COMMON GROUND
Common Ground
(Flowspace Music)

 

A joint collaboration by three top electronic music practitioners, Common Ground features the combined talents of Hollan Holmes (synths, sequences, art, design, layout, web stuff), Gary Johnson (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, moog guitar, electric five string fretless bass, hand drums, drum sequences, samples, loops, cymbals, gong) and Bill Olien (synths, samples, drones and loops). Thanks to his many fine albums, Hollan Holmes has built up a loyal following and those same listeners who enjoy Hollan’s electronic music releases will find music of equal interest on this first ever Common Ground album. Both Bill Olien and Gary Johnson are members of the band Resonant Drift and they bring a wealth of electronic music expertise to this collaborative effort with Hollan Holmes. Two years in the making, Common Ground’s self-titled debut CD was recorded in California and Texas and features the same high quality sound and artwork that electronic music fans have come to expect from Hollan’s many fine CDs. Speaking about the way that the Common Ground album was created, Hollan Holmes tells mwe3.com, "The Internet Age has made this sort of project quite easy in terms of file sharing and composing music. The process was quite straightforward—each of us would come up with an initial idea, maybe just a minute or two of a drone or sequence, sometimes longer. We would then upload it via a file sharing app and the other members would download it, load it up into our music DAW and start experimenting with additional tracks. One track by one, we would build song ideas. This went on for well over a year, before we decided we had a large enough body of work that we could pick and choose the best ones and it would be enough for a full hour of music." Overall, music fans will first note that the combination of Hollan Holmes and the two Resonant Drift members is a perfect sonic fit. While all three Common Ground members have diverse backgrounds in different realms of music and soundtrack production, they clearly channel their collective sonic resources into one giant electronic music pool and the end result is Common Ground's CD masterpiece of state-of-the-art electronica. www.CommonGroundAmbient.com

 




mwe3.com presents an interview with
COMMON GROUND



mwe3
: What were some of the key events that brought you three together? Hollan Holmes’ music is receiving critical acclaim these past few years but having not heard them till now, it seems Bill and Gary from Resonant Drift continue getting their names out there. Were you guys fans of each others works and was there a turning point when you thought wow, this is going to be a great album?

Hollan Holmes
: I didn't know a whole lot about Resonant Drift before they approached me about a collaboration, but I had listened to some of their music after seeing that Steve Roach had mastered some of their work and it interested me. After listening to them more in depth, the idea of a collaboration sounded exciting, so I accepted their invitation to collaborate on a project together.

Bill Olien: I was aware of Hollan’s music from his first CD. I have always enjoyed the space/Berlin School form of electronic music and Hollan really does a great job. I found the idea fascinating to have our more soundscape style blend with his sequencer sounds.

Gary Johnson: I got to know Hollan’s music when Steve Roach gave me Hollan’s CD A Distant Light in 2011, around the same time our Resonant Drift CD, Passages was released. After listening to Hollan’s music and having some communication with him, we met when I had a business trip to Dallas. It was a reunion of sorts, I felt like we had known each other forever. An immediate and relaxed friendship. The same kind of relationship I have with Bill, so I knew then that this was going to be something special. Like Bill, I knew what Hollan had to offer musically would fit seamlessly with our sound, but Common Ground became its own entity. Not Resonant Drift, nor Hollan Holmes, but a unique combination of ideas and sounds. Once the first track came together, “Tempest Rising”, I knew this was going to be an amazing album.

mwe3: I saw on the Common Ground CD cover art, that the CD was recorded in both California and Texas. What was the planning, writing recording process like for the Common Ground album including how long the album took to record, produce and then press CDs. Was it challenging to record the album in different locations and was there much overdubbing or tweaking in getting the final result?

Hollan Holmes: The Internet Age has made this sort of project quite easy in terms of file sharing and composing music. The process was quite straightforward: Each of us would come up with an initial idea, maybe just a minute or two of a drone or sequence, sometimes longer. We would then upload it via a file sharing app and the other members would download it, load it up into our music DAW and start experimenting with additional tracks. One track by one, we would build song ideas. This went on for well over a year, before we decided we had a large enough body of work that we could pick and choose the best ones and it would be enough for a full hour of music.

Bill Olien: I thought the process worked really well. After we went back and forth through the Internet we spent several days together which really finalized the project.

Gary Johnson: Yes, we had assembled the tracks to a certain degree. Then when we were ready to mix the album, Hollan flew to San Diego and spent four days with Bill and I in my Event Horizon Studio doing the mix down. During this time, we each added more parts to each track. We went through each song and analyzed it as to whether it was finished or not. Then when we actually mixed each track, we did a bit arranging, enhancing and editing of the songs. We spent very long days together in a small space completing the album, but it was always a joy working together. No egos, no tantrums, more like one mind with three different view points coming together with ease.

mwe3: Synths and sequencers seem to dominate the sound of the Common Ground CD, but I noticed that Gary also played a variety of guitars and drums, but you don’t hear that so much. How were the guitars channeled into the Common Ground e-music sound spectrum and did some tracks feature more guitars than others? What synths and sequencers did you feature mostly on Common Ground?

