«Being a musician is a real job that a person can have until they decide to retire. I’m extremely anti-ageist when it comes to art, music, and creativity»
Holland Greco talks to EFE EME, introducing her first Vynil-CD, Volume One (Zappa Records) and reflecting on her versatile activity as a composer, musician, and actress (she has appeared in TV shows such as Mad Men or Law & Order)
By MANUEL DE LA FUENTE & VICENTE FORÉS.
Photo: DIVA ZAPPA.
Holland Greco, an unusually versatile artist, represents the lively new cultural scene in Los Angeles. This scene can be traced through a musical circuit that is taking place in a great number of venues where artists and bands perform every day. The West coast of the United States is home to an on-going cultural activity with many years of tradition, to the extent that Los Angeles remains as a favorite destination for artists from around the world; not only for filmmakers and actors but for musicians and composers as well.
Holland Greco has been immersed in this scene for over 10 years. She has performed on TV series such as Mad Men, Castle, Law and Order: Los Angeles and CSI: New York. She has participated in the musicals about Linda Lovelace (Lovelace: Rock Opera) and Ed Wood (Ed Wood Monsters of Hollywood) and has given numerous concerts with many different bands, such as The Peak Show, Holland Greco Trio or The Quick Hellos. She also took part in the homage to the memory of Frank Zappa, held in 2010.
In fact, Zappa Records is publishing her first long album, Volume One, which will be out in a few days. The record is a showcase of Holland Greco’s skilled versatility and the wide range of influences she has received, which stretch from music by Whitney Houston to the movies by Quentin Tarantino. We talked to her for EFE EME, the first Spanish medium to have interviewed her, in order to present this refreshing as well as fascinating musical proposal to Spanish music lovers.
To start with, we see in your music a very distinctive characteristic; the combined sounds of the ukulele, keyboards and metal instruments. How have you been developing that sound?
Hi! First off, thank you for these questions, and for approaching me as an artist. I’m very happy to speak with you about my work. You know, the instrumentation of this record stems from the original songwriting that I did with my cohort, Clark Dark. He and I began writing together while I was living in New York City. He was writing musical soundtracks in the style of Portishead / Al Green, and I wrote lyrics and melodies to them. When I moved back home to Los Angeles, I wanted to get out in the clubs and play live. At the time, I was mostly accompanying myself on the ukulele, so the songs got translated to that instrumentation & became a bit of a punky, low-brow representation of pretty sophisticated compositions. Using the bare bones of my uke playing and singing, I enticed Princess Frank to play drums with me (on a tiny toy drum kit at the time). From there, I just fantasized with L.A. producer, Drew Sherrod, about which instrumental colors would best compliment the songs, and we added the horns, keys, bass, and percussion. Creating high quality recordings of excellent songs is basically my mission statement. I believe that timeless recordings of great songs are the premiere product of any recording artist / songwriter such as myself. I’m very moved by people – even in the grocery store – responding to hit songs and singing along while they’re doing their shopping or whatever. Hit songs are stunning gems in the crown of our global cultural fabric. Regarding the instrumentation of Murdergram: Songs of the Misfits, I used a solid body electric ukulele by Eleuke. The solid body allows me to use effects without feeding back. What sounds like a screaming distorted guitar on that E.P. is actually a ukulele. That instrument is so freaking cool. The guitars, bass, and drums for Murdergram were inspired by recordings of Link Wray, The Ventures, and songs in Quentin Tarantino movies. It’s meant to be rebellious early rock n roll mixed with suspenseful horror, much like the Misfits themselves, but perhaps a bit more cinematic.
We understand your family already had a strong musical tradition, as your father was a percussionist who worked for the cinema. How did growing up in a musical environment influence you?
My father still is a percussionist and musician who plays on many feature film scores and albums to this day. He has superb taste in music, and has always exposed me to glossy, pretty music & excellent artists like Al Jarreau, Anita Baker, Steely Dan, Michael Franks, and others of that ilk. Perhaps bearing witness to his joy and tenacity with regards to the medium of music helped to imbue some of that to me. He nurtures his craft, creates new instruments, and being around him and his peers has shown me that being a musician is a real job that a person can have until they decide to retire. I’m extremely anti-ageist when it comes to art, music, and creativity.
Volume One is a record that deals with love themes with very elaborate lyrics. As a matter of fact you’ve written poems since you were quite young. How would you say that your background in poetry affects your lyrics?
I was a voracious reader as a child. I probably read all of the lurid V.C. Andrews books at way too young of an age! I would get lost in the words, and be in the stories the way that a person can get inside of movies in the theatre. Such drama! The English language has always felt very descriptive and sexy to me. I also had a really good English teacher in grade school. I learned all the rules and learned how to break them…like a jazz musician who knows music theory and knows how to bend the harmonic rules to blend the sonic colors. Perhaps I’m a “jazz” lyricist …:smiling::…yes, I love the language and seek to delight by use of turn of phrase.
Your work is very revealing thanks to the lyrics, on the contrary many times the lyrics by other singers are irrelevant. In your work, however, we see your skill so that the words suggest ideas, images, but at the same time they are very precise.
