There is a little green light dancing on the display. It stretches and bends, shapes and shifts, extents and disappears. Sound in geometrical forms. I am standing next to Holland Andrews in the studios of Berlin’s Funkhaus and the dance of the green light is so captivating I almost forget that I am here to interview the artist.
Lights are a prevalent theme in the musical output of Holland. They are painted on the cover of their debut EP in abstract lines, as if trying to escape the grasp of the camera’s eye. The ambient vocal and instrumental experiments on Wordless ring in my ears as, I sit down with Holland. With a pixie cut, a cropped colorful bomber jacket, and a spark in their eyes, the artist carries the brightness of their music into the conversation.
Reverberations at Funkhaus
The microphone is still propped up on its stand, and a book dropped on the ground next to it, as if Holland had just interrupted their recording session for me. Before I even get to talk, they vocalize, sending clear playful notes out into the space of the studio. They echo back to us with just a little rasp as if they caught some of the room dust on their way back. “The entire compound is dedicated to sound and music. It is overwhelming”, Holland beams. The incredible reputation precedes the Funkhaus, yet, I don’t think it could ever oversell. With its several cove-like studios, it is a harbor for creativity and invites musical experimentation.
“I want to catch moments of improvisation here. Usually, I don’t finish my material in the studio. As a perfectionist, I have to take the freely recorded elements home and then shape them to be exactly the way I want them to be.” Holland Andrews joined LEITER recently and is planning to release their next EPs with the German label. Four are planned in total following the transporting meditations on Wordless, they tell me. Transform Forever is the first single from the upcoming EP Forgettings due May 13th.
A Clean Slate
The voice is clearly the element Holland Andrews moves in most comfortably. The words roll from their lips with a soft and clear timber reflecting the tenderness of their singing voice. It just makes sense that Holland is also quite active releasing music for dance and theatre. The theatric vocal dynamics and shifts on Passage show the versatile character of their voice and resemble a small theatre piece in itself.
“I used to reserve my own name for dance and improv things and safely avant-garde experimentation where I could really do what I wanted.” Alongside their dance compositions, Holland used to release music under the moniker of Like A Villain. “I liked the separation between who I am and what my music was. A lot of it was built around performance and playing gigs. I had been considering using my real name for a long time, but I was afraid.”
“Now I can do everything with my name. I learned that it can contain all of the multitudes that I want it to.”
Like Holland Andrews
For the EPs and the new start with LEITER using a different name felt like a clean slate to the artist. But they also admit with a chuckle that the journey was not the spiritual awakening that it might appear to be. Another band that started using the name Like A Villain. “At first I was frustrated. It was uncomfortable but it was the beginning of a new chapter that I needed.”
When LEITER, the label by the German composer Nils Frahm reached out to Holland, the connection was instant. “They were really responsive to my work”, Holland says. In their time in Berlin, they will record together with Nils as well. In the visceral creative energy of the Funkhaus, Holland tells me that they are as nervous as they are excited. The singer is in mastery of their voice probably to the same extent as Nils is in sync with the keys so the combination of the two should breed some interesting results that we get to look forward to.
The perfectly round notes gliding off the vocal cords of Holland like marbles are not shaped by classical training. It was rather the family ties that brought the artist close to the medium. “I grew up around my family singing all the time and did musical theatre and played in bands when I was young. My mother and her sisters had a singing group that used to open for the Jackson 5″, Holland says and as they speak of their mother, a noise echoes in the empty studio. The artist smiles. “Hey mom”, they say acknowledging a presence in the room as the cause.
Aside of singing, Holland plays the clarinet and the saxophone. “Even though I never went to school for music, I have always possessed a dissatisfaction with being stagnant. I always wanted to get better and find something new. Different ways of expressing myself. Sometimes it makes mastery less special if you are constantly looking for growth. I see the most evidence of growth when I get to the point where I feel like I cannot do it. And I ask myself: how uncomfortable am I willing to be to get better?” Especially in a professional field, Holland explains, it is very difficult to allow a different space to learn new things.
