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Austin Psych-Rock band Holy Wave Chase The Groove 

Wednesday, Jun 8 2016
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Dustin "Dusty" Zozaya was organizing a pre-party for this year's Levitation, Austin's annual three-day psychedelic rock festival, when he got the news that it was cancelled.

Heavy spring rains had caused significant flooding throughout Austin and its surrounding suburbs. By the Thursday before the festival's start, the damage to the grounds at Carson Creek Ranch and the liability risk of over ten thousand attendees treading over a muddy floodplain rose beyond the realm of a quick fix. Less than 36 hours before the opening performance, festival officials reluctantly pulled the plug.

Zozaya — the bassist for psych-rock band Holy Wave, which was scheduled to perform — was stunned.

"It was pretty silent for a second," he recalls, talking via phone from his home studio in Austin. "Everybody [in the room] was like, 'Shit.' "

Holy Wave had reason to take the news hard. Performing at Levitation had become an annual tradition. The band has played the festival four times — and is signed to The Reverberation Appreciation Society, the record label in charge of producing the event.

Last year's appearance was the most epic to date. At the early evening set, the band played to a packed crowd as trippy, spiraling light projections synced with the music danced in the background. Holy Wave had been anticipating an even bigger turnout this year, and also had plans to debut material from its new album.

But the massive scramble that followed the cancellation left no time to wallow. Flood relief shows were planned and organizers hastily threw together a makeshift Levitation, held in various venues around Austin. In the end, Holy Wave played a late night set to a wildly enthusiastic crowd at Hotel Vegas, an East Austin concert hall.

"People were definitely wanting to make the best out of the situation," Zozaya says. "Everybody was super pumped. It kind of worked out."

Holy Wave's roots trace back to El Paso, when its then-teenage members started experimenting and writing songs with one another. Instead of following the Fugazi-worshipping hardcore trend that dominated their hometown's sound, they took inspiration from British and Irish shoegaze acts from the '80s and '90s, like Spacemen 3, Slowdive, and My Bloody Valentine.

Crashing on each other's couches and jamming in garages eventually gave way to a full-fledged move to Austin and the June 2012 release of their debut EP The Evil Has Landed. After months of relentless gigging, Holy Wave caught the attention of two labels: Burger Records and The Reverberation Appreciation Society. (They've since released music through both.)

By the time the band released its sophomore album, Relax, in 2014, it was attracting attention from music publications like Pitchfork and Paste, and critics were calling it a new generation of psych-rockers.

But the quintet is hesitant about this label. Co-frontman Kyle Hager says he uses the term "psych-rock" to describe the band to someone who's never heard their music, but adds that "we don't really think about the whole psych thing."

Multi-instrumentalist Joey Cook, however, thinks the term is too narrow. "There's also elements of easy listening to our music," he says.

While this is partly true — the band's recent album, Freaks of Nurture, could be described as music to chill out to — you're not going to find it shelved alongside Kenny G's Greatest Hits at a record store anytime soon.

Rhythm takes precedence in Freaks of Nurture, and all 10 tracks experiment with pacing and an omnipresent bass-driven groove. Album opener "She Put A Seed In My Ear" sends a dark bassline slithering beneath a kaleidoscope of jangly guitar licks and buzzing synths. A military drumroll collides with a sunshine-bright synth riff on the unstoppable "Our Pigs." "Minstrel's Gallop," one of the band's favorite cuts on the record, floats an ethereal Zombies-inspired melody atop loose, easy drums. The half-shoegaze, half-Kinks guitars that defined Relax remain, but the songwriting enveloping Hager's heartfelt lyrics has never sounded sharper. "Take me to your car/ We can put on Valentines and Eno," a lovestruck Hager coos on "Western Playground."

Holy Wave has been hard at work on other songs, too. For The Reverberation Appreciation Society, they provided a cover of The Beach Boys' "That's Not Me" in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Pet Sounds. It's dreamier and looser than the original, bookended by a synth floating nowhere in particular. But it still remains faithful to Brian Wilson's original with its layered harmonies and jangling riffs.

"We got to do whatever we wanted with it," Zozaya says of the commission. "It was nice to be in control of the whole thing."

However, future Holy Wave material might depart from the reverb-heavy grooves the band is typically known for now.

"We're starting to do things with synths," says Julian Ruiz, the band's drummer. "We've started messing around with the drum machine. I'm not saying that's where we're going, but we're definitely trying shit out."

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Elle Coxon

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