INTERVIEW: The Holy Gasp



PHOTO CREDITPedja Milosavljević

The Holy Gasp


A lot of songs are based around personal misfortune…


PHOTO CREDITKarol Orzechowski

and startling revelations. That is no different regarding Beat Wave: the memorable and stunning new single from Canada's The Holy Gasp. I ask Benjamin – of The Holy Gasp – about the song and what arrives next from him (and The Holy Gasp); the sort of music that makes his mind conspire; whether there are any touring dates approaching – and if we can expect a visit to the U.K.

He talks about working with Sebastian (his musical cohort) and the scene in Toronto Island; an album that means a lot to him – and what he’d say to new musicians coming through at the moment.


Hi, Benjamin. How are you? How has your week been?

Hey, Sam! Not too shabby, thanks. How ‘bout you?

For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?

I’m Benjamin Hackman. I live on Toronto Island and lead an amorphous blob called The Holy Gasp - alongside my collaborate life-partner, Sebastian Shinwell.

Beat Wave is the new single. Tell me about its story and creation...

I wrote it on Toronto Island - where I moved after my ex-wife and I split up. I was real depressed at the time - and real lonely, too. Most days I couldn’t get out of bed. I’d lay there on stinked-up sheets, weeping... wishing for my old life back... I needed to write it out, laugh at myself; take the edge off. Divorce shocks the system, y’know. It makes you ask a whole lotta questions about how you’re gonna live your life and who you’re gonna be in your post-married world. You set out to build a future with someone and, when you call it quits on a marriage; you call it quits on that future too. So, you gotta rewrite yourself entirely.

Sebastian was real supportive. He just kept saying, “Write it out… make it as big as you need to...I’ll figure out how to arrange it” – and he did. He found a way to get a big ol’ chambre ensemble to play punk which is pretty funny if you think about it - in a Bugs-Bunny-in-tails kinda way.

It seems like the track has been brewing a while! Has it been quite an arduous and tricky track to get together?

It wasn’t a tricky track to compose or arrange - but it was definitely challenging to mix. There’s a lot happening. It was hard to find a place for every instrument and voice to have the space it needed to be heard. Craig Saltz, who mixed the track, is a very patient, detail-oriented and talented craftsman.

We owe a great debt of thanks to him for his work on our new music.     


PHOTO CREDIT: Nika Rae Zelina

The music you make seems like an orchestral Punk collective/soundtrack. Is it hard translating the sound from the studio to the stage? Do you write songs and imagine how they will sound in the live setting?

We just create what we want to hear, without regard for how logistically demanding it’ll be to pull it off. Sebastian and I set no limits whatsoever when we write. If we think something might sound cool, we try it and, if we like it, we keep it. Everything gets orchestrated using Midi software - so that we can hear all the instruments synthesized long before Sebastian scores it all out. This affords us the ability to hear the piece as it’s being orchestrated. After it’s arranged to our heart’s content, we record it verbatim and don’t stray whatsoever from the original score. Every musician, including ourselves, plays what’s on the page...

Then, after that’s all said and done, Sebastian re-arranges everything for a six-piece touring ensemble. This process takes time and requires trial-and-error with real musicians in rehearsal. The live ensemble is held to less orthodox standards than our studio musicians. They’re encouraged to interpret themselves through the music and to find ways of making their parts their own. Our organist, Joseph Organ, for example, has added a lot of his own ideas to his parts and, in doing so, has contributed to making older repertoire feel fresh and interesting. The pieces are permanently changed because of his input and interpretations.

This is a lovely way to celebrate music as an organic, evolving document.


Beat Wave was written on Toronto Island and it seems like the Canadian landscape plays a big role in the music! How inspiring is the country/geography of Canada to you and the music of The Holy Gasp?

The Canadian landscape doesn’t play a role in the music, per se, but Toronto Island specifically does. There is something to be said about living on an island; about surrounding yourself with a vast body of water every day. There’s only so far I can walk before I’m confronted by Lake Ontario - and ultimately confronted by myself.

This type of ruthless self-discovery is central my creative process. 

Who are the musicians you are all influenced by?

It’s a pretty motley list and it changes - but the big ones, at least right now, are: Tom Waits, Frank Zappa; Dead Kennedys, John Lurie; Big John Patton, Leonard Bernstein; Karen Dolton, Nick Cave; The Cramps, Primus; Pete Seeger, Nina Simone and cinema scores such as those from the early James Bond films - or the original Planet of the Apes; as well as cartoon theme songs like the ones from The Simpsons or Ren & Stimpy.


Which new artists do you recommend we check out?

The two that come to mind right away are Friendly Rich & The Lollipop People and The Sulks.
Friendly Rich’s new record, The Great Blue Heron, is terrific. It was produced by Hawksley Workman and is just real smart - and far out in all the right ways. It’s my favourite album from his massive and impressive discography. I recommend him for fans of Tom Waits and Frank Zappa.


The Sulks are the top of cool. One day, every scene depicting a teenager sneaking out of her bedroom window, to go smoke darts with her friends beneath the stars, will be soundtracked by The Sulks.

If you just wanna ride the bus and feel like a fuckin’ stud… this band’s for you.



Are there any tour dates coming up? Where can we see you play?

You betcha, baby!

11/14: Sherbrooke, QC – Bar Le Magog

11/15: Moncton, NB – Plan B

11/16: Halifax, NS – The Seahorse Tavern

11/17: St. John, NB – Pepper's Pub

11/23: Quebec City, QC – Le Cercle

11/24: Trois Rivieres, QC – Zenob

11/30: Ottawa, ON – House of Targ

12/02: Toronto, ON – The Smiling Buddha

12/07: Peterborough, ON - Catalina's

12/08: Hamilton, ON - Mills Hardware

12/09: Windsor, ON – Phog Lounge


PHOTO CREDIT: Karol Orzechowski

Do you think you will come to the U.K. very soon?

Well. Sebastian’s living in London for the better part of this year - so you might be able to get him to play you some tunes. He’s real pretty on a classical guitar and quite generous with his serenades - if you ask him nice. But, as for touring the U.K., nothing is booked yet…but it’s on our minds….

In a real way.  

If you had to select the one album that means the most to you; which would it be and why?

I don’t know how possible that is to answer: I listen to a lot of records. But, I will say this: Paul Simon’s Graceland was on heavy rotation throughout the making of our new record.

Rhymin’ Simon got to us, baby. He got to us!


PHOTO CREDIT: Pedja Milosavljevic

What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?

Aesthetic normality - safe, popular; commercially accessible art…it wasn’t put here by artists. It was manufactured - and not to enhance the collective body of human understanding or to impact culture in deeply significant ways: it was put here to turn a buck. So here’s my advice: listen to the sounds in your head. Meditate on them. Try and produce them as you hear them. Vividly. Without apology. Without embarrassment. There will always be folks trying to tell you what music should and should not sound like. These people cannot hear the music in your head - nor have they tried. These people are not artists...

They are critics; business-people and fearful children - petrified of the portrayals of human experiences into which they have not journeyed. They are not muses. Do not follow them into their Shadowlands. Face as much truth as you can bear on your own…

...Never stop loving.    

Christmas is not too far away. Do you both have plans already - or will you be busy working?

Well; we’re Jewish, so… you know… we’ll eat Chinese food and watch Free Willy on V.H.S.  

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).

Friendly Rich’s The Great Blue Heron

… and Sulker by The Sulks, please and thanks


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