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Riff Radar: Holding Absence

Skindred, Bullet For My Valentine, Funeral For A Friend – there’s a huge amount of rock talent to have come out of Wales, and Cardiff’s Holding Absence are hot on their heels.

In this edition of Riff Radar, we’re having a good old chinwag with vocalist Lucas Woodland and guitarist James Joseph. What went down at their first ever show? What video games are getting them through lockdown? And which band did they fanboy over backstage at Download 2017?!

How did Holding Absence start their journey as a band?

Lucas: James has been in the band longest, so I’ll let him begin!

James: So the South Wales music scene is super incestuous, everyone knows everyone. The members who started this band originally were probably the only people left still trying to give music a good go! Lucas was in another band at the time otherwise he probably would have been in Holding Absence all along. We played one of our first ever shows supporting Lucas’s band, and they ended up splitting up a few months later. Coincidentally, we now have two of the members of that old band – Scott, who’s our guitarist, was also in it.

Lucas: We were basically just the last four musicians left in the scene!

James: We’re the four idiots still trying to do music!

What went down at the first show?

James: It was a trial by fire for you when you joined, wasn’t it?

Lucas: Yeah. I kind of agreed to do the tour, and our mentality was always “let’s do everything we can the best we can”. So we decided to try and write and release a song in time for the tour. On the first day of our tour, we announced I was in the band and also put the single out! It kind of all rolled out really quick, and ironically the first show wasn’t that good really. It was in Carmarthen, which is like West Wales way. The thing is we really cut our teeth as a band in the UK scene, we self booked about 80 shows in our first year, so it all just blurs into one really – our first show and our first 50 shows. They all kind feel the same when we look back really, one big learning curve.

James: It was a lot of playing pubs and restaurants and just weird places where they’d let us. There was a venue we played and when we turned up, we said we were the band and the guy literally said “oh not another f**king band”!

Who (or what) inspires Holding Absence?

Lucas: We’re a very emotional band, so I think a lot of the time, the things that inspire us are real world emotions and real experiences. Finding ways to translate them to music, y’know? On a musical level, it’s everything really. We listen to so much music – I know every band ever says that, but it’s everything from Radiohead to Metallica to The 1975. We’re always able to take inspiration from different places, and I think because we’ve got quite a universal sound, we might have a Machine Head inspired drum fill, or a Kate Bush inspired vocal melody. We kind of take inspiration from everywhere.

James: Yeah, we don’t really fit into one scene at the moment. Sometimes we think we’ve shot ourselves in the foot in a way, because we’re not necessarily a metalcore band, or an alt-rock band. The bands we aspire to be are the bands that just sound like them. When you want to listen to Deftones, you can only listen to Deftones: that’s the vibe we want to encompass.

How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard of you?

Lucas: Normally we just say that it’s emotional rock music. It’s a very wide blanket though. If we were to talk about influences, we go from shoegaze and post-rock, to post-hardcore and pop punk. Because we try and do so much, it does fall under a very big umbrella. The main thing is that it’s a very emotional, cathartic experience when we play live, and I feel like on record too.

What would you say has been the highlight of the band’s career so far?

Lucas: There’s been a lot to be honest! We’re kind of in a weird position, because we’ve done so much but we’ve never really been handed anything out of our league yet. We headlined Scala back in December, and we played 17 songs, every song we’ve ever written – in order! So that was really special, the crowd were exceptional. We played Download in 2017, and we’d only released two songs at that point, so that was a real career defining moment as well. So I’d probably say Scala on a personal level, but on the whole Download was definitely up there.

James: I think Download was the first time anything had ever felt surreal with the band. It was so early on in the band’s career, and turning up to the backstage and seeing so many familiar faces from bands that we used to look up to…. We were getting a sandwich and Good Charlotte and Mastodon were there!

Lucas: We had the most awkward social interaction with Mastodon ever. It was our first festival, and we’re all too old to be acting like children, but you know how every band has their soundcheck riff? Ours is Mastodon’s ‘Blood And Thunder’, and we went up to them like “hee hee, yo, our soundcheck riff is ‘Blood And Thunder’!”. And they just looked at us like “cool” and carried on eating their sandwiches. It was a definite learning curve for us.

James: It sounds really stupid, but we’re all super Welsh, we’re all Valley boys. So we’re standing there like “f**king hell boys, there’s free biscuits over ‘ere!”.

Do you have a favourite song to play live?

Lucas: As I say, we did that 17 song setlist in December, so every song we’ve written we’ve played at this point. It’s interesting to see what little parts from songs stand out the most. I feel like there’s two songs in our back catalogue that stand out to me, and they’re both like 6 minutes long. One of them is called ‘Penance’ and the other one is called ‘Wilt’, and they’re both just so cathartic.

You’ve recently released two new songs, ‘Gravity’ and ‘Birdcage’. Does this mean you’re working on a follow up to last year’s album?

Lucas: We can only say so much really… Like I said, when we started this band, the idea was just to play as many shows as possible, write as many songs as possible, and just do everything as well as possible. We’re already hot on working on album two, already looking towards album three and stuff! A big thing we try and do is release double A singles or split EPs, to try and release music in between albums too.

These are really strange times we’re living in! What are your top tips for getting through quarantine?

Lucas: I think me and James probably have the same one, we’ve both been running a lot more recently!

James: I never thought it would take a pandemic to finally make me start running!

Are you playing any video games at the moment?

Lucas: I have a Legend Of Zelda tattoo and a Pokemon tattoo, so I’m a proper nerdy dude. I’ve just bought my Switch so I’ve been playing lots of Breath of The Wild and Animal Crossing as well. I’m really hyped for The Last Of Us 2 to come out too.

James: I’m trying to get into Call Of Duty: Warzone, mainly because it’s free and it’s cross compatible so I can get a bunch of other friends in bands on on my Twitch channel. There’s also this new game coming out called Valorant. The marketing for that game is so interesting, they’ve essentially paid every big streamer to play it, and you have to watch someone’s stream to get a beta key so you can play it as well. I wonder if anyone’s gonna find a way to do a similar thing with music, you have to watch someone’s stream to get a download code for a new song or something!

Lastly, if you could take Download Dog somewhere in your hometown, where would you take him?

Lucas: There’s a new place in Cardiff called Got No Beef, it’s a really cool vegan burger joint.

James: We could probably take him on a nice walk to the burger place as well. If he gets dropped at mine, we can walk through Cardiff Bay, get a bit of a sun, and then get a burger. We’ll have to wait til all this is over though, don’t want him breaking the rules!