Meet The Holy: The Finnish Band Confronting Their Past With an Enormous Sound (Live Video + Interview)

Interviews, Iceland Airwaves
Dusty Henry
photo by Jim Bennett (view set)

When you name yourself something as powerful and resounding as The Holy, you’ve got to have a sound that’s equally as resonant and reverent. And, of course, Finnish band The Holy are exactly that.

When the group formed under a unified vision of creating a sound that felt “enormous.” Where they saw musical trends turning inward and looking smaller, both in sound and instruments, The Holy wanted to go the opposite direction. If you’re starting your band with two drummers, you’re definitely on track to create something akin to a sonic earthquake. When the band played the Kex Hostel stage at Iceland Airwaves 2019, they did exactly that. See for yourself below.

The band does not sacrifice heart for dynamics. Just as their raucous music contorts and barrels through crowds, the emotional core of their music is equally as spiritous. The group’s members grew up during Finland’s great depression of the 90s, which left lead vocalist Eetu Henrik Iivari in particular with a complicated childhood to process. The Holy’s music became the outlet for him to make sense of his past and in doing so found that his experience wasn’t his alone.

You don’t need to have lived through the band’s shared experience to understand the rush of feelings that erupt from The Holy’s 2018 debut album Daughter. In looking to overcome their own grief and processing a difficult world, The Holy created a work that any can apply their own experiences to and feel represented. After the band’s performance, we talked to the band backstage to discuss their formation, the world they’ve lived through, and where they want to go next.

KEXP: I read that you formed while drunk and watching the FIFA World Cup in 2014. Can you kind of set that scene for me and what happened there?

Eetu Henrik Iivari: Yeah, we were watching the ballgame, of course, and listening to some demos that I had just made. Then we invented that we have to get a band together. But there were two guys who both wanted to play drums and we couldn't decide who would play the drums. So we decided that everybody's gonna play the drums. And eventually, we went to the rehearsal space and started. But the night was pretty regular, watching football and listening to music and feeling the vibe and being really thrilled about the new idea of everybody playing the drums [laughs]. But now it's, of course, a bit different – the band – because I play guitar, not drums. We got this crew together during the next year, like the formation of the band and what it is now. Yeah, that was quite a night [laughs].

I understand you're all, or at least some of you, are childhood friends. Is that is that correct?

Iivari: Yeah, we are. You [addressing bassist Laura Kangasniemi] were a mutual friend. We heard that you've been playing bass in a ska band [laughs] and we texted that you in the evening that you [now] play bass in this new band.

Laura Kangasniemi: It wasn't a question. They informed me that they have formed a band and I was gonna play in it. There was no question mark. That's how it goes, I guess.

Iivari: I hope it was okay with you that we didn't play any ska music.

Pyry Peltonen: I've known Eetu since I was like 15. Eetu was a bit older but I was kind of lured into the band by Eetu. I was supposed to do a few gigs and then I did a few gigs and they asked me to join permanently. That was a no brainer for me.

You formed with this intention of wanting to write big-sounding, massive songs. I think the word "enormous" was thrown around from what I've read. What about that style and sound was appealing to you and why did you want to make something that sounded and felt big?

Kangasniemi I guess initially we thought, 'Well, we have two drummers. So there's no point in making quiet music.' And that was that. It's a very practical idea to play big music when you have two drummers.

Iivari: I think that trend at the time was to play kind of like small music. Use of a lot of electronics and stuff, which is not always straight small. But we wanted to feel the energy of the acoustic drums and guitars and stuff like that and we put ourselves into that game very strongly and got drawn in by the epic wall of sound. But nowadays, I think it's a bit different. We still have some of that in our music, but since we got the band rolling, we started to also make songs – like actual songs [laughs]. So that's where we are now. We have just recorded the new album, which we're gonna release next spring. I would say that the sound of the band is going to some new places. And I wouldn't call it massive music. It's just music like played with instruments and stuff like that.

