Holden Laurence, guitarist for cinematic pop darlings, The Modern Electric, will soon release his second solo album, Rewire. It promises to be essential listening for fans of The Smiths, New Order, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Killers, and The Wild Swans who are looking for something fresh, new, and exciting to get into. Whether you’re falling in or out of love, or staring dreamily at the stars knowing he, she, ze or they are out there looking for you too, the songs on Rewire (along with his debut Wild Empty Promises) will fill your mixtapes and playlists with plenty of edgy, melodic, romantic, and darkly epic earworms.
At the stroke of Midnight last night, Laurence released the album’s first single, ‘Shadows of Old Love’:
Naturally, we here at Popdose were over the moon about it and wanted to learn more…
POPDOSE: This is your second solo album — both of which have been released in the gap since the last The Modern Electric album. Are the lines blurring between which project is a day job versus a side hustle?
HOLDEN LAURENCE: The frequency of releases has more to do with the pace of each project’s creative process than some kind of hierarchy of importance. I write, arrange, demo, and record my solo material pretty much all on my own. I bounce ideas off of my drummer, Michael O’Brien, and he lets me know when I’m closing in on something special. Otherwise, the writing and editing process is streamlined and self-contained. The Modern Electric operates in a more democratic fashion where Garrett (Komyati, lead vocals, piano, guitar) brings us the skeleton of a song and we work together to flesh out parts and push the arrangement in different directions. Over time our individual visions organically coalesce to form a unified work, which is greater than the sum of its parts.
As of right now, the success of one project hasn’t limited my ability to be fully invested in the other, but that’s a complication that I’d welcome.
Based on the influences within this album, we grew up a generation apart while loving the same bands — the Smiths, Dire Straits, Echo, the Church, etc. … how did you first discover all of these bands (and let me know about others) — as opposed to the acts topping Billboard during your childhood? I assume by the time you were discovering music, MTV was no longer playing any…
HL: It actually took me awhile to stumble upon the early alternative influences you hear in my solo work. My musical tastes growing up were largely influenced by my mom and my uncle. My uncle had a killer classic rock record collection; The Beatles, Frank Zappa, and everything in between. I started playing guitar when I was pretty young and I gravitated toward bands like Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Fleetwood Mac… bands with guitarists that had great ears for melody. When I got a little older and started writing songs, I fell in love with Folk and Americana; John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, etc.
When I was a kid some of the mainstream New Wave artists were still getting radio play, like The Cure and New Order. So those sounds were swirling around my head at a really young age but I kind of forgot all about them for twenty years. Toward the end of college I bought The Queen is Dead by The Smiths at the suggestion of a friend and it was a revelation. So down the rabbit hole I went. Disintegration by The Cure, Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division, Organisation by OMD, Dare! by The Human League, Power, Corruption, and Lies by New Order… I felt such an intense kinship with those artists and it was different than my connections to other music. The romanticism, the vulnerability, the fragile humanity… and so much of the heavy content was offset by upbeat, driving music. I just loved the complexity and contradictions.
I’ve been writing songs for over a decade and tried on multiple occasions over the years to start bands. But every time I did none of the styles or sounds I explored felt right. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I started filtering my songs through those newly rediscovered early alternative influences that something clicked. I finally found my voice as an artist and it was liberating. I could write about heavier content and frame it in a way that kept it from getting overwhelmingly dark.
It seems like this record, like the last one, would go over much bigger in Europe than it would the States where commercial radio is stagnant, leaving only NPR and College Radio to introduce your music to new audiences. Will you be contacting indies for potential distribution deals? Same with the likes of Jools Holland and various BBC shows…
HL: I’ve reached out to some labels based in Europe and I would absolutely love to get some kind of distribution deal in the works. A substantial amount of my Spotify listening base is young adult Europeans, so it would be really helpful to have a label partner overseas to get my music in front of a wider audience.
How goes the radio reception here in the states?
HL: Regional college radio stations have been really, really supportive of Wild Empty Promises. I can’t say enough good things about my friends at WJCU, WRUW, and WKSU. I’m planning a much wider push with Rewire and hopefully it yields a similarly enthusiastic response, just on a wider scale.
