Tell me about the latest band news? Any new projects coming out, live shows or announcements?
MIKE: Right now we are 100% focused on the release of the album, Ursa Minor on May 8th. We’ve worked tirelessly on it for the past year or so, and now that it is close we’re grinding on promotion and doing interviews like these. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s hard work pushing a release. Just the other day we approved the Vinyl proofs, and we’re working on some cool content to help promote the release. So we’re pretty excited about all of that.
PALMER: Not as of right now. We’re looking at seeing about finding a live guitarist and playing some shows down the road but as of right now the focus is on getting this record released and focusing on our next one, which is already being written.
How long has the band been together?
MIKE: Holden has been together for almost three years now. Palmer and Sam have been playing together for a long time, and previously made up the core of Richmond prog band Lapis. When I moved to Richmond, they had wanted to start a new band and go in a new direction musically, we found each other and we just clicked. We started writing and rehearsing new material right away, headed into the studio and now here we are.
What was your main motivation for starting or being in a band?
PALMER: Sam and I have been jamming for what feels like the better part of a decade at this point. We’ve gone through several other bands and had one other release under the band Lapis but most of our problems have stemmed from being able to hold onto a drummer. Mike has proven to be a godsend in that regard just for sticking around.
MIKE: We’ve all been musicians our entire lives, and we have a lot of previous band experience. With Holden, we all respected this kind of music and we wanted to play a version of it that drew from all of our previous musical styles and influences. Really the only motivation was making music we all enjoy and can be proud of.
SAM: Music has always been a big part of my life, and I started playing in various small bands when I was in grade school. It used to be about playing live and getting out in front of people. Over the last 5 or 6 years though, it became much more just putting out music that I want to listen to and that I’m proud to have my name on.
What is your music background?
MIKE: I’ve been playing extreme metal drums for almost 30 years now. I started off playing thrash but immediately graduated to early classic death metal in the early 90s. As the genre started pushing the boundaries of speed and complexity so did I, and I played in brutal death metal bands like Dead Syndicate, then blackened death in Ikkadian. But I sort of reached a personal peak and I just wanted to branch out. After doing several session projects along those lines and moving to Richmond, I was really looking for a band like Holden, something that was still insanely heavy but had room to breathe and groove. Something that would challenge me in different ways and shift the focus from just speed and chops to the overall sound.
PALMER: Started in piano and played a variety of brass instruments throughout the school in the band, but never had a lot of formal training in guitar. That’s all self-taught.
SAM: I started playing guitar when I was was 12 or 13, playing in small local bands that never got much traction. Switched to playing bass, learning on the fly to ’70s and 80’s funk and jazz records, eventually working my way into modern progressive, rock, and metal. Palmer and I have been playing together for about 8 years now, previously releasing an EP under the name Lapis, with more progressive influences, some of which carried over a bit in the debut album here.
What image do you think your music conveys?
PALMER: Honestly I think it’s just a piece of us. We’re all fans of crunchy riffs that make us want to move. If we don’t find ourselves rocking out to it during rehearsals it tends to get scrapped. The lyrics are things that I find to be problematic in today’s society, or things that have had an effect on me personally through the years.
MIKE: I think Ursa Minor is oppressively heavy and beautiful at the same time. Every song has something in it that takes you in a different direction than it starts in. Previous albums I’ve done, the songs might conjure up a specific image but in a weird way, this album doesn’t do that for me. It’s almost more like it represents a kaleidoscope of color. As the songs progress the colors change from black to red to blue to purple. I don’t get a picture of some mini-movie in my brain that matches the song, I get a mood. It’s less about taking your brain somewhere, and more about taking your soul somewhere. This is the first album I’ve done where I don’t feel compelled to stare with my ears and follow the pattern, I can just sit back, close my eyes and chill and let the album take me on a ride. A dark ride to be sure, but every once in awhile it comes up for air and shows you the light.
SAM: A connection to the human condition in all of us
What are your immediate music career goals? (Next 1 to 3 years.)
MIKE: It’s really simple, get this album released, get it heard, and start in work on the next. We’ve got some great ideas for the second album and things are in the works, but we have to let Ursa Minor run its course before we can move on.
