For decades, Emil Amos has been tweaking ’70s rock, psychedelia, and folk in interesting ways across various monikers and projects including Grails, Lilacs & Champagne, and Holy Sons. The latter is the most pure representation of Amos’ warped mind, which has spawned Holy Sons releases numbering in the double digits. His first with Thrill Jockey, The Fact Facer, was released back in September, and today Amos kicks off a brief tour. He’s also releasing a new video for “Transparent Powers,” one of The Fact Facer‘s druggy high points, today exclusively with Flavorwire.
Flavorwire: Watching your “Transparent Powers” video, one gets the sense that something bad is continually on the brink of going down. Did you have any specific reference points?
Emil Amos: Jessica Bennett shot the video, Conor Lamb directed it, Ra’chel Lowery did the production design, and it was all shot out in New Jersey. We’d originally begun talking about the Hardy Boys, Stand By Me, and Lost Highway, and they dreamed up the basic scenario from there. Those reference points felt like familiar terrain for me so, whereas I’d normally be pretty uncomfortable acting, the entire process was kind of like sleepwalking… sort of how the video looks.
I love the hazy weight of “Transparent Powers,” and I heard you were inspired by early Fleetwood Mac guitarist Danny Kirwan. What’s the backstory behind this song?
EA: My other band Grails had been using Eastern scales for so many years that it made me want to turn back to a much more American style of guitar playing. Ironically, some of the classic reference points for the perfect “American sound” come from the British blues players who helped perfect the electric blues sound we all grew up with. The duo of Peter Green and Danny Kirwan radiates a subtle spiritualism, treating the guitar as a transformative or healing device. Not too dissimilar from when Fugazi plays an open E chord. It just doesn’t sound like anyone else and yet they don’t use any effects. This kind of power of expression comes back to a person’s unique love for music and the purity of their dedication. That clean and very exposed tone Danny Kirwan and Peter Green betrayed has had a huge influence on all the Holy Sons, Lilacs and Champagne, and Grails records for the last few years.
Something often described of you is how prolific you are. Do you write daily?
EA: These days I’m usually mixing on the computer daily. Mostly because I’m digging through tons of old tapes and hard drives while trying to focus the sonic lens on each song’s ultimate sentiment. From ’92 to ’04 I wrote songs daily, but it kept me constantly submerged in a swamp of my own reflection. It’s a pretty unforgiving way of life to exist under the critical eye of examining yourself constantly. Around the time of [Holy Sons album] Decline of the West (’04/’05), I got addicted to reconfiguring the songs through re-mixing as a new kind of daily ritual. Trying to deconstruct them and turn their basic elements upside down to make something new happen that I hadn’t heard before. That’s one reason why Holy Sons and Grails records tend to shapeshift constantly: we were trying to burn down the old molds of the “troubadour” or the “rock band” and dig further down into the guts of where these songs really want to exist.
The essay you wrote for Dangerous Minds about fake Tim Buckley the jewel thief and your father’s role in introducing him to Joni Mitchell and other folk stars was wild. I’m wondering if finding out that your father was telling the truth made you feel more connected to his stories and unique role surrounding the folk community.
EA: I always felt connected to that original folk-rock music germ but, like any little kid, I didn’t fully integrate its influence until much later on. Led Zeppelin was a huge flashpoint for so many kids in that way because they integrated British folk forms in ways you just wouldn’t normally have been listening to in seventh grade.
My dad mentioned Stephen Stills and David Crosby all the time, but it was the ’80s so I was busy listening to what a little kid wanted to hear, and sometimes there wasn’t a totally obvious bridge between us. I remember him making me watch The Last Waltz and The Buddy Holly Story when I was probably about seven (and realizing their profundity much later on), but before that the central listening habit of our house was always the Beatles. The first music I can remember hearing was Abbey Road and Magical Mystery Tour. I think the influence of that original folk music wave may just reverberate in me still from the overall attitude and vibe of Coconut Grove and the strange tropical hippie magic that existed during that time. My father was certainly plugged directly into its central current.
Holy Sons tour dates with Elisa Ambrogio:
Fri Nov 7 – Northampton, MA – Flywheel Arts
Sat Nov 8 – Albany, NY – The Tree House
Sun Nov 9 – Montreal, QC – Le Ritz
Mon Nov 10 – Toronto, ON – Smiling Buddah
Tue Nov 11 – Detroit, MI – Trinosophes
Wed Nov 12 – Chicago, IL – Beat Kitchen
Thu Nov 13 – Columbus, OH – Double Happiness
Fri Nov 14 – Philadelphia, PA – Underground Arts
Sat Nov 15 – Brooklyn, NY – Union Pool