To many, the name Jack Holt might not be familiar. However, some of the more dedicated fans of Australian music might recognise him as Jock Cheese, one of the founding members of Melbourne icons TISM.
Now, 14 years after the group’s dissolution, Holt is returning to the limelight once again, this time with his new project, The Collaborators.
Borne from a meeting between Holt and musician Matt Jeffrey, The Collaborators are a new venture which sees the pair exploring new ways of writing, recording, and playing the music they have always loved to make.
Having been hard at work at the project for some time now, The Collaborators have recently announced a Pozible campaign to help crowdfund the release of their debut album.
With fans being given the option to receive physical copies, shirts, and even a visit to the studio thanks to their support, it’s shaping up to be a rather special release.
To celebrate the news of the new album and the crowdfunding campaign, we sat down with Jack Holt and drummer Dave Downing for a chat about the new record, and where it has come from.
Tone Deaf: Can you give us a bit of a rundown on your musical past?
Jack Holt: My musical past is more of a musical life. My family is musical, I started playing very young. My first instrument was piano, and I’m playing along on the keys, and the teacher was just going, “he’s not into this.” One day she put a ukulele into my hand and I just strummed straight away.
So, she took me to guitar, I did a lot of that, and then these boys I met back in 1982 had a band. We met, we formed a band – because they saw me play guitar – and they [pointed at me and] said, “that guy”. And that was [TISM keyboardist] Eugene de la Hot Croix Bun.
They got me in, and they needed a bass player, so I went from guitar to bass, and I approached that instrument like my approach to guitar. I actually wasn’t happy being a bass player – I played it more percussively and more melodically.
After many bands – and I’m talking from eleven years of age that I was standing in a room with musicians playing – right through to these guys, and we did a few different things, and we eventually stopped for a short while.
We stopped for a while in the early ’80s, but we all had such itchy feet that we got back to it. But there was this other guy there – [TISM vocalist] Ron Hitler-Barassi – and he had these lyrics, and let’s just say they were different. We were at a point where we wanted to throw off what we’d been trying to do.
What we had been trying to do was to actually be a band. And we ended up coming together and forming something that really had its life, which was created well before we went out into the public. We created five albums on cassette before we even went out into the public.
We had a few influences like The Residents and other mysterious type acts because, hey, we’d been in a basement for a number of years by ourselves; that’s mysterious. The rest – if I may use the phrase – is history. We just didn’t go away, but we were at a point where we just very lucky; timing, content, what else was out there, and we were good at it.
I was always amazed by our camaraderie and creativity as a group – an amazing bunch of people, and they still continue to be. So that’s where I’m coming from, and that’s a tough gig. But for me, being musical is something I’ve never stopped doing.
You get to a point in music where you say, “I like some of the things I like”, or, “I want to go in a direction I want to go in,” and a lot of time as time goes on, those expectations change.
One thing that I continue to not be able to stop, is writing. [Jack picks up his phone to show some recorded ideas] There’s maybe 450 files here, and all of them are song ideas or riffs, and that’s just the sort of thing that I can’t stop doing.
Call me talented or driven, or fucking mad, but I just can’t stop doing this stuff. So here I am with a talented bloke like [Dave Downing], and a talented bloke like Matt Jeffrey, and to me – now that I’ve got a bit more capability to do this – the door’s wide open, and I must just do what I love doing, and that’s what this new project is.
I don’t mind what people think about what I do, but I do want to share what I do, because if someone is listening, there’s the communication, there’s the relation of the ideas, the feedback comes, and you’re fulfilled.
Check out The Collaborators’ ‘I Got A Play’:
Tone Deaf: How did the idea for The Collaborators come about?
Jack Holt: I work in technology, and I’ve always had my gear and I’ve always had the ability to create and record music, which I’ve been doing for quite a long time. One of the things that I really miss about working by myself was the camaraderie and the ability to bounce off someone, the joy of working with other people, and bringing together ideas.
It worked very well that way in TISM, we all had our jobs [within that] outfit, and I met [Matt Jeffrey], who had done a whole lot of writing. And he’s quite prolific, he brought some ideas to me – we met socially – and I realised that there’s a lot stuff here that I like and am relating to.
So I worked into this material, and I worked my material into his material, and he’s basically said to me, “wow. I’d love to do this with you, do whatever you want.” So I have.
From taking a whole formed idea to taking just one line and creating totally from that. It’s come as a social connection, very organically; here’s a whole lot of material, and here’s someone who likes doing what I do. And I’m liking what he’s been doing, so I started working – and that was about two years – towards the end of producing enough material to release it. I can’t stop, it’s just a thing that I love.
Dave Downing: We’re seeing the thoughts and wisdom of a man that doesn’t have stars in his eyes, has been around the block, had [a] fair share of tragedy and glory and all the rest of it. Just from what I’ve seen of the stuff [Jack] is making, it’s quite revealing.
JH: That is true, and it’s a scary thing. You really put yourself out there. Also, it’s a condition of having this stuff in your life that you keep producing. There’s always a connection between the struggle and joy of creation, and the result of that struggle.
It’s difficult to look back on things in your life that you thought you could have improved, but the struggle is really the time you take out of your life to do what you want to do. If someone wants to put themselves out there, they’re doing it for their own reasons. The struggle is just to keep working, keep going, because if it’s coming out of you, it’s going to go somewhere.