What are your long-term career goals?
MIKE: I think we’re all old enough and at that point in our lives where we don’t have any specific long term music goals. This isn’t about getting that mythical ‘big break’ or signing onto that tour or festival that will catapult us to being the next mega-metal stars. That’s a pipe dream. If we can just make good music on our terms, the music we’re proud of and our fans enjoy, that’s as good of a long term goal anyone can really ask for. I think we all would love to tour to support the music, but the fan demand and our family lives will really dictate that.
PALMER: We’ll see. Honestly, I’m surprised at any time these musical ventures ever come this far. I’d like to tour, I’d like to get more albums released, but I just had a kid so we’ll see how much family plays into those decisions in the future. For now, I guess I just want people to listen and if they dig it we’ll see what happens.
SAM: A few more records, perhaps a small tour. Currently, it’s a full-fledged vanity project, but I wouldn’t mind it picking up some traction and turning in to something more.
Which do you prefer? Writing new songs and recording or playing for a live audience?
MIKE: That’s really hard. Nothing beats performing live, the rush and the energy of having that immediate feedback from an audience. Any performer will tell you, that’s a powerful drug right there. If you’re good at what you do, for that time you’re up on stage you feel like a god. But like any other drug, you will come down. The second you walk off stage, the reality is there to greet you. You have to pack up your shit, load the van, and take it all home or on to the next step. You’re chasing the dragon. Recording is a totally different animal. It’s stressful, you’re on the clock, perfection is demanded of you. If you’re a competitive person it really juices you the same way playing sports does. You are expected to perform, and unlike a live show, every tiny little imperfection becomes huge and permanent. But at the end of the day, you have something that stands the test of time. You can listen to it over and over. Your kids can listen to it someday, your grandkids. You created something that outlives you. The recording is a legacy. So I think for me I’ll always favor recording more than playing live. It might not be as fun, but it isn’t fleeting.
PALMER: Right now the recording and writing processes are my favorite. Getting in front of an audience proves challenging — it’s a stage fright issue. It’ll go away with time, I’m sure. But when a project is so near and dear to me it’s always hard to face people directly in front of you and hope they take away something positive from it.
SAM: Writing and recording these days. Playing live is great, and an absolute adrenaline shot, but I’m happy not lugging around hundreds of pounds of gear.
What are your songs about? (What specific themes do they cover?)
PALMER: Everything from cancer to the way our society is becoming more and more detached because of technology.
SAM: These tracks are about the human condition. Sparks Between Teeth is about anger, Emperor of Maladies is about cancer and the toll it takes on not just the person it consumes but those around it, After the Fact is looking for validation from the oftentimes faceless people online that we follow and occasionally pay attention to us, and so on.
Do you have any outrageous tour stories from the road?
MIKE: Nothing I can share here, to protect the innocent (or guilty!) But I have always told everyone I know, actual touring musicians know that Spinal Tap is a documentary, not a comedy.
What’s the strangest request that you’ve ever received from one of your fans?
MIKE: Nothing really weird at all, but getting asked to sign something is always strange to me. Like, none of us are famous in any regard, so when a fan asks you to sign something it’s so surreal. But the topper is always getting asked to sign someone’s body. It’s only ever happened to me a couple of times, but “dude, here, sign my arm” after you finish a set is just super weird. OK, sure, whatever floats your boat!
Were your parents supportive of your aspirations to play in a rock band?
MIKE: Always. I have to tell my Mom, “Don’t comment on all of our Facebook posts, it’s a weird flex for a metal band” otherwise she would! Last time my parents came to visit she sat down and listened to the entire album from beginning to end with the volume just cranked. I’m not going to lie, doing some metal projects that weren’t extreme death metal has been rewarding for me just to have some stuff that my family and friends can appreciate who don’t listen to Nile or Origin.
PALMER: Always. My mother was supportive of everything I wanted to do, no matter what it was. She was an amazing woman that really wanted me to realize my dreams as long as I was smiling.
SAM: I don’t think my parents ever really cared. I’ve got extended family who’s parents to show up to every show they’ve played, big or small, but my parents were always pretty hands-off. I think my mom helped me buy my first guitar, a used Jackson Kelly KE-2 off of a guy my sister was friends with, but that’s about it.
