by cheryl santa maria

From rural Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to the bustling streets of Toronto, Ontario, Brian Borcherdt has left his mark in Canada’s musical landscape. His career began in the mid-nineties, christened by the establishment of Dependent Music — an artist collective/label that he founded — as well as his participation in a successful indie outfit known to locals as Burnt Black. Upon moving to Toronto, Borcherdt played with By Divine Right before setting up Holy Fuck — an explosive, electronic/experimental group that has caught the attention of music giants like Lou Reid and Radiohead.

Artist: Brian Borcherdt
Song: Torches

Having just wrapped up a tour promoting Coyotes — a gorgeous, haunting album that’s light-years away from the spasmodic stylings of Holy Fuck — Borcherdt was able to spare some time to chat with Quiet Color. Here, our discussion about music, media, and the creative process.

QC: Let’s start with Torches, a collection of solo songs that you posted online for free. That album was almost never released. Can you tell me about that?

Brian: I worked on [Torches] from time to time and I didn’t finish most of the tracks, mostly because I was beginning to tour a lot with Holy Fuck. Every now and then I’d consider releasing [my solo work] but I’d back out and start working on something else. For awhile I wasn’t sure what to do.

In 2009 Holy Fuck played a New Years Eve gig in Chicago. We were taking a cab back to the airport and we had to stop and get equipment on the way. The cab driver didn’t understand what we were doing, so he left — with all of our stuff still in the trunk. My guitar was gone, along with everything else I’d had with me over the holidays. I’d also lost my hard drive, which contained important backup material as well as all of the songs I’d been working on.

A couple of weeks later we got a response from the cab company and my things were returned. At that point I felt it would be best to release the songs [that had been on my computer] because I’d experienced what it was like to not have them.

QC: Would Torches have remained in the vault if the cab incident had never happened?

Brian: There’s a good chance it would have. I’m always trying to focus on something new … I didn’t feel like there was any immediate need to put [Torches] out. I probably would have sat on the project forever.

QC: Do you have any specific visions or goals in mind when you decide to record an album?

Brian: I always do, but the vision changes a lot. I start with a specific idea, but if there’s too much pressure to stick to the original idea then you can miss the potential to look at something in another way. I start with a lot of ideas — of not only what an album will be like, but also of what a song will be like — but I realize that all of that can change.

QC: I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times before, but your solo work is completely different from your work with Holy Fuck. Were you purposely trying to distance yourself from Holy Fuck with your solo album?

Brian: No, it wasn’t deliberate. I listen to different types of music and I like to play different types of music. There isn’t one particular style [that I favor]. I write down ideas and thoughts all the time, but I think the hardest part [of the creative process] is getting things done and doing things in a way that people will respond to [positively]. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that. There are a lot of music-related things that I want to do [in the future] that will sound different from Holy Fuck and from my solo work.

QC: Holy Fuck has played at some huge events, namely, Glastonbury and Coachella. What were those experiences like?

They were really cool. It’s obviously rewarding to be onstage and able to play in front of so many people. It beats struggling for years and chipping away at one person at a time. It’s nice to be able to share with people and have them respond to you. It encourages you to keep making music.

QC: I’d also like to talk about your musical influences. I find it interesting that you’re a fan of hip hop.

Brian: Yeah, I like Neil Young, hip hop and jazz.

QC: Who are you listening to right now?

Brian: I’ve been doing some DJ gigs lately and I don’t feel like I’m a very good DJ. I’m trying to find something that I can share with other people — something that I like and that they will like as well. I’ve been listening to a lot of old soul and some funky stuff, but I’m not sure how deep that music resonates with me. Right now I’m trying to find something that I love, and I want to share that with other people. There are a few artists that I love — like Sonic Youth and Neil Young — but I can’t just play Sonic Youth and Neil Young all night when I’m DJ-ing. Right now I’m looking for something more.

QC: You worked as a film editor a couple of years. Do you consider yourself to be a visual person? How does this affect the way you create and present your music?

Brian: Yeah, music has always been accompanied by images in my mind. Sometimes I go to a pretty cinematic place. I think that music should always be about translating something and I think that having some sort of tactile aspect is important too, in the form of artwork that you can hold. Good artwork and packaging on an album are very important.

QC: You’ve just wrapped up solo East Coast tour and Holy Fuck is going to be hitting the road soon, right?

Brian: Holy Fuck is going on tour in February. We’re going to Berlin, and our album is out in April.

QC: What are your plans for the rest of the year?

Brian: I’ve got a new band in the works right now, and it feels really cathartic because there are a lot of things that I want to do [musically]. I have some downtime right now and I really want to take advantage of that before we hit the road in April — who knows when we’ll return. I’m also hoping to finish another solo record. Hopefully all three of my projects will be putting out material this year.

QC: Let’s end with talking about your DIY approach to music. In the past you’ve said that you favor a “hands on” approach to music-making. How has this shaped your career?

Brian: I started playing music on a serious level during a time when the bottom was falling out of the music industry. That didn’t affect me much though — at that point I didn’t have anything to begin with. One thing I like about [being independent] is the fact that I don’t feel like I need to pander to an audience.  I get to do things my own way.

There’s a whole other layer of frustration that I’m dealing with right now.  It’s with the media. I think there are a lot of musicians out there who are finding success by following what the blogs are saying, and I think it’s weird. It seems so forced, like back in the nineties when major record labels had complete control. Musicians shouldn’t feel the need to cater to an audience, but a lot of them still do.

QC: Would you recommend the DIY approach to other musicians?

Brian: I think you have to do it yourself because nobody will do it for you.  And nobody has your voice; you can’t expect someone to speak for you. I’ve never had any choice but to do things for myself and, with the exception of Holy Fuck, I’ve never really had the opportunity to work with other people. Through Holy Fuck I’ve realized there are people out there who are willing to help and I think it’s valuable to meet those people and make those connections, too. But everything has to come from the artist first.

Click here to learn more about Brian Borcherdt.

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