Artist Interview: “Skipping Stones on a Salt Lake” by Gordon Holland

Q: Hi, Gordon! I love your EP “Skipping Stones On A Salt Lake.” “Departure Lounge Blues” and “Midnight Karaoke Bar” are favorites of mine. Your raspy voice, authentic lyrics, and simple yet captivating melody are truly special and unique in this generation! I’m curious about who your biggest inspirations were growing up.

GORDON HOLLAND: Thanks so much and I’m glad you’ve been enjoying the EP! When I was growing up one of the albums I played the most was Queen’s greatest hits, I feel like every single family I knew had a copy of that in their house somewhere. Other ones were Crowded House and Paul Kelly, they soundtracked many a road trip when I was a kid and my love for those artists has just grown over the years too. Then into my early teens I became obsessed with Oasis and tried to get my hands on everything they’d released. Unfortunately I was too late to see them play live though, still wish I could have!

Q: What was the inspiration behind creating “Skipping Stones On A Salt Lake”? Can you walk me a bit through the writing process for this EP?

GORDON: I’d read Jeff Tweedy’s book ‘How To Write One Song’ as I’d been having a bit of a quiet period with songwriting. And the advice in that book helped me a lot to break out of that. I was wanting to write some simpler songs that I could play either alone or with a band and would work well either way. And I was determined to avoid the whole re-writing and editing spiral I would get into sometimes, so I just trusted my instincts with writing the music and lyrics and found it to be a far easier experience. And it just came out that I was writing in a more narrative style than I usually do, writing about characters and scenarios, so I just trusted that whole process with the songs. The song ‘Half A Tank’ was tricky and I was getting a bit too into the details of this character and it was getting a bit confusing to know where to go with it. I took it to my friend and songwriting partner Daniel Lomas and we finished it one afternoon. He had some great advice about pulling back and writing about how the character was feeling and what they were doing, more than the actual scenario and the reasons why they were in that situation.

Q: I’m always curious about an artist’s musical journey and how they got to where they are today. Do you remember who or what first got you into music/was your family musical growing up?

GORDON: My family aren’t musicians really but my Mum played a bit of piano growing up but all my family loved music and there was constantly a radio or stereo playing something. I feel like I gravitated towards it because I just loved how it made me feel and how it made other people feel too. My parents had bought me a classical guitar at a garage sale but that was sitting gathering dust in a wardrobe for about a year. But during that time my cousin was learning the drums, and one night I was around there and he offered me the drumsticks, I clumsily played it for a little while but couldn’t stop thinking about it. I tried to learn the drums and was going ok but eventually the guitar got taken out of the wardrobe, dusted off and I tentatively started to learn a few songs. That snowballed from there and I couldn’t put it down, I would fall asleep thinking about playing songs and singing, we’d be in the car with the radio on and I’d be deconstructing the songs in my head trying to work out the instruments, lyrics and melodies. That’s still the same to this day.

Q: “Palm Tree Wallpaper” is the opening track on “Skipping Stones On A Salt Lake,” which flawlessly begins the EP beautifully with effortlessly smooth vocals and a charming instrumental. With lyrics about regret and wishing you told someone something, I’m curious about the backstory of this track.

GORDON: Thanks so much, I really enjoyed writing that song. I wish I could remember where I was when I came up with the title, but me and my wife were talking about the wallpaper somewhere, it had this pattern of palm trees on it, and I said “Palm tree wallpaper, that sounds like a song title” and promptly wrote it in my phone. When I sat down to write that, I had the song title in mind but couldn’t really think of what it could be about. I just played around with some chords and suddenly the image of a person reuniting with a parent came into my head, it wasn’t based in any experience I’d had myself so I don’t know where that scene came from, but the music just made me picture that. The chord progression that I play is pretty much exactly what I played on the first demo on my phone, a really unconventional structure which helped me write the lyrics kind of as a conversation. That gave me the idea of this person on the phone with their parent the day after they’d reunited. The only thing that comes from my own experience is the childhood memories of the beach, that was a pretty regular thing growing up (that and getting distracted by things while talking to people!).

Q: What’s the best advice you’ve received, and how has it helped you navigate your journey so far?

GORDON: Two things come to mind really, the first one is with writing. I think being able to just get something down on paper or a rough demo rather than waiting for inspiration to hit you is a good way to go. When I was younger and first writing I’d get disappointed when I wasn’t writing a complete song in one go. Or I’d get stuck on a particular line or something. But I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be perfect right away, it’s better to just write it down and then come back to it later.

The other thing is about collaborating. Never be afraid to find help if something isn’t working for you. This could be a song that you’re finding hard to finish, or creating album art or a video, or booking shows etc. there’s this tendency to want to do it all by yourself but when you reach out to people to work on things together you wonder why you didn’t do it earlier. Same goes when friends might want to collaborate on something together, you find that it’s such an enriching experience.

Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only listen to three albums while there, which would they be, and what does each album mean to you?

GORDON:  They’d be:

The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds: This is my favourite album and one of the most moving things I’ve ever heard. I feel like on a deserted island this would bring some humanity, company and beauty.

The Clash – London Calling: Again this is a real favourite of mine, I found this album when I was about 17 which is pretty much the perfect age to first hear this. The sheer size and scope of this album would be perfect for a deserted island, there’s pretty much a song for every mood on here.

Carole King – Tapestry: Yet another favourite of mine, a lot of people talk about this album feeling like spending time with an old friend and I completely agree. There’s something so personal about it that it feels like a conversation with someone much wiser than you. I’m still learning from this album and I think I always will be.

Q: Was there a pivotal moment in your life when you decided to follow your path as a musician?

GORDON: There’s a few different moments that moved me onto this path, ones that I mentioned earlier about playing my cousin’s drum kit and dusting off the old guitar in the wardrobe too. But I think one a little later on was when I wrote what I felt was my ‘first’ song. I’d written ones before that while I was still learning and figuring it all out, but they never felt finished and a lot of them were just pieces of songs. But one day in my late teens I wrote a song, and when I put down the pen and the guitar I felt like it was complete. I’d managed to translate what I was hearing in my head exactly, and that was such a unique feeling that I felt like I wanted to do it again and again, and see what else I could come up with.

Q: Thanks for speaking with me, Gordon, and congrats on your EP! What are you planning for the rest of your year? Any projects in the works you can tell us about?

GORDON: Thanks for having me! After this EP I’m hoping to record an album, I’ve got the whole thing demoed and ready to go now so that’s going to be a lot of fun to do. I’m also working on a bunch of things with The Naysayers. We’ve recorded lots of songs in various stages of completion and we’re aiming to get those out soon. I’d also like to do some solo shows interstate, so hopefully that should be on the cards soon.

Interviewed by Melissa Cusano


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