Like many of my beloved Sire bands back in the day, your songs are very romantic and honest — do you write from the POV of fictional characters or does this album chronicle a real-life courtship and/or breakup? Did you ever get the girl?
HL: On Rewire, I pushed myself to be more vulnerable and honest lyrically. I always write from a foundation of truth. Sometimes it’s literal and sometimes it’s a patchwork of my own experiences combined with external observations. Songwriting is a form of therapy for me. I like to find points of discomfort—painful memories, broken relationships, insecurities and holes in my self-esteem, harmful personality traits… and lean into them. I like to sit in that discomfort for a while and try to exorcise it like a demon. It weakens its negative power in my life and if I do it in an interesting and honest way it creates something relatable for listeners. Most of Rewire was written during a tumultuous period of my life after a messy break up when I was trying to figure out who I was, who I wanted to be, and how to move forward in life.
How did this album come together (producers, players), and how did its creation differ from the recording of the two TME albums?
HL: Similar to Wild Empty Promises, we recorded Rewire in two parts. We recorded the basic rhythm tracks in Cleveland at Fe True Records and then finished tracking at Bobby Peru Recording Studio in Milwaukee. It was engineered, mixed, and mastered by Shane Olivo, with Dr. Michael Bell supporting as executive producer. Once again, I recruited my BFF and favorite drummer in the world, Michael O’Brien, to provide the pulse of the record. The rest was self-produced and performed by me.
The Modern Electric has the benefit of recording the basic tracks live in the studio. We obviously do a lot of overdubs and layering, but it’s great to be able to build upon a super solid foundation. With my solo material, Mike and I track the drums and bass live but we rely on guide vocals and supplemental tracks from the demos to help get dynamic, natural performances. Once we get a great drum track, then I build everything around it piece by piece. It forces me to stay mindful of the overall feel to make sure it doesn’t sound mechanical or sterile as I’m layering in the different instruments.
What’s next — will a third solo project make it out before the next TME album?
HL: There’s new music in the works for both projects! The Modern Electric’s next full length is written and ready to record. I’m really proud of the material and I can’t wait for people to hear it! And I’m already scheduling sessions for my next solo release. After completing two full lengths, I’m going to release some singles/EPs. I love crafting complete albums with emotional arcs and cohesive themes but one of the downsides is that songs that aren’t highlighted as singles get buried to the general audience. By releasing singles each song gets a chance to be absorbed by fans and become embedded in their lives for a while. Plus, it gives me the opportunity to release music on a consistent basis and avoid any lulls between records, which is more conducive to modern listening habits.
What are your plans to tour and promote this record? Will TME keep moving forward in the meantime?
HL: We have the ‘Shadows of Old Love’ Single Release show coming up on February 10th at the Beachland Tavern with John’s Little Sister and The Morning Bird. We’re also planning the “Rewire” Album Release Show in mid-May. We’re working on branching out regionally this year to places like Chicago, Columbus, NYC, Boston, etc. I’m trying to perform in front of as many new faces as possible.
The Modern Electric just finished writing and demoing our next album. We’re hoping to hit the studio in 2019 and start pumping out new music in the not-so-distant future.
Gone are the days when most artists sign with a label, tap into a pool of artist development funds, and enjoy a large advance for record production, music videos, etc. How do you go about balancing real world concerns (bills to pay) while advancing your career in the DIY arena?
HL: It’s not easy. The current music business model has pretty much eradicated the “middle class” of working Independent artists and bands that existed in the pre-streaming era. For production and promotion, it forces artists to be extremely judicious in their spending to maximize effectiveness and efficiency. It also encourages close-knit local creative communities, which has always been a staple of DIY. Artists, musicians, videographers, and venues work together to raise the profile of the entire scene. The biggest investment is time. Since there’s not a huge budget for a massive team to assist in production, promotion, and touring, much of that responsibility falls on the artist. You have to prioritize your life, make sacrifices, and manage your time appropriately in order to achieve your goals, creatively and professionally.