I read that you recorded your last album, Daughter, in an old school near your hometown, isolating yourselves and staying together for several weeks. Can you tell me a bit about that recording process and how that isolation benefited you? Any struggles that might have brought and how that impacted your writing and recording?

Iivari: [laughs] Yeah, that was me and our other drummer Eero [Jääskeläinen]. We were there the whole time and the rest of the band were there, more or less all the time as well. But we were isolated for two months, actually. May and September from the year of 2017, I guess. And it was a really good experience, I got to say. Actually, a lot of the material we recorded over there didn't end up on the album. But the experience was essential for making the album. I don't know if it makes any sense, but the environment, being away from the city and being away from everybody for a long time made it really good to focus. I bet that without it we wouldn't have been able to make the album so fast because we'd been on the road all the time. With this new album, we did [it] also in an old school, but in a different old school. There's a lot of old schools in Finland, but we weren't there for a long time. It was more like short periods... But I think for all musicians and bands to get away from everything and everybody is pretty essential for the writing process. It was a weird, fun experience.

Your lyrics on the record were written to process your childhood growing up in Finland during that depression in the 90s. For our listeners who might not really be familiar with that economic crisis – I don't expect you to be an economist – but a little bit of background of what was happening and what that was like for you and how this record might have helped you process those memories and those experiences.

Iivari: I think a lot of countries on this side of Europe were at the time going through [a] depression. Well, let's not go to the reasons, but it made the society pretty dark at the time. There was a lot of the same kind of problems we are facing right now. But my family and my childhood was kind of like... I love my parents for sure, but it was tough in very many ways. Really dark and full of those social problems. And for sure, this album was like a cleaning process for me and my relationship with my family and with my childhood. The whole landscape in my head. And I also thought that this might be helpful for somebody else as well. The main plot that I realized a few years ago [was] that it wasn't my fault and it wasn't even all the time my parents' fault. The whole environment at the time was really harsh for everybody. They did their best trying to handle all the pressure of the world and crises in the world. They did their best and I did my best, and it's OK. I forgive everybody and everybody, I guess, forgives me. I thought this story, even if it's very short right now in this interview, was something worth writing for and hopefully meaningful for someone else to hear and think about it. All that stuff isn't your fault. I bet all of us have even a bit of these problems. Especially in the countryside of Finland, still today.

Can you talk a little bit about the music scene in Finland? Is there a big community there? Sounds like you've all had other projects that you pulled them from.

Kangasniemi: I think it's a very small pond in Helsinki. In Finland in general, but I think it's mostly focused on the Helsinki area. If you play in a band, you're gonna end up meeting other people who also play music and then they turn out to be your friends in the long run. And then you feel like everybody you know plays in the band, even though that's a bubble. But Helsinki has a good music scene. I feel like it's very different, lots of people doing very ambitious music.

In your music, you talk about a lot of really big themes and ideas. Really like soul seeking, it seems like in. You gave some context on this last record, but where is your headspace going into this next one? Maybe musically as well?

Iivari: ]I could talk for hours about it. I'm so excited about the new album. I don't know the right word in English... It's about frustration. I think this is the next big wave of feelings in the whole Western world is frustration. After the crises we're facing now, that would be the next place. Where there is nothing you can really trust anymore. You can't really trust anymore in this society, like... anything [laughs]. [The album's] about like going through that and just like get those feelings out... And the sound is really like. I think it's really fresh and it's more dynamic. It's kind of beautiful all the time. It's not as dark as Daughter and the previous E.P. It's more delightful. I would say the themes are darker, more narrowed down, more focused. But the whole sound is more joyful. I also really wanted to do really underline that contrast. I also feel that it's a big part of the frustration we're facing next. That life is still really enjoyable...

It's called Mono Freedom and it's inspired by the Swift bird, which is this bird that can never land because it doesn't have the strength in the foot to jump back in the air. So it's kind of in a jail of its own life... It's doomed to fly and we're doomed to live. Oh, it's, of course, worth it.

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