Bushwick’s Holy Tunics have been churning out the type of jangly guitar-driven indie-rock that dominated the college radio charts in the 1980s for the better part of the last decade. Drawing influence from groups like The Feelies, Miracle Legion, and The Dream Syndicate, the band garnered critical acclaim for their 2016 EP Hot To Trot, a catchy six song collection that also earned them high profile support slots for Teenage Fanclub and the Gin Blossoms. The EP also caught the attention of a Spanish record label, Meritorio Records, who released the group’s stellar debut full-length, Butter Dish.
Butter Dish was released only a year ago, but the band is already back in the fold with their second album, Hit Parade Lemonade Supersonic Spree. I recently grabbed some beers at Roberta’s with frontman Nick Rogers and guitarist Bryan Thornton to chat about the new record and all things Holy Tunics:
Congrats on the release of Hit Parade Lemonade Supersonic Spree! What was the recording process like for this album?
Nick: We recorded it in October 2018 with Travis Harrison at Serious Business Studios here in Brooklyn. We recorded it in two days. We did every take live in the studio, which required some intense practices beforehand. Since we recorded it in such a short period of time, we needed to make sure we knew the songs really well. We practiced the night before until two in the morning the night before we went into the studio. When you put it in the pressure cooker like that, it’s exhilarating. Travis totally leaned into that and was encouraging us through the whole process.
Bryan: To his credit, he was so down for it. The rhythm had to be quick and we were definitely multitasking. Sometimes we were recording two different parts at the same time. We were trying to be hyperefficient. Nick would be doing a vocal take and I’d be doing a guitar take.
You recorded some of your previous releases to tape. Did you do take the same approach with Hit Parade Lemonade Supersonic Spree?
Nick: Sort of. All of the songs exist on tape. For Hot To Trot, our first EP, we ran it through some two-inch tape after we recorded it digitally. The split we did with Hamish Kilgour is recorded on a four-track tape machine. It was engineered by Davey Jones. But we used my Tascam home studio recorder. I always demo stuff on that, so the songs on this record exist in that form, too. I like how bands, like the Pastels, have several different versions of the same song on three different releases, each recorded three different ways. Each version is different and special in its own way. So, there’s like two to three different versions of every song we’ve recorded. You have that original solo-ish demo in the incubation phase, then there’s usually a more fleshed out demo with the band, and then a studio take.
Bryan: Recording stuff on tape reminds me of some of Guided By Voices stuff, especially their early output. They’ve always had that home recording quality. It works in their favor. There’s something visceral about it. It’s songwriting in its purest form when it’s untouched by pristine production. Sometimes something gets lost in there, so it’s nice to have those demos recorded on tape.
This record is coming out exactly a year after your debut LP, Butter Dish. Did you write these songs right after Butter Dish or did you have some worked out prior to that?
Nick: As soon as one record, album, or EP is released, I start writing new songs. I feel like I’m relieved of the burden of the prior songs. I’m like, I have to write a better record. I think I can do one album a year and stay on that pace for the foreseeable future. You always want to top your last thing, so who knows, this time around it may take longer.
This record definitely sounds different than Butter Dish and Hot To Trot. It has more of a 90s guitar-pop feel to it. What sound were you going for?
Nick: We tried to go in a more rock direction because we already did the jangly record, so we wanted to do the rock record. We were actually on tour listening to a lot of Stone Temple Pilots and R.E.M.’s Monster. I really liked the tremolo thing on the song “Crushed Like Eyeliner” on Monster. We were trying to keep the songs poppy-sounding. With Stone Temple Pilots, one of the first albums I ever owned was Purple, but I was more into bands like Nirvana at the time. Later on in life, I grew to enjoy the songs and the production on that record. We’re also conscious of how the songs will translate in the live setting. We definitely want good rocking songs to play live. The record has been incubating for a while now. We’ve been playing it at shows around here for a while, so we’re excited to share these songs with everyone.
Bryan: Out of the gate, the record is definitely in your face. The opening track, “Saber Tooth World,” is weird and different sounding. It has various moods. It has swagger. It’s a fun album.
What bands/artists have you been listening to lately?
Bryan: The Byrds. We’re getting really into Laurel Canyon stuff. It’s kind of coming to the surface now and a lot of people are diving into it more, including us. With that scene, there were so many eclectic artists in the same place at the same time. We also really like these two bands from Richmond, VA, Big Baby and Young Scum. Also, Nicole Yun and Joy Cleaner.
Nick: Yeah, we’ve been doing a little Laurel Canyon listening. I’ve been following David Crosby on Twitter and he’s hilarious. Buffalo Springfield. We’re getting excited to head out on tour and visit L.A. I’m really into this band the Molochs right now. Also, our friends Smokescreens. Seablite as well. Kids On A Crime Spree, who we’re playing with in Oakland. The new Jeanines record is amazing. Also, Cut Worms, The Mary Vision, and Heavy Birds. Bryan is also in a band called Catty. They’re awesome.
This is your second release with Spanish label Meritorio Records. How’d that relationship come about?
Nick: Meritorio is a label based in Madrid that’s run by Alvaro Lissón Aguiar. He’s a true fan of the indie-pop genre. He was already working with Smokescreens, who are friends of ours from Los Angeles. They played in New York with us and I think Alvaro saw we were also on the bill. He checked out our music and asked us about a week later if we had any new stuff. Then he put out Butter Dish. He’s very easy to work with and we have a great exchange.
Bryan: He’s been very supportive. He works with the artists and wants to help put out music he enjoys.
Holy Tunics are a part of GP Stripes, a Bushwick-based tape label that’s put out releases by A Deer A Horse, Lost Boy ?, Sharkmuffin, Kevin Hairs, and others. How’d the label start and do you have any planned releases?
Nick: I used to do home dubbing and tape recording for my old band Hippy. For that project, I’d sit there and make the tapes myself on a boombox, since I grew up copying tapes like that. So, I always had an interest in dubbing tapes. Then I linked up with Jordan Bell, my roommate and friend from my hometown. We decided to try and do a dubbing operation for bands. So, we bought a tape deck on eBay. We had some missteps at first. We tried to do high-speed dubbing, which sounded terrible. Eventually, we figured out better techniques and we’re able to produce better-sounding tapes faster.
We were also living with Ben Jaffe and Davey Jones, who are both comic book artists, so they started doing the logos and art while Jordan and I were doing the leg work with the tapes. Our first artist was The Planes. We did 100 tapes all one at a time in real time. It took forever. Now, we’ve streamlined the operation.
We keep it cheap. Diana Kinscherf is the technician who takes apart the machines and keeps them lasting longer. We’re hoping to do distribution in the future.
What direction do you see the band going in for the next record?
Nick: We’re thinking a Byrds’ psychedelic Los Angeles sounding record, but I’m not sure yet. It’ll depend on what I’m listening to at the time.
What are your plans for the rest of the summer?
We’ve got a local show coming up on June 22 at Alphaville with Jeanines, Free Time, and Kevin Hairs. By the way, shout out to Kevin Hairs. He did the album art for this record and it looks amazing. He’s super talented. We’re also doing a West Coast tour later this summer.
The band is also hitting the road for a West Coast tour. Catch them in the below cities next month.
Images courtesy of Holy Tunics
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