Holy Hive, the band with singer/guitarist Paul Spring and drummer Homer Steinweiss together at its helm, is an unlikely joining of two very different worlds. In one is Steinweiss, a veteran New York City shaker who plays drums on records by Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse, and Bruno Mars, and tours with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. In the other is Spring, a Minnesota-raised folk singer-songwriter with an affinity for Greek history. Thanks to mutual friends who were cousins who grew up on a farm together, Steinweiss and Spring met in Minnesota while Spring was still in high school.
“As we both got older, I was touring with [Sharon Jones and] the Dap Kings and Paul was doing his own thing,” says Steinweiss. “We would see each other at the farm, and he would give me demos and be like, ‘Hey, do you want to work on some music?’” The two connected with Steinweiss producing Spring’s 2015 solo record, Towards A Center. While working on the next release, Spring suggested they work together.
Holy Hive’s upcoming release, Float Back To You, is a serene, seamless meeting of Steinweiss’ soul and funk pedigree and Spring’s gentle, breezy Midwestern folk alignment. Spring’s falsetto drives the record, cradled and swept along with Steinweiss’ sturdy backbeat. The record is introduced as “soul-folk,” a term that encompasses the well-paired aesthetics on the record: an audible reverence and careful affection for two musical traditions that, above all else, are premised in gathering and community.
Holy Hive is described as a family affair, given the connections between you two. Does that context change how you operate?
Homer Steinweiss: As a musician for basically my whole life now, I feel like the bands that I play in, they work very similar to a family unit. You get together, and sometimes you don’t want to get together but you have to because you gotta play a show. I feel like there’s a similarity there. It creates something that can be quite special as opposed to like, ‘OK, I’m just here to make records to sell.’
Paul Spring: The place where I grew up, most of the bands are cover bands and wedding bands, but a lot of them are formed by family members. My friend Colin grew up playing in his three-generations-back family polka band. I always thought that was so cool, how this family band would play at every wedding and every funeral and every birthday party. I always looked up to that as a cool way to make and play music. None of my family members play music though, so I had to go to extended family.
This record is described as soul-folk. Can you talk about where that designation came from?
Steinweiss: I grew up listening to a lot of soul music and funk music. That’s the tradition that I developed my skills as a musician in at a young age. Along the line, I just always listened to country and folk music all the time. Soul and folk have a lot of crossover, but you just don’t think about it that much. I think it also really speaks to that ‘family band’ thing. The tradition of folk music is not necessarily to play big concerts or anything, it’s just to sit around with your friends and sing songs. Having that on top of some more funk and soul-oriented grooves creates something unique.
Those two genres seem closely related in that they both allow really intentional simplicity, and a lot of room to breathe.
Steinweiss: A lot of this project is about all that space in the music. I’m not the producer who you give a song to to layer it up with strings and horns and all the bells and whistles. Whenever I produce records, I’m always trying to pare things down to what’s important. Each element is a voice, it’s not just a layer to make something bigger or smaller. It’s another character to enter the song.
Spring: I’m kind of hyper, and I’m tempted to put tons of stuff on so I’m glad that Homer has the taste and decision-making skills to know what should go in and what shouldn’t. Joe Harrison, our bass player, his style of bass playing and arranging is very similar to Homer. You listen to his bass lines, and they’re mostly whole notes. They’re very patient and allow for a lot of space in the arrangement.
There are a few covers on this record, including your take on Irish folk ballad “Red Is The Rose.” What does that song mean to you?
Spring: My dad used to play a lot of Irish music in our house. He used to play that Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem version of this song. I didn’t think it was that cool, but I kinda liked it. In college, every Friday night this group of kids would go out to the woods and have a bonfire and sing Irish and American folk songs for like three to four hours until the bonfire went out. Sometimes it went all night. There was this one night where this guy Sam proposed to his wife by singing that song a capella while on a private walk. Then later that night they came to the bonfire and sang the song for the group to announce their engagement. It had everyone in tears. That song is really special to a lot of my friends, and to me.
Paul, you studied Classics in college and that connection to history is apparent on this record. What draws you to studying that?
Spring: I’ve always loved studying classics and older literature because it’s so interesting to see how people from the past experienced life, and all the emotions and trials and experiences that go along with life. I’m fascinated with how people used to word what they were thinking and feeling, and how it’s similar and different to how we think and feel now. Folk songs are such a great place to find that in addition to old poetry.
Is that tradition of expression changing, or being lost?
Steinweiss: I feel like the things that resonate the most with people are the things that stand the test of time, and that tends to be things that are, and I’m just theorizing here, maybe less sophisticated at the time. So the folk music of today, the things that we hear today, might be to us like the things that all the kids are singing and we don’t even know what it is, but that might be a thing in 100 years that they’re like, “This is how they’re expressing themselves,” whereas the things that we’re doing, obscure intellectual projects that are thinking back on time, they might not necessarily stand the test of time.
Spring: I feel like hip-hop is more folk music than folk music now.
Your last release was informed by recording in Yucca Valley. Did geography impact this record too?
Steinweiss: To me, the album has a very New York influence to it. A lot of the process of making this album was Paul moving from Minnesota to New York. I hear that in the record. I hear Minnesota being pulled to New York.
Spring: Homer’s studio, where we made it, has a bunch of other New York musicians who are on the record. Everybody in there is constantly showing each other music, it’s a very collaborative space. It’s a big New York sound on the album, I’d say.
You can get the exclusive VMP edition of this album here.
Luke Ottenhof is a freelance writer and musician with eight toes. He likes pho, boutique tube amps and The Weakerthans.
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