By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
When polyrhythmic punk rockers the Belles of Skin City dissolved in 2007, it punctured a hole in the local music scene that was never quite filled by the bands formed in its wake. The void had less to do with any level of popularity they achieved—even at their most active, they were still shamefully underappreciated—than with lead singer and songwriter David Joe Holiday's ability to carve out a niche for himself so jagged-edged and odd that only he could fit inside of it.
It's no surprise, then, that Holiday's new project, the Book of Right On, picks up right where he left off in Belles of Skin City. Though the band members have changed and the songs have become more melodic, the over-arching aesthetic of precision and percussive persistence has survived unscathed.
"It is a very obvious continuation of a musical style," reflects guitarist J Underwood, sipping a Grain Belt beer in Holiday's living room. Dressed in a tattered KISS t-shirt, Underwood is the pensive and unassuming counterbalance to Holiday's more outgoing, self-deprecating banter. "To me, it's kind of a visible progression of the musical style," he says. "It's not a continuation of what the Belles were, or what Kentucky was; it's an evolution of sound."
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"I think, for the first time, I'm actually conscious of hooks," Holiday says. "In fact, a lot of times, more now than ever before, I actually ask everyone's opinions. How do you feel about this? It's not just the alpha male persona that precedes me in popular mythology."
Underwood snickers. "He did have a reputation that preceded him, of being a difficult guy to work with in a band," he says. "But Dave and I have always worked pretty well together. We don't fight, we get along. We ask each other's opinions about stuff. It's a very open, two-way kind of thing."
Holiday's smirk softens into a warm smile. "I've learned my lessons," he says. When asked what changed, he doesn't miss a beat. "Medication. Definitely. This is a very palpable difference; kinder, gentler machine-gun Dave."
That give and take is evident on the Book of Right On's taut and intricately composed debut, All These Songs About Music. A pair of drummers give the album incredible momentum, popping and clicking and clanging on everything from wood blocks to snare drums to empty propane tanks like a subway train churning beneath the city. And riding the rails is Holiday, a punk-rock prophet with a popping, hiccupping vocal delivery that eschews traditional songwriting styles—rock, hip-hop, or otherwise—and who bandies between propelling the beat forward by using his syllables as percussive tools and expressing his disdain, joy, and outrage in throaty and precise wails.
Underwood and Holiday have been playing together since the Belles split in 2007, but it wasn't until recently that they started laying down the tracks for All These Songs, which comes out as a vinyl LP and digital download next month on Half Door Records. That long period of development has done much to hone the band's sound on record, giving them plenty of time to get things just right.
"I try to do things as extemporaneously as possible with the group," Holiday says, before admitting that he can be a decisive and intense editor. "We don't jam things out," he says. "We're not a jam band. With a very percussive band, you'd think we just start jamming with a drum circle, and it just doesn't happen. Everything is pretty meticulously laid out.
"I'm really happy that these guys tolerate my erratic sensibilities. I mean, I can't have expectations like you would of employees. They're not my employees, they're my cohorts," he says, grinning proudly, "and they believe in what's going on."