Holy Fuck's Graham Walsh on Deleter

After 15 years and five records, Holy Fuck have deconstructed their own DNA – and made their best album yet

Feature by Joe Goggins | 08 Apr 2020
  • Holy Fuck

“The problem with making music on computers is that there’s no element of chaos.”

If you’ve caught Graham Walsh’s band live before, you’ll know they’re not called Holy Fuck for nothing. Somewhere in the clash between electronics and analog gear, the four-piece have been whipping up maelstroms of melodic disorder as far back as their self-titled debut in 2005; both their records and their shows pulsate with possibility, making experimental left turns at will. All the while, they’ve remained refreshingly hands-on, sounding like the band from Losing My Edge that sold their guitars and bought turntables, and then sold their turntables and bought guitars, if the group in question had done that every ten minutes for the rest of eternity.

Now, with their fifth LP – January’s Deleter – they’re delving further into that contradiction than ever before. It’s a record preoccupied with the relationship between humanity and technology – entirely fitting, given that, as Walsh himself says over the phone from his home in Ontario, “that’s kind of always been our M.O. anyway.”

Suddenly, this weird amalgam of rock band and electro outfit – always halfway between unabashed energy and detached cool – have deconstructed their own processes in the pursuit of something new. They’ve given both sides of their Jekyll and Hyde musical personality room to grow on their own terms. They’ve embraced their dancier influences. They’ve brought in a raft of guest vocalists for the first time. It’s all come together to form the basis of their sharpest, most vibrant work to date.

“That dichotomy in our sound was concrete in our minds like never before,” says keys-and-effects man Walsh of the early sessions that yielded Deleter – the first in upstate New York, the second just outside their hometown of Toronto. “We knew this was going to be a mission statement. Brian (Borcherdt) and I started out as guitar players, and we still feel like the easiest way to manipulate the sound of something is to run it through pedals with our hands.

"Over the last 15 years, we’ve seen the way that music’s evolved, and now that everybody has Ableton on their laptops, they can make things totally meticulously, and craft them really perfectly. And that’s fine, but you’re missing those little rubs, those little mistakes, that make it sound human. Those are the things that have always excited us.”

Almost uniformly, the critical response to Deleter took note of the lurch into dance territory it represents for Holy Fuck; they’ve always flirted with it, but never made a full-length as scored through with it before. Every track is imbued with some of that flavour, from the downtempo dark dancefloor of Endless and Near Mint to the gloriously sunny Free Gloss and the effervescent buzz of No Error and San Sebastian. 

“To me, our natural trajectory has been pointing in that direction for a long time,” says Walsh. “We’ve created a system of writing where it’s okay to bring any influence to the table. We can run it through our system and turn it into a Holy Fuck song. We used to write to a loop from a drum machine, which is great, but it restricts you. This time, we were working from scratch, and it means you can steer the songs in whichever direction you choose. A track like Luxe – the main synth line could really become anything, but we gave it room to breathe and swell, and it turns into this huge dance track.”

Luxe, which opens the record, is one of three songs with a guest vocal turn – the other two being Deleters, with Angus Andrew of Liars, and Free Gloss, with Nick Allbrook of Pond. Luxe features Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor on distorted, menacing form, and Walsh is delighted to have brought the idea to fruition – even If he and Taylor have still to meet.

“We were working on that song right around the time Alexis released Beautiful Thing, his solo record,” Walsh explains. “I heard the single from it, and immediately said, 'that’s the guy'. The tone, the delivery – I just knew he’d be perfect. I actually played that single over the top of our track, from Spotify, and even that sounded amazing! He wrote the lyrics, recorded his part and emailed it over. Hilariously, we still haven’t met the guy who’s such a big part of a song we’re really proud of.”

Holy Fuck had intended to bring Deleter to the UK and Europe in late April, but with those shows almost certain to be nixed, we’ll be waiting a while longer to see whether these new cuts can cement their dancefloor credentials in the flesh. “We’re reeling a little bit, even here in Toronto,” Walsh admits. “My kid’s school was just shut down, it’s nuts. We’re taking it day by day. Hopefully, we’ll find a way over there soon.”

Deleter is out now via Holy EF Music