What are your favorite tracks to play live?
SAM: Emperor of Maladies, and Lucidity from the previous EP done with Palmer
MIKE: After the Fact. It just has a big heaviness and a solid groove, and it’s a song I can sit back and enjoy playing. And even though it clocks in at around 15 minutes, However Small, However, Hidden is a ton of fun to play. It’s the opposite of After the Fact, it is challenging and engaging with tons of changes and parts to remember, but it feels like you’re driving the bus taking the audience on a journey. It’s a blast to play, and there are parts that make me really smile ear to ear when I pull them off.
Which band or artist inspired you to perform? Why?
SAM: Prince and Tool. The showmanship, the sound, the wild obsession the fans had. Crazy stuff.
MIKE: The big four got me started, but the early death metal bands got me hooked on playing. Death, Carcass, Malevolent Creation, Obituary…those are the bands and their drummers who inspired me the most to perform.
If you could design a dream tour for your band, who would be on the bill?
MIKE: I’d have us open for Helms Alee, Yob and Mastodon. It’d be us out there, killing it, and then the next three bands would go out there and just blow us off the stage. That’s what I’d want, to be on a tour where we had to go out with absolute titans and have to push ourselves to belong. That’s how you get better. That’s how one day eventually you come off stage, and some fan tells you afterward in the parking lot that you put on the best show of the night. I want to get pushed like that on any tour or show I do. Plus, seeing those three bands every night would be pretty sweet.
PALMER: Fuck. Anyone? Hendrix, Miles Davis, Biggie Smalls, Primus, Rush. All bands I always wanted to see live but will never have the opportunity to see because they’re no longer with us.
SAM: Gojira, Baroness, and Elder for me. Another tour would be Fair to Midland, Kvelertak, and Ministry, just to see how weird we could get.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far?
MIKE: My two kids. Honestly, I’ve done just about everything I wanted to do in music, and I love being a musician, but there are a lot of things that are more important. I could list a lot of things I’ve accomplished before I got to a specific show or album release or music video or whatever. But hands down, watching my twin boys (2 years old!) point at a book and say “green choo choo train” makes everything else I’ve helped create seem small.
PALMER: In terms of music? Releasing this album. Outside of music? My son.
SAM: Recording the Ursa Minor album was probably the best thing I’ve done. My previous recordings were all done in home studios, some proper, some not, but this was my first take at spending my time in a proper recording studio. Writing this record felt more complete than previous projects.
If you weren’t performing in a band what kind of career do you think you would have?
MIKE: Same career I have now! All three of us, have careers outside of music and we all do pretty well. Metal music doesn’t pay the bills. We all took that career-first path, and while it might have cost us a tour or two in our youths, we’re all now at a spot where we can make whatever music we want to, whenever we want to. And we can feed our families at the same time. I don’t regret that choice at all.
PALMER: Haha. This is far from a career. I have a career in application development that is very much still my bread and butter outside of music. I imagine I’d still be doing that regardless of my musical ventures.
SAM: IT, which I currently do, since this is mostly a studio project
What type of equipment do you use for live shows?
PALMER: Orange Dual Dark 100 w/ a b-52 AT-412 cab, Les Paul Studio, Line 6 M13 stompbox. Only pieces of gear I’ll ever need.
MIKE: I do have a separate live rig from my studio setup. In the studio, I use my gorgeous DW Collector’s kit and everything is 100% acoustic, with no triggering or sound replacement. Live I play a PDP Platinum kit. Still great sounding, but it is meant to take a beating and I won’t have a heart attack if it picks up a scratch. And I trigger my kicks live. It’s just much easier to get a reliable accurate sound regardless of the venue. I’m not against triggering and samples at all…it’s pretty much mandatory in death metal. So live I turn to technology where it makes sense. But in the studio for Holden, I want the variation and dynamics and lush sound of natural mic’ed drums and no samples. I actually want every single snare hit to sound slightly unique, vs the consistent hyper-accurate perfect snare sample on an extreme metal recording.
