What's in a name? The Holy Fuck story

By Sean MacKay, Film and Music Editor

Issue date: 10/2/08 Section: Film & Music
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Holy Fuck take their passionate live show overseas, performing in London
Media Credit: neil365 / Flickr
Holy Fuck take their passionate live show overseas, performing in London

A shot of the whole band performing in Cologne, Germany in April '08.
Media Credit: INDEED / Flickr
A shot of the whole band performing in Cologne, Germany in April '08.

There was a time not too long ago when having the word "fuck" in your band's name would have been unheard of. It became more acceptable in the eighties and nineties, but any band brave enough to include the infamous "f" word in their name would be relegating themselves to the underground music scene - until they backed down and came up with something more radio friendly.

In today's independent music community it seems like "fuck" is all the rage. Fuck Buttons, Fucked Up, Fuck the Facts, the list goes on. With this explosion of foul mouthed bands it's as if the formerly taboo word has become trendy.

So what exactly separates Toronto based group Holy Fuck from the rest of the pack? With an energetic live show and albums that have succeeded in recreating their free form, often improvised sound on record, Holy Fuck indeed live up to their confrontational moniker.

I recently had the chance to speak with Graham Walsh, one of the two founding members of the group, about the evolution of his band over the last couple of years. It has certainly been a busy year for Holy Fuck. "I haven't been seeing much of anybody lately except the four dudes in my band" explains Walsh, driving the point home.

This isn't surprising, considering Walsh and his co-founder Brian Borcherdt have been all over the map in '08, filling in slots at Lollapalooza and bringing their unique live act across the pond and touring throughout Europe. They were even able to open for M.I.A. during her recent tour of North America. "The crowds at the M.I.A. shows were quite open-minded and receptive to us," says Walsh. "We got the chance to jam with her during sound check and she was just a really cool, down to earth person."

Despite this long list of successes, Holy Fuck have yet to become a household name, but one gets the sense that this may be right around the corner. They've been heaped with praise by the British music press as well as the difficult to impress Radiohead front man, Thom Yorke. "It's an honour to have someone like that even know about us," Walsh tells me modestly.

"Lovely Allen," a track from the band's 2007 album simply titled LP, is the song that Yorke seemed to take a particular shine to. It's a powerful track centred on several crescendos and a hypnotic violin melody played by the always popular Owen Pallett. I ask Walsh how this collaboration came to be.

"We'd known Owen for a long time just from us both being based in the Toronto music scene," explains Walsh. "We first invited him to jam with us at the Guelph Hillside Festival in 2006. We played him the loop backstage before our show, and since he's a musical genius he picked it up right away and then we had our song." The track is without a doubt an album standout, but unfortunately there are no further plans for a second collaboration.

The year hasn't been without its trying times. In August, Holy Fuck was singled out by the Conservatives as one of the chief reasons to place the PromArt Program on the budget chopping block. The $4.7 million program that has helped dozens of Canadian artists travel abroad to promote Canadian culture is scheduled to be cancelled in March 2009.

Holy Fuck received $3000 in grant money to spend a week performing in the U.K. Apparently the Harper Government didn't think a group with such a lewd name deserved to be getting hand-outs to play loud rock music in merry olde England.

I ask Walsh how he felt when he found out that his band was mentioned by the government as one of the reasons to shut down the program. "We found out when we were on tour in Germany, and it was a complete shock to us. We had heard from a few people that they were going to cut the program anyway, so I think we were just a good example of an easy scapegoat for the whole situation. But I guess that's how the government works sometimes: they hand you some money to help you out with the left hand and then two years later they punch you in the face with the right hand." Jokingly, I ask if Harper will be getting his vote in the upcoming election. The answer is a definitive no.

Since Holy Fuck's most recent effort was so widely acclaimed, I couldn't help but inquire as to the status of the new album. Walsh responds with some hesitation apparent in his voice.

"We've been so busy lately that its difficult to say when the new record will be finished. We definitely don't want to release something we're not completely happy with so I can't really talk about a timeline or put an exact date as to when we'll be finished."

It's a classic answer from a relatively young band that have been riding high on a wave of initial popularity. The pressure to create an album that reaches the heights of LP must be weighing heavily on the group.

But for a band so unabashedly creative as Holy Fuck (Walsh is taking a break from recording while we speak) I don't think it will be an issue. The future is looking bright.
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Fuck Yeah

posted 10/08/08 @ 12:43 AM EST

This is a great article, and Holy Fuck are a great band. Should have won the Polaris. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

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