Thanks for saying so. I enjoy linguistic acrobatics and painting with words. I think that, within the love songs on the Tunnel Vision side of Volume One, I was trying to show the objects of my affection how very special I was, and so I wrote beautiful poetry for them. It’s my romantic side…I can also be explicit with other emotions…the lyrics are very natural and intrinsic to my art.
The record is a re-working of your two EPs. The first one, Tunnel Vision, with love songs such as “100 Proof”- What is the background of this song?
Ah, “100 Proof”… little whimsy song… well, it was written with Clark Dark over a completely different musical track. Maybe someday the alternate versions & demos will come out… after the demo was done, I started to play it on the ukulele with Princess Frank… he came up with the Latin drum beat that you hear on the final recording. It’s basically autobiographical. It all happened, and I wrote the lyric and melody in my bedroom.
The second EP on which Volume One is based is a work called Murdergram: Songs of the Misfits with versions of the Misfits. What did you find so attractive about the songs of this group?
There are deep, dark, horrific parts to my psyche and imagination. I also like how the chord progressions are basically classic rockabilly and metal but with the horror-based lyrics. Danzig is a pretty clever writer, don’t you think?
How did you work on the songs by Glenn Danzig? Has that been an updating of your influences?
I have always loved aggressive music, scary things, and arrogant rock. Bands like Mr. Bungle, Ministry, and L7 are very dear to my tastes and upbringing.
The contrast you present in Volume One is very interesting. Did you want to show two facets of your musical and artistic conception?
Thanks. I didn’t set out to create and showcase this dual light & dark vision, it just happened naturally. Honestly, I love so many expressions of songwriting. You could expect jazz standard type songs just as readily as a punk rock song or a Lady Gaga style electro dance song from me. It all feels natural. That said, I’m very happy with the way this debut has turned out because the statement it makes seems like it will allow me artistic FREEDOM, and that people who like my work will enjoy hearing the different things that come out.
[Photo: © Guillermo Prieto IROCKPHOTOS.]
We find very sensual themes like “Boy Crazy” in which your voice stands out to create a very precise atmosphere. How did that song arise?
I’m glad you brought “Boy Crazy” up! It’s not on the Volume One, but it is on my Soundcloud page. People seem to be gravitating towards that song. It’s one of my personal favorites! It’s a demo. I wrote the lyric & melody over a Mac Robinson (Fisticuffs) track, and recorded all of the vocals at home. I love, love, love Aaliyah, Missy Elliott, Tweet, Amerie, and female R&B / pop. It totally sounds like one of those ladies’ tunes, don’t u think? Missy Elliott is one of my favorite songwriters. If I could emulate any female’s career, it would be hers…successful recording artist and songwriter. I love her.
You have worked for TV series, both as actress as well as with your music. Does the American TV facilitate the work of young artists? How is that experience?
These are two distinctly different things. Having my original songs in TV & film is one of the coolest things ever. I love singing for television and cartoons, and would be honored to do more of that. The acting credits are for non-speaking roles that I did to pay my bills while working on my music! One thing that is great for artists working in TV & movies, is that the film business has their financial business together. Performers in that world are union members (as am I). The union has wonderful infrastructure in place to help artists make a living at what they do. Not only that, but putting songs in TV and Movies helps them to generate royalties which help artists fund their careers.
Tell us something about your project The Peak Show, with which you spend five years from 1999 to 2004.
The Peak Show was a really special, completely immersive experience. I shared, with my other band members, the desire to create hybrid music for the pop world, and to push musical boundaries. We were signed by a special music lover at Atlantic Records, and got to work with Mario C. (Beastie Boys, Beck) and Serban Ghenea (The Neptunes, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake). Being an Atlantic Records artist helped us to bring our music to a larger audience & gave us the tools to make great recorded work. It taught me how to record, was my introduction into the music publishing & professional world. Have you ever read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho? The Peak Show was my “beginner’s luck”.
You announced that Volume One would be published as a vinyl and as a CD. Is it important to combine the published record with a constant activity on the Internet and in social networks?
Hmmmm…. I think the most important thing I can do is write & record more great songs, keep my body healthy, do emotional performances, and hopefully attract people to me whom want to make, monetize, and experience music in the real world. I like the Internet. I use it. I make a point to take photos and videos while I’m out. Great songs & recordings are kind of the only things that matter at the end of it all, though.
How has your experience with Zappa Records been so far?
Wonderful. I’m very grateful to Gail Zappa for supporting and endorsing my creativity. The final Volume One vinyl/CD product is very much a collaboration. Diva Zappa shot the photos, and Gail Zappa was the creative director for the art design and packaging. She has an excellent eye for and extensive experience with visual art (amongst many other things).
What plans do you have concerning tours and concerts? Do you plan to edit a DVD with your live concerts?
I will be very honest. I would love to tour and make a concert DVD. I am very independent at the moment, and seeking people to work with me. I’m looking for a booking agent to help me plan a tour, and am interested in meeting directors and cinematographers. I hired an 8 piece band in Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest music festival. I was inspired by Frank Zappa’s bands to get the best musicians possible, and we have a lot to offer in the way of live entertainment and listening.
When will we see you in Spain?
I would love to come to Spain! A European tour would be a dream come true. I’m going to need a great agent and / or a sponsor to help bring this to life. Anyone reading this who would like to get involved with this hard-working ball of artistic fire should email me at: Carpe.Delirium@gmail.com.