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HolyHum7_JavieraBassidelaBarrera_ForDiscorder_Oct2017

Holy Hum

An Evening With Andrew Lee

I’ve known Andrew Lee for years, but as I take the train to his studio in an empty industrial park near Main Street station, I realise we haven’t had a real conversation since I last interviewed him for Discorder in 2015. Andrew is a friend, but we’ve never been close — I get nervous around people I admire, and Andrew has long been one of my favourite musicians, first with his band, In Medias Res and now with his solo project Holy Hum. I go to meet him, looking forward not only to learning more about his music, but also to learning more about him, and hopefully making a better friend in the process.

We’re meeting to discuss the upcoming release of Andrew’s debut record, All of My Bodies. It’s the culmination of all of his work as Holy Hum so far, a collection of songs that examine the death of his father — the collapse and its aftermath in slow motion. It begins at his father’s bedside, where Andrew is tasked with telling him he’s going to die. From there, the songs deal with everything from his father’s failed marriage to the drinking ceremony performed at his burial. It should be a difficult listen, but it isn’t. It’s a warm bath of ambience and swooning post-rock that channels everything from Tim Hecker to Vaughan Williams. It surges with kinetic energy and aural inventiveness. It is, quite simply, one of the best records of the year.

Holy Hum || Photography by Javiera Bassi De La Barrera for Discorder Magazine
Holy Hum || Photography by Javiera Bassi De La Barrera for Discorder Magazine
Holy Hum || Illustration by Brian Tong for Discorder Magazine
Holy Hum || Illustration by Brian Tong for Discorder Magazine

We begin by talking about his reticence to release the album, given how personal it is and how much attention it might gain him. “It’s this inner conflict that I have where I want to share this, but also, I would never share this with anyone,” Andrew says. He tells me that part of him didn’t want to release the record at all, saying that he felt he had accomplished what he wanted to do without sharing his work with the world. But he says that the release of other records about death — such as Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked at Me and Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell — inspired him to “add [his] story to the narrative.”

Holy Hum || Photography by Javiera Bassi De La Barrera for Discorder Magazine
Holy Hum || Photography by Javiera Bassi De La Barrera for Discorder Magazine
Holy Hum || Photography by Javiera Bassi De La Barrera for Discorder Magazine
Holy Hum || Photography by Javiera Bassi De La Barrera for Discorder Magazine

Andrew tells me that he thinks of his music as the “main character,” considering his lyrics as playing a supporting role. He invites the listener to “appreciate the sounds, appreciate the way that this album sounds and makes you feel and hopefully that tells the story. If you want to be extra depressed read the lyrics,” he says. “The sounds themselves are just as personal to me as what I’m saying.”

When I ask about his father, Andrew is open and honest, telling me about his successes and shortcomings. Joseph Lee was a restaurant owner and a choir director who learned Italian to sing opera. He moved from Choeongju, South Korea to Winnipeg, Manitoba because it was in “the middle” of North America. Lee rarely showed affection with his children, but commanded a room at parties, and was stubborn when it came to helping others. “Even if it was a bad idea or he had heard ‘no’ a million times, he would still kind of go for it,” Andrew says. He wishes he and his father had been closer while his father was alive, and the album’s titular track addresses this regret: “I held you close / But I was never close to you.”

Holy Hum || Photography by Javiera Bassi De La Barrera for Discorder Magazine
Holy Hum || Photography by Javiera Bassi De La Barrera for Discorder Magazine
Holy Hum || Photography by Javiera Bassi De La Barrera for Discorder Magazine
Holy Hum || Photography by Javiera Bassi De La Barrera for Discorder Magazine

Andrew still feels grief over his father’s passing every day. “I don’t think that the pain or the anguish or the trauma is any different, I just think that you as a person are different,” he says. His hope is that the album helps him to work through that experience in a constructive way. “I have things deep down in my psyche that I need to deal with,” he says. “I don’t know if this album is that, but I definitely went to square one.”

Looking forward, Andrew is waiting on his permanent residency, informally known as a green card, so he can move to New York City to be with his wife, Jacqueline, who is studying at NYU. “Being apart from the person that you love is not worth it,” he says. “I’m lucky that I have this album coming out and that’s distracting me, but if my green card came through, I would be like, ‘see you later!’” He’s also looking forward to seeing how the change of scenery will influence Holy Hum. “There’s so many people there, that I feel more comfortable because I have more anonymity,” he says. “That kind of gives me the feeling that I can be what I want to be.”

Holy Hum || Illustration by Brian Tong for Discorder Magazine
Holy Hum || Illustration by Brian Tong for Discorder Magazine
Holy Hum || Photography by Javiera Bassi De La Barrera for Discorder Magazine
Holy Hum || Photography by Javiera Bassi De La Barrera for Discorder Magazine

When I point out that releasing an album about the death of his father is about the least anonymous thing you can do, Andrew laughs at the contradiction. “I’m such a private person, but at the same time I’ve created a work that’s so deeply personal and I’m going to be making it public,” he says. “I’m super proud of it, but at the same time I hope that no one listens to it.”

Eventually, I stop trying to steer the conversation back towards his music, and I learn more about Andrew outside of his Holy Hum project — his love for Nirvana’s In Utero, how he and Jacqueline met, how the housing crisis in Vancouver influenced his decision to move to the United States. There are half-eaten bags of chips on the ground and we share room-temperature beers while Andrew eats instant noodles. As the evening wanes, I feel the sense of deep calm that only a conversation with a good friend can provide. I turn my recorder off and listen.