Hollan Holmes: I used Reason 8 and Presonus Studio One II with a ton of plugins and VST synths. No hardware synths were used by me for this release, but that will definitely change for all future releases. You might actually be surprised where Gary's guitars are in these songs, because in some cases, they sound strikingly like a synth.

Bill Olien: I love Gary’s style of guitar playing. He has a great gift to be able to add elements and layers with the guitar that both blend and stand out. For me I used a few synths including Roland JP-8000, Korg Radius, Korg MicroKorg, Alesis Micron and Moog LP.

Gary Johnson: I used a variety of guitars and variety of guitar sounds. My process for recording guitar tracks is I usually listen and play along to the song once or twice to formulate ideas and then I record one or two takes of improvising with the song. I have many years of experience as a soloist so it’s a natural thing for me to create parts in the moment. On tracks 1, 2 & 8, I used a Fernandez Sustainiac guitar that can hold notes indefinitely. I combined this with a 1980’s Korg Space Station synth pedal. The higher frequency moving notes that sound like “whistling or violins” are these guitar parts. On track 3, “Spirited Encounter”, I actually put this track together on my own. I played several synth parts using a Waldorf Blofeld synthesizer, several 5-string fretless bass parts, and four acoustic guitar parts played in harmony. On track 4, I played three hand drum parts along with creating a percussion sequence. I also used the Moog guitar throughout the song playing sustained altered chords over the drone. On track 6, I wrote this song using the Moog guitar, which has endless sustain. I recorded four parts of the Moog guitar and Hollan added several synth drones later. On track 7, I experimented with distortion pedal to overdrive the Fernandez guitar. Not what you would expect in an ambient song, but the part really fit nicely with the chaotic mood in the middle of the song. The guitar almost has a thick violin/cello sound to it.

mwe3: Was there a plan in balancing the sound of so many instruments and what did Robert Rich bring to the final mastering and how was the mixing of the CD handled? What computer systems did you use to get the right balance of sound and were certain instruments panned left, right or center so we can know further as to who is playing what when listening?

Hollan Holmes: I think it was a very organic, naturally dynamic process and we kept it pretty open-ended to allow for plenty of flexibility based on each of our own personal desires. I flew out and met up with Gary and Bill at the end of the project and we spent three days in Gary's awesome home studio getting the mixes right. Most of the mixes were done live, which is a bit old school, but very hands-on and very fun. I'd never really mixed live like that for any of my releases, so it was definitely a learning experience, but quite rewarding. Each of us has our own touches of personality in all the mixes.

Bill Olien: Our style of live mixing back through the board adds an element which we believe is organic. Through this process we are able to both focus on individual tracks but also on the whole mix. Each element gets a special focus for EQ and effects. Robert took it to the next level to focus the sound and EQ for the whole CD.

Gary Johnson: As Bill said, he and I in Resonant Drift mix our music live through a mixing board. Something we came to from our association with Steve Roach. This was a change for Hollan who, at the time, worked “in the box” doing his mixes in the digital domain. I think the whole experience inspired Hollan to go on a rampage acquiring a slew of hardware synths after our time together in my studio. I can hardly wait to hear all of his new analog hardware come to life on our next release!

mwe3: Tell us about the Common Ground logo and CD artwork? It kind of reminds me of the ELO logo in a way! I know your web site has a complete story on just the design of the album art and I like the idea of the cogs and gears representing the album. Was that the idea?

Hollan Holmes: The final design is actually the one that came after several other ideas that we had. I was somehow able to convince Bill and Gary to let me explore a Steampunk themed idea that I had, based on a planetary gear set, a common engineering solution for complex mechanics such as what is found in modern automotive transmissions. The choice is based on the idea that three planetary gears revolve around a central “Sun” gear and enclosed in an outer ring gear, all of which represent the three of us working around a central theme or idea and encompassed by a singular motivation. It seemed like a fitting metaphor. I do think that I made a bit of a leap in making an entire CD layout of rusted, grungy mechanical components against some very non-industrial music, but then when I lit the scene the way I did, it added a sense of mystery, which our music definitely evokes, so it actually works in a way.

Bill Olien: All I have to say is Hollan is one incredibly talented artist. All kudos go to him.

Gary Johnson: Ditto. The artwork was all Hollan and a masterful and painstaking job to create a truly unique look for an ambient/electronic album. I seriously think he should get nominated to the Grammy’s for the album art category. It’s that good.

mwe3: How would Hollan compare the Common Ground sound with his solo efforts including 2015’s Incandescent and for all the artists, is it more challenging to record solo or in the company of like minded artists? What are the pluses and if any, the minuses?

