You don’t need to bring every instrument to a show — I think when you’re starting out you want to present the songs in the best possible way, so when I was first playing live I’d bring along an electric guitar, an acoustic guitar, an amp, pedals, a keyboard and so on. And it’s always way more stress particularly when you’re still figuring it all out and just going to play a short opener set. Just bring the basics and the songs will hold themselves up.
As a part of our interview series with leaders, stars, and rising stars in the music industry, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Gordon Holland.
Alternative singer-songwriter, Gordon Holland is a fiery force in Melbourne’s music scene, igniting audiences with his fusion of alternative country and Britpop. Holland’s sound, reminiscent of early Elton John and Paul Kelly, fused with the modern-day edge of Oasis, make him a must-see act for any music lover, and his lyrics are equal parts confessional and nostalgic yet woven with a humor and wistfulness. Listening to Gordon Holland is an experience of big choruses and singalong verses that’ll leave you singing for days.
Following his relocation from Perth, along with friend and collaborator Nathaniel Parbery, the pair formed The Naysayers in 2010 and soon took their garage rock to live stages around Australia. While still writing and working within The Naysayers, Holland found himself on a solo path which saw him merging his musical creativity into waters that had previously been uncharted. Soon after, he collaborated with fellow singer-songwriter Charlie Lane where the two constructed her successful The Darkest Time which featured on Spotify’s Badass Women playlist and heard around the world.
Producing his debut single, Melbourne Bitter in Los Angeles with Luke Tierney and mastered by Tom Beard in Australia, Holland led the cohort on a guitar owned by Foo Fighters guitarist, Chris Shiflett. Melbourne Bitter went on to become a semi-finalist in the 2019 International Song Writing Competition.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit about your “origin story”. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thanks for having me! I was born in Perth, Western Australia and grew up in the northern suburbs. My memories of growing up always bring to mind certain images like hot and sunny afternoons, the sound of cicadas in the night air, the smell of sunscreen and the sound of a radio somewhere in the distance. My family are amazing and I’m so thankful that I was born into the environment that I was. Music was always a big part of my life, even though my parents aren’t musicians they were always playing albums or listening to the radio and singing along. We had an old piano in the house that I’d try and play tunes on, eventually leading to lessons every so often. I couldn’t really read the sheet music and still struggle with that, but I’d remember the sounds of the notes and what order they were played in. I didn’t really pursue the piano in any real sense until much later when my Mum got me a little electronic keyboard and started trying to learn things like The Beatles and Elton John although quite simplified. When I was in my early teens my sister got me two albums, Ben Lee’s Breathing Tornados and Powderfinger’s Internationalist, before those I hadn’t really been all that aware of current music other than what I heard on the radio. But those albums opened the floodgates and started an obsession with music that’s still around today. My Dad had made cassette tapes of albums that he liked as well as mixes of songs, and in my teenage years I’d lie there listening to them and just get lost in the sounds I heard.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’d always been interested in music from a young age, and had done a little singing to my favourite albums and that kind of thing but hadn’t ventured further than that. Performing or writing music seemed to be this mysterious, complex secret that was just way beyond my comprehension. One night my family was having a get-together party at my auntie and uncle’s place, and there in the middle of the living room was my cousin’s drum kit. I didn’t even know at the time that he could play, and throughout the night I’d go in and sneak a look at the kit, mesmerised by the potential of it. I plucked up the courage and asked if I could see him play it, and after he’d given me a demo he handed me the sticks and asked if I’d like to play. Needless to say I wasn’t an instant expert but I could feel how rhythm and timing worked, and I surprised myself at how coordinated I could be when I got into it. That pretty much kicked things off and I wanted to learn as much as I could about playing instruments. I still haven’t quite learned drums properly though!
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There’s been a few different experiences that were incredible, but one in particular was a really interesting moment for me. My wife had put me in touch with a friend of hers, Charlie Lane that was looking to collaborate on a song together. I got in contact and we worked together on an idea that she had. We were both quite busy at the time so most of it was done via email and voice messages, I did a GarageBand demo of guitar and bass parts using her voice recordings and we met up to finish it all off. When it came time to record it though I was really sick and could hardly talk, I made the rehearsal the night before but I just nosedived from there so managed to find a friend to play guitar and bass for me. The song was ‘The Darkest Time’ and it had a really great response, ending up on Spotify’s Badass Women playlist and getting a lot of attention. Anyway, a little while later I was on my lunch break at work and went to look at some clothes, I ended up at a big H&M store and was walking around when all of a sudden over the speakers I heard the The Darkest Time start playing. I couldn’t believe it! It was like a real life That Thing You Do moment as I went as quick as I could around the store hearing it play. There’s been many amazing moments like gigs I’ve played or bands I’ve played with but that one caught me off-guard and that feeling still stays with me.
It has been said that sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early on The Naysayers were paying a show in Sydney on a Friday night and two of us had driven up during the day. Me and Nathaniel were flying up and had basically left no room for error with the flight times. You can probably see where this is going. We took a tram to the city, got on the bus to the airport and immediately hit traffic, we crawled along the freeway while I frantically called the airline to see how late we could drop our bags off. Once we finally got to the airport there was a big storm and every flight was delayed, my phone was fast running out of battery but I was calling the other guys to see if we could go on later on something. The band who put the show on were really great about it and let us play last (at midnight) so that was a bit of a relief. After taking the last flight to Sydney (arriving around 11:30PM) we got out of the airport as quickly as we could and walked straight into a line of about 150 people waiting for taxis. We chatted with some other people in line and managed to work out a way for us all to take the same taxi together and get dropped off at different places. We all piled in to this taxi, packed like sardines, and hit every red light from the airport to Kings Cross. We were last to be dropped off and by this point our phones had died too. Once we were out in the busy streets of the Cross we realised we didn’t remember the name of the venue so took a guess and ran into the one with the loudest music, we ran up about three flights of stairs, through the audience and straight onto stage with literally seconds to spare.
