Holy Lands

Holy Lands, “The Paint Trader’s Union.”

Some bands are vehicles for a single writer's songs. Others are overstuffed with competing personalities, where the tension between different ideas and genres creates an element of surprise.

Compared to groups with a designated leader, Holy Lands wedge a surplus of contrasting characters and musical backgrounds into their songs.

Singer and guitarist Cory Fay's a fan of old jazz, David Bowie, Tom Waits and jarring use of pedals, plus a voice that he uses in either a delicate croon or a post-hardcore yell.

Duane Raider is a stand-up comedian and a bassist from post-hardcore bands, who also takes his turn singing lead and back-up.

Chris Justice, who sings and plays drums, was a member of the Thug Nasties and other punk bands.

Lauren Tyler Norby uses the keyboard more often than not for washes of synth and embellishments.

"We're always on different pages when we bring something in," Fay said. "I'll bring in some pretty-sounding Sufjan Stevens ... guitar part and Chris and Duane will be like, 'What if it sounded like "To Pimp A Butterfly"?' And Lauren's on the other side of the room soundtracking a nightmare to Prince albums."

The four recorded their first album, "The Paint Traders' Union," over a year ago at House of Watts, a studio located in the basement of Butte's Len Waters Music Center, the oldest music store in the state. Recording there gave them access to some of the store's instruments, such as a pre-war acoustic arch-top that Fay used on "Lighthouses."

The group released it a year ago as a cassette and on Bandcamp, and then opted for a new master courtesy and CD release courtesy of local outlet Minor Bird Records, which is out now.

The seven-song, 43-minute album makes room for Waits-in-steam-punk mode rock songs ("Lighthouses"); bright and melodic post-punk with dark themes ("California Maki Suicide" comes with a funny monologue about the futility of life from Justice); "Sleep Study" has hardcore singalong with funny lines about Abraham Lincoln, serious lines about growing older and failing, and a pretty single-note guitar line that makes you want to sing along.

Many Holy Lands songs start with a shtick and gradually darken.

"They all go very dramatic. They start out jokey and then go very dramatic," Raider said.

Furthering that is the tension between Fay's interests and those of the other band members.

"Chris and I come from a background of very hardcore and post-core and loud, noisy bands," Raider said. "That seems to be the element we bring into it: Can't help but get weird and loud."

"I think those are two guiding words for the band, weird and loud," Norby said.

All those personalities lead to a collaborative and open songwriting approach, which sometimes results in prog-like multi-part songs that push past eight minutes.

"I think it's probably proggy because we all approach songwriting a little differently," Raider said. "We try not to stifle anyone's particular songwriting style. Everyone gets a say. Except Lauren."

Norby was the last to join the group, after he asked to join. Originally it was a three-piece in the mold of Seattle melodic-but-still-heavy trio Helms Alee.

The banter is a part of the Holy Lands experience, whether on stage or off, and Justice said a shared wordiness characterizes the group.

"We also needed the eye candy," Raider said. "We're not very good-looking guys."

"Not a guy," said Justice, who recently came out as a transgender woman.

"I meant that in the particular 'everybody' sense," Raider said.

"' I was reinforcing the patriarchy, give me a break,' " Justice said sarcastically.

"I think ultimately what leads us being who we are as a band is that we're all (expletive) and we're all storytellers, and we spend so much of our time telling stories instead of playing music that we end up writing story-songs, and we all have no brevity, especially Cory. So song lengths benefit or suffer depending on how you look at it. We feel like it benefits. Our audience might not appreciate that our average song is nine minutes long," she said.

They have more than enough songs for the second album, which will be darker and more cohesive.

Many of the new songs are inspired by the experience of recording in Butte, with ghost stories and supernatural themes, or say, a song about Frank Little, the union organizer who was lynched in an unsolved crime during the reign of the Copper Kings, to name just a few.

"A lot of those songs that may never see the light and never will are songs that are better than most songs I've written in other bands," Justice said. "Which is sort of why it's become frustrating, because you have to cut good ideas. It's a sensation that's new for me."

"We write for ourselves and that seems to translate well into being something that's fun to watch," Fay said.

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment Editor for The Missoulian.