Hollan Holmes: I wouldn't say that it was more difficult or less difficult, just different. This is a very different release from my own work, but the really cool thing about it is that those listeners who are familiar with each of our own sounds will be able to distinguish much of who did what. That it all fits together is a testament to Bill and Gary's abilities to take my Berlin School/Space music style and make it work within the context of their own personal approach. The advantage of working alone is that one doesn't need to worry about stepping on toes or causing stylistic conflicts or bruising egos or any of that nonsense. The advantage of working with like-minded artists, such as Bill and Gary who, by the way, never revealed any of the aforementioned behavior, is that there was always a fresh idea that was spawned by the ideas from the other members. I provided a lot of song ideas for these two, but I think I most enjoyed creatively reacting to their many ideas. It was a lot of fun to just react, rather than create from nothing! I'm not used to such a luxury. The three of us get along well with one another, which is important. There is always a degree of professionalism and we always manage to find solutions to challenges. Of course, there was plenty of silliness and cutting up, that's just how I'm wired.

Gary Johnson: Just a bit from the Resonant Drift perspective, working with Hollan was a joy. All of us stepped a bit out of our comfort zones at times and that’s what makes this album not a Resonant Drift or a Hollan Holmes CD, but the music has an identity of it’s own.

mwe3: What’s been the reaction to the Common Ground album among the space music and electronic music cognoscenti? Do you feel that the art of 21st century electronic music is gaining in popularity at radio and print in general and what’s your take on the world wide boom in New Age and e–music in general?

Hollan Holmes: I feel like electronic music is gaining in popularity. I want it to, of course, but regardless of the genre's popularity, I will be making music that falls into these genres, because it's the type of music that makes me happy to create. It is deeply fulfilling to me on many levels. So far, the reaction to our project has been quite positive and we're getting some critical airplay. I think that will continue as we continue to get the word out about our personal work and this collaboration.

Gary Johnson: I’ve been getting very positive reactions to the Common Ground album, even from people who are not even aware of, nor fans of electronic and ambient music. So, I think it has an appeal beyond the genre paradigm. Not to sound cliché, in this frenzied and violent world, I truly feel that this type of music we create brings a sense of peace and enlightenment, in a transcendental way, to the listener. So, part of the gaining worldwide popularity for this type of music, is based on people hungering for ways to raise the planetary consciousness.

mwe3: How challenging is it to bring the Common Ground music to the world stage so to speak? In your estimation which countries and cities seem to be more popular for the electronic music genres and is there a way to bring the Common Ground sound to an even wider audience? I had discussed with Hollan the Berlin school of electronic music. Are you all fans of the Berlin school of space music and what artists today do you feel are carrying the torch for electronic music?

Hollan Holmes: One of the benefits of making music in the age of the internet is that self-promotion is vastly more cost effective and more efficient. The drawback is that, now, anyone can do it, so there's a lot more competition. That being said, if one's music stands out above the rest and if one possesses some decent marketing knowledge, the game gets much more interesting. In my experience and with the help of capturing sales metrics, I can pinpoint where my biggest fan bases are located. The Netherlands, by far, harbor the greatest concentration of purchasers of my music. However, it's still too early to do that with Common Ground, but it will happen. There is still plenty for us to do to market this first release. The three of us do have similar interests musically, but I'm probably the biggest fan of the Berlin School genre, but I'll let Gary and Bill weigh in on that assertion. Artists like Steve Roach, Jean Michel Jarre and Kraftwerk are doing much to keep the genre alive. I recently saw Kraftwerk in Austin, Texas and I was amazed at the number of young people attending, not to mention it was a packed house of several thousand. I think interest is definitely growing.

Gary Johnson: I like the Berlin school of electronic music, but Hollan is way more influenced by it. Bill and I have our influences in atmospheric, organic ambient type music. But, that is one of the exciting things about our Common Ground collaboration; we all bring a niche of listeners into the fan base to create a larger audience than what our music would generate individually.

mwe3: What does the future hold for Common Ground as a musical union and are there other projects you intend to work on in the future as solo artists in Hollan’s case, as well as with Common Ground and also Resonant Drift in the coming year? Would you consider a concert or even a long form DVD / video at some point? What do you feel the future has to hold for your blend of state of the art electronic music?

Hollan Holmes: We're already talking about our next project together. I'm releasing another solo effort at the end of 2016, but after that I'm going straight into the next Common Ground project. We have, indeed, talked about putting together some concerts and I think that would be really fun to do. We're certainly excited about the possibilities and our future as a collaborative group.

Gary Johnson: Bill and I have some ideas for a future Resonant Drift release. I’m releasing an album later this year with German drone master, Tomas Weiss. But, I’m really excited about pursuing more releases with Bill and Hollan as Common Ground. I think we just scratched the surface of what’s to come. I can hardly wait to go deeper into our combined sound worlds. It’s going to be amazing!




 

 
   
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