Interview with guitarist Evan Phelps
By Caleb R. Newton
Dimensional Bleed, the new album from Arizona’s Holy Fawn, is majestic.
Across its sometimes lengthy tracks (three land near seven minutes), Dimensional Bleed delivers expansive metal blended with shoegaze sensibilities and textured to suggest something dramatically consuming, such as slowly sinking into the ground. It’s grippingly forceful, yet contemplative, as Holy Fawn often utilize slower tempos. When the pace quickens, it evokes an image of collapsing to the ground in unrest. The spirit of the post-rock or post-metal crescendo, as expressed at standout moments on Dimensional Bleed, drives listeners into pained enlightenment.
The ache-steeped tones of this album prove lush and all-encompassing. Unfurling songs in which a listener could get lost thanks to the depth and layers of the sound, Holy Fawn perform with far-reaching ambition, somehow capturing the essence of watching a sunset after heartache. The strength is reassuring, yet you’re left pondering what broke. Dimensional Bleed pushes ever onward, and the enveloping, wall-of-sound-style instrumentation leaves little room for anything else—a comfort in the safety of the deep, inner understanding it communicates. It’s a spiritual weighted blanket.
Often, Holy Fawn spike the intensity across Dimensional Bleed, venturing through a thicket of consciousness, like single-mindedly fleeing a wave of destruction, even if that escape means delving further within.
The music—commanding yet somber—evokes a sense of the slow (but certain) unfolding of paradigm-shifting progress, whether that’s entering a new dimension or making it to the next day after a struggle to keep focus. The music proves inherently beautiful in the way one finds a forest compelling. Holy Fawn’s meditative pace suggests loneliness, although the perhaps surprisingly catchy tunes and often gentle singing enforce an experience of peaceful stillness.
Below, check out what guitarist Evan Phelps has to say about Dimensional Bleed, the brand-new album from Holy Fawn.
Dimensional Bleed has a distinctive sound. Was mood a guiding factor when you were crafting these songs? Or was it more about following where the songwriting went?
There are definitely little elements of each of those concepts in there. When we first started sitting down and recording this album is right after we got off of the Thrice tour in early 2020, so right before the COVID pandemic kind of hit full-force. And so that slowed us down in a way, to where we had to take some time to obviously self-isolate and focus on other things. But when we were able to start meeting up again—or even, I guess, right before then we started sending tracks back and forth to each other. Because we all have some sort of recording set-up at home.
(Vocalist and guitarist) Ryan (Osterman) would come up with the roadmaps and the basic ideas for the songs. He’d shoot them over and be like: Hey, what do you guys think? And so, I’d record a few parts at my house and send it back to him until we kind of figured out the direction of where the record was going to go. Because at the beginning, we only had maybe a couple songs that we were feeling really, really charged up about. So once we were able to start meeting up and start getting together, we started really honing in on the feel and the direction of where we wanted this record to go and what we wanted it to be.
I’m sure a lot of other artists were in the same situation during lockdown, where that’s going to play into whatever songwriting or recording you’re doing to some degree. And so, the self-isolation and just seeing there were a lot of negative things going on in the world then–and I mean, there still are—we took that into account, and I think it definitely shows in the songs. But as far as the songs themselves go, Ryan would have the lyrics, and that would definitely play into the feel, but we also just would get together, and, for instance, for my guitar parts specifically, we’d be all here.
And we’d just keep going through ’em, and I would just play different things and figure out what really fit the vibe there or what was the sonic texture that we needed. And the same thing with bass and drums. And, of course, vocals on top of that. But there’s definitely a lot that went into crafting how we wanted these songs to feel and flow and everything. I’ll tell you this; as one of the people who engineered on this album, everything is intentional. So there’s a lot of stuff going on, but nothing is random or in there just to be in there. It’s all for a purpose.
Would you say having personal control over a lot of the production process was an important thing for you guys?
Absolutely. For the entity of our band in general, it is very crucial to that because on our first record Death Spells, we recorded that all at home. So me and Austin (Reinholz), the drummer, we both went to audio engineering school and interned in Nashville for a while and did some freelance work here and there. When we were in this band, we were like, well hey, we know how to work outboard gear and run a Pro Tools session and know basic mixing stuff. So let’s just try taking a crack at it and just really taking our time with it. And so we did Death Spells entirely ourselves, recorded at a few different houses that we were all kind of sharing, or at, at one point or another.
And it was a real learning experience, because that’s when we really figured out the sound of the band and what we really were trying to do. And I think it was a very unique experience because it was just us learning as we go and maybe doing things a little bit unorthodox and making new sounds and figuring out new ways to do things. But having the time to sit there and really focus on all the little things in the song without feeling rushed by studio time or a hired engineer, I think that’s very important to us. And so when it came time to do this one, we recorded everything on the new record ourselves as well, pretty much at a couple houses and a weird church space that we were at for a second to record some drums, because we can’t record those at our places.
