I thought there was something wrong with my humming speakers when I turned on My Own Holiday’s debut album on Electro Groove Records, “Reason to Bleed.” After I turned up the volume, it sounded just fine.
Some early blues records sound like they were recorded in a trash can, but the music hits you in the gut with veracity and emotion. That’s what you get with Nick Bartolo’s free-flowing drums and Joey Chrisman’s stinging guitar and edgy vocals that explode like Little Richard in a punk rock band.
What started as a four- and five-piece band, has in six years stripped down to a duo with a naked and raw resonance. Each of the 13 tracks are recorded live, many in one take. Joey and Nick say mistakes can be cool. This is an honest sound.
A few days before the album was released, I spoke with the guys, who live at Lake Arrowhead, Calif. Here’s the interview:
Tahoe Onstage: Most of the songs are just three minutes long, some even two minutes. Why?
Joey Chrisman: Nick and I listened to a lot of punk rock music and a lot of those songs are short. It’s not super intentional but I guess it’s just getting to the point. It seems like we’re able to fit a lot into a short amount of time.
Tahoe Onstage: What music did you listen to growing up?
Joey: My brother used to get stoned and go in his room and listen to Jimi Hendrix. I was really young at that point but there was something about it for me that felt sort of wrong to listen to, like I was going to get in trouble. We felt there were a lot of bands like that. Those were the bands we were interested in because there was something dark and mysterious about it. Creedence, anything from AC/DC to Motley Crue, Bon Jovi and later I think I was a young teenager when I was listening to Green Day and a lot of punk bands: Operation Ivy, Rancid, stuff like that.
Nick Bartolo: I was pretty much in the same progression. Joey mentioned Creedence Clearwater Revival. That was a band my dad always listened to and it always had a nostalgic feel for me as well. That music has an overall simplistic character and in a way we harness a little bit of that energy. But I wouldn’t say any one band has a direct influence.
Tahoe Onstage: Joey, you like to distort your music with amps and not a slide or pedals. But did you experiment with them?
Joey: I experimented a lot with amp sounds when we were first starting. I was looking for something in particular and I found it in the weirdest ways. … Just trying amps and I found a cool sound with smaller combo amps. A lot of times you get a bigger sound out of smaller amps. I don’t know why that is. Maybe the speakers are pushing more. But it was all trial and error just trying to find a sound that was in my head. I try to keep them as clean as I possibly can without using pedals. I do have pedals but for the most part it’s just pushing the amps to a certain limit.
Tahoe Onstage: Do people say your music is rock, blues or punk, or do you get all of that?
Joey: We’ve gotten all of it. We’ve gotten cool compliments. People have said they haven’t heard anything like it but that it also seems to strike some kind of familiar chord like they’ve heard it before.
Tahoe Onstage: The liner notes say don’t think of My Own Holiday as White Stripes. Is that a comparison you don’t like?
Joey: We of course love being compared to them. They’re and amazing band. (Jack White) would probably hate us like he hates the Black Keys. But we like the compliment if we ever get compared to them.
Tahoe Onstage: Do you prefer to play live?
Nick: We love to play live. That’s when we can really breathe and let loose and let everything just be what it is. If it gets chaotic, it’s a great time. The live show is what lets music speak at its highest volume.
Joey: But it is similar to our recordings. Well, that’s what we did this time around. We tried to make it sound as close to the live show as we could. The tracks are just live. A lot of those songs are just one take intentionally. If you try to record the same song over and over again, I tend to lose my edge. I just want the song to be as close to what it was when we wrote it because that’s when you are really putting it out there. It seems like that’s the most important moment, right when it’s getting put down. Even if there are mistakes or some kind of crappy thing that happens, a lot of times that’s cool for us anyway. If you play the wrong note or something, we’re kind of into it.
Tahoe Onstage: Did I hear that in “Two Coins?”
Joey: What your hearing is two amplifiers going at once and often one gets turned off and back on again as I’m playing. It will go off in the verse and come back in, in and out of the song. That’s another punk rock effect that I picked up on. You listen to punk songs, even like NOFX, it will start with a guitar and a vocal and then the band comes in. That’s kind of the idea I had behind that: starting with one guitar and then Nick comes in on drums and another amplifier comes in on top of it.
Tahoe Onstage: How did you become a poet and a writer?
Joey: I attempted to be in bands and write songs when I was in fifth and sixth grade. In class I would always be writing lyrics. I don’t think any of it was very good but I’ve always written lyrics. I’ll be driving and something comes in my head and I’ll have to stop and write it down. I wasn’t really a good student. But I graduated and all that crap.
Tahoe Onstage: How did you decide to go about music in this way?
Joey: We were in another band, it was a three piece. I think it even started as a four and five piece. Nick was living in Florida and their band was looking for a singer and I was in California. I moved out there and we dialed it down to a three piece and kept it that way for a while and then two years later we moved out here as a band and Nick and I ended up splitting from that guy. From there we were just having fun playing and experimenting and we wanted to veer from what we were doing. I had written some rock and roll songs. At the time I was listening to a lot of Hendrix and classic rock. All the stuff I really loved. Just really raw bands. It was my first chance to really do what I wanted to do instead of doing what other people wanted me to do. We just like what we were doing and liked the challenge. We just kept building on it. Trying to make it as big as possible with two people. As far as recording we didn’t want to add anything or put any overdubs. We wanted to make it as loud and live as it could be.
Tahoe Onstage: And, of course, it’s easier to get along with just two people. Nick, do you have a good rapport with Joey?
Nick: Not at all, ha! No, we’re best friends. Joey will present songs to me and we just go from there. Songs will take shape. Any extra input is just overkill. With us being the only writers of this music, it comes out exactly what we want it to be without any interference.
My Own Holiday
‘Reason to Bleed’
Electrogroove Records, Feb. 17, 2015
Notable tracks: “Memphis,” “Whiskey In The Well,” “Stone Free,” “Reason to Bleed”