone is suffering, because I think it’s unlikely that they will reach out themselves. Not to be too vague, but I could have been better about this and it would have helped the band if I had been, because we did have some suffering. Your question is a great one, because it brings up the question of responsibility. Am I my brother’s keeper? And certainly, I am. We are.

And there you have it!  Check out “Assembly of the Saints” by Holy Human in its entirety via Spotify below:

Author: Richard Lepre

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