Holly Hunt's Gavin Perry is quite the antithesis of the archetypal "guitar hero." But Perry's approach to the instrument, as a coconspirator in creating the crushing sonic monolith that is Holly Hunt's sound, undoubtedly qualifies him as an hero of sorts.
With the unchecked proliferation of sludge, stoner, and doom-metal bands that have spawned in recent years, Holly Hunt is an anomaly in that the duo (Perry plays with his partner Beatriz Monteavaro) has developed an extremely original sound without the assistance of vocals or even a bass player. Thanks in no small part to Perry's sludge/psych guitar style, Holly Hunt's music is as imposing as it is intriguing: A pummeling, repetitious assault of texture and color, delivered with gloriously unbridled volume.
As anyone who has ever experienced the cocktail of fear and excitement provoked by staring down Perry's wall of amplified death in the flesh can attest, the band's sound relies heavily on some rather unique kit. Perry has painstakingly curated his setup through years of experimentation and Ebay crawling to bring the sounds in his head to wall-shaking reality.
It includes guitars crafted of aircraft aluminum, pedalboards that would undoubtedly catch a nod and a wink of approval from Kevin Shields, and a battery of vintage amplifiers honed and tuned for maximum destruction by a mysterious Austrian amp wizard living in Broward County.
Holly Hunt recently returned from its first tour of the West coast and the duo is already recording a fresh batch of destruction with Torche's Jonathan Nunez at Miami's Pinecrust Studios for an impending split release with Irish band Slomatics.
We spoke with Perry about his evolution as a guitarist, his quest for sonic nirvana, and the gear that goes into making Holly Hunt's sound.
New Times: How did you get into playing guitar? What was your path to the instrument?
Gavin Perry: Early, it was standard sort of high school kid, listening to punk-rock music and wanting to experience that. I had some music in my family: I took cello, my sister took piano, my mom's a pretty accomplished pianist.
I guess my earliest experiences of rock music was listening to the Who and wanting to be Keith Moon, and my uncle happened to have essentially Keith Moon's Ludwig set; same model, same era. He wasn't using it, so I asked him if I could borrow it and he left it with me and said, "Good luck!"
So, trying to learn Keith Moon. I probably should've selected a little bit easier learning curve. So I obviously didn't end up becoming a drummer. That kind of faded out pretty quickly, but for guitar, I guess maybe my stepbrother was playing? So I started playing and met some kids, started playing with them, but then I went to school and kind of just stopped. I think at some point, I just didn't get good enough fast enough and I didn't know what to do or how to do it, so I just was like, "OK, I'll focus my energies somewhere else."
The return to it was going to a show. I saw Torche and Harvey Milk and was blown away. Not even by the sets, per say -- obviously the sets were good -- but it was the sound, the feel, the energy, the vibe, the whole atmosphere was just like on fire.
I turned to Betty (Monteavaro) as soon as Harvey Milk started and was like, "I gotta go buy my gear again!" And she was like "What, what!?" and she was like, "You know, maybe you could use like a practice amp for a while." And I said "No, no. I need to feel that!"
Between the Who's influence, punk-rock, and the bands that played that show, it seems like the energy you honed in on has always been pretty consistent.
Pete Townshend is probably one of my favorite guitarists. I think as a rhythm guitar player, doing what I do, he's a guiding light. Without being trite about it, it's one of the reasons I'm happy I have Hiwatts. I bought them for another reason, but once I had them, I was like "Yeah, I understand why I really like this sound: This sound is the sound that I've heard in my head from when I was 12."
Coming back to guitar as an adult is certainly a unique position to be in, especially in the doom/sludge scene you became a part of. What was that like? Do you think it helped you focus more on the end product rather than the technicalities?
Terrifying, on a certain level. How do you start? How do you start at 40? I couldn't focus solely on the technical aspects. I have some skills, I know some things, I took some lessons. But all of those were from 20 years ago. They sort of bubble up as you keep playing. You start to remember stuff and, for me at least, I started to put together progressions and patterns based on what I remembered from the skills I had been taught and I started to figure out what it was I was hearing in other people's music and saying, "Oh, that's why that sounds that way, that's why that works that way," and it started to make a different kind of sense for me.
