photograph by yours truly
When you talk to anyone who's language is different from your own, it can be difficult to be on the same page. Words get lost in different accents, shit gets lost in translation. But surely when it comes to something like music, it's a language that everyone can understand without the need for translation. Isn't that the point, after all?
Say olá to Holger, a five piece afro-pop-rock band emerging from the bustling scene of Brazil's most heavily populated city, Sao Paulo. Pata, Rolla, Pedro, Arthur and Tché make up the five headed beast that is Holger; and they make noise that isn't like any other band on the scene in Brazil at the moment. It's evident listening to their tracks that Holger is made up of a mosaic of five sets of eclectic musical tastes implementing different ideas into one sound. The quintet stand by the modus operandus of all equally feeding the creative matrix to produce Holger's extensive musical vocabulary.
The thing is though: their fun, sunny, afro-instrumented indie rock is worlds away from most all of the music that is locally produced. Standing unique like this can make it a little difficult for them to support or be supported, despite having a broad and loyal following (and an endless amount of young girls throwing themselves at the boys), critical recognition, and some huge gigs in their home country (they've already opened for Super Furry Animals, supported No Age and played the Brazilian edition of the infamous Adidas house parties). So it makes sense that if nobody's really talking your language where you at, you want to go to where they are.
And where does that happen to be? Ironically enough, you're not going to find these tropical tendencies so easily in Brazil's young musical landscape. Comparisons between Holger and Vampire Weekend are inevitable. Holger's sound also aligns itself with the sounds of The Very Best and a less production driven Tanlines - all of whom rely on various kinds of 'world music' influences to create their sound. But in Brazil, this is not yet the latest hip thing to borrow from, as it seems that Brazil's own brands of 'world' is still in the ironic phase of it's cycle. It isn't yet old news enough to be nostalgic, nor passé enough to be conservative. This makes Holger the musical outsiders and ahead of their time in Brazil, despite the afro-pop boom having crested with Vampire Weekend's popularity abroad.
So what's a band to do when no one else is really speaking the same language in your 'hood? Aim further afield, of course, like, perhaps taking over the world just a little bit. Which Holger have already done, playing SXSW last year, supporting Matt & Kim at Pop Montreal and becoming BFFs with Brooklyn boys Lemonade. They even brought Brooklynite, one Roger Paul Mason to Brazil to produce their album, who has had his hand in working with everyone from Mike Patton to Japanese cartoon soundtracks.
Now then, what's next? Well, first is doing IM//UR the honour of playing the first edition of our new monthly party in Sao Paulo, BLOGWARS, for one. Holger will be playing live for the first time since recording their album Sunga (due out September 11th via Trama records in Brazil)!
But before all that blows up tonight, I sat down with two Holger members, Pata and Rolla, to talk about Brazil and music and well, Brazilian music.
Why did you name yourselves Holger? What does that mean?
Pata: We named ourselves at a time when we were listening to a lot of Swedish pop and we wanted to do some Swedish pop here. But Arthur had just come back from Montreal and he had met this guy from Sweden named Holger, so we named the band after him.
Rolla: And actually, we had a gig to do and we needed a name.
Can you tell me the names of everyone else in the band and what they play?
Pata: We switch instruments a lot. Arthur mostly plays the drums, but he does play guitars. I play mostly second guitar, but I do play bass sometimes.
Rolla: I play bass and synths and percussion, the same as Pedro. And Tché mostly plays first guitar but he also plays bass and drums.
How did you all meet each other? I know some of you have known each other forever…
Rolla: Most of us met in highschool, Arthur met Pedro in a broadway dance class – nobody knows that – they used to do this Broadway class, because Pedro’s parents are dancers, they’re really good.
Did you all have an interest in music?
Yes. But we all listened to very different kinds. When we started playing together our musical tastes merged and also expanded a lot too.
As you guys were growing up and forming your musical taste, how did you like music that came from Brazil? Did you like it or were you actively going beyond Brazil in search of music?
Growing up I used to mostly hate Brazilian music. I’m talking Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and all those guys from the 70s. I really didn’t get it. The funny thing is, the people who I listen to outside of Brazil really dig all that stuff…so I started thinking there must be something wrong with me, not the music. The problem was that it was my parents music and not mine. So from the time when I began creating my identity, I started changing my mind.
Rolla: We used to not like Brazilian music because where we studied in highschool, everyone loved Gilberto Gil, Tim Maia and all of that kinda stuff; and we were the ‘wrong’ kids. The kids who liked indie rock.
Pata: But then I found out years later that Brazilian music is one of the best kinds in the world! And now I’m a huge fan (laughs)
How did your video shoot go? What is it about?
