Holopaw's John Orth Talks Queer Identity, Working as a Visual Artist

For ten years, Gainesville indie-rock outfit Holopaw has been putting out music, first through the perennial indie label Sub Pop and more recently via Misra Records.

The band dropped Academy Songs, Volume I earlier this year, which is an oddity in the era of the single track. It follows a loose storyline that comes together as the album plays on -- though frontman John Orth admits to us that characters are often interchangeable and the ideas can be somewhat vague.

Orth and his bandmates perform Saturday at Gramps in their first trip to Miami in a few years. (The last time it was in the Magic City, the band was touring with then-labelmate Iron & Wine.)

We talked to Orth over the phone about Gainesville's music scene, how being gay influences his music, and the ideas behind Holopaw's new album.

New Times: How is Gainesville's music scene these days?

John Orth: It's good. Unfortunately, we don't have a weekly or monthly paper. We've also never had college radio. Those are two coalescing forces I think our music scene is missing out on. That being said, there are always new things happening, and the scene that we do have is very supportive and vibrant. But, again, there isn't a place that brings together the scene. There is a new group of kids, the Church of Holy Colors, that's sort of the new generation of artists and musicians that are doing really exciting things in Gainesville right now.

As a gay man, how much does your sexual orientation influence your work?

It's who I am and what I write about. It used to be that used to write a lot more metaphorically, because, it wasn't so much that I wasn't comfortable being gay...

Did you want to appeal to to a broader group of people?

It wasn't so much that. My lyrics have always been pretty obtuse. I just became more and more comfortable within my personal life and what I was interested in artistically. It is the stories that I tell, much the way straight people do; it's about relationships, love, and sex. Anything R. Kelly would sing about, it just happens to be my point of view, which is a gay point of view.

Do you think gay artists' visibility these days is important, especially with what's happening in places like Russia?

Of course. To see your voice represented in the media or music, for people to be openly and proudly tell their stories, I do think it's important.

You released a new album this year, Academy Songs, Volume I. What's the idea behind it?

In the past, the way I've written songs, I've had notebooks with scraps and sketches of ideas. Some of those ideas were drawn directly my life, some of them were other stories I wanted to tell. More than anything, by framing all of these songs in one location with these characters was more of a songwriting device for me. I decide very vaguely what the story I wanted to tell, what the location would be, I decide what the characters would be like. Each of those stories I had a different notebook for, and I tried to flesh them out as best I could. In the end, I ended up with enough of those potential songs for at least two records. That's what the Volume I implies.

You directed a video for the band recently. Is that something you enjoyed doing?

My ex-boyfriend is a video artist, and for years I collaborated with him on videos. This is the first video that I directed myself. It something I'm very interested in as a visual person. I'm working on a video right now with my friend Adam Baran, who is a filmmaker in New York, and a few weeks from from now we'll shoot a music video for our song "Dirty Boots (He Don't)." He's going to direct it and I'm going to do some of the art direction and styling for it. It's something I'd like to do more of.

Holopaw. With visuals by Roger Beebe. Saturday, August 31, at Gramps (176 NW 24th Street, Miami). Free, 21+ and over.

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Jose D. Duran is the associate editor of Miami New Times. He's the strategist behind the publication's eyebrow-raising Facebook and Twitter feeds. He has also been reporting on Miami's cultural scene since 2006. He has a BS in journalism and will live in Miami as long as climate change permits.
Contact: Jose D. Duran