Holy Strays - Christabell
Paris-based, 22 year old Sebastian Forrester, a.k.a Holy Strays, is definitely an artist to add to your radar. His new single ‘Christabell’ is out today (August 13th) on Morning Ritual Records, released as a limited edition 7” on transparent vinyl, as well as digitally. His sound is epic, cinematic, evocative, bursting with layers of rhythm and various aural textures. For someone so young, his rich background in musical experimentation - having played in jazz, funk, groove and percussive bands for many years - alongside his interest in different rhythms and cultures from around the globe, is impressive and refreshing. These encounters with different genres of music seem to come together in his solo compositions as Holy Strays, and in ‘Christabell’ we truly hear his genuine love for creative rhythms, patterns and harmonies.
Throughout ‘Christabell’, on Side A as well as Side B, the tempo slows and speeds at unexpected intervals, rendering the record incredibly fresh from start to finish. There’s something very beautiful about the surprise you feel when listening to this. Although they share many elements, Side A - http://soundcloud.com/moringritualrecordings/holy-strays-christabell-a - and Side B -http://soundcloud.com/holy-strays/christabell-b - are dramatically yet subtly different in mood; described as “non-identical twins”, the tracks obviously have differences, yet they also relate and compliment each other very deeply. They grow on you with multiple listens, as the complex drum patterns and many levels of each track slowly manifest themselves to the ear. There’s a little bit of magic happening here, and I can confidently say that Sebastian, in August 2012, is a key figure in the world of contemporary electronic music.
With this in mind, Below The Line caught up with Sebastian to talk about musical composition, life in Paris, the influence of jazz and his hopes for the future - read on for the interview, below.
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For those who are new to you, could you tell us a little bit about yourself, about Holy Strays? How long have you been making music for? Has it always been something you've done?
I’ve been fascinated by rhythms since I was a child, as far as I can remember it’s always been instinctive to me. I had the chance to start studying music – drums, percussions and jazz essentially – at a pretty young age, about 14 years ago. My trips to Africa and the Caribbean definitely confirmed my interest in polyrhythmic music. I played in various bands that were always clearly defined in terms of genres and structures, afro funk, fusion, groove etc. Jazz is incredibly rich but is a much codified music, with its own formulas, and they’re often pretty strict. I think I’ve always felt the need to break the rules and make free music on my own.
I started recording super lo-fi sketches in my room at a time when I had no bands or projects. I just wanted to keep some ideas, some obsessions, mostly patterns and motifs, in case I could find a new band to play them. I first bought a cheap usb mic and made live demos of a few tunes. Some were strictly percussion-based, but I was learning piano and rapidly started experimenting with a keyboard and a bass. It seemed so new to me. The backbones progressively evolved into tracks, and I learnt to produce properly, to deal with mixing and live recording etc. It’s been taking time and a very few of my recordings have been released so far, because a lot of them are just unachieved draughts and experiments I’m keeping secret.
Would you say that living and working in Paris has shaped your musical direction? Are you working soley as musician or do you work doing something else to keep an income going? Does it make it difficult to find time to commit to making music?
Paris is equally beautiful, inspiring and incredibly stressful to be honest. It’s totally fascinating, but can be aggressive and frightening sometimes. I love wandering in the city though. Its energy kind of captivates me. The lights, sounds and atmospheres… There’s always a part of secret and hidden beauty somewhere that remains irresistibly attractive. I don’t live in the city strictly speaking, but currently in the southern suburbs of the city. It’s such an enigmatic place of its own kind. It’s a surrounding, a passage, a frontier, halfway between the pavement and the countryside.
As regards my “income” there’s none, unfortunately, I’m still a student and have no real job at the moment. I’m taking the summer to focus on my debut album. I’ve been studying literature for about four years now. I finished my master thesis last june. My intention was to become an editor but I have to admit my dream is now to do nothing but make music and travel. My studies usually take me a lot of time but I’ve always been creating at the same time, it’s something very natural to me. It’s part of my daily life. I’ve played in a lot of bands and I’m just going on making music alone now. It’s a shift from a collective process to a very private one. It’s also more flexible as I can work at home anytime I want. I usually write a very short piece of music or make a loop when I wake up in the morning, then go to work the whole day and spend the night building the track up. It’s like an intimate ritual. A kind of quest. In every track I’m trying to reach the climax, seeking for elevation.