Outset for Holly Hunt, yeah, I didn't want to be playing "Mary Had a Little Lamb," per say, but at the same time, maybe that was the level that I was at. So, you do what you do. You have to proceed with what you have and work on at it as you go. At the same time, I didn't have aspirations of this thing being more than a couple of months. You know? And I still don't!
I'm surprised we're four years going on five years in, and we have some releases out and we're looking at more releases. It's amazing to me that it's happened the way it's happened.
I think a lot of that success has to do with the fact that, while Holly Hunt is technically a doom-metal band, the sound certainly doesn't follow a specific path within the genre, in the same way that a lot of bands from Miami don't quite fit into a genre box, but maybe more because you came back to music with that different perspective.
I think I came back with just a sort of an unbridled desire to do it. So by hook or crook, I was going to, and none of this shit really mattered. There's definitely band influences and there are reasons why I want to sound this way or play this kind of thing and there's a dialogue or language that's maybe created? But I'm also not beholden to that thing.
Genres, to me, and any sort of categorizations and classifications seem lazy. Who cares? We played with Jacuzzi Boys, and we were the only heavy band there, and it was one of the better shows we played, not just for our playing, but for the atmosphere of the night! None of those people knew what was coming, and yet, instead of running out and screaming, "Oh, this sucks! Put the Jacuzzi Boys on," they stayed and watched it all and were blown away, and it was as eye-opening for me as it was probably for them.
So, in that sense, why pigeonhole yourself? Why narrow yourself down and keep yourself confined to somebody else's construct? If you're earnest about what it is that you do, that goes a long way with me.
Let's discuss the gear. You are without doubt the most passionate person I know when it comes to the tools you utilize to make music.
Compulsive, impulsive... I have a problem! (laughs)
I don't think I've ever seen you play a show with your gear configured the same way twice, your pedalboards seem to morph into new forms constantly, you build your own speaker cabinets...
I mean, I'm trying to settle down a little bit. Maybe not settle, but I'm looking for a little more consistency. But, there's so much nice stuff out there, why not check it out?
How did you get into rolling your own cabs?
I priced out Emperor and Emperor was too expensive, but I really like the look of their cabs. I priced out some other cab companies as well and I started to look into the design elements and sort of the build qualities and thought, "I have the skills and the tools to do this, I could actually make this for significantly cheaper, and to my specs." No waiting on anybody finding a slot for me or charging me $1,200 for a loaded cab, I have ultimate control over it, so I could model a cab and build a cab however it is I needed it to be built.
You build so that it doesn't break, you build so that it can withstand a category five hurricane and keep going. Ideally it's as light as it possibly can be and it sounds as good as it can. I definitely listen and take notes and try to adopt things, but I think with all of the gear that I have, there's always been a sound that I'm looking for.
I think in terms of the amp heads that I have now, I've come close enough to finding it that I can be much more specific about what I would add in or what I would take out. Pedals, not quite there. I really am a big fan of Electrical Guitar Company guitars; I can't see myself playing a wooden-necked guitar right now, though that might change. But the EGCs are just a different animal, so I've sort of settled on a certain scale length, six stringed, aluminum necked and aluminum body guitar.
How do you route all of these amp and cabs and pedalboards?
It's a split-head setup: I'm running a vintage 200 watt Hiwatt for the bass side. It's a little bit more spongey, it's a little bit deeper sounding, and I pitch the EQ down into the lower frequencies, and that runs two Traynor 2x15 cabs. Then I have a 100 watt Hiwatt that runs the two 4x12 cabs that pushes the more midrange/treble side, and in order to sort of split the tone and build variance in the sound is to run two different pedalboards.
So I basically have a side for the treble/high mids side, which has more modulation pedals on it, and a lower, sort of bass-angled board that's a little more straight and a little less effected to give it more bottom end.
You're always experimenting with your pedals. Would you say that the experimentation helps inform the writing at all?
For sure. I think what ends up happening is I find myself trying a new pedal out and inevitably a song gets written or a riff gets written. And then it's written with that pedal in mind or with that pedal in the signal chain, and then I change the chain up and go back to playing for a set and have to retrace what I did and sort of model that song to the pedal or something so I don't have to worry about fifteen different chains or pedal lineups.
