When Holy Fuck’s Brian Borcherdt is working on music, he dances. He prefers to be on his feet, moving, rather than sitting still in a chair. It helps boost his creative energy. Lately, he does it every day—not just in his basement studio, but with his family. They recently moved from Toronto to a rural part of Nova Scotia, the province he grew up in. When there’s not much to do, they put on records and dance. His 14-month-old daughter especially loves it.
“She understands it,” Borcherdt says, over the phone. “No one taught her. It’s just inherent to the human experience, I guess. We hear music and immediately we start moving.” Maybe that’s one of the things we continue to retain, he contemplates. “Maybe that is where a lot of our freedom comes from. I think there is some form of protest in that. In a way we’re saying, ‘I’m not working right now.’”
Being physically engaged has always been important to the Toronto-based band’s inner mechanisms, and the theme of intentional disconnection surfaces often on the group’s newest album, Deleter, which rejects the concept of swallowing the technology we come into contact with whole. Instead—through idiosyncratic sonics that combine euphoric 90s electronica with loose, rhythmic beats and, by design, encourage freeing movement—it advocates for a different outcome, where we can still retain autonomy over who we are, and the art we want to consume.
In the past, Holy Fuck have resisted working with vocalists, but this time around, the songs just felt right, as did the musical landscape.
It seems like a better time now to do this kind of thing, Borcherdt explains. “Give people interesting one-offs that sound a little different and take bigger risks. It’s something I look forward to doing more, actually.”
Deleter features a handful of carefully selected collaborations, including post-punk musician Angus Andrews on the standout sort of-title track “Deleters,” an infectious, buzzy stomp; Pond frontman Nicholas Allbrook on the ebullient “Free Gloss,” and Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor on “Luxe.” For “Luxe,” which tinges classic house textures with a folksy warble, Taylor contributed his vocals through a 1940s-era Voice-o-Graph, a coin-operated phonograph booth that scratches audio onto vinyl.
It’s estimated there are only two left in existence: one in Liverpool and the other at Jack White’s Third Man studio in Nashville, where Taylor recorded. Along with a warm vintage quality, the equipment brings a fascinating conceptual addition to Deleter that leverages history to reflect the advances it represented in the 40s, and remind us how similarly uncharted the territory feels now.
“I don’t want to get caught up in that ‘thing,’ where I’m just mad at the way things are changing—an old man who doesn’t like what the kids are into or something like that,” Borcherdt adds. “I think part of what makes things exciting is that things will change. It doesn’t mean we have to jump headfirst into them. I think it just takes a little precaution.”
In fact, the Toronto-based electronic music group is known for how they eschew genre tradition by using live instrumentation and non-instruments instead of laptops and software. When they were starting out, the approach was, in part, a reaction to how their contemporaries were exploring a kind of limitless technology in their music. For Borcherdt, infiniteness is hard to wrap his head around.
“I like limitations,” he laughs. “That’s part of what draws me to music: trying my best to do something. I didn’t study music or anything, but I’ve always loved it. Music has always been my number one passion, but I’m coming at it somewhat as a luddite. I like to pick up a guitar or whatever to try to pour as much of myself as I can into it, to try to make it good as it could be.”
Borcherdt’s enthusiasm informs a question of where that passion-to-challenge relationship goes as technology changes and if there’s a way to subvert the medium, so it maintains a struggle. “I still want to struggle when I get onstage,” Borcherdt continues. “I still want to struggle in the studio. I still want everything to be really difficult because I feel like that’s where some of our best creativity comes from.”
It persists as a fundamental consideration for Holy Fuck, especially today where nearly all of our day-to-day interactions happen within a digitized realm. Responding to that as a musician is difficult. With all the music in the world at our fingertips, who’s really listening?
“We’re actually probably reaching more people in one sense, so that’s kind of exciting,” Borcherdt says. When it comes to the time and sacrifice it takes to create an album, though, it can feel disproportionate. “It leaves you wondering how many people are making a strong connection.”
Borcherdt grew up during a time where finding common ideals among his peers was challenging, especially in an area without much exposure to what he was looking for. “It created this thirst for inspiration, but it also created an appreciation for those things that I did find along the way,” he says. “Whether it meant picking up albums and spending that hard-earned money on them at the record store, getting home and not even really liking it. You know, that disappointment,” he laughs. “And we’ve maybe forgotten what that feels like, disappointment. But there’s also that elation and sense of ownership, that something can really represent to you. I think about that so often because [now] we have everything.”
With expansive technological landscapes come the perplexity that we don’t exactly know who is controlling algorithms or how our data is actually being used. Borcherdt worries if the ambiguous vastness of it all is more dangerous than we realize, and we might not fully understand how vulnerable we are. “I think that our best protection of that is just being aware of it,” he continues. “I enjoy having the option of unplugging and I enjoy having the option of deleting.”