Have you heard?! If you haven’t, you should.
The Holy Gasp are coming to Peterborough to play with Television Rd on October 2 at The Red Dog. In anticipation of their arrival, I decided to sit down with their lead, Benjamin Hackman, and hash out the nitty gritty whatever.
My housemate started practicing trumpet halfway through this interview. So imagine a lonely, wacky horn squacking in the distance.
Benjamin started with a pair of congo drums. After doing the “beatnik” thing and releasing an album with just percussion, he starting putting more musicians together.
“I knew I wanted to still play with that kind of beatnik aesthetic, so I intentionally created a jazz line up. But with something I could still do intense punk influence things with. So that’s how it became the five-piece – percussion, drums, sax, guitar, and upright bass.”
What can people expect when they come to see The Holy Gasp play live?
They should abandon all expectations at the door! They should come with a positive mental attitude and a desire to live life to its fullest. They should let go of their hangups and face their own shadows. That’s what they should expect. Less they should expect a lifetime of suffering and parents that never truly understand. They’ll have to resolve that for themselves, y’know. That’s not my fault. I’m not responsible for that. I’m just saying it like it is.
You really have a knack for story-telling on this album, where does it come from?
I did literature for ten years before really exploring music as a career choice. The words are a huge part of the songs. I teach creative writing privately, with various schools and organizations… I do work with at-risk youth, sometimes people with intellectual disabilities or mental illness… essentially wherever there is work to be done where I can use creative writing in a therapeutic context.
What is “How I Get Down” about?
“How I get Down” is like a tongue and cheek empowerment song, about not wanting to take hassle from the man, and refusing to conform to a society that wants the worst of you. It’s kind of like a declaration to say “y’know what, that’s kinda how I got down for quite a while, and no longer shall I get down in that fashion!”
So you mentioned a punk influence… Are you at all influenced by the Dead Kennedys?
Yeah, totally. I love Dead Kennedys. They’re one of my all-time favourite bands.
What are your aims and aspirations as a political band?
It wouldn’t make a difference if we were singing about apolitical ponies or revolutionary ponies. I just want to impact culture in a deep and significant way. And I want to blur the lines of genre and tell people it’s alright to think for themselves. I want people to grow their hair out and get groovy and kiss people of the same sex.
You’re very theatrical and in-your-face on stage. Have you always been this way? Is it a conscious decision to have theatre blended in with live performance?
Oh that’s an interesting question… Um, I kind of just think that’s what’s good entertainment. I’m not trying to challenge our preconceived notions of entertainment. I’m just trying to entertain in the way that I would want to be entertained. My favourite performers are really theatrical.
Who are they?
Jello Biafra, Tom Waits, Lux Interior from the Cramps, Nick Cave, Frozen Mellow Drama, Frank Zappa. I like the weirdos.
I’m such a weird guy. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m an exceptionally weird person. It’s alright. I’m kind of just coming to terms with that.
Do front-people need to be weird?
People always want to look at other people doing the shit that they wish they themselves could do but are too inhibited to do. The weirdos are the rulers of the world! *laughs maniacally* The weirdos are the people who tell others who to be! … Ehhh, I don’t know if that’s true. *laughs*
Is everyone in The Holy Gasp in another band?
Everyone’s a pretty busy musician. David and I are in Rambunctious, an improv band. Sebastian’s in a great pop group called Midday Swim. Christopher is in the Lemon Bucket Orkestra. And uh, Mr. James McEleney is in the Andrew Collins Trio… He’s the dude everyone calls when they need an exceptionally good bass player. The Unseen Strangers is one of his projects.
So you write all of the songs?
I write all of the songs. Sebastian helps a little bit. Increasingly we are writing more songs together.
Everyone in the band seems to be really serious about music. Can you speak to that?
They’re good musicians! They’re better than me! That’s why I picked them!
It’s just a very different level of music education and culture for jazz musicians. When you’re working with jazz musicians, everyone knows their theory inside and out. So a musician like that is just in a different level of demand. If you want to get an electric guitar player, there’s 150 guitar players a stone’s throw away. If you want to get an upright bass player, it’s a different thing. It’s a more specialized skill.
