The purple links in this article serve as wormholes. Click on them and you’ll find yourself walking through the pages of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’. From there, you can tunnel into whichever text you’re interested in exploring further.
You can now listen to episode 1 of the Sound of Pen podcast. Click here to hear Lucas talk about love, life and lyrics.
Holding Absence are one of the best bands on the planet right now. As profound as it is poignant, latest album – ‘The Greatest Mistake Of My Life’ – really is a masterpiece.
Which means we couldn’t have been more pleased when frontman Lucas Woodland agreed to speak to us for the first in our Wormholes series.
As we listened to him talk about the themes threaded throughout his own work, we suddenly found ourselves spotting corresponding ideas within the texts we’ve been studying at school.
And now we don’t just have a new favourite record, we’ve also got a deeper understanding of why the writers we’re learning about in class are relevant to us in 2021.
What a shame young Lucas didn’t have his own music to listen to when he was at school…
“I was kind of a funny student,” Lucas laughs. “Because I’m not very good at maintaining knowledge. I learn things as I do them but if I had to sit and read a book and remember it and then do it in an exam, I was never the best at that.”
So many of us know exactly what the singer means.
“I just wished I had understood what I love about English more,” he muses now. “I did English Literature for A-Levels and we were looking at books that I just didn’t really connect to or relate with.”
Woodland’s not alone in feeling like this. Often, it can seem like the writers we study are from a different planet.
Not so with Holding Absence. Their music talks loudly to us about a world we know and recognise.
“I’ve seen the way it can connect to people,” Lucas nods seriously. “And I like to think there’s always room for a band that people can relate to in the world, because every year that goes by there’s more untrodden ground and life becomes harder to navigate. My Chemical Romance really taught me how to come to grips with being an emo! Hopefully, I can help people navigate this part of life. The concept of helping more people and reaching more people, that’s the goal.”
It’s such a HUGE ambition, and we’re excited by it – just like we’re excited by Lucas’ passion for comics.
“I’ve recently started reading this really old manga called Akira,” he grins. “It was really insightful for me to read a brilliant comic from the early 1980s – that was written in Japan – because I’m obviously a Welsh dude from 40 years in the future trying to understand an art form from such an alien land!”
And right there, the Holding Absence frontman synthesises our role in the English classroom. Reading Wyatt’s poetry – or Dickens’ prose – or ANYTHING – can be challenging, but dig deep enough and you’ll find that those ‘aliens’ have buried a treasure chest filled with tips and hints aimed at making your own existence more manageable.
Lucas Woodland talks about his own philosophies with such energy, it’s hard not to get caught up in them. Clearly, he is a great thinker and a real ARTIST.
“A big lesson I try to portray on this album,” he says, “is no lesson is pointless; every lesson is something to learn from and everything that you do, be it a success or a failure, is something to learn from. ‘Celebration Song’ is about being depressed for so many days of your life that you learn to be happy, and then ‘Mourning Song’ is about losing somebody in your life and learning to value your life because of that. So, I guess, as a grander kind of thing, you know I very much embrace negative choice on this album because you learn from those things.”
Not that you have to concern yourself with those enormous ideas if you don’t want to. ‘The Greatest Mistake Of My Life’ works incredibly well simply as an album that makes you want to sing and dance like a lunatic.
But if you do engage in a deeper way with Holding Absence’s record, you will certainly be rewarded. It’s like what Lucas says about pop music…
“Maroon 5’s ‘Songs About Jane’ was one of my first albums. It’s one of the best pop albums of our generation and because of that I got into ‘band’ music, then it was rock, then it was metal, and it’s one of those things where – back to art as a whole – there’s always another door to open. Pop might be the foyer, but if you want to go any further into the building, there’s a lot more to explore.”
Which is pretty much exactly what we’ve been trying to say. That the more you commit to something, the more you’ll get out of it. And if you can picture the building that Lucas describes above, then you’ll now be able to imagine the room – somewhere in that same building – built purely for Holding Absence’s music.
Now, consider the fact that there’s a secret passage running from that very room all the way to Shakespeare’s study – and another that will lead you straight to Mrs Johnstone’s council house – and a third that ends up at the Plaza suite in New York, 1922…
As English students, we need to take advantage of the fact that Holding Absence really are exploring some seriously sophisticated ideas – ideas that link so well to those at the heart of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Blood Brothers’, ‘The Great Gatsby’… and the rest.
Just listening to Lucas talk about why he writes songs instead of, say, poetry or plays gives us a thrill.
“I would never know when I was done with a poem,” he says. “Whereas with a song, I do have parameters that I need to fit within. Lyrics are poetry, but forced into a shape. Most music that we enjoy will conform to some sort of comforting idea of what we perceive as music. It’s so understandable, a really digestible kind of structure that, over decades, it’s kind of been forced into.”
Wow. That makes so much sense. And now – maybe for the first time – we’re thinking about why Oscar Wilde chose the novel form or why Willy Russell decided his story needed to be performed on a stage or why Lord Byron’s ‘She Walks In Beauty’ could only be a poem…
What we’re certainly starting to understand about Holding Absence is that they have a finely-tuned awareness of shape and order, of form and structure – and this enables them to deliver their messages with extra oomph.
