Two summers ago, Gainesville sextet Holopaw recorded its new album, “Academy Songs Volume I,” in a vacation rental on St. Augustine Beach (as Folio Weekly reported in July 2011). The record was financed almost entirely by fans via Kickstarter. And that’s the most extraordinary thing: This humble little Northeast Florida band is one of the most quietly revered indie rock acts in the nation. Holopaw’s first two albums were released on Seattle powerhouse Sub Pop Records, and all four efforts have received copious critical attention.
And rightfully so, as Holopaw’s elliptical, singular brand of rock — character-driven, detail-rich lyrics combined with sensual, orchestral instrumentation — definitely demands respect and attention. “Academy Songs” features an intricate storyline set at an all-boys prep school in winter. And its elegantly professional sound certainly matches anything tracked in a high-dollar studio. Folio Weekly chatted with Holopaw guitarist Jeff Hays about the lyrical craft of John Orth, the deceptively laid-back fit of “Academy Songs” and the simple aesthetic of the band.
Folio Weekly: We interviewed the band two years ago about the Kickstarter-funded St. Augustine Beach recording of “Academy Songs Volume I.” Where did the concept of this all-boys preparatory school come from?
Jeff Hays: From John’s standpoint. Historically, he’s 99.99 percent in charge of the lyrics, so it’s an idea that came together when he started writing these songs. All of our songs are about characters — he has a very narrative style. So it just worked out that this story filled out the way that it did.
F.W.: Was the rest of the band responsible for the album’s instrumentation?
J.H.: Exactly. John’s usually got an idea for the lyrics and the melody, which is an off-kilter way of writing songs. But then the rest of the band gets together to work on arrangements and musical parts.
F.W.: The songs on “Academy Songs Volume I” seem a bit looser than Holopaw’s past work.
J.H.: It’s funny you say that. These songs definitely have a more roundabout, less straight-from-point-A-to-point-B feel. But in some ways, we were more set on these songs when we recorded them than any others. We probably worked on them longer, and we played them live a lot, which in the past wasn’t the case.
F.W.: Now that the results are out in the world, do you think you’ll repeat the beachside recording process in the future?
J.H.: It’s definitely a better story as a one-time thing, but it was so much fun that I could see us wanting to do it again. [Laughs.] It was so interesting, like, “We’ll have a vacation at the beach, but we’ll also hole ourselves up playing music for a week and a half without taking a break.” So who knows? It was a lot of fun all staying in one house together. I’d love to do it again if we have the opportunity.
F.W.: The record’s impressively professional sound quality certainly doesn’t scream, “I was recorded in a beach house.”
J.H.: Jeremy Scott, who we know from Gainesville, has a studio in Brooklyn. He basically broke parts of it down and brought them to St. Augustine. But even though we had nice gear, the acoustics were certainly different from a studio. But in some ways — especially with the drums — that helped the ambiance. We were super-psyched on the sound.
F.W.: The album's reviews have been split — some glowing and some scornful. Does criticism bother you?
J.H.: I wouldn’t say we don’t care about what’s said about us. But we more or less do this for fun. Making music is an artistic outlet, but a big part of the band is just being able to get together with our friends. We’ve always come at it from that perspective. We have goals, but the other stuff comes after enjoying ourselves.
F.W.: Even though Holopaw is such a critically revered band, do band members have day jobs in Gainesville?
J.H.: Sort of. I’m probably the only one who has a regular 9-to-5 job. John’s got lots of different art projects going on all the time, one of the members owns a bar here, one works there. … Obviously, we can’t make a living just off of being in Holopaw, but the band does well enough for us to sustain it without being a complete suck on our resources.
F.W.: What are Holopaw’s goals for the future? Is there an “Academy Songs Volume II” in you?
J.H.: Oh, yeah, two songs have already been written towards “Volume II” — we’ll probably play at least one of them on this tour. And we’ll just keep doing the same thing: writing songs and playing music as long as people still want to listen to it.