In your music, particularly the ‘Christabell’ single, there are lot of glittering drum patterns, echoey vocal samples, layers of melody and rhythm... It’s very rich, and beautiful. How do you approach the production process ?
Thank you ! The whole process is at the same time very intuitive and thoughtful. It’s also cathartic in a way. I usually come up with a rhythm or a texture, sometimes with a melody I’ve recorded on my phone, sometimes with a very precise image, sound, word or feeling. An obsession. It’s all about freeing me from a haunting thought or idea, and shaping it. The way I produce can evolve a lot as the work progresses. Lately I’ve been recording myself playing chords and singing a bit and improvising over jazz and soul tunes. Just notes. I isolate the recording and listen to it all over again. I keep the most interesting pieces, select snippets and play with the samples, trying to find the right structure and building beats out of them. I’ve also been able to record live organ patterns for ‘Christabell’, which was absolutely incredible. So there’ll probably be organ in the new songs as well.
Even if my setup has been evolving a lot, improvisation is still part of my songwriting I guess, though the tracks are now always carefully produced and structured. It’s all about riffing and feeling the music, finding the right balance between reason and instinct. Inspiration sometimes comes in a very odd way.
Alongside producing you also DJ, essentially two different ways of creating soundscapes... What could we expect to hear in a Holy Strays DJ set?
Ha, I’m not a real DJ. I would even say I’m more a composer than a producer. There’s definitely the necessity to deal with physical instruments in my music. They’re part of my own folklore. That’s why I’ve been playing live more than DJing so far.
I DJed for the very first time two months ago at the Vice birthday party that took place in Paris. It was a lot of fun. I have no laptop since mine broke up a few months ago. So I came up on stage with a few CD-Rs and home-made compilations. I didn’t know what to expect from the place and the people there. I played a few reworks of my own tracks, remixes of old jungle and d&b jams, bits of noise and post punk, chopped and screwed reggae tunes, edits of sacred and folkloric music. It was very challenging for me, to bring genres that I grew up to like jazz and folk to the dancefloor. My typical DJ set would be a big melting pot of rearranged soul music and uncanny rhythms. I’d really like to DJ more in the near future.
Where do you see yourself in the near future?
Musically speaking I just finished a rework of Philco Fiction’s latest single (which you can hear here :http://bit.ly/Qo0hb8). It was very enjoyable to do. I’ve had access to analog gear and it was quite a rewarding experience. I’ve got two more very interesting remixes in the work at the moment. It’s cool because I’m always improving my production techniques and I feel like I’m a lot freer when I remix.
By the way I just finished recording percussions for my debut album. I’ve been writing a lot lately and the concept behind it is growing, I can see things more clearly now. I’m planning to have the whole thing finished before going back to university in a month or so. And I truly hope to reveal it this fall. I’m actually very excited about this new bunch of songs. It’s in good shape. ‘Christabell’ is only the beginning...
I’m also part of a new band called MILAN which seems very promising. I’m playing drums, keyboard and producing a bit. Nothing’s revealed yet but it shouldn’t be long till we put something out. Oh, and yes, I’ve been asked to submit a few beats here and there, for rappers and vocalists. That’s something I’m very, very interested in and I’d like to explore this new path as soon as I can. I’m keeping myself busy and hoping all these exciting new projects will soon see the light.
Thank you, Sebastian; it's been a pleasure and we wish you all the best!
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HOLY STRAYS - Christabell is avaible now on 7" vinyl and digital from all good record stores
Written and produced by Sebastien Forrester, mastered by Noel Summerville.
Morning Ritual records / MRR002
Words: Eleanor Bell