Michael Arthur Holloway of Dead When I Found Her
DEAD WHEN I FOUND HER is the electro-industrial project of Michael Arthur Holloway. DWIFH started in late 2008 as a deliberate attempt to resurrect the late 80's / early 90's electro-industrial sound, while also introducing modern production techniques and his own signature melodic style to the "old-school" industrial genre. After releasing the highly acclaimed debut 'Harm's Way', the follow-up, titled 'Rag Doll Blues', has been released just recently and we asked Michael to elaborate a little further on the themes of the new album as well as on a few general information about the project.
Reflections of Darkness (RoD): Since I could only find little information about my first question is: When and how did Dead When I Found Her Come into being?
Michael: I started DWIFH after returning from a couple years living in South America. I was about to turn thirty, I’d come back home to Portland, and everything was in a state of flux. I realized it was the perfect time to start a new project, something to sort of define the next phase of my life. And with that goal, I made a promise to myself that I would see this project through at least one full-length album, because in the past, my musical work had mostly consisted of half-finished ideas where I became restless and moved on to other things before anything substantial was completed. My original idea was to make old-school electro-industrial music (obviously) and to have a very strong noir / hard-boiled crime fiction vibe and image. ‘Harm’s Way’ has some of that, it’s in the lyrics here and there, but I still haven’t explored that imagery and atmosphere as deeply as I’d like to. The noir idea came from the band name itself, which was cropped from a line by Tom Waits during a live performance. He’s talking about how he hates staying in motels, because every time, it’s the police busting through the door and there I am [mimics cradling a woman’s body in his arms] pleading, “Officer, I swear, she was dead when I found her!”
RoD: Is 'Rag Doll Blues' based on a conceptual approach and if so, could you elaborate on that a little?
Michael: There are two primary, interconnected themes throughout the album: childhood and memory. The connection, of course, is about how we remember our childhood, which is to say, how poorly we remember it. For all the wonders of the human mind, our memory is embarrassingly weak. Trying to remember our childhood basically amounts to taking a bunch of scattered, dream-like images and piecing them together. It involves a lot of guess-work and imagination. It fascinates me to think that we can’t remember our own past—even dramatic, life-shaping stuff, like a traumatic event; they find people usually remember it incorrectly. They can’t separate the ‘real’ events from the various guesses and made-up thoughts their brain has created over the years as the actual memory grows dimmer. That said, Rag Doll Blues is not a concept album by any means, at least not in the sense of there being a specific, structured narrative to it (I actually don’t like albums like that, they feel too narrow, if you know what I mean). But I do like albums where specific imagery and ideas come up throughout the various songs, whether lyrical themes or musical motifs. It gives a sense of integration and wholeness to an album as a single work of art, rather than just a collection of songs.
RoD: Who's done the artwork for the new album?
Michael: My close friend John C. Worsley does all the artwork for DWIFH. He also performs live with me, playing the live keys so I can focus on the vocals and (occasional) guitar. He has a website for his art called Openvein.com
RoD: While you were still working on the new album you said in another interview that there's a plethora of material and mentioned the possibility of an EP release. Is that still an option?
Michael: Probably not, because I put my favourite 3 out-takes on the second disc of the 2CD version of Rag Doll Blues, which is also available digitally (titled ‘Stitches & Cover Ups’). Those three songs are big, long pieces, and along with the twelve songs from Rag Doll Blues, that’s the bulk of the material from the ‘Rag Doll’ ”sessions”’ so to speak. There’s other stuff, but I’d rather focus on writing completely new material than spend my time going back and finishing stuff that didn’t excite me as much in the first place, otherwise they would already be done. In a sense, the second CD of the limited edition version represents what would have been the EP I mentioned previously.
RoD: Are you choosing the movie samples specifically for one song to support the lyrical theme?
Michael: No, in fact the movie samples come first, and sometimes they even guide the lyrics I end up writing. It’s a bit of a cliché, of course, but I love David Cronenberg, and I think nearly half of the dialog samples on Rag Doll Blues are from a few of his earlier films. The tone and delivery becomes so emotional and atmospheric when you re-contextualize the voices with music. I see it as part of the song-writing process, because it has such a dramatic effect on the feel of the music. The lyrics/vocals, on the other hand, are always the last thing I do for any song.
RoD: The opening 'No More Nightmares' appears to be drawing from very personal experiences with them...
Michael: I think we all have a lot of experiences with nightmares, and you know, it’s a very individualized experience, one that words can never, ever adequately describe. So it’s interesting to try crafting a song about coming out of a nightmare -- you know, that bizarre few moments when the dream and one’s waking consciousness overlap – as a way to express the experience with more than just words.
RoD: I was wondering about the connection between the tracks 'Doll Pieces' and 'Doll Parts'. Is the former a kind of prelude to the latter?
Michael: Yes, definitely. They use the same drums, and play the same melodic motif (but with different sounds), and the idea here again is in creating that sense of integration to an album as a whole, rather than just a collection of separate ideas.
RoD: I couldn't help thinking that 'Mirrors' somewhat mimics a hall of mirrors to confront oneself with their own demons. Was that the kind of concept you envisions or is that as far-fetched as can be?
Michael: It’s great that it conjures that for you! For me, it’s about the experience of looking at your own reflection: What does it tell you? What if it’s inaccurate? Or dishonest? The lyrical notion of “you only believe what you can see” sort of plays with (or against) the other themes of human memory: thinking we can recall an important event from our past, though our contact with it is years removed, and made terribly inaccurate as a result. Can we remember what we look like without the mirror? We take on faith – though faith in what, I’m not sure – that the information in the reflection is accurate, meaningful...
RoD: Will we ever see a little tour of Europe?
Michael: I certainly hope so. But I think it’s more likely that I’d show up for a festival, or two, and maybe play a few other dates around that, if possible. It’s hard to arrange full tours when you exist on the (relatively) very-small scale of an electro-industrial band. There would need to be a lot of support and interest for it to happen.
RoD: If so, how would you envision the concept of presenting the music live properly?
Michael: We’ve started practicing with a drummer, which is certainly one way to make live electronic music more interesting than just some guys with laptops or synths, standing around and barely moving; or vocalists who basically do karaoke to their own songs. Sticking with the horror-movie theme, we’d ramp up what we’ve already done, showing clips and images from horror-movies on a screen behind us, with cuts timed to the rhythm of the song. That kind of stuff has been done a ton, of course, but electronic music needs that visual element when performed live, otherwise there just isn’t enough going on to call it a “show.”
RoD: It's probably way too early to ask but i can't resist. Are there already plans for another album?
Michael: Yes, of course. I hesitate to make any concrete statements, because it’s so early in the process that I’ll probably wind up changing everything and eating my own words, but let’s just say I have strong ambitions to make the darkest, harshest, most brutal DWIFH material yet, while (hopefully!) retaining the melodic sensibility that has always been there. Think of the transition from Pretty Hate Machine to the Broken EP, or how Last Rights sounds compared to earlier Puppy, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of where my mind is at.
RoD: Something off-topic. I'm a movie junkie myself and due to the load of samples you used I figured you're just like that. Did you actually see The Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus and more importantly, did you enjoy them?
Michael: Saw them both opening nights, yeah. I enjoyed Dark Knight Rises a lot – it’s flawed, for sure, but its successes won out over its weaknesses for me. I was very drawn into that story, as convoluted as it was, and thought the conclusion was perfect. As for Prometheus, don’t get me started - I hated it. Nearly every frame of it. For me, it’s a pathetic mess beyond forgiving. Sad, really...