Feeling the Voice
But Holland Andrews managed to remain open and embraces the unfamiliar and experimentation. The freedom of creation can also be heard on the EP evidenced by the sheer range of different moods and sounds conveyed. “I have been very self-deprecating in several incarnations of my life, but I learned that there are other options which I just prefer.”
Meditative self-reflection is also a part of the workshops that Holland gives. While making sounds, the participants are invited to explore the physical effects of the body by paying attention to the sensations it causes. The exercises are aimed at exploring the different resonant chambers of the body which we often don’t know about. “I am doing the exercises with the participants, and I also discover new things about the physical sensation of certain vocalizations all the time.”
For someone who is this involved in working with their voice and exploring the depth of emotion expressed through swinging vocal cords, the title of first EP seems kind of ironic; Wordless. Yet, the record is not instrumental. Holland Andrews digs into the paradox intentionally and places Mouthful right after the title track. “I made Mouthful in total experimentation. There is a lot of playing with the vocals, stacking, and separating.”
The words on the EP take different shapes. Some of them are dissolved into mere breaths of sound, telling their story by conveying a mood rather than a literal meaning. Some call right out to the listener. “What if you try to focus on the pleasure?” Holland Andrews croons on Mouthful.
Rememberings and Forgettings
On their upcoming EP the theme of lights already hinted at by the cover work of the latest release and the experimental video to Gloss, is picked up again. It is a story of self-love filtered through the metaphor of a light that is trying to reach you.
“My next EP is a linear story of the aspect of yourself that only knows total excitement and self-love. Think of the feeling when you love a song so very much, but you show it to a friend, and they don’t. That is the feeling that part of yourself has. It is trying to show you how amazing you are, but you just don’t get it. But the light is making its journey to you to show you how amazing and powerful you are.”
The journey on Forgettings is a circular one. On the first song you finally feel the light and see and believe it for the first time. Then you accept that you have forgotten that it was there all along and are grateful for remembering. Then on the last track, you forget its existence again and the cycle repeats.
Shine A Light
The theme of the lights draws a silver lining through the work and persona of Holland Andrews. From the fascination for the green light metering the sound, to the upcoming EP, light is always with them. Dance brings the light and the music together. Light needs to touch something in order to be seen and it strokes the bodies bending to the music.
Holland Andrews is an artist of multitudes. Yet within their factettes they remain authentic, making their art touching and always personal. Over the pandemic, the artist took intimate performances to the next level and created the concept of the phone call concert. They sing for one person through the phone. “Having things feel personal is very important to me. I see and understand everything I touch through my personal emotional lens, and I take that lens to my music as well.”
The Worlds I Move In
Everything Holland Andrews touches is personal. From the drawings made on their hotel room sold as first merch, to the phone call performances, and way they communicated with me during the interview. “I feel comfortable in knowing who I am, and I try to always operate from a place of compassion for myself.”
As a non-binary artist in the still heteronormative and male-dominated world, Holland Andrews inhabits what they call “liminal spaces”. “I am perceived in so many ways. My gender and my race are often unclear to others. I don’t fit into the categories that people like to create. But to be honest, I never really thought about being a non-binary artist in the industry. I am just being in all the ways I am. I forget the worlds that I exist in because I exist in so many, and I just let them all be one thing – me.”
Moving Forward Into Strangeness
With the upcoming EPs and the new collaborations with LEITER, Holland Andrews is excited to get out and be on the road again. Due to the ongoing pandemic, most of the new material has never been performed on a stage. “I get to go back to the roots, to improv around feeling and seeing how big and emotional I can make myself. Like a cathartic release, I can be totally free and reinvent my stage performance with this new project. Getting to do that under my name is the freedom I always wanted.”
Photos by Liv Toerkell.
Forgettings is out via LEITER on the 13th of May. A special vinyl edition containing all tracks from the EPs Wordless and Forgettings will be out the same day.