But other than that, no, we need the time to take and to really focus and make sure everything we’re putting in there isn’t rushed or we’re not feeling a ton of push from other people on our team or anything like that. So it would be nice to go into a really beautiful studio with amazing gear and have time to make a record that way. But I think as far as our band operates, we need to just kind of do it on our own and have as much time as we need to make sure what we’re putting out is exactly what we want to put out.
Do you feel as though the connections between you guys are reflected in the music? It all sounds very cohesive.
Yeah. I mean, we’re all very good friends. Me and Austin, we’ve been friends since we were in high school, so we’ve known each other and played music together for a long time. I met Ryan and (bassist and vocalist) Alex (Reith) when we were all working at Guitar Center together, back in the early 2010s. And so we were all friends there, and then we just started being like: Hey, wanna get together and jam? And so our band grew very organically. There were no tryouts; there were no auditions or any kind of that stuff. It was more so we were just friends getting together.
We are friends first and then bandmates second. And I think that definitely comes across in our music and especially in the songwriting process, because we can be honest with each other. And if a few of us aren’t feeling a certain thing, we can speak up and have our say on it, versus it being a one-person type of leading situation. It sounds cliché, but we definitely feel like brothers, and on tour, we have a ton of fun, and it’s just like you’re on a family road trip. But then you also have the times you’re like: Ah, my brother’s pissing me off. So I don’t know. It’s funny, but I would think it comes across in the music too, as far as that cohesive element, just because it does feel like we are one unit versus four separate.
When dialing into the songwriting process, were you intentionally cultivating a cinematic, sweeping feel? Was that important for you guys?
I 100 percent think that we go for a very large soundscape or sound stage in our music. We want it to feel big and as otherworldly as possible in the sense of, when you’re listening to it, it doesn’t sound like you’re just listening to a rock record. We want it to feel like its own environment in itself. And so we focused very heavily on that cinematic type, or soundtrack-esque type of sound stage.
I listen to a lot of classical or movie soundtracks and stuff like that. And I think it’s very powerful when you have that whole orchestra with upwards of a hundred people playing just one piece and how big it can sound. And it’s like, well, four people with Pro Tools and multitrack recording, we could kind of emulate that in our own way. And so I think we definitely take some inspiration from that kind of orchestral, wall-of-sound stuff, to ‘80s, Blade Runner-type soundtracks and stuff like that. We want to incorporate that into our music too. Anything to make it seem as big and of its own as possible I think is our goal in one way or another.
The lyrics and instrumentals both sound dreamy and otherworldly. Would you consider yourselves spiritual people? Do you think that weighs on the music?
I definitely think that we’re all spiritual on some level and to different, varying degrees. It just depends. I don’t think any of us are necessarily religious, in the fact that I don’t think—none of us are Christian, Catholic, or whatever. But I think that we all do believe to a certain extent that there are things out there that we can’t perceive or are just unknown to us as of yet. And so in the writing of this record, that is a big part of the theme. I mean the record’s called Dimensional Bleed. And so, what does that mean? It means, well, we’re not the only dimension in this certain realm of existence. And sometimes there may be events where those two dimensions have a crossover point or bleed into each other.
And maybe that explains a lot of crazy things such as UFOs or even déjà vu or things that seem too coincidental to be anything but fate necessarily. I don’t think we believe that there’s a higher power sitting up there judging us in the sky, which there may be, who knows. But I think what we take from it is that, as humans, we think we’re so intelligent and that we know everything, but in the grand scheme of things, we’re not much farther ahead than any other animal.
To think that we know everything now I think is very stubborn and arrogant. So just accept that you don’t know. And it’s fun to believe in other things out there because it makes the world seem like a more magical place.
In general, is there an emotional arc that you feel the record takes?
Without giving too much away, there are definitely a few different feelings that are put into this record. It’s not all just one type of emotion or one type of feeling. It’s a bunch of relative ones. What I mainly get out of it is, there’s a lot of a sense of loss or just dealing with death or just personal departures from each other. A “nothing’s permanent; everything’s temporary” type of a thing.
And ways of dealing with that I think are one of the biggest overarching feelings on the record, but there are some other ones too. I think the biggest ones are just dealing with pain, isolation, dealing with death, and just the loss of personal connections, and different ways of going about living with those.
Was making space on the record for quietness and gentility an important part of the process for you?
Yeah, 100%. I think we all believe that space on a record is just as important as a big, heavy part. And so we try to incorporate as many dynamics into our music as possible because we don’t want just one song to just be a wall of fuzz for five or six minutes. Sometimes that stuff’s awesome. And I definitely like things like that, and we all do, but there needed to be a lot of moments for the record to breathe. Just so the listener could take a step back and maybe digest what they have just gone through before they go into the next chapter of the song or record. We all are very conscious of the amount of more ambient space or textures that we put in to try to just let the record breathe as much as possible, instead of having it feel constricted and monotonous.
Photos courtesy of Viviana Jackelin