The show was pretty good from memory, despite being stressed out. But the lesson here is always leave early!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There’s quite a few really: people from bands I’ve played with really early on, bookers and venues that took a chance on me/bands I was in that didn’t have any experience… but honestly my wife Cassie is the person I’m most grateful towards, for many reasons obviously but in this context I’m grateful because she’s introduced me to so many people and always encouraged me to take a chance on things. Like venues that I thought wouldn’t have me, or getting my music out to certain people who I might have assumed wouldn’t be interested. And these are all things that I’ve learned from and continued on myself.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
My EP ‘Skipping Stones On A Salt Lake’ has been a real joy to make, all the way from writing to the final release it’s been a great experience and I’m looking forward to it being out there very soon.
I’ve got an album mostly demoed and ready to start recording properly so I’m aiming to get onto that before long, some of those songs go back years and some of them are really recent so it’s going to be lots of fun to explore how those will end up sounding.
I’ve also been working on a bunch of recordings with The Naysayers which is the other band I’m in. We recorded quite a lot of it last year and have been working out what we’ll do with the songs now. It’s looking like it’ll end up being two albums which is a bit daunting but we’re really looking forward to finishing them up and releasing them.
We’ve also got the 10 year anniversary of our EP ‘Dee Eye Why’ coming up soon and we’re putting together a special show for that. Ten years is a long time but I have a lot of great memories of recording that EP and they all feel so recent.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in music, film, and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Absolutely, firstly diversity is important because it’s representative of society. Humankind is infinitely varied and having different kinds of people represented in the entertainment we watch, read or listen to is important because it reminds us of that, and shows us life in all its variety.
Secondly, it allows us to get perspectives that we usually wouldn’t. That’s one of the most powerful things about media like that, we get a glimpse into the experiences of others and can listen to their stories. That’s something that isn’t always possible (to that level) in everyday life so its amazing to think that a movie or a book can do that.
And lastly, if we just think about how inspiring it can be for different kinds of people to see themselves represented in the entertainment we take in, then that’s important in itself. Everyone should have that opportunity to see a bit of themselves in the things they watch or listen to.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?
- You don’t need to bring every instrument to a show — I think when you’re starting out you want to present the songs in the best possible way, so when I was first playing live I’d bring along an electric guitar, an acoustic guitar, an amp, pedals, a keyboard and so on. And it’s always way more stress particularly when you’re still figuring it all out and just going to play a short opener set. Just bring the basics and the songs will hold themselves up.
- When songwriting, you don’t have to get the song perfect the first time — When I was first writing there was a lot of pressure that I put on myself to get it right straight away. And if it wasn’t coming out the way I wanted I’d find it really hard to come back to it. I think understanding that I can write a song over several sessions really changed things for me.
- A bad recording is better than no recording — Similar to the above point, when I was starting out I held off recording some songs because I felt like I needed to have the best gear and do it in a proper studio, but as time has gone by I’ve learned that even a poor quality phone demo recording with background noise is better than waiting for the perfect circumstances. You can always record the ‘proper’ version later.
- Lists are your friend — I love lists! Lists of songs, lists of venues, lists of bookers, lists of bands/artists I want to play with, to-do lists… you name it. When I was starting out I’d be wracking my brain trying to remember the name of this band or that venue booker, or just go blank on what songs I was working on. Even just saving things like that to a note in your phone can be such a time saver.
- Be kind to yourself — This is a big one. It might just be my experience but I’ve found that the longer I’ve played in bands or as a solo artist the less self-critical I’ve become. This is kind of the main theme of the previous 4 points really, but it’s just so important to treat yourself well. Allow yourself to take breaks and unwind, write without self-criticism (you’ll always be able to edit or change things later!), don’t put too much pressure on yourself when playing live and you don’t have to have all the answers right away. And ironically, the less you try to get things right the more you’ll find that you end up writing more, playing great shows and having more capacity to plan things.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I feel like we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to constantly be doing something, to stay busy and always be moving towards the next thing. And that pressure can even come from outside ourselves as well. And while it’s important to be creating and learning, it’s just as important to know when to take a break. This could mean putting time into your schedule to keep free on purpose, or just taking those opportunities to kick back and do very little. It might even mean putting down the guitar or putting on the ‘out of office’ for an extended period of time too. There’s this worry that you’ll miss out on something or that you won’t be able to create anything if you stop, but you’ll always find that everything’s still there when you return to it. Often it’s even better because you’re approaching things with a bit more clarity and energy after unwinding.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
That’s a really good question! I feel that a simple thing is for people to question themselves a bit more. Their ideas, their beliefs or their understanding of things are just some examples. Being able to challenge yourself and be willing to listen or learn from others is one of the most significant skills we can learn. I think things like that will always be a work in progress but that’s kind of the point in itself.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
There’s plenty! But I think I’d love to just sit down with Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys and just listen to what he has to say. His music has had, and continues to have a profound effect on me, but even just to talk with him about life and his experiences would be incredible. It wouldn’t even have to be a conversation about music really!
How can our readers follow you online?
I’m most active on Instagram and my mailing list, but you can check out all of my accounts on my Linktree here https://linktr.ee/gordonhollandmusic
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Thank you very much for having me!
Rising Music Star Gordon Holland On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Music Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.