Holopaw's John Orth on Whether Gay Can Still Be Edgy and the Beauty of Gainesville
Holopaw is named after a Central Florida town not very far from the Gainesville band's main stomping ground. Wikipedia claims the name "derives from Indian term for 'place where something is hauled'," But if the Seminole word for haul is "hol" or something, we'll eat a shoe. Either way, there's something special about that name, and a whole lot special about the band.
With Academy Songs, Volume I, frontman John Orth penned some haunting, romantic tunes set in an all-boys prep school -- a sort of gay boy's fantasy wrapped up in one solid sonic indie package. Holopaw is working on a new video featuring Bearded Boy -- a handsome internet sensation who likes to put things up his butt -- and a gay leather biker gang.
The band is heading to Miami's Gramps Bar tonight. Owner Adam Gersten says, "I've been friends with some of the fellas in Holopaw for neigh on fifteen year. 'Tis a pleasure to host them at Gramps. Nay, an honor." Orth shared a story with us from the old days about Gersten involving broken glass and lots of blood. Gersten added, in a more modern tone, "As a special treat, Roger Beebe will be on hand utilizing 16mm film to create spectacular visual atmospheres around what already promises to be an enchanted aural experience."
We spoke with Orth about how growing up around old yearbooks influenced the subject of their last album, and he explained what a "Jeep fag" is.
New Times: You put out a split 12-inch with Sleeping States in honor of LGBT pride this past June. Califone's Brian Deck remixed your album Academy Songs, Volume 1 into one song. Were you happy with the result? And why'd you guys chose to present it in this format?
John Orth: Brian and I have been friends for years. I worked with him recording the Ugly Casanova record and on Holopaw's first recording. I was visiting him awhile back in Chicago, and I casually mentioned that based on the Modest Mouse remixes I had heard that he should be remixing entire records (Jaime xx had just remixed Gil Scott-Heron).
Brian agreed, saying that, first and foremost, he should remix the songs that would become Academy Songs, Volume 1. I said that might be a good idea and grinned all the way home.
I couldn't be more pleased with the result. Personally, I was touched to be working with Brian again. Moreover, hearing the record filtered through Brian's imagination allowed me to hear those songs again. The recording and mixing process is tedious. I was weary of those songs. Brian brought them back to life for me.
The album was based on an all-boys prep school. Did you attend one, or is it all fantasy and metaphor?
Fantasy and metaphor, I suppose. When I was growing up my mom was a yearbook editor for my junior high. She had yearbooks from schools around the country that she used as examples. One of them was from an all-boys boarding school in upstate New York. As a boy very much aware of my sexual interest, the thought of living in close proximity to other boys was both thrilling and terrifying. I poured through the pages of the yearbook again and again. I studied their faces, parsed their senior quotes, imagined their secret societies and after "lights out" conversations. In setting Academy Songs in the all-boys prep school, I was trying to recapture the energy and anxiety illicited for me by those pages so many years ago.
Is there a Volume II on the way?
Yes. We are just starting the writing process towards Volume II. Saturday we will be performing two new songs, "Tiger. Tiger" and a brand new song, as of now untitled.
Some proceeds from sales went to the Point Foundation. Did you have any say in what org was sponsored? Can you tell us about this one?
The Point Foundation was actually brought to our attention by our, very enlightened label manager, Leo DeLuca. We are proud to be on a label that thought it important to mark LBGT pride month with a release and was willing to give part of the proceeds to a righteous organization. The Point Foundation gives scholarships to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students in need. Rad!
I just got back to London and my gay friends there were kind of talking about how the gay underground is sort of dead and being gay has mainstreamed. Gay marriage is legal there, so it's a different scene. This is sort of a reductive question, but do you think that "gay" can still be "edgy"?
