Snuggled up close together with cold booze in hand, Austin based psychedelic rock band Holy Wave play a packed house at Monarch Bar in El Paso. The bass and drums warmly fill the room with the sounds of “Do You Feel It?”—the opening track off their first LP Relax. Layered with jangly guitars and 60s moody organ melodies, the psychedelic vibe was set for the rest of the night—everyone was feeling it. The band is made up of Kyle Hager (plays organ most of the time, bass sometimes, and a little guitar), Joseph Cook (guitar), Julian Ruiz (drums), Ryan Kevin Fuson (guitar, bass, organ, some vox) and Dustin Zozaya (bass and organ). With song titles such as “Western Playland,” “Magic Landing” and “Wet and Wild”—Holy Wave infuse their El Paso roots into the music as well as the imagery, adorning album artwork with familiar local spots. Fusion was able to speak to the band on a visit to Western Playland.
Where does the name Holy Wave come from?
Julian: I just wrote it down in a notebook once, just trying to come up with band names.
Ryan: We were definitely into quantum physics at that time. So, I think that in our heads there was an idea, we were into an idea, there was one binding sound, like universal sound, like the string theory kind of deal—wave forms kind of help orchestrate and create. We were definitely into that.
Ryan: In retrospect we were into those things a lot at that time and it subconsciously came out of us.
Are you all originally from El Paso?
Julian: Yeah, I think Dustin’s the only one born here, but we were all raised here.
Did the band start in El Paso?
Ryan: We came up with the name in El Paso.
Julian: We didn’t play our first show here, we just came up with the name and had the idea to start the band, and we all moved to try and make it in a bigger city.
Ryan: Wrote some of our first songs in El Paso and moved to Austin and started refining them.
Julian: We’ve just been coming back all the time ever since.
There is something about the desert though that stimulates people’s creativity in a way. In places like Austin it definitely feels a little more closed in, whereas here it seems so vast I feel like sometimes your thoughts feel freer.
You moved to Austin specifically because of the band, to drive it forward?
Julian: I think it was just to try and make something happen.
Ryan: El Paso’s one of the coolest cities. The unfortunate truth is if you’re trying to make it in music, it’s not really. . .it makes it that much more difficult. We met the right people in Austin. You can’t help but feel like you’re always a little lucky where you find yourself and it’s through the people you meet, their help and stuff like that. It’s harder to meet those kind of people here in El Paso. You meet a lot of great people, but you know, in that sense, that can help push your career.
Julian: There’s industry people there (in Austin). If it wasn’t for the organizers of the Levitation Festival, I don’t know what we’d be doing. They let us play their festival, and we fell on a lot of ears that I think we wouldn’t have fallen on otherwise.
El Paso seems to have a big influence on you guys, from your album covers to song titles. Do you all miss living here?
Julian: I do. I think Ryan does and I don’t think Dusty does.
Ryan: We all moved to Austin. I came back here for a couple years. Really big cities sometimes give me a little anxiety. . .and any certain place, there’s like big groups of people you’re involved with. You go to a certain restaurant, a certain bar, and it’s always the same people. I like that kind of vibe more, instead of just getting bombarded with new people constantly.
How has being in Austin helped the band creatively?
Ryan: Stimulation I’d say. There are lots of good bands playing there.
Julian: It just threw us into a strange place.
Joseph: No one knew who we were, so we had to play a shit load of shows. Before we even played with bands like us, we played a million shows with random people that didn’t sound…it wasn’t a show put together by one person to make it a good night. It was just random things thrown together. Eventually after playing a whole bunch of shows we started meeting other bands, and the shows got a lot better. Once we heard bands we liked we could play with them, and it was almost a competitive thing, because you like that band.
Ryan: There is something about the desert though that stimulates people’s creativity in a way. In places like Austin it definitely feels a little more closed in, whereas here it seems so vast I feel like sometimes your thoughts feel freer. In that one aspect I would say Austin’s lacking a little bit. It’s mostly the stimulation. It’s kind of why people would go to New York all the time. Just get thrown into the shit, and you have to work your ass off to get out of it.
Joseph: It makes you think about the stuff you were thinking about before you left. Once we were in Austin, it’s all busy and chaotic. You get more sentimental about the things you like about El Paso, and that’s probably why the songs are titled like that.
You guys switch instrument duties. You guys are multi-instrumentalists. Does everybody participate in the songwriting as well?
Ryan: Say, for instance, Kyle brings a song to the table, or Andy, or I, or whoever does. Say there’s only 2 or 3 people around, and we need drums right now, and say Andy’s already on bass, then Jesse or Kyle will jump on the drums. If the song really feels good and we write it that way, it’s kind of like well, might as well keep it that way, otherwise you might lose some of that mojo or something. Maybe it’s even a little bit superstitious. If I write a part, or Dustin does or something, we can switch roles and go back to that normal format easy, but I think there’s definitely an element of superstition.
Joseph: If we like a song, we keep it, and you’re excited about playing the part you wrote, so you don’t want to switch; it’s like messing with the soul of it. It might lose some of the juice that it had before.
Where were the latest EP and full album recorded?
Ryan: The EP, I’d say three-quarters of it were b-sides from Relax, and there were 2 tracks done by our buddy, Erik Camacho’s house.
Was it different from the recording process of previous work?
Ryan: On those 2 songs (with Erik Camacho) definitely, but the other songs were recorded by the same dude who did the last album. Three quarters of the EP were tracks we’d recorded that were supposed to be on our last, we recorded the same way at the same studio, and just didn’t use them. Then we decided to make this EP so we could just do something with those tracks. The other one, we did it all ourselves basically, from the engineering, to mixing it and mastering it.
Kyle: The new record, Freaks of Nurture we did that in the same studio we recorded Relax in, but it was still different. We had a lot more hands on in the studio. He let us stay there at night too.
Joseph: He didn’t record any of the vocals either.
Kyle: Yeah, we’d record all that stuff ourselves, and even put some of the effect on it, and he just went back through and mixed some of the stuff. We helped produce this new record a lot more than Relax.
You can’t help but feel like you’re always a little lucky where you find yourself and it’s through the people you meet, their help and stuff like that.
Relax is a really good album. You guys nailed it on Freaks of Nurture. Were there any new influences seeping into that album?
Ryan: Yeah totally. We’d just recently gotten into Ariel Pink I’d say.
Julian: We’d also definitely gotten into the Cocteau Twins and a lot of Part Time. Just starting to use synths and different effects. Getting into those bands definitely had an impact on the whole thing. Diving into pop a little harder, but in a good way I’d say.
After this tour, what’s next for you guys?
Ryan: We’re actually going on another mini tour back to El Paso, and Marfa. I think we’re going to try to camp in Big Bend with some bands from Austin. This venue called Hotel Vegas, they do a thing called Hotel Hot Burrito, like a caravan basically, so Lake of Fire, Annabelle Chairlegs, Hidden Ritual and us are going to come here to El Paso and those other places. After that we have like 4 or 5 new songs we’ll probably try to write 6 or 7 more and it’d be awesome to record by the end of the year.
Text: Daniel Salas/Alex Durán | Photos: Alex Durán @jam_bi