Name: Mark Holub
Occupation: Drummer, composer
Recent release: Mark Holub's Anthropods, the debut of his band of the same name, is out via Discus.
Recommendations: Ornette Coleman & Charlie Haden ‘Soapsuds, Soapsuds’; Kenny Wheeler ‘Sweet Time Suite’
If you enjoyed this interview with Mark Holub and would like to find out more, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I first played music when I was quite small, I am guessing something like 8 years old.
We had a piano in our house and some of my brothers and sisters already could play, and I also took some piano lessons. In school back then, they brought all the kids into a room and essentially let you pick whatever instrument you wanted, which you could then rent from the school. I picked the saxophone, but when I tried to blow through it, it didn’t make a sound, so they told me to play the clarinet, which I did for the next few years. I was around 12 when I started playing the drums, which is the instrument that I went on to stick with.
I am not sure really what drew me to the drums exactly, it just felt like a cool instrument. When I first started, I was into a lot of psychedelic rock, things like the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, etc and me and my friend John Hoyt, who played piano, would do long sessions of improvised sort of rock music I guess …
John and our music teacher at the time Tom Gotwals then introduced me to a lot of other stuff, like Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, and then I knew that I really wanted to find out what was going on in all this music, and I proceeded to essentially buy every recording that looked like it was either jazz or some esoteric rock music.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
I am not sure I really can say that something happens to my body specifically when I listen to music. I think anyway it depends on what the music is and when I listen to it.
Sometimes a certain record could inspire me to change the world, and then a minute later I can’t stand to even have it on in the room with me.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I think it’s been a gradual and quite natural development. I wouldn’t say I particularly looked to develop in a certain way, I just gravitated towards the things that interested me.
I studied music formally at university, but I never really went down the path of learning exactly how I was supposed to do something. I think partially that’s down to a laziness or at the very least impatience, but in some way that has become what I am.
I wasn’t interested in figuring out exactly how something worked, but to try to get a general vibe of something which I could then do my own thing with it.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I think that I search for in music, is that feeling of authenticity about what people are doing. That their art is coming from who they are as people, and I am trying the best I can to have the music I make be a reflection of who I am.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
I suppose in some way I already answered this, but I think a key part of my approach is that it’s better to just get something out there, rather than overthinking everything. I think this is my approach in composing and setting up a band, but also in playing.
I would rather just go for it and have it be a disaster than hold back.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
As a listener, I like to listen to music that feels like the people are making music that feels original to them, likewise as a player I want to play in a way that feels true to me. Part of that is of course somewhat part of a tradition, but it is also about music for the future.
I guess if we are truly being ourselves, it is bound to be somewhat original, right?
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
Obviously the drums are important, but I also play piano sometimes, and write scores on the computer, they are all part of it.
But I guess my strategy is the most important part of whatever I do, I just throw myself at it, and hope it works.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
I usually am up at 6am with the kids, I prepare my daughters' snack for school and get breakfast ready for the kids and myself. Then either I or my partner take them to school / kindergarten. I usually have 10-15 minutes afterwards that I just zone out if I don’t have anything I have to be at in the morning, listen to the radio, drink tea and then I get to work.
Every day is a little different, many days at the moment involve me working on my PhD during the day, but sometimes I am rehearsing, then I might pick up the kids at 3pm, and then go and play a concert in the evening, or if there are no concerts, it’s usually get the kids to sleep and pass out on the sofa not long after.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
Well, on this latest album from Anthropods, it was a matter of trying to write music for the band that fit where the band naturally went. So I brought a few pieces, tried them, when back and wrote some more, tried that, and then eventually took it out on a tour.
The tour was probably the biggest learning process for me, because I think in this type of music, you really learn where things can go when you play them live. So, now with the knowledge I gained from doing that I am back writing new music, which we will be playing live in the autumn this year.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
In terms of composition, I like to do this on my own. The process of turning what’s on the paper to what the band then plays is of course a group activity though.
I do play solo when I am working with contemporary dance fairly often, which I do enjoy, but I miss the interaction with other musicians, and I think that there are a lot of things in music that I enjoy doing, but by far my favourite is to be on the stage playing music with other people.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
This is different for every musician, and also every piece of music has a different purpose somewhat, so I don’t think you can really say what purpose ‘music’ has.
I enjoy lots of music that is commenting or reflecting the world that we are in, but I am not really interested in doing that myself in an overt way. My music is a reflection of my place in the world, and is mostly about being as honest and true to that as I can be, while making music that only exists for that moment.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Like I said, I am not interested in dealing with these sorts of topics overtly in my music, but obviously they are there, as all these things are part of who we are.
I am not sure I can really point to a specific moment where a certain piece of music highlighted something like that as such, as there are too many to really say. And sometimes also instrumental music expresses something for me even stronger than music with words.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
Music doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The things we are doing as musicians are affected by everything that is going on around us. As for what exactly they reveal, you may need to ask someone who is smarter than me!
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Music for me is a way to express something that you can’t put in words. What I am trying to say when I am playing is everything that I am. So if I tried to say it out loud, it would be too many words at once!
I do believe though you can bring this sort of passion and that much of yourself to whatever you do.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
I imagine this answer is different for different people, but I think music can transmit so much because the message of any music, like all great art, lies in how the listener receives it.