Talking with Pool Holograph

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It’s not often that bands successfully make the transition from solo project to three-piece, but dreamy pop outfit Pool Holograph has done just that in the release of their first EP on DZ Tapes. Started as lead singer/guitarist Wyatt Grant’s solo project, Pool Holograph has transformed into a richly fleshed-out ensemble through the addition of bassist Zachary Stuckmann and drummer Josh Rodin. Their self-titled four-song release emanates a velvety pop charm that wonderfully bounces off post-punk bass lines and crisp percussion. I recently sat down with Wyatt and Zachary to discuss Pool Holograph’s expanding direction for the upcoming release Montage, how an art-school background plays into band dynamics and the ever-evolving dialogue surrounding art as a gift and/or commodity.

How did Pool Holograph transition from solo project to a three-piece?

Zachary: It was kind of a weird situation. Wyatt and I met the first day of college and we’ve been keeping up that friendship pretty closely, but two summers ago I picked up a job painting houses. The people I lived with had a bass and I was trying to occupy my time and started focusing on playing the bass. After coming back to Chicago Wyatt was surprised to discover I had started playing bass.

Wyatt: He’s a master, after two weeks he completely surpassed anything I would be able to do. We didn’t even put it together immediately that he should play bass for Pool Holograph because I was really comfortable doing the solo thing but I ran into Josh (drummer) because he was the drummer for the band Those Howlings that had a short run here and are now in Austin. At their final show I found out Josh was staying and I always wanted a drummer so I stole him basically. Josh has influenced us a lot with what he has shown us and influences the songs a lot. He makes a lot of things happen that seems subconscious and go over our heads. It’s that situational thing that I like in having a band with others influences playing in. The songs that are on our EP were conspired over a couple years and then once we all met up it was synthesized for a three-piece band. Originally I had written out a list of ten or twelve songs we would do and we started drumming them all out and there slowly became a new identity to the whole project, which is the most interesting thing to me right now with the new release that is a totally different project.

What makes the new release a completely different project than the last EP in terms of sound?

W: For the past nine months we’ve been writing stuff for the new full length Montage and doing another project where I am writing a story. I’m trying to come up with new ways to generate lyrics and content. It’s more of a theme based on the fragmentation between different songs. The idea of a Montage basically being a sequence of scenes, we wanted to really emphasize the concept of individualized perspective, the charms and perils of it. That has always been the generalized presence of it; it just hasn’t been this concentrated before. The direction of the sound has gotten much more complex along with the writing. We’ve been sketching and sketching and it’s become a very labored sound.

Z: I think patience has played a huge factor in this last one. When it first started out with the recently released EP we really just tried to push it as fast as possible because we already had the content through Wyatt, it was more just learning it and giving it a direction but with the last nine months it’s been like crocheting or knitting. You just have to be really patient with it. If you miss something up you just undo it and go back.

How is it leaving the insular environment of recording and moving to the arena of live shows?

W: There is definitely a different style. Playing live solo before there was a very drone quality to it and it was getting to be borderline dance music because of all the sampled bass. It was very much part of a personal routine and flow. I knew when I was ready to transition songs and when you coordinate it with someone else and know that he is going to play the solo and the beat is going to drop, there become these remote characteristics in performing that make it really outside of yourself and control. Those elements have made it all a lot more exciting and get me outside of my head more. It’s a lot more energy too.

Z: We’ve dabbled in these ambient moments when playing live where you’re trying to collaborate with an entire band in front of a crowd, knowing when to come in and not to, which effects us positively because it gives us a moment to reconnect and get back to that mindset when we are practicing at home or individually.

W: Having other members involved has cued me to really hold my place as guitarist and vocalist. It has prompted me to be a writer in a different fashion. I find myself really focusing on the process that I am responsible for. I really trust Zach and Josh to fill in with what they do in the band. It is really hard sometimes. There are a lot of things I held back in the EP that I am focusing on in Montage. I’ve gotten really into the push and pull of effects and such. I feel like I’ve been able to take a lot more risks as an individual know that I have Zach and Josh in the project as well. The avant-garde element is a lot more apparent to me now, there is a lot of contrast in the next album. It’s a patchwork sort of thing; each one has its own intricacies that we want to be apparent.

How do you think you’ll transfer that to a live setting? Hopefully the listener will sit down and listen to Montage the album as whole but how does that work with set lists and the general randomness of a live show?

Z: Within the few of the last shows we’ve played we threw in some of the new songs and they can be viewed individually but also as a series, sort of like screen printing which can be viewed as a collection and as whole with the process of printing that one image.