 

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All Of My Bodies was released October 6. Visit holyhum.com for more.

Olivia_Discorder_illustration_01

Good Night Out Vancouver

Location, Location, Location

If you live in Vancouver and you hadn’t heard of Good Night Out before September, chances are they popped onto your radar with the announcement of a late-night harm reduction service on the Granville Strip. Aptly named the Nightlife Street Team, the group has a 2-month pilot project patrolling Granville Street Fridays and Saturdays until the end of October. Whereas police patrol for obvious instances of violence and disorderly conduct, GNO’s focus is rooted in feminist ideals. Using non-violence, GNO seeks to reduce catcalling, sexual harassment, and everything else that gives Vancouver’s “Entertainment District” a reputation for being unsafe. If proven significant, the program could be extended indefinitely.

Good Night Out is a U.K. based initiative, but its Vancouver chapter is coordinated by Stacey Forrester and Ashtyn Bevan. In the weeks before the public announcement of the Nightlife Street Team, Discorder checked in with Forrester and Bevan to discuss harm reduction in mainstream and alternative venues.

“This project came out of a love for the underground music scene, […] and wanting others to feel [safe] regardless of what music they like, or where they hang out,” states Forrester.

Long before the street team, GNO Vancouver focused primarily on connecting with venues, with the intention of offering tips and training towards providing safe party atmospheres. “Initially, we started doing audits and workshops of places around town,” says Forrester, “basically any venue that serves alcohol is within our scope. […] They’ll listen to us talk about harm reduction, but we can also sneak in some stuff about bystander intervention and gendered violence harm reduction. It was kind of a carrot.”

But this carrot doesn’t interest everyone. GNO has faced a lot of pushback from mainstream venues. Bevan explains, “When we first started, we sent out hundreds of emails to venues across the city, as well as festivals, telling them what we do and why it is important to have this type of training. A lot of them said, ‘this is a great idea, but we already do this. Harm doesn’t happen here.’”

Forrester adds, “A lot of the things that mainstream nightlife economy is built around is actually rooted in really sexist, heteronormative things. So while [venues] don’t think they have a problem, they don’t see that the whole industry is a problem. And bringing in an outside source like Good Night Out admits that something is wrong.”

Some may think of a harmful situation and assume it relates to bar fights, but the reality can be a lot more complex. ‘Harmful’ situations can include harassment, assault, overdoses, severe intoxication, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and more. Harm reduction is a commitment to compassion that not all venues are ready for.

When asked why some venues declined Good Night Out’s workshops, the excuse is pathetic.

“We know that the nightlife economy is thriving in Vancouver, but they’ll say they can’t pay their staff to come in on their nights off,” explains Forrester. “We hear a variety of excuses, and we honestly think it is bullshit. […] If you cater to the most vulnerable, potential patron, then everyone less vulnerable benefits.”

GNO has managed to find a strong niche in Vancouver by switching their target. Bevan explains, “We found that there was such a struggle to get in with venues, [but] most live events are not affiliated with the venues themselves, but with club promoters.” Their new approach was calculated. They credit Groundwerk, Vancouver Arts & Leisure and Resonate for being early supporters of GNO’s outreach.

Good Night Out || Illustration by Olivia Di Liberto for Discorder Magazine
Good Night Out || Illustration by Olivia Di Liberto for Discorder Magazine

Unfortunately, the venue crisis that has affected these organizations, Vancouver Arts & Leisure in particular, is impacting access to safe party spaces overall. Forrester explains, “Gentrification is creeping up on the ability for us to have and keep alternative spaces, affordable venues for party-throwers who do take patron safety seriously. There are less and less places for these groups to have parties.”

With music scenes across Canada beginning to publicly address sexual assault and accountability within their communities, conversations around harm reduction have become more urgent. Although harm reduction seeks to eliminate the situations that lead to harassment and assault, organizations like GNO are usually the first ones to hear complaints.

“In a perfect world, our Facebook shouldn’t flood with messages after a big weekend of events, of people reporting abuse that they’ve encountered,” says Forrester. “Obviously [reading these messages] is what we do and we have a reputation of acting on it, but ultimately, we should not be the only ones. We’ve become an informal reporting system for cases of harassment.”

When contacted about instances of harassment, GNO follows us with the venues or promoters involved to offer a workshop and resource materials. One of these materials is a checklist that encourages equal representation among staff and security — positions which are largely male-dominant.

“Ultimately, what we’re asking for when we want a culture shift, is that we want a culture that celebrates and values women and the queer community, and that means more than having them just be props or fetishes for the night,” explains Forrester. “The only real way to make that shift is understanding and recognizing that women and femmes contribute to the nightlife and music industries on all levels.”

And so GNO has now taken to the streets, demonstrating first-hand the influence of women on nightlife.

On a final note, Bevan adds, “I think for Discorder readers, people who are hosting events and parties, feel free to reach out to us about how to make your event safer. If you want to get more knowledge, we are always here to help.”

 

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For information on Good Night Out Vancouver, including their services for venues and promoters, visit goodnightoutvancouver.com, and follow them on social media.