HOLDING ABSENCE | INTERVIEW
With their second album out this week and the UK rock press hailing them as them as the next breakout band, Chris Andrews catches up with Holding Absence lead singer Lucas Woodland to see if they are up for the challenge.
“I’d like to think they don’t bandy that around too often!” answers Lucas Woodland, from south Wales’ next big thing Holding Absence, when asked if that tag puts on any extra pressure. “But it’s nice to get that praise too.”
Almost embarrassed by the congratulations I put his way regarding the group’s recent Kerrang! Cover, the vocalist’s humility is one of his finest qualities, as he tells us about one of the more personal tracks on the new album The Greatest Mistake Of My Life. “My nan had mentioned that my great-uncle recorded a song of the same title many years ago, as a young man. I looked it up, and the lyrics sounded like something I might have written. It just felt right that my nan, whom I love dearly, has put this musical inspiration in my lap.”
Having already dropped a few tracks from the now-imminent album, what has the feedback on the new material been like? “Brilliant so far. Beyond Belief [its first single, released last October] was a bit of a change for us; I think quite a few people weren’t sure at first, because visually we’d undergone an overhaul too, but by the time [January 2021 followup] Afterlife came out I think people ‘got it’ a bit more.”
More than just an audio outfit, Holding Absence put a lot of effort into the visual aspect of the band – something which notably shifted in the runup to the new album, as the black and white look made way for breezy colour.
“We’d always joke about album two going colour, but it did feel right at the end of the day and it’s something we are always conscious of. It’s an old trick for musicians – fans get used to a certain thing, then you take it away and give them something new and fresh!”
As Lucas puts it, “The Greatest Mistake Of My Life is very much an album of songs” rather than a collection of hits and misses. So, with such great material, choosing the singles must be a headache, right?
“Beyond Belief came along with the whole new image thing – so let’s go the whole way, we thought – whilst Circles showed a more progressive, introspective side to the band. But that was the hardest thing about this record, because any song could have been a single.”
One such track, and perhaps the rawest moment on the album, is Mourning Song: as Lucas explains, though, not from quite as dark a place as it may sound. “I will write songs that are not particularly autobiographical, but more in fitting with the narrative of the album which is learning from death. Rather than it be inherently negative, I’m asking what lessons can we learn from such a sad thing? Mourning Song is there to remind you just how lucky you are to be alive.” The theme of examining our existence continues on Celebration Song, but this time focusing on life itself. “As someone who has gone through depression, I’m so glad that I didn’t make any rash decisions, because I’m happy to be alive now,” says the frontman.
Woodland possesses an uncanny knack for poetic imagery: how does this transfer to a rock band format, and the necessary crafting process to assemble songs? “There’s no clear-cut way of doing things, but we always try to make music that feels real – music that people can connect to.” But what comes first – a riff, or are the lyrics structured? “It’s a real hybrid situation: sometimes what I see as a verse, will become a chorus. It’s important to not have to many rules, as so much can go wrong.”
In album full of standout moments, the epic Die Alone (In Your Lover’s Arms) further elevates itself via some beautifully haunting vocals from an as-yet-unidentified singer. Care to shed some light on that, Mr Woodland? As it turns out, not all of the talent in the family went to him. “That’s my sister! I’d written a duet, because I really felt like I wanted a duet on this album, and we were toying with the idea of getting a guest vocalist. But, to make less of a song and dance of it, we asked my sister – who I’ve grown up singing with and has a beautiful voice, and again keeps in with the family ties on the album.”
It’s worth noting that this isn’t Woodland’s first rodeo. Gig-goers in south Wales might remember the tremendous ball of youthful energy that was Falling With Style, to which Lucas lent his vocals before joining Holding Absence. How exactly did that end?
“Being in a band is hard; we were all in that band since the age of 15 and towards the end we were in university, just trying to figure ourselves out as people, and we weren’t ready. But, interestingly enough, the former Falling With Style guitarist [Scott Carey] joined Holding Absence and more recently, the bass player [Ben Elliott] is going to be joining us as well.”
With the entire world affected in one way or another by the pandemic, have Holding Absence’s plans for world domination been scuppered at all, beyond a cancelled appearance at last year’s Download Festival? “The original plan was to have this album out last October, so we’ve really pushed that back, but to be honest I just feel sorry for all those bands that couldn’t release albums.” Which, in a nutshell, sums up the attitude of the softly spoken, highly likeable Lucas Woodland. 2021 is Holding Absence’s year. Watch them soar.
The Greatest Mistake Of My Life is released via SharpTone Records on Fri 16 Apr. Holding Absence also play Y Plas, Cardiff University Students Union on Thurs 28 Oct. Tickets: £15.
words CHRIS ANDREWS