But working with someone else like [Dave Downing], I love what I’ve been working on with Matt, I love [Dave Downing] and what he will be putting into it. I have another player who’s highly skilled, and an incredible musician, who is going to come alone and add some keyboards. We’re still to book that because he is so busy with his life, so that’s still to be added.
Check out The Collaborators’ ‘You Read Like A Mystery’:
Tone Deaf: What do you hope to achieve with this new project?
Jack Holt: Well you’d be silly to think in this day and age that you were going to take over the world or anything beyond what you’d be happy to achieve. And what I’d be happy to achieve in this is just to expose the work that I’m doing, because I just love to sit in front of that machine and form ideas, and I love singing and creating counterpoint.
People have often sent messages saying, “Hey, you sung this part of this song in the past, what are you doing now?” Yes, I did those things in the past, working with those other guys, and this is just a continuation of wanting to work more, and put the music out there. And if we can get our music funded with our Pozible campaign and get it out there, then I will be fulfilled.
If I can get these songs out there in exactly the same way I want to put them out there, with what Matt adds, and what Dave [Downing] adds, and what the other Dave [Hannan, keyboards], I’ll be very happy.
If the funding project doesn’t go through, that’s just a means to an end of getting it done a certain way, and I’m just going to carry on, move ahead, and release. As it is, the record company structure and the record company idea of putting out a release is alive and well, but I just want to do it the way I want to do it.
At this stage, I’m not interested in opening it up to the commercial world in a massive way, I just want to finish. However, if a label was to show interest, I certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
Tone Deaf: How would you describe the sound of The Collaborators? One online commenter noted that the rough mix of ‘I Gotta Play’ sounds quite a bit like Radio Birdman.
Jack Holt: Totally fair cop. I was asked to produce a song like ‘this’ and a song like ‘this’ for another project [Peter Helliar’s How To Stay Married]. “You want a fast one? You want a slow one? You want a medium one?” Or whatever, they didn’t say “we want a thrasher”, they said we wanted a fast one, and a couple of slow ones.
So I did those, and that fast one (being an original composition, though not very original stylistically), my brain immediately went, “guitar, hard, immediate, fast”, and that’s what it’s going to be. I didn’t think Radio Birdman at the time, but of course, if you try to write a song like Pink Floyd, or Gotye, or Missy Higgins, you’re going to fall on your face.
If you’re just going to write a song, then you do something, and whatever you’ve done, it’s yours. If I get given the idea – or if I get the spark of an idea – and I show it to Matt and he comes back with this, then my mind just starts to run.
I get most of my good stuff when I’m half asleep in bed. My mind’s just drifting, and that’s the base where I… What I do is I put together from an immediate impression and I move on from there. “Build that block, get that impression, I see that block sounds like that now and I think, oh, I should add this, because I have this sound and that makes me feel good.”
I just organically move forward. I don’t go – you know, I probably should go, “I’m going to make a fucking hip-hop record”, but I think it’s failure to do that. Unless that’s exactly the sort of music you like making and that’s your sound.
If that’s your sound, that’s what you love, what you’re into, and that’s what you make; you go. But the reality is, I’ve written what I’ve written, I don’t know what it sounds like, and it’s all quite varied I must admit.
Check out The Collaborators’ ‘Should Have Known Better’:
Tone Deaf: What are some of the interesting things folks can achieve from supporting the project?
Jack Holt: Well I’d really love to bring people into the process. I love being in the studio, the studio’s an exciting place to be, you see the music being created and the building blocks that go into it.
It’s one thing to be listening to music on headphones, it’s another to listen to music on a stereo, it’s another thing to listen to music on a good stereo system, and it’s another step again to go into a control room that has been acoustically designed with an amazing amplifier, an amazing set of monitor speakers, and you’re hearing a live drum kit.
People don’t often get the chance to do that, people don’t often get the chance to come in, talk to, and meet the people that they have purchased music from. With this, I’d like to take it all a step closer and say, if you want to come to the studio, you can come, we can talk, you can see what we’re doing.
You can watch [Dave Downing] put down drums on an incredible sounding kit, and hear these sounds in the control room. On top of this, I obviously want to have the album out there for download, I want to sell the CD, of course there’s going to be some merch. At this point it’s a t-shirt, it’s a CD, it’s a download, it’s time in the studio.
Tone Deaf: Are you hoping to take this project to the live stage once it’s out there for people to hear?
Jack Holt: Absolutely, but at this point and with the process of making the record, I just want to make the record. I’ve been playing live, so has Dave, and so have the other people that I’ve been working with, and I would love to bring this to the stage, but that’s another part of the process.
Dave Downing: It’s very genuine. My involvement in this project has been… well, it’s very Jack. What [Jack’s] done has been pretty interesting. He’s been completely un-egotistical about it, there’s no showbiz about it, it’s very real. It’s very gritty.
JH: If I can say what Dave is here for, it’s that he’s here to excite people. The way he plays onstage is tantamount to ‘psychopath’. He’s your typical psychopathic drummer. If he could explode on the chair leaving a small green stain as in Spinal Tap, that’s probably what will happen one day. That’s what Dave will be bringing. I’m bringing my expression and experience.
I don’t have stars in my eyes. I want to finish this project, I want to get it out there to people. It’s purely musical expression that is coming out of me that I want to share.
Jack Holt and Matt Jeffreys currently have a Pozible campaign dedicated to helping fund the production and release of The Collaborators’ debut album. Check out the campaign here, and support the pair in their new musical endeavour.