What was your favourite show this year?
Yonge and Dundas Square! It was fucking crazy! I was on a jumbo-tron! They just asked us! I forgot how to speak for a minute.
What should people expect from The Holy Gasp next?
We’re working on a new album right now. I kind of describe it as being… It’s more extreme and more normal. Some of the songs are really avante-garde. They’re like a minute and a half long or big numbers that are going to take like 40 musicians to pull off… and then some of them are the most beautiful, simple, jazz/blues numbers… But you won’t be able to hear us perform those tracks for a while. They’re being worked on. Weirder and bigger. That’s what it’s becoming.
Thoughts on the upcoming election?
I don’t know! Does my opinion actually really matter? I’m a fairly left-leaning person, I don’t have a really popular view, I don’t have much faith in the electoral system, I don’t think that our culture is particularly progressive, I’ll probably vote NDP. I hope Harper chokes on a dick (consensually) and dies. And uh, it doesn’t get more complex than that. I think Canada used to look better. I’ll say that.
What are some things that you love?
I love my wife. She’s so nice. She’s the nicest lady. She’s sooooo nice.
And I love Friendly Rich & The Lollipop People. I had coffee with Friendly Rich yesterday, that guy is soooo nice! You should get them to come play in Peterborough. That’s what Peterborough is missing! Friendly Rich and the Lollipop People!
And I love Tauruses. The zodiac. What sign are you? Pisces?
This is so weird, Chris also asked me what my sign was. I’m an Aries.
You’re an Aries! Huh. But late Aries? Like close to Taurus?
Haha, no… But what’s your sign?
I’m a Libra. OH! You know what else I love? Dog butts! They’re so cute! That little wiggle waggle, it’s the best. And the sound of scissors! Don’t get me started!
And whenever people play trombone through a loop pedal.
I love a good shoulder shrug.
And when women have a little pudge above their elbows. I die! You know that little pudge? Ah! I love it! It’s so good. You’ll see. You’ll print it in the paper and then everyone’s going to have a fetish.
Have you ever played 20 questions? I love playing 20 questions.
You know what else I love? I just love the word, I don’t even love it. Periactoi! – it’s a large prismatic structure that rotates to demark different seasons in an ancient Greek play… a cultural currency that you might not want jangling in your pocket.
Are you all into astrology?
Yeah! The Holy Gasp strongly endorses Western Astrology. Actually if you look at our astrology, it’s an awful like the Beatles. You know why? Because we’re also bigger than Jesus! *smiles*
What are the other signs in the band?
It’s all wind and water in The Holy Gasp. Pisces, Libra, and Gemini.
How does that play into the dynamics of the band?
I think it’s a tidal wave, baby! I say, it’s a tidal wave if ya dig me!
I get this sexy grimy feel from the album. Did you mean for it to be sexy?
Well I’m kinda Freudian, I think everything is sexy. “How I Get Down” was meant to be sexy. It’s like a dark eros. A deathly sexuality. That comes from a Nick Cave influence… a melodramatic preoccupation between the interplay between sex and death. That’s an old Greek theme, thanatos and eros.
You ever do laughter yoga? We should join forces and lead some laughter yoga together at your [Television Rd] CD release.
I totally agree!
I’ll tell you something my very first writing teacher ever told me. He told me, “the only things worth writing down are those things not worth remembering.”
Ok, since the time is upon us in Peterborough… What do you think about Pride?
I love Pride. My father took me to the gay pride parade every year since I was eight years old. It was a big part of my family’s tradition. Every Pride I always take a look at what Toronto looked like in the very first pride parade and I see what a protest it was. and how different it is. And now it’s a parade, but in the 70s, it was a protest. It was a demonstration. I always get really moved by the amount of progress we’re making in this part of the country.
Don’t let anyone tell you how to fuck. “Fuck” should be in rainbow font.
And you know the parts where I said Harper should choke on a big fat dick? Make sure in brackets it says consensually, but he should still die.