Quantic: A day in the life of Will Holland

Ringleader supreme Will Holland, aka Quantic, talks life in the studio and reveals what’s up his sleeve ahead of DJ dates in Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds

Feature by Daniel Jones | 01 Oct 2015
  • Quantic

It’s difficult to pin down Will Holland, musically and geographically. The man holding the Quantic umbrella has shuffled through many cultural realms over the past 15 years – from Brighton to Bogotá – leaving few musical stones unturned. Now based in Brooklyn and prepping his bags for an imminent European tour, it’s no surprise to find his taste for adventure still keen... and work ethic still mean.

“I’ve spent the past month working from my studio here in Bushwick,” Holland explains via Skype. “It’s a nice neck of the woods and I can be as loud as I want. I'm in the process of figuring out new music and mixing down various bits and pieces from the Flowering Inferno and Nidia Góngora sessions. I haven’t lived in the UK for about nine years now so it’ll be nice to nip back and play some records this month.

“I’ll be bringing a bunch of stuff that isn’t out yet – all vinyl. The nice thing about turning up with a box of records is that you’re not entirely lobbied with the problem of endless choice from a two-million-song library. Being a DJ who travels with a box of records is an important thing for the industry because we sell vinyl more than anything these days. You have to commit to your passion in that way. I usually cut unreleased tracks to dubplates ready to go for the club, so there’ll be a lot of newer sounds, soul, funk, dub, classics for good measure. I always enjoy turning up a few Latin American obscurities, too, especially Colombian.”

Seven years spent curating sounds from his Sonido del Valle studio in the highlands of Cali may have sharpened Holland’s taste for Pacific cumbia and tropical dub – and honed his Spanish – but moving to New York two years ago brought jazz back to the fore, fuelling thoughts for latest project The Western Transient.

“Having been immersed in Latin music for quite a long time,” he says, “I wanted to have a stab at compositions with the sound and groove on labels like Impulse! and Blue Note during the 70s. I picked a group of musicians that I’d worked with at, and on, different stages in my career.”

Eight people are listed on the record in total – including regulars Wilson Viveros on drums and Todd Simon on flugelhorn – each lending a hand to bring ten original Quantic compositions to life. The resulting album, out on Tru Thoughts, is an easy option for Sunday mornings on the lawn, if you have a lawn.

“Usually, coming up with sketches for my tracks is a solitary process for me,” Holland continues. “This time it was more of a photogenic approach, writing all the scores, calling the band and going straight into the studio. This was, in itself, the art form as we knew it before computers became more and more a part of the recording process in the 80s.

“There are intricacies we miss out on now that you’re really aware of when recording with a tape machine. You personally have to achieve the vibe on the record that you want the listener to hear. You have to create that in the room; it’s not an afterthought. There’s something quite ballsy about that, and quite beautiful. Scenes are crafted and you’re actually capturing moments that would otherwise be lost forever.”

"I’m not looking to work with people who are extraordinary solo musicians; I’m looking to work with people who own their sound" – Will Holland

His feelings on traditional studio sessions, and pulling people together in one room to see how they play off each other, are strong. He goes on to describe the “wasteland” territory that the art of the studio musician now occupies compared to 40, 30, or even five, years ago.

“When these wonderful records were being made, particularly in the 60s and 70s, every town had a go-to band that would end up backing a ream of different artists, playing this and that. Those bands are so much fewer and farther between now, they don’t share as many experiences in one room, which is why we don’t hear records like that anymore.

“Spontaneous interaction is always something I’ve tried to focus on, but more recently it’s been interesting working within a lot of different musical cultures and disciplines. For me, it boils down to a feel, and how the musicians feel together. That’s more important than ability. A lot of the time I’m not looking to work with people who are extraordinary solo musicians; I’m looking to work with people who own their sound.”

Holland himself feels most at home with a guitar, and he's quick to point out that he's "not really what you'd call a multi-instrumentalist." Modest maybe, as he can certainly turn his hand to a new instrument if a record requires it – notably saxophone and, more recently, accordion. As far as any classical training goes, though, his mum stopped paying for piano lessons when she realised he was happy enough with a tambourine.

“I'm a guitarist, first and foremost," he muses. "It’s important for the average human to have one instrument that you can really articulate yourself through. A lot of these grandiose pieces of music that end up huge and crawling with tons of instruments often start with one guy playing one thing. In my case I’ve got a few crappy 50s supermarket guitars that I’ll never play live but they hold a special value when I’m working on something new on my own. Sentimental, I guess, but it got me through my teenage years in Worcestershire.” 

Around the turn of the millennium, Holland was also studying sound engineering at college in Birmingham. He was working on beats for television before being introduced to Breakin' Bread Records through a pal. It was the heyday of the minidisc back then, so he ended up sending a few demos down on that format, including We Got Soul, which was soon snapped up by DJ Rob Life and Skeg at Breakin' Bread.

His passion for soul music was thriving thanks to regular trips to Mister Tee's in Kidderminster and a blooming DJ partnership with fellow Limp Twin, Russ Porter. As the price of Northern records proved costly, Holland dipped his toe into esoteric funk and soul from Miami, Texas and other more obscure corners of the States, before exploring the more out-there stuff from guys like Sun Ra – not that there are many guys like Sun Ra, mind. Anyway, there'll no doubt be plenty on show when your man comes to town.

"I miss England," he ponders, "But I value it more not being there. There's a slight detachment as I’ve been away for nearly ten years, even when I listen to records I made when I was there. I love where I’m from but moving away from Brighton has given me a lot of space to get on with things. It was liberating in a way to move from Brighton to Colombia; much less disturbance, pissing neighbours off and having complete freedom to work on my music. That's really, really important for anybody exploring their art.

“On the gastronomical side, I do miss cheese, I have to say. I never realised it before leaving the UK: a good cheese is hard to find.”

Quantic DJs at Soup Kitchen, Manchester, 3 Oct; HiFi Club, Leeds, 8 Oct, and The Kazimier; Liverpool, 9 Oct