SAM: Ampeg 8×10 with an Ampeg SVT-7 Pro (previously a 6×10 HLF with a GK-1000 head), Ibanez SR505, ESP LTD B205, and a Schecter Stiletto Studio 5, all with DR DDT strings
What do you think of the current music scene?
PALMER: There’s too much out there to really be upset about it. Every time I think I’ve heard it all something else comes out that really grabs my attention and blows me away. We’re really living in such a great time for music — anything, anyone can come out with something that totally surprises you. Currently, I’m jamming a lot on Lord Mantis, Big|Brave and Lingua Ignota
MIKE: It would be silly to declare the scene dead, but it is certainly in the midst of an evolution. Everyone is still trying to figure out how to make it work, and there’s a disconnect between what bands need to make it work and what fans are willing to give to make it work. The internet changed things, streaming changed things, and we’re all just now starting to emerge from the cocoon and learn how it’s going to be. Bands have had to accept that you won’t make money from music sales anymore, you have to support the process through other means. And we’re still figuring out what those means are. Fans though have to figure some things out too. You’re getting huge volumes of music for free or for the price of a Spotify subscription, so you have to support the bands another way or else they can’t afford to make music that sounds good. When you balk at the price of a shirt, or the price of a vinyl album, or the price of a ticket to a show, you’re killing a band. I know lots of fans who won’t pay $10 to see a band play but complain that their favorite bands never come to their cities. $10 isn’t even a pizza. But without a couple hundred or so fans willing to pay that $10 to a show, it’s a money loser for a band to even come near your city. And if you show up and turn your nose up at their $20 t-shirts, you can’t expect them to keep making the music that fills your iPhone. Metal music is a money loser for most of the musicians who make it. Plain and simple fact. And most metal musicians don’t make the kind of money in their day jobs where they can keep on losing money for the love of metal. So it’s rough out there in the scene today. We need the fans to support, to buy what we offer, to support us, and we musicians need to figure out how to offer things that are worthy of the fans’ dollar. The foolproof blueprint for the digital age isn’t quite there yet. But the fans who spend the money to support their favorite bands, you’re the real rock stars.
SAM: I think it’s ok. There’s a weird late 80’s into the 90’s revival going on right now as far as major acts are concerned, and some towns are losing venues for various reasons, but it always seems to find a way. There don’t seem to be as many mid-major bands touring as there used to, which is a shame, but I think it’s getting a resurgence now that the streaming services have been around long enough for the labels to figure their shit out.
For anyone that doesn’t know you, what would they be surprised to know about you?
PALMER: I’m a huge fan of Fiest.
SAM: Cars are a love of mine on equal footing with music. And $275 dollars is the most I’ve ever spent on a single ticket to a show, but I’ll keep the name private to maintain some credibility.
If someone had never heard you before, how would you describe your sound?
MIKE: We’re fucking heavy. Heavy can mean a lot of things in metal, but this is just plain old nasty heavy. Quantum singularity at the center of a black hole heavy.
PALMER: Like a grizzly bear trying to get into an unsuspecting camper’s beer cooler.
SAM: Loud, heavy, but ultimately approachable
Is there anything that you’d like to promote or say to your fans out there?
PALMER: As of right now? No. I hope you all are enjoying what’s around. We’re working on new material and hope to have it out here sooner rather than later.
MIKE: Buy our album!!!!! Seriously, the Bandcamp page will be public a few weeks before May 8th, and we have pre-orders for vinyl and the digital download album costs a mere $5. Buy the damn thing. When a band like ours makes an album like this, we pay for everything upfront. There is no label executive stroking our checks. Professional studios cost. An album like this requires thousands of dollars upfront. If you like it, throw $5 or more at it. Make it so we can make another album for you. And if not our album, buy someone else’s. Find that independent metal band on Bandcamp and support them. Don’t say you’ll wait to buy a t-shirt at their show if they come around. It won’t ever happen if they go bankrupt on the album. We WANT to make music to entertain you. Help us make it happen.
SAM: Check out the album when it releases on May 8th. Vinyl, digital, and all streaming services
Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us at XS Rock!
Palmer Sturman – guitar/vocals
Sam Berson – bass
Michael Arcane – drums