I've done some tracks where I think they sounded better with the pedals set up a certain way, but because I'm playing them in the live setting, they have to maybe suffer a little bit so they can sit with the set list.
What is it about the EGC guitars that have made them such an integral part of your sound?
Specific to the scale length, it's for tuning ease, really. I tune super low, like, B standard dropped down to drop A. And in terms of tuning it, it holds tune a lot better with that longer scale. The metal neck allows you to use as thick a string gauge as you choose to use; you can go up to using bass strings if you want without worrying about the neck warping or whatever. Obviously the bridge and the nut has to be adjusted and there are some limitations there, but, by and large, you can use whatever you want to use.
What gauge of strings do you use?
Right now I'm using a .68 top and a .14 bottom, so I guess on most sets it's a baritone medium?
I came to EGC from watching Torche, watching Floor, talking to Jonathan (Nunez), knowing about the Melvins and King Buzzo. There was a thing about them and I wanted to feel it for myself and I didn't quite have the courage to ask somebody to let me borrow their guitar for a while and play on it. Maybe there's a little bit of superstition there, too, like, "Don't play my guitar because it's my guitar and all of the sweat and blood on it is mine, and there are many like it, but this one is mine!"
So I bought one. Jonathan actually told me a story awhile back when I was looking at some Gibsons and he said, "Look, man, pick it up: If it doesn't help you write a riff in the first five/ten minutes, it's not the guitar for you." So, I get this guitar in the mail and I pick it up and sure enough I'm feeling great about it and writing stuff and this one was now talking to me and telling me what to do.
How many EGC guitars do you own at this point?
I have three solid, neck-thru aluminum bodied guitars and one that is a bolt-on neck.
I saw that you recently did a pretty serious modification to one of them that required you to hack into the aluminum to upgrade the pickups. That's pretty insane considering the cost of an EGC guitar!
There's a proprietary set of pickups that come in the EGCs, and those pickups are great, but I just wanted to test out something with a slightly different tonal characteristic, just to see. So I got into it thinking, "Alright, should be pretty easy to do, I've changed pickups before. No big deal." I opened it up and realized that this is nothing at all like a normal set up.
So, some people might have decided to move on and just leave it alone, but I that's not my way. I have the tools, I have the skills, I can do this! It took awhile, but I did it. I posted pictures and Kevin (of EGC) actually saw the pictures online and said that it looks like great work!
I was definitely trying not to cut it up, I was trying to find any way I could to not have to make irreparable alterations, but even when I did, I tried to make it unseen so no one could see it if I had to go back to the original pickups.
Besides Townshend, who would you cite as a major guitar influence?
Yeah, I definitely have people who inspire me. Obviously in the heavy genres, people like King Buzzo, Dylan Carlson, Justin Broderick, Steve Brooks, the list is huge. There are so many great players out there! It's pretty humbling to think that there's a possibility for a guy like me to actually play with people like this.
Opening for Earth was probably the most thrilling experience of my life! I had this perception of what I thought Dylan Carlson would be like, but he wasn't that guy. He was the first guy out of the van with a merch box on his shoulder, the first guy to say, "Hey man, that was a great set! I really like your gear, I really like how you guys sound!" and I was 12 years old all of a sudden!
Prometheus is getting a ton of love and I personally think it's a fantastic followup to Year 1.
We're working on a split with a really killer band from Belfast called Slomatics. They're really heavy. In another interview, we were asked about social media. Here's what's awesome about Facebook and Bandcamp and all of that: You meet people that you would never possibly run across, and suddenly 3,000 miles is reduced to a couple of key strokes, and now you can speak to these people on a daily basis about bullshit. It's pretty thrilling! So, we met these guys via the internet and we really loved their sound and they said they were working on some stuff for splits and a 7-inch and they thought we would work great, so we were more than thrilled!
I think being that the band is so powerful and loud live, people sometimes fail to see how deliberately and carefully you've selected your sounds, and how much more goes into making your sound than just turning it up.
I want to make you feel it, but I don't want to make you feel pain from it necessarily. But this is not willy nilly, this is not just run all the pedals at their max. That to me doesn't sound as good as tweaking it and whatever.