The Holy Rollercoasters Reflect On ‘Odyssey’

Inspired by the masters of rhythm and blues, the ecstasy and tragedy of love and the beauty and danger of those who first took pen to paper, The Holy Rollercoasters are soul, blues and jazz-worshipping Brisbanites. It shall be wild and you shall snap your fingers and wiggle your hips, then ye shall be healed.

Since the octet started kicking around in 2017 they’ve released two EPs, two double A-side singles and a string of singles as well as regularly giving the floorboards of South-East Queensland venues a good workout. Not ones to let their sounds stagnate, the collective are embracing new challenges beyond their ecstatic version of funk and soul by taking on one of the western world’s oldest recorded tales: Homer’s Odyssey. In their modern version of the classic epic, we’re transported into the near future where the newly named Otis (Odysseus) faces similar challenges to his prototypical counterpart in this new desolate Aussie hellscape.

With influences stretching from traditional gospel and blues to the down-home Memphis sound of Otis Redding, James Carr and anything out of Muscle Shoals to the fuzzed out psychedelia of Funkadelic and Alabama Shakes and flat-out funk of Adrian Younge and The Meters The Holy Rollercoasters have forged a sound steeped in rhythmic bliss, sweet catchy horns and a lyrical avoirdupois that both caresses and torments the soul in equal measure. Jimi and Andrew speak to Hi Fi Way about their new concept album Odyssey I.

How exciting has the build up to Odyssey been?
Jimi: Yeah, very exciting! We haven’t played a gig together since May, I think, so we are very keen to get us all back on stage. There was a real buzz when we were finally all in a room together for our photos so, it will be even better onstage in front of a crowd!
Andrew: We’ve been sitting on the opening tracks of Odyssey for a few months and I’ve been soooooo keen to get them out to people, counting down the days to November… The concept for these three EPs telling one big combined story arc really feels like we’re building on the focused themes of our previous releases and will give a rewarding experience to our listeners.

How ambitious an undertaking has it been to take on a concept album?
Jimi: I think very ambitious – it is not often done in the modern era. Especially in an era where albums are less valued just because of the way we consume music. But we are not exactly commercial so we have our own goals and pursue music accordingly. In practicality it has been the most challenging for me to write lyrics to a specific concept. Previously it has been that we have written lots of songs and found a way to combine them thematically.
Andrew: The composition process took at least a year with a lot of back-and-forth between Jimi and I, but it was certainly fun to put together a work of this magnitude. To tell a story across an entire album is such a satisfying feeling so it’s definitely worth it! But breaking up the recording/release process into three EPs has certainly helped make things manageable!

Has the idea to do a concept album been in your head for a while?
Andrew: My favourite record EVER is Charles Minigus’ Black Saint and the Sinner Lady and nothing else in his large oeuvre has that sort of integrated storytelling where every single moment of the album fits inextricably together and is somehow completely surprising but inevitable. It’s that feeling that I most want to capture with our Odyssey.

Was it as easy to piece together the story as you thought?
Jimi: Andrew had a good idea where things should be and he mapped out the plot accordingly. It obviously follows The Odyssey, where it starts in the present and then goes back in time for the second part and then back into the present at the end. I then had to read The Odyssey as I only knew it loosely, or in different parts or through O Brother Where Art Thou? I then used my own ideas about a futuristic, Australian Odyssey to put it together. It didn’t seem right to sing solely about loosely based people thousands of years ago, even though it is an incredible story.
Andrew: The duality of our approach gives our telling of the story a unique timelessness. I initially wrote the music based directly on Homer’s Odyssey, then Jimi wrote his lyrics on a story that’s a re-setting of that ancient Greek plot in an Australian future. It shows that this is a story that happens over and over and over again – as cyclical as the revolution of the Earth.

How will the other two parts unfold?
Andrew: The middle section of the Odyssey goes back in time and recounts Odysseus’ “wanderings”, where he is cursed to never be able to return home. We’re planning on incorporating a heap of field and location recordings, and getting proper psychedelic! The third section is about finally finding real friends and returning home after such a long absence. The EP will reflect Odysseus’ final and most immense struggles followed by the incomparable joy of being home.

How do you think this will translate to the live experience?
Andrew: I want this thing to be a musical one day! It was written with that kind of scope in mind and that comes across in performance (well, just rehearsals so far…). It’s fun to have a series of songs that HAVE to be played in a certain order and without gaps for chat.

Has COVID slowed down the momentum for the band?
Jimi: Yes and no. We have played fewer gigs and we possibly had a little bit of momentum coming off a big Woodford Folk Festival in early 2020. Possibly the biggest change is that even when gigs started to happen again with eight people in the band, it can be a little difficult. Especially when everyone plays in multiple bands and have jobs or study but we also love playing together. So to balance everything, we decided to limit the gigs. Still having lots of fun playing together though!

How did The Holy Rollercoasters meet?
Jimi: My old blues project (under my name) needed some horns. I had met Andrew through Sunday afternoons of jazz at the West End café Blackstar. He played on my first album and when I needed a new guitarist he suggested Chris Bancroft. When Andrew left town we drafted in Alex Price to play sax, although I knew him from his old band the Stormchasers. That’s how I met everyone – but everyone else knew each other through studying jazz at JMI (except Andrew who taught there). I felt like I needed a change at some point so I put “Jimi Beavis” on ice around the same time as Andrew was planning to move back to Brisbane and then we put the team together, with only a couple of changes since.

Sonically, how would you describe the band’s music?
Andrew: The Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones bands were a huge influence early on and the presence of a horn section always keeps that classic soul sound close to the fore. But over time as our repertoire has expanded we’ve really started to find our own sound that mixes soul with the darker reaches of jazz, blues and rock and get inspired by more ultra-modern soulish bands like Brittany Howard’s various projects. Every day we get further away from any discernible genre and I think that’s great!

Are there plans when things settle down a bit to tour more around the country?
Andrew: We’re super keen to build on our Woodford experience from 2019-20 and keep hitting festivals all around the place!

Interview By Rob Lyon

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The Holy Rollercoasters launch their new album this Sunday…

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