Pata: Really great! We were afraid before we left that it was too much of a bromance or just an ego-trip –
Rolla: We used to go to Isla Bella pthe location of the vid] since we were kids. It’s that kinda vibe. We’re five friends, who like to go to the seaside, we love life and party hard. The song is about doing your best to have a great time.
What else do you write songs about? Do you generally write in English?
I dunno, we listen to a lot of music made in English. We have to answer that question a lot actually.
Because it’s interesting from a couple of different perspectives – for Brazilians who are reading something about you guys and for English speakers too cos there’s never that question for natively English speaking bands.
Rolla: It was natural actually. We never thought “Let’s make music in English. Or Portuguese. Or Yiddish.” It’s just like, if you try to sing Pavement songs in Portuguese, it would sound pretty stupid.
Pata: Not that Pavement lyrics are the best, but it’s so much easier to write songs in English than in Portuguese. Even though we’re not English speakers.
Of course you are!
Rolla: Not really! We can ‘hang out’ in English but -
I can’t even ‘hang out’ in Portuguese!
From the moment my head goes on in Portuguese the things that happen to me, they happen in Portuguese. When a girl dumps me, she dumps me in Portuguese. When I fight with my parents, I fight with them in Portuguese. When I have nice thoughts, I have them in Portuguese as well, so I have to translate all of my life into another language, and it’s different. Even Arthur, he speaks perfect English, like, when he was 14 he had a license to teach English internationally – and even with him, when he writes songs in English, the lyrics are pretty formal, and not like day to day language. Cos we don’t speak English day to day!
I think it can be really beautiful to hear people translate themselves from one language to another – because the structure of the way you verbalise your thoughts is different. It can be so charming. But things really can be literally ‘Lost In Translation’.
I find that every time I spend time outside of Brazil, or even with someone from abroad, I find that instead of getting better, my English gets worse cos my thoughts get fucked up in both languages!
So your album, Sunga is coming out on September the 11th in Brazil. Are you planning to release further abroad?
Pata: We would love to. There’s this thing that happens every year in Brazil, there are lists of the best albums, internationally and nationally – and the funny thing is, never does a national album make it to the international list. It's like the Paralympics of something. Not that we’re making records to get onto any list, but our music is our music. It’s not about ‘national or international’.
So can you tell me a little about the local music scene?
Pata: Ok, let's take Montreal as an example. It's a city that supports it’s own scene. Here, it's a completely different situation. By the time of CSS and Bonde do Role were out, there was a vacuum in the music scene here - there weren’t any great bands that could fill their space. CSS opened a lot of doors for Brazilian indie music. So when a band is right, if there are bands close to them that are good enough, then there is enough support and more potential for growth.
Rolla: We are really missing bands like us in Sao Paulo. Even though there are lots of bands that we really enjoy, there isn’t anybody around like us. So it makes it difficult playing shows and choosing supports and stuff.
Pata: I think a lot of people in Brazil wouldn’t get our music. Like, putting axé or calypso music in there, and some old influences like that, they’d think it was a joke or something. Everyone wants to be Animal Collective in the world. In Brazil, everyone wants to be Animal Collective too, but no one has the guts to try something new. Not saying that we are –
But I guess in the context, you are.
Rolla: We’re trying to make something unique. Now we know better who we are and we know how we should and want to sound.
I have to ask it. How would you describe your music.
Pata: People used to describe our music (from the last EP) as indie-rock, or folk. And I think we still are a folk/indie rock band, but we are an Afro-pop band –
Rolla: That’s the new one
Pata: We are just a five piece that listens to lots of different kinds of music and those influences go into our own productions. But to define us in a fast way, we’re indie-rock.
Rolla: I think we’re more tropical indie-rock. More sunny.
So who do you think is good now, who are you aspiring to be like in terms of levels of success, fame, quality of music…
Rolla: Like, The Dream
Pata: I would love to be half of what CSS became. And I think that would be a pretty big thing.
Rolla: I think the most important for us is that if ten people listen to our songs and two people like, then that’s awesome.
From left to right, the Holger boys and their favourite songs of the moment:
Tche: Another World by Chemical Brothers
Pata: Menina Mulher da Pele Preta by Jorge Ben
Pedro: All the Lovers by Kylie Minogue
Arthur: Orange Shirt by Discovery
Rolla: Rockin' That Shit by The Dream
And with that, have a listen to their first single, 'Let Em Shine Below'. Cop it:
P.S. IF YOU HAPPEN TO BE IN SAO PAULO, TONIGHT at ÉSTUDIO EMME (FRIDAY THE 16TH OF JULY), COME SEE HOLGER PLAY LIVE FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE RECORDING THEIR ALBUM. DETAILS HERE!