My friend Adam (Baran) and I are working on a video in a couple weeks for the song "He Don't." It stars the internet phenom Bearded Boy who is famous for, among other things, posing with cum in his beard. Edgy? (laughs)
I will say, on a more serious note, that no matter how many sitcom stages we mince across, how many corporations decide we are a bankable demographic or how many well deserved civil rights we achieve, our numbers and our unique comings of age will always make us "others." We should embrace that otherness and not strive to become "Jeep fags," as my friend Steven calls those that long to "pass" in mainstream culture by blunting their sexuality and creative expression. No Jeep fags. (laughs)
That's why you were looking for "open-minded, queer male-identified actors and performers" to play "members of a raucous gay leather biker gang for a sexually charged music video" in New York. That sounds fun! What did (former BUTT Magazine editor) Adam Baran do with this gang?
Adam is a friend of mine I met through Butt Magazine a few years back. We played at the Knitting Factory this past February. He and a couple hundred other generous souls walked through a blizzard to see us. Afterwards, he said he would like to make a video for the new record. Adam is also an accomplished filmaker.
We decided to work with the song "He Don't" which is a queering of the Shangri-Las' song "Out in the Streets." The video in broad strokes: girl group melodrama, a queer biker gang headed by the aforementioned Bearded Boy, a "boys will be boys" night out, nods to filmmakers Kenneth Anger, James Bidgood, and various gay porn auteurs of the '70s, styling inspired by Swiss photographer Karlheinz Weinberg and featuring a voice over by porn legend, Peter Berlin. O.K., that was fairly specific.
And who created the stop animation for "Golden Years"?
The stop animation was created by our former keyboadist and dear friend, Ryan "Beachwolf" Gensemer. He surprised us and posted it on our Facebook page. Lovely.
What's showing at F.L.A. Gallery? Any upcoming plans?
Currently showing at F.L.A. is an installation by the collective Light HIts that features a third of an actual speedboat that is encrusted with seashells and mica and lit from within.
Upcoming is a show by painters Micah Daw and Angela Deane. Angela paints out the subjects of found photographs as cartoon ghosts. Imagine a photograph of 50 or so people in a public pool. Now imagine those people as ghosts. After that, we have a drawing show we are co-curating with L.A. artist, Rich Jacobs. Rich has many ties to the Beautiful Losers crew. There will likely be 150 or so artists represented. This winter we have rented an entire state park. We are staging a small scale overnight music and art festival with Cinders Gallery in Williamsburg. Come hang out by the bonfire and drink whiskey. (rewildingfla.com, instagram:rewildingfla)
What are some benefits of making art in Gainesville? Both visual and with Holopaw?
Gainesville is a great place to make art and music. There is space to work, a supportive community, a gallery subsidized by generous benefactors, a prairie with wild horses and sandhill cranes where I run, and crystal clear, icy cold springs a short drive away.
Why Gramps? Have you known Adam Gersten for awhile? Since his "Gaineseville days?"
We have known Adam for years. Aside from being the proprieter of Gramps, he is also an accomplished DJ. One day in Gainesville he walked through a sliding glass door and was cut to ribbons. He showed up that night for his DJ gig looking like a battle scarred Civil War reenactor and proceeded to kill it. Truth be told, we set up this show as an excuse to vistit Gramps.
How will Roger Beebe's films augment the experience?
Roger has created multiple 16mm film loops that he will be projecting from five projectors as we play. The loops in and of themselves are beautiful, some abstact, some printed from old summer camp reels Roger sourced for this project. There is the inate beauty of the celluloid projection and then there is the thrill of watching Roger scramble to physically activate 30 or 40 loops on multiple projectors.
Finally, you guys were mentioned in Bon Appetit's August issue of Set to Music as to be played with virgin cocktails. How do you feel about that? Would you have chosen something spiked?
Ideally, Sunday I will be reading the Times under an umbrella on Key Biscayne with a gin and tonic, extra lime. Spiked, please.
Holopaw with Roger Beebee, DJs Patrick Griffin and Mr. Brown. 9 p.m., Saturday, August 31, at Gramps, 176 NW 24 Street, Miami. Visit grampsbar.com.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.