The Holy Gasp are both awesome and mental. A potent combination. They play a kind of hopped up beatnik rockabilly jazz inflected conga. They sound like the music in William S. Burrough’s head. There’s five members in this Toronto based ensemble, but there sounds like there’s seventy five. Seriously. Bat-shit crazy. Recently, they shared the video for their latest track ‘A Daily Affirmation’, which seems to be about psyching yourself up for the trials of another day of slogging in the 21st century.
At Overblown, we thought this was the perfect opportunity for the lovely chaps in The Holy Gasp to explain where their excessive, and unhinged sound developed from. Just in time for the release of their debut album The Last Generation of Love too, which is out 24th February via Arachnidiscs imprint NO LOVE. Benjamin Hackman, vocalist and percussionist with the group, was kind enough to take some time out to create a playlist that would go some way to explaining the why of their sound. Listen to ‘A Daily Affirmation’ above, and then explore the playlist below, to find the pathways to The Last Generation of Love.
Pathways to The Last Generation of Love
When Overblown asked me to compile a mix of songs that inspired The Last Generation of Love, it was clear to me right away that I wanted to use the opportunity to explore intersectionality in music, and pinpoint some of the sonic origins of The Holy Gasp. For me, art is about finding the connections that have always existed, but for whatever reason haven’t been sufficiently identified in the collective unconscious. When cultures exchange their traditions of expression, the art produced offers a more nuanced understanding of the human experience. The songs that inspired The Last Generation of Love are the ones I feel bridge the gaps between genres, and hybridize into some new, more accurate portrayal of Truth.
The first song on my list is ‘She Said’ by The Cramps. To me, this is the quintessential intersectional punk outfit. In The Cramps we hear the full span of horror, mania, outrage, absurdity and despair. They bridge the gap between virtually every subculture, and find a paradoxically youthful way to speak on matters of morbidity. Everything I thought I knew about singing became instantly irrelevant the second I heard The Cramps. I thought, “Oh! This is how you do it—like a cartoon monkey with a face full of Novocaine.” I can’t imagine what The Holy Gasp would sound like had I never heard The Cramps.
Next is Gene Vincent’s ‘Cat Man’. For a song released in 1957, it’s shockingly ahead of its time. With the exception of The Trash Men’s 1963 single, Surfin’ Bird, I can’t think of many other songs from the era that seem to predict the coming of punk rock quite so prophetically. Cat Man is spastic, abrasive and possessed. It gives a persona to the American naughty boy, and offers a fascinating peak into the early unravellings of American conservativism.
An ad hoc group of Spümcø employees under the name Die Screaming Leiderhôsens wrote the next track: ‘The theme song from The Ren & Stimpy Show’. It’ll no doubt seem like a peculiar selection, but I can’t imagine leaving it out. I return to it constantly as an aesthetic reference point. It’s a keystone of our sound: the bongo and bass tones, the flamboyant guitar, the animated exuberance of the composition… all things I try and bring to every composition.
I don’t have a heck of a lot to say about Gal Costa’s ‘Sebastiana’, other than it pushes every button I want pushed. Very few songs are as perfectly to my taste as this one. I’ve yet to meet a person who didn’t love it. You don’t need me to say anything more.
As far as I’m concerned, The Lounge Lizards’ ‘Do The Wrong Thing’ is the apex of jazz. The top of cool. I remember trying so desperately when I was younger to imagine the marriage between punk and jazz, trying to fathom it in a way that would render it clearly as a synthesis of the two genres. I just couldn’t imagine it properly until I heard The Lounge Lizards. They unlocked a massive door in my composing.
‘Shaved Women’ is a raw, impassioned, minimalist performance poem that never fully decides if it’s gonna be a song or an installation piece. It’s the only song in Crass’ entire discography that’s any good. Crass make terrible music. Awful, unlistenable shit that feels like it’s never gonna end. But I love them. With all my heart.
I’ve already included one Tropicalia number by Gal Costa, but I can’t stress enough the impact the legacy of Tropicalia has had on The Holy Gasp. ‘A Minha Menina’ by Os Mutantes offered me invaluable insights into how simple it could be to fuse genres into one cohesive entity without creating a Franken-song. Sometimes, it’s just a hand clap, or a certain guitar tone that alludes to the necessary character needed to wrap the whole package up in one happy little ribbon.
I suspect that if I were to bore a hole into the centre of music, I might find Olatunji’s ‘African Spiritual’ at the core. I can’t image this song ever feeling dated. It’s the song for every occasion.
I dare you to listen to Ted Heath’s ‘Peanut Vendor’ without cracking a smile. This song is just a hell of a lot of fun. Heath’s album, “Big Band Percussion,” the album from which this track is lifted, is one of my all time favourite albums. Heath has taught me more about percussion arrangement than any other composer, and his music is just so damn cheeky. I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. He’s one of the greats in my books, if only for this album.
I’ll cap off the mix with Patti Page’s ‘Conquest’. No doubt the sentiments are dated, and worthy of heavy social critique, but this is a vocal arrangement unmatched in the history of music. What a performance!