Mar 17, 2023
By Lee Campbell
Photography by Katja Stuckrath
Composer, DJ, and musician David Holmes is a creative bombshell. Growing up in the midst of Belfast’s The Troubles conflict in the 1970s and 1980s, he has gone on to write movie scores for the likes of the Ocean’s Eleven series and is currently working with Sinéad O’Connor and Bobby Gillespie’s Primal Scream on their respective new albums. He will also be releasing his own long-player later in 2023.
Along with Jade Vincent and Keffus Green, Holmes is one third of the band Unloved, who have just released Polychrome, their fourth album. The LP is the companion of 2022’s The Pink Album, whose sessions spawned what could have easily been three or four records worth of material. Their mysterious and eclectic tunes have also featured heavily in each series of the internationally successful BBC TV series Killing Eve. Originally hooking up in LA over 12 years ago, the trio are now based between Belfast and Brittany, France where the majority of the recordings for Polychrome took place.
Lee Campbell (Under the Radar): Where’s home these days?
David Holmes: In my studio in Belfast. We stayed in LA for 18 months, but no matter how sunny it is there and how good the food is, I didn’t want to live there for the rest of my life. We left just as my daughter was starting to speak with an American accent. I met Keefus and Jade in LA. We started making our records, so a lot of good came out of it. Ultimately, I missed Europe. I do a DJ gig once a month in the Banana Block, Belfast. The set is ageless, 18-80 years old, 800 people at the club on the last Saturday of each month. I also have a radio show for NTS called God’s Waiting Room.
How would you describe the chemistry between the three of you?
Really good. We’ve been together longer than The Beatles [both laughing]. We met in 2010. I do my own projects, Keef does his own projects, Jade does her own projects, and then we get together and do Unloved. We’re still really good friends. Raven, their daughter is singing all my songs on my new album. She’s amazing, she’s something else. Her voice has just got that west coast kind of sound like Michelle Phillips, but with attitude and nonchalance.
Did all the recording take place at your studio in Belfast?
Unloved album one we made in LA. All albums since, we’ve made in Belfast and France. I would send them clips and then they would send it back and viceversa. Technology has changed everything. There’s an application called Audiomovers. It hooks up different locations so that you can both hear what’s being recorded in the studio in real-time. Great for collaborating. You may as well be in the same room together. That’s what has kept me in Belfast although we are always in the studio together for the core recording, then we go away and develop it, because we work really fast. We’re not thinking about nuancing and getting everything completely perfect. We know what a great vibe sounds like that we want to work with, regardless of who is writing the lyrics. It’s all good. It also means that you can get on with other stuff, and when you come back to that project you have got really fresh ears. You never get into that place where you can’t see the woods for the trees because you are just fuckin’ exhausted listening to it endlessly. I can see clearly what is wrong with it when I come back to it. I’ve got a place in Provence in France and we meet there also.
And the engineering duties….?
When I’m in my own studio, I do all of my own engineering. It’s not rocket science. My studio is very well set up, very simple. We typically get a professional mixer to finish it off, because it’s such an art form, mixing. But really, we are giving it to them half-mixed. You’re always kind of mixing as you go, but it’s good to hand it over to someone who has fresh ears and has your monitor mix etc.
This album follows hot on the heels of The Pink Album. Was there a temptation to release both of them together?
You know, through lockdown we made about four albums worth of music. There’s another one coming out on Record Store Day. Everybody had all this free time. You can either get depressed and lose your mind or you can focus your mind on the creativity and the music. It was a good time to sit back, think and focus. Let’s be honest, there’s never been so much inspiration. Just turn on the fuckin’ news.
On Polychrome in terms of sound, would you describe it as the other side of the same coin as The Pink Album?
It’s all Unloved at the end of the day. We’ve got a very wide pallet that falls into certain genres. You’ve got raw rock ‘n’roll, rhythm and soul, girl groups, film scores, rockabilly. It’s all in there. You just have to sit down and make choices. The problem we had with this music was that there was just too much of it.
I wanted to dive into a few specific tracks on Polychrome…first one, the title track.
Tracks happen in many different ways. When Keefus and I made the instrumental for that, it wasn’t for Unloved per se. It was actually inspired by Gal Costa, the Brazilian, tropicana singer. She died recently. An incredible talent. So that’s where all of the percussion was. I sent it to Jade and she wrote the lyrics. The name “Polychrome” comes from a synthesizer I have. It’s from the Farfisa family. It’s a very rare keyboard, and it was used a lot during those sessions. I called it “Polychrome” because I didn’t have a title for it. Then Jade decided we should just keep it as that, as the definition of the word fits with the music.
A standout track is “I Did It.” I love that swing element and rhythm to it.
That’s the rock n’roll side of Unloved. I didn’t get involved in that track. That’s something that Jade wrote during lockdown. I didn’t get involved until they had the song. My input on that track was to go in and make it a bit weirder. It’s such a simple track. That comes from Jade’s deep rock ‘n’roll sensibility, and rock ‘n’ roll in a very broad sense; sexy, mid-to late 1950s, very minimal. Even the use of echo is more from the school of Joe Meek and those early rockabilly records. I remember the late Andrew Weatherall saying that when you made those records it was so basic—a drummer, guitar player, bass player, some slap echo, and a song. Depending on how it was recorded it could sound quite ghostly or cinematic.
It sounds like a very balanced and collaborative process in Unloved.
Yeah, I wrote a few songs on The Pink Album and that was a new experience for me. Yes, Unloved is the three of us, but ultimately it’s Jade and Keefus. They are a partnership. Originally, Keefus asked me to produce the record for them, but I’m not really into producing unless I’m doing it for a younger band to help them out. They’ve been together a long time as partners, and when I saw Jade perform in LA, I just got full of ideas; the girl group thing, the horror movie aspects. She has dark hair and a striking face. She kind of lives in a world of black and white. We had a great time together from day one.
“It’s Hard to Hold You Close When the World Keeps Turning”—can you give us a quick run through this track?
That came off another track that Keefus and I made, inspired by a very obscure, psychedelic piece of 1960s French pop music by an artist called Laurent. The version that it was inspired from is actually quite a bit faster. We took the idea, flipped it, and slowed it right down. Jade then took it again and wrote that song. I think as the song was evolving, Scott Walker definitely entered the room at some point. That track was done years ago.
The album cover reminds of the movie poster for Apocalypse Now.
That’s Julian House. He’s incredible. He’s done all of our artwork and videos. He’s a fuckin’ amazing artist—all of his sensibilities, the folk horror, the Super 8 footage. Everything’s really dreamy and weird.
For anyone that doesn’t know the music of Unloved, how would you describe it to someone?
I would say Jack Nitzsche, Ennio Morricone, Phil Spector, and The Shangri-Las go out for a night together and end up back in the studio [both laughing]. It’s all of our favorite things from that period from Charlie Feathers to Link Wray and Raymond Scott to Scott Walker. Unloved is an intense listen, it’s dense.