Published Jun 09, 2016Brian Borcherdt's basement studio in the west end of Toronto is just a ten-minute walk away from Graham Walsh's similar recording setup. But even in that short distance, Borcherdt manages to find the latest piece for his already impressive stash of noise making (and capturing) devices: a roll-up, soft-key piano. Beaming with pride, Borcherdt's joy is short-lived. Upon entering the underground space occupied by his creative partner in electronic noiseniks Holy Fuck, Walsh shows off the vintage Korg Polyphonic Ensemble synth that he picked up off the street on the way home from the grocery store.
The finds, both impressive, feed the junk-shop electronics aesthetic that's been Holy Fuck's M.O. since they released their self-titled debut in 2005. The band's birth was a staunch reaction to the widespread adoption of digital recording. "Everyone had their chance to make their own Pet Sounds," says Borcherdt. "Everyone had limitless technology, so deliberately, we did the opposite."
Their sound — and gear — has since expanded, and in the six years since their last record, Latin, both Borcherdt and Walsh constructed their studios, where they assembled what became their latest LP, Congrats. "This record has been a learning curve and gear curve," admits Borcherdt. "I had shitty stuff, and now I have slightly better stuff."
Sketches were drawn while the two jammed in Walsh's basement in early 2013 — he had yet to renovate the space, then still "a shitty dank basement" according to Borcherdt. Where Latin was written mostly on the fly in the studio, Walsh and Borcherdt wanted to flesh out the songs for Congrats.
They headed to Toronto's Revolution Recording with the rest of Holy Fuck — bass player Matt McQuaid, who lives in Nova Scotia and Brooklyn-based drummer Matt Schulz — to capture the new material live on analogue tape. Walsh and Borcherdt figure they left Revolution with the tracks about 70 percent complete.
The remaining 30 percent was finished in the pair's studios. Biking back and forth between the two, they would run tracks through their collection of pedals and outboard gear. Though at times tedious, this process is where Holy Fuck's music mutates from jams into actual songs. "What can you do to make it better?" is the underlying question for every track, according to Borcherdt. "How can you walk that line between it being a self-indulgent project from four guys who like to make noise together, and then also present it in such a way that it has a lasting effect on other people?"
Dubbed Basketball 4 Life after some graffiti Walsh found carved into the wall during renovations, his studio now houses a 24-track soundboard inherited from fellow producer David Newfeld, a number of synths and keyboards and several racks worth of outboard equipment. Although Walsh's live setup for Holy Fuck is currently packed away, lurking in the nooks and crannies are pieces like a reverb tank and children's Alphabet Desk, whose crude digital sounds have made it onto several Holy Fuck releases.
Its high ceilings, wood-panel walls and deep couches give Basketball 4 Life the feel of a more traditional studio, with Walsh's record collection the lone reminder that the house doubles as his living space. In contrast, Borcherdt's studio, which he calls Youth Sabbath School after his two favourite bands, is more cavernous and cluttered. His live table is still assembled, and includes a 35mm film synchronizer; hooking the piece of hardware to a delay pedal, he runs pieces of the Toronto-shot 2002 Denzel Washington film John Q, which he worked on, through the synchronizer, creating a scratching effect.
Youth Sabbath School's focal points — both relatively new additions — are a 16-track mixing board and a reel-to-reel tape machine Borcherdt. Running his speakers and another tape machine to capture some echo, Borcherdt played his basement like an instrument. "When I put the microphone on the floor, it made a low F sharp," he explains. "That stuff all came into the process of this record, but I think it will be a bigger player on the next one."
Yet many pieces of his gear are already packed away. METZ's Hayden Menzies is taking over the house in three days, when Borcherdt moves to upstate New York, where his partner is already living for work.
While such a move sounds like it could throw a wrench into future recording plans, neither Walsh nor Borcherdt sound worried. Holy Fuck's diffused geography hasn't posed much of a problem in the past, and the foundation of their creative process remains the same says Walsh. "Go somewhere, capture the foundation of the idea and then bring it back to our respective places, where you tweak and waste all your time."