The opening to ‘The Greatest Mistake Of My Life’ hits particularly hard. The beautiful ‘Awake’, then that explosion as Lucas roars, ‘I’m alive.’ A spine-shivering moment if ever there was one.
“From where I’m stood, happiness feels like a bit more of a special kind of treat,” Lucas confesses. “I’m not one of those people who’s always happy. I think when I am happy I’m grateful for it because it’s a little bit less of a day-to-day thing for me. On a structural level, the verses are me acknowledging the hardships I feel that I’ve gone through – then the chorus is just an exclamation of, right at this moment in time, I am happy to be alive. “The ‘I’ve been so hurt for so long’ lyric chanting for literally a minute is this constant reminder to the listener that this is context that makes the ‘I’m so alive’ so important in that song.”
The fact that this moment comes so early on is significant too.
“How do you start an album without grabbing someone’s attention?” Lucas wants to know. “That’s the point, to give them this big moment.”
Not that ‘The Greatest Mistake Of My Life’ peaks too early. Holding Absence’s second full-length record is FULL of big moments. All of which become even larger when you start contemplating the record’s motifs and themes in more detail…
Let’s start with flowers. Yes, flowers. Oscar Wilde writes about them A LOT, F.Scott Fitzgerald writes about them A LOT, John Keats writes about them A LOT…
“The flower thing has always seeped into the band on the visual side,” Lucas acknowledges. “I just think flowers are really beautiful and natural. It’s one of these intrinsic things that we live in a world surrounded by such materialistic things and a lot will seem obsolete in ten years’ time. Even now, when I look back at when the internet first came about, because of the way the technology world is, everything cycles ten times faster – so everything that’s cool now will stop being cool quicker than ever before. But I think that’s kind of why I’m enamoured by flowers – and religion – those are things that will outlive me. There’s a sense of timelessness to those kinds of things.”
And yet of course, the rose is as thorny as it is sweet-smelling, the lily as pale as it is beautiful, the laburnum as poisonous as it is pretty…
“Where I was as an adolescent growing into a teen,” Lucas remembers, “and feeling a bit misunderstood and a bit alone, My Chemical Romance came through for me and they showed me it’s okay to be a little bit different – it’s okay to be very different if you want! It’s very much about embracing the most bombastic – or the most introspective, sensitive – version of yourself, and both of those things were totally fine, you know. Those songs made me feel like I could climb a mountain or I could sit in my bedroom and cry all day.”
Ah, yes, the top-of-the-mountain/pit-of-despair see-saw. So often found in the playground of love…
“Beyond Belief is a song about love,” Woodland explains, “but it’s a song about fearing love, it’s a song that says if I go out with this person today, I might go out with that person again, I might get engaged to that person, I might marry that person… I might live with that person forever! And it pairs up really well with ‘Die Alone (In Your Lover’s Arms)’, in the context that ‘Die Alone’ is about realising on your deathbed that the person you loved wasn’t right for you. ‘Beyond Belief’ is about being at the foot of the mountain and scared of climbing it in case that happens.”
Know the feeling? Of course you do. Love is BONKERS. Almost as bonkers as religion.
“‘Nomoreroses’ is essentially about my relationship with God,” the Welsh frontman says, “and the concept that I wish I believed in a god, but in all my life I’ve never been given a moment of clarity that made me believe. That song is kind of about being angry at God for having all this power and using absolutely none of it to convince me that he even exists in the first place.”
Deep breath. This is gigantic stuff. And there’s more of it everywhere you look. Take the opening line of ‘In Circles’: ‘Crushed like a bug under the weight of listlessness…’
“That is so vivid and blatant, right? It’s like you will always be that crushed little bug because you’ll never try and amount to more. As a student especially, I never reached out of myself – and fortunately music gave me something to do with myself – but I dread to think what my life would be like right now if I didn’t have music because I’m not the kind of guy who reaches out and tries things and it’s one of my greatest flaws. And this song is basically addressing those of us who do just go on in circles.”
BECOMING THE BUTTERFLY
And yet, these days, Lucas Woodland is NOT moving in circles. He’s the spearhead of one of the UK’s most important bands.
“I’m a cog in a bigger machine,” he smiles. “I am bigger than myself because of this band behind me. I think, no matter what it is, no matter what project you may be working on, you can always create something larger than yourself. That is the main difference between me now and me ten years ago – I didn’t have anything bigger than myself to make. But if you want to sit down and write a book, spend hours or months or weeks of your life labouring over this thing – that surely could transcend higher than you as a person ever could. And I think that’s the idea of ‘In Circles’. One of the final lyrics is, ‘I live my life inside of this cocoon, just like a flower too afraid to bloom, I live my life inside of this cocoon and I’ll die here.’ And I think that song is a kind of reverse psychology, a way of saying: do more, be more, become the butterfly, don’t just sit there and make up excuses that you don’t have wings. Go and achieve more than one person ever should.”
Okay, I think that’s your cue! What do you want to do? Go and do it. What will make you feel like the person you want to be? Go and do it. What will make you happy? GO AND DO IT!
And make sure to send any thoughts related to this interview here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.