The former tree surgeon from north Belfast goes deep under the dark canopy with his new EP. Click Play Audio to hear an exclusive acoustic recording and track from Infant Rising EP
Click for Robert_Holmes_Podcast.mp3 (MP3 Audio File, 8.28 MB)
‘Me and the wife re-mortgaged the house, and I bought a guitar and got studio time. ‘Hazard Hill’ and the other two songs on there all came in one night, which was pretty cool – it’s very rare you get songs coming together like that.’
Meeting Robert Holmes in the Oh Yeah Music Centre, he greets me with a smile, sipping his coffee - his carefree and unassuming demeanour revealing little of the haunted songwriter behind the moonlit sounds of Hazard Hill.
The EP was released in September 2008, and was, according to Holmes, a spontaneous emotional output, influenced and inspired - in the main - by nature and place.
‘We live close to the Cavehill, so we’re never too far away [from nature]. I like going up and walking about, getting lost, taking the kids up and trying to lose them’, Holmes jokes. ‘I have my daughter singing on one of the tracks. Adds a wee spooky element to it.’
Clearly, Belfast's rustic raconteur is equally as inspired by his children as he is from nature. His new EP release, Infant Rising, fell through his letterbox on the day his newborn son, Oscar, came home for the first time.
‘My CD was lying in the hallway, finished,' Holmes recalls. 'It was a strange coincidence - things like that blow my mind. Bring your son home, open the door and your CD is lying there.'
Something of a late-comer to music, Holmes used poetry and painting as an outlet before turning to chords and melodies. ‘I’ve been writing poetry for a few years, some of it lyrical. Before I was interested in music I was into painting, oil paints and stuff, but then I just took to music and I’m enjoying it more.'
For Holmes, the decision to put his poetry into his songwriting was a tentative one. ‘It was always something unattainable for myself. I always thought, 'I’m not the sort of person who can do this'. But it’s not until you try that you go, ‘Well, poetry is for everyone’.'
The eerie instrumentation, dark lyrics and baritone voice of Holmes have drawn comparisons to the style of Nick Cave. ‘I think the nature of the music and the sort of person I am, and the mood you’re in, it all sort of goes together,' says Holmes. 'Sometimes having a dark song with light music over it helps, but sometimes it helps to have it nice and muddy and gritty.
‘It’s a nice complement. I think it’s because [the music] is deep and possibly comes from a similar sort of place. Nick Cave can be quite dark. It’s not until people said ‘That sounds like Nick Cave’ that I started listening to him.’
After working as a tree surgeon for seven years, then lugging muck and bricks as a hod carrier on a building site, Holmes became the proprietor of Backbeat Records at Haymarket Arcade. Between selling rare vinyl and holding intimate instore performances, Holmes says what he remembers most was the store’s eccentric clientele.
‘It was such an experience – there are so many characters in this city, it is unbelievable. There was a lady that danced outside for about three hours and I was just playing disco tunes, the whole arcade was out watching and laughing. You had that once or twice a week, just weird people coming round. Didn’t make any money but it was good times.’