Reverent of reverb and evangelical about vintage gear, Tallinn quintet Holy Motors are attracting much praise of late. Their seductively opiated songs, spun out of twanging guitars and sewn together by the lonesome vocals of singer Eliann Tulve, have drawn comparisons to classic dream-pop artists such as Mazzy Star, although their widescreen sense of scale suggests limitless potential.
Following the release of Holy Motors’ widely acclaimed debut album Slow Sundown, we asked guitarist Lauri Raus about touring abroad, the best music spots in Tallinn, and working with Merchandise’s Carson Cox…
Thanks for your time Holy Motors. We assume your name is related to the surreal Leos Carax movie. Are there any other films (or soundtracks) that have notably influenced your music?
Lauri Raus, Holy Motors: We’re happy to. Yes it’s the same name, but not the same thing, so in a way yes, but then again no. Did My Bloody Valentine get asked the same question? Also when someone comes to us telling they just watched the movie because we reminded them to do so, then that’s always a positive thing, because watching movies is a good thing. The works of Aki Kaurismäki, Jarmusch or Lynch have inspired us this far. My most recent favourite is the theme of Das Boot (1981).
Well now I need to rewatch Das Boot… You’re often categorised as a ‘shoegaze’ band – are you comfortable with this definition, and is shoegaze a popular genre in Estonia?
Shoegaze has had its golden times for now. The present is very much a dark space. Only the astronauts know what’s going on. There’s still an active shoegaze record label Seksound here, but the releases and the bands don’t get the attention they deserve here. One of the local shoegazing flagships recently regrouped and are touring in Japan right now. Maybe it goes to show there’s still hope. But I don’t think of us as a shoegaze band. We’re more simply shoe gazers with an addiction to reverb.
Slow Sundown was produced by Carson Cox of Merchandise – not bad for a debut album. How did that come about?
We shared a sabbath together, drinking beers and investigating who is who and what is what. We got acquainted at best. But this didn’t stop Carson from reaching back to us months later telling he wants to release us under his Hidden Eye label. We collaborated on our first 7″, but then signed a 100% under Wharf Cat. When the time came for fishing a producer, Carson was the only familiar face and the label brought us back together. He’s much fun to be around. But initially it was back home in 2014 when somewhere the Saturn was in Capricorn.
What was your first rehearsal like?
It was a long medley of two guitars.
Did you always share a vision for how Holy Motors would sound, or did the style just come naturally from playing together?
The band itself is the biggest influence. So most of it must have come from playing together probably. But the sound had very much to do with scouting for the right instruments and hoarding the effects over the years. I’m a sucker for vintage gear. Old and dusty feel brings some sight into what we do.
You’re gaining a bit of attention overseas. Is there anywhere you’re particularly looking forward to playing?
Shows in Austin, TX are coming up and that’s definitely something. But you never know what a place is like until you’ve been there. For now it’s universally all the places, all the time
What’s been your most memorable gig so far?
Together we’ve gone places I’ve never been before. That feeling of being somewhere for the first time and having a purpose is a lot different from tripping around in search of a justification for why you have come to where you are. One of these places we went to was Ukraine. Of course we were curious about a lot of things. Somewhere in the east of Dnieper there was still an active civil war going on. A vague line of terror and fear was oozing around in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, around where the first horses were once domesticated. Before Kiev we played a show in the city of Chernivtsi, a beautiful place where Mila Kunis is from. I don’t know how to prove you how this was a memorable gig, but it was, like a brown horse in a purple dusk.
Can you send us a photo of the view from your window?
What are the biggest challenges facing bands in Estonia right now?
The lack of a lot of things. Places to play and people to play for. Bands quickly start rotating the same venues, doing shows with the same bands. A solution would be to start booking abroad, but how do you do that with poor finances and no name to start with? There are music export grants for that, but they seems to work in favour of those who do not face those problems. Bands have universal issues of belonging either to the in our the out group that determines their artistic expression under the economic dictate.
Who’s your biggest local musical influence, past and/or present?
The way [Opium Flirt’s] Ervin Trofimov played the guitar and the way [TV talent show finalist] Kene Vernik sang her songs.
What are the top things you’d suggest music-loving visitors to Tallinn should see/hear?
There are still bands playing live at Sveta bar where I go most often. In the Old Town, there’s a cafe with a concert hall named Sinilind. Soft Moon played there, but the shows can be very contrasting. In April there’s Tallinn Music Week. The Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia (EKKM) hosts a lot of electronic music parties. Last year during summer season there was a place by the sea that put out an above average rate of band music. It’s called Laine Baar.
But in the end it’s either that I don’t know, or there aren’t many good places for music in town, even if it’s just a restaurant-bar with a surprising playlist. And it’s a small town, so I should know. The ship signals in the main port sound majestic. There’re about 10 churches in the Old Town and there’s a good store for getting vinyls. It’s called Biit Me Record Store.
That seems a pretty solid list to us. Lauri, thank you.
Interview: Kier Wiater Carnihan
Photo: Kertin Vasser