W: Also there’s a cinematic element to it. We’ve been watching a lot of movies, practically Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, which has been a huge influence on the motifs throughout the album like when to hold back here or what that suggests and be counterpart to this song. For example there is an old song “Necking” that I wrote a few years ago but we are resurrecting for this next album and there is a preface song to it “Scorched Earth.” They are essentially the same song but they blend into each other and doing that along with set lists is one of our favorite things to do. We visually picture these songs and how they bleed and feed into each other. It’s like curating yourself. What we are interested in doing is having out own character as a band and bands that can sustain their own character are bands that inspire us to be ourselves and stay along that track of having your own identity and staying creative.

With the DZ tape, you’ve made the transition for having your music for free on bandcamp to it now having a price. Do you notice if people are willing to now pay for it even though it was previously free?

W: It wasn’t until a few months ago that I ever put a price on things I was releasing. I have a lot of positive experiences with giving people free music. Having a price on our album it is a formality. My main focus though is to get people to bridge the gap between consumer and music. I think there is a level of trust involved and people definitely pay for our stuff and are happy to do it, I think we are almost out of our tape on DZ Tapes.

Z: Which is interesting because it was on our bandcamp for free for so long. It’s funny because I guess you don’t really pay attention to it when it is a free thing but knowing that it has a price on it, it’s eye opening because it’s becoming apparent that people are willing to pay for it even though it is still for free on YouTube and various other pages. It’s nice to see that.

W: There is also an element to having free music and I’ve experienced this before where it is giving a gift. … However these practices of commodity versus gift in art fit into society I would of course like to figure out but the first objective is to make sure it is put out in the right way and we allow ourselves the right amount effort and give ourselves enough slack even if it might not be finically practical in order to really make it happen.

Z: I think the SAIC background has influenced us in a big way. We were talking about how we treat Pool Holograph as an art project where it is not simply writing songs but also the process of those songs. The same approach we have taken for the last four or five years working through paintings, prints, sculpture.

W: There are very concrete conversations we’ve had about how we are conceiving a body of work. It seems with Montage we were moving inwards so much, it’s very loved and the record is saturated with a lot of detail and it’s generous. Right now we are starting another project in conjunction with a story I’ve written called Hometown Hero, it’s more of the opposite, starting with a concept and going outward. We are finding different ways to circuit our way through the writing process.

Pool Holograph has two shows coming up, one at the house space Meat People and the other at the very established venue Empty Bottle. What would you say are the undercurrents of playing a house space versus a club venue?

Z: It’s a funny dynamic, sometimes it’ll be more of an artist collective so in a way it feels like a venue because everyone is welcomed but than there are other house shows where it is just an apartment and it’s cramped and for like someone’s birthday, those are the ones that are funny to me because it like that gift thing where they are allowing us and everyone to come into their little apartment and celebrate their birthday and as a present you can play a show for them.

W: When I first started playing shows I almost exclusively played bedrooms because the house show circuit was the shit, everyone knew where the venue was because it was at their friend’s house and people would save your spot and a lot people would be attending. There was a performative element to it that doesn’t really communicate in venues. There is a different syntax that goes along playing a venue like the Empty Bottle. I really like the experience of having a site-specific bedroom style performance.

Z: It’s very intimate.

W: Very, although sometimes it can be intimate when it’s not. … There is a very direct meaningful relationship between what you’re playing and who is hearing it. The songs are about those experiences. I’m proud to say that is where [house shows] I got my start as a musician. Being from Memphis there was this whole scene; they called it the “orgy scene” of The Barbaras, Final Solutions, The Oblivions, all very influential bands. It was really super intimate scene I got the chance to see a glimpse of and I feel there is a lot that generates out of that personal relationships and no one could ever fame that experience. It’s a thumbprint situation.

Predetermined profit driven forms of success is certainly an aspect of our society as one might not be viewed as successful unless they are earning from their art, but with that you tend to lose the more intimate experiences you just mentioned. How have you found balancing the creation of art with the possibility of also profiting from it?

W: There are situations that are impractical. When someone downloads something illegally the model is impractical and if you try to make it practical it is kind of a means to end with bands trying to make it a monetarily successful model when inherently it’s not. I’m not saying, “don’t quit your day job” because people should be supportive and in an ideal world they would be, but I think giving people something extra is a major key. With my favorite bands I don’t think twice of buying their albums. It’s not that I feel dirty downloading their stuff; it’s just that I really want to own that album cover or something. It’s like personal artwork. Sometimes people say personal artwork is like capturing the creative generation of an idea. Maybe we can make a product like that where people feel like they are getting something of gravity. It’s like a cheap plywood ramp onto creating this into a business model [laughs] where people are like “Oh this costs money now” but I think it is okay because those songs in particular we worked months and months on compared to songs that I record before going to work. These songs are crafted.

Pool Holograph's self-titled EP is available via their bandcamp or DZ Tapes.