In a special contribution from Brian McLelland, Michael Holloway speaks with ReGen on the upcoming DWIFH album, along with some history behind his old-school electro/industrial approach.
An InterView with Michael Holloway of Dead When I Found Her
By Brian McLelland (BMcLelland)
New again – that’s what Dead When I Found Her is. The familiar is re-forged into something new and all those comforting sounds return like old friends. Skinny Puppy is there with a hint of Leæther Strip, but Michael Holloway has taken DWIFH into new territory. The debut album from DWIFH, 2010’s Harm’s Way offered listeners a hint of something they’d forgotten – a synthesized wall of sound, speckled with samples and soft vocals; an experiment in retro. Rag Doll Blues followed in 2012 and reaffirmed that Dead When I Found Her wasn’t an anomaly on the musical radar. Thematic elements carried the album from one song to another, while remaining stylistically distinct and friendly to the ears of longtime genre fans. Now, DWIFH is back with All the Way Down, due out on Friday the 13th of November (a date unlucky for some, but maybe not for fans). ReGen spoke with Michael Holloway to discuss this new album, DWIFH, as well as his recent soundtrack work.
For those who might be unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe DWIFH in your own words?
: The Dead When I Found Her project started as a deliberate attempt to revive the lost, old-school electro/industrial sound of late ’80s and early ’90s industrial music. As fans of the genre know all too well, there was a huge shift around ’92 or ’93, where futurepop and coldwave, among a few other things, became the new ‘de rigueur’ sound, and the horror/industrial music of Skinny Puppy and others seemed to just disappear, becoming quite literally a thing of the past. Upon inception, DWIFH was a way to reject that change, and prove that there was still life in the genre, even now, deep into the 2000s.
Today, that goal hasn’t changed a whole lot. Old-school industrial still has much to offer in terms of sonic exploration and musical possibilities, and I’m still mining that for all it’s worth. That said, however, each DWIFH release finds new iterations and twists on the form, so there is an element of change going on. But I think that electro/industrial is a rather broad genre to begin with, so there is a lot of variety to find within it, a lot of territory to be explored from album to album.
For this new album, how (if at all) did your approach to song composition change? Any major departures from the methods you’ve used in the past?
: There were some big shifts in my compositional approach to All the Way Down
, both on a technical (e.g. production) level, and in terms of the general musical approach to songwriting. Let me see if I can summarize the shift – I slowed things down, I spread things out, I focused even more than before on texture and atmosphere, and on thematic content as well. The entire album explores themes of old age and death; from hospice/end-of-life care to euthanasia to the rabbit hole of afterlife spirituality. I wanted the music to feel
like the themes, however uncomfortable that might turn out to be. The songs are basically funeral dirges, all of them. They feel like twisted, industrialized power ballads, each meditating on some aspect of my feelings about (inevitably) experiencing a stage of life in which I am old, alone, and shutting down – in more ways than one. And by ‘alone,’ I mean that even if a person has ‘loved ones’ at the end of his or her life, the continued degradation of physical and mental faculties combined with the harsh reality of modern, westernized end-of-life care essentially promises that he or she will die alone, even if other people – strangers at that point, really – are, technically speaking, surrounding them.
You’ve gained something of a reputation for recording excellent covers of your favorite artists; are there any covers in the works that you’re particularly excited about?
Holloway: Sadly, it’s been far too long since I released a cover song! This has been on my to-do list for awhile now (getting back to releasing cover songs, that is), but it’s simply a matter of finding the extra time. I did a poll a handful of months ago, which determined that the next cover song would be ‘Face to Face’ by Siouxsie and the Banshees. I have a special fondness for that song; it always brings back nostalgic feelings of seeing Batman Returns as a teenager and hearing it during the ballroom scene. So, this will still happen! And hopefully sooner rather than later…
Since DWIFH’s first release in 2010, you’ve mostly worked solo. Are there any collaborations in your future? Is there anyone in particular you’d like to work with?
: Collaboration is difficult for me, in terms of my very solitary mental approach to music production, but also because of schedules, timing, and the fact that everybody has so many responsibilities on this planet that it usually makes serious collaboration incredibly difficult to realize. But I don’t know; it’s something I’d like to see happen, whether as DWIFH or simply a new project altogether. It would be worth exploring simply for the experience of it, if nothing else. Locally (meaning Portland), I have people like John Worsley, who plays live keys with DWIFH and does all the artwork – we’ve talked about starting a two-man project influenced heavily by the likes of COIL. That would be fascinating to see unfold. Also locally, there’s Tanner Volz of Anklebiter, who is also deeply talented and would be interesting to work with (well, beyond the remixing he already did for me – see Anklebiter’s ‘Lesser Light’ remix).
After doing the soundtrack for the mobile game Skullduggery, have you wanted to do more soundtrack work?
Holloway: Yes, absolutely. Even with Skullduggery under my belt, it’s a very difficult field to get into, but I’m actively seeking new game projects, and if I can shamelessly plug myself within your magazine for a moment, I’ll say that anybody reading this who is interested in original, highly stylized game scores should send me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org! Of all the media that needs musical accompaniment, I’m definitely most interested in gaming. It’s a great cross-section of my interests and experience, and so much fun to work in.
Is the upcoming album substantially different from previous DWIFH releases? How and/or why do you think it’s different?
Holloway: When I finished All the Way Down, my impression was that it was very, very different than the last two albums; I found it much slower, much noisier, and far more focused, both thematically and musically, than the previous two albums. That said, the reaction from a few others who heard it was that it was different, yes, but still based on the core ‘sound’ and feel of past DWIFH material, which is probably more accurate.
Whereas the first two DWIFH discs feel more like a collection of industrial songs, All the Way Down
was entirely conceived as a distinct project, so every song plays a role in the larger picture of the album. That was really important to me this time around – to treat the entire thing as an artistic work with specific goals tied to the whole, rather than seeing the album as just a collection of a bunch of individual song/projects done over time. The idea is to weave an intense but beautiful narrative of fear, confusion, and melancholic awareness about the realities of actual old age and death; not the romanticized or cartoonified versions of death usually explored by industrial, goth, and metal. Whether I succeeded to that end… well, that’s up to the audience to decide. Either way, I’m glad I ventured down that path for this release; it was an exhausting but ultimately very rewarding journey.
Photography courtesy of Michael Holloway/Dead When I Found Her
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