“We met a girl last night who started crying,” chuckled Holy Esque’s singer Pat Hynes. “We were that bad!”
We caught up with the Glasgow foursome while they were out in Austin, Texas at the 2016 ei8htball sponsored SXSW Live4ever Media Lounge performing a handful of shows at the festival and sounding singularly at home for a group a very long way from it. “It’s our fourth year at the festival and I’ve got family here as well so we end up seeing a lot of friends,” explained Hynes. “We just love it here.”
Among the infinitesimally dizzying amount of music available to bulge on at SXSW, being Scottish has its perks. “I think the whole Scottish thing is almost a bit of a novelty for Americans because there are so many great Scottish bands, and especially Glasgow bands as well, I think that works in our favour a bit and we maybe stand out from the rest,” said Reid. “I think the American market has a huge appetite for Scottish bands.”
“You could list them all, going way back to Simple Minds to Biffy Clyro, Franz Ferdinand, Twin Atlantic and Frightened Rabbit. “I don’t know what it is but there must be some kind of conscious connection,” added Hynes.
The previous evening’s weepy incident (she’s a ‘big fan’ of Holy Esque as it turns out) is the result of no little effort from the band. It’s the dividend of five years’ worth of slowly pricking the public’s musical membrane with raw hooks of reverberating guitar lines velcroed on to gruff indie melodies that have evidently taken root underneath the emotional skin of at least one of their listeners.
Like their national forebears then, they’re already working their way into long-term memories. According to Hynes, the band’s formation in 2011 ‘came very natural’ and ‘all just fell into place’. “Shug (guitarist) was working in a bar with me at the time, he played guitar and we needed a lead guitarist. Kier knew Ralph (McClure) from the art school in Glasgow, Ralph plays drums, so then there you go.”
In February of this year, with a couple of EPs already behind them, they released their huge-sounding debut album ‘At Hope’s Ravine‘. A record touching on, ‘so many things like fear, love, religion, self- doubt, escapism, all from within’, and that probably would have seen the light of day much earlier if they’d had their way. “We’ve been a bit unlucky in a lot of senses over the years. A lot of people with different things, bad luck, have held us back in some aspects without going into it because it’s negative and we’re all about being positive. But anyway, here we are.”
Though he’s well aware that the route to and staying ‘here’ is a double-edged sword: “In terms of technology, we got a lot of initial buzz and push and hype via ‘Rose’, the song we posted online, so we benefited massively from that,” Hynes told us. “But at the same time the Internet can destroy a lot of bands. You can be the biggest band in the world for 10 minutes and then, the next, you’re gone. People are so distracted now and always looking for something else, like with streaming and social media. But there are two sides because on social media, for example, you’re instantly connected to your fans all over the world.”
Perhaps distrusting the transient zeitgeist that such technology has spawned, rather than lacking any faith in their own ability to stick around, half of the band are still in education. “Me and Ralph are both still studying for a graphic design degree at the Glasgow School of Art,” Reid told us. “We took a year out because we were away touring quite a lot and then that turned into three years out. We just went back there in September for the third year, which is the worst timing ever with the album now out.”
It’s true that the distraction of being able to flick between songs and artists with the ease of a light switch is both a blessing and a curse for music. For Holy Esque, the ‘theatre’ of playing live is where it really lies. “We’ve always said that the album is a great experience,” Hynes said.
“It’s raw, it’s in your face, it’s just a different monster. Don’t get me wrong, I love the album, but live it just comes to life. It’s such a liberating experience for both sides, especially if you’re passionate about music. You really need to see a band live to truly understand what they’re trying to achieve. It’s that sense of theatre and it’s dramatic. The human emotion and movement, it’s something that you can’t put on a record.”
From the stage to record, thinking about the legacy a band like Holy Esque hope to leave seems premature; they’re only 23. But with this year’s SXSW tribute to Viola Beach – the Warrington four-piece tragically killed along with their manager in a car crash in Sweden two months ago, and who were due to play at the festival – it feels almost pertinent to ask. “It could have been us, it could be that easy,” they all agreed. “It sounds cheesy but you can only be remembered for what you leave, whatever albums you have. If we make it past the first one, then there’s the second one.”
For the time being, bagging a US tour is the next big step (‘we’re working on it’), while a more domesticated circuit around the UK is happening now. And if Holy Esque weren’t chasing the American Dream et al., they’d probably be running a bar, being ‘professional barmen’. Ultimately though, all bars serve variations of the same thing.
Holy Esque, on the other hand, serve up a passionate slurp of their very own.