Stephen Holliger, otherwise known as Swim Ignorant Fire, raised from Danvers, Illinois, yet residing in Chicago, has already put out a string of releases via his Bandcamp page, but has also racked up quite the discography prior to his now strong internet presence.
The majority of his early 2000 releases were DIY cd-r’s, with only a few actually being physically available. Although, showing clear passion for the projects, he returned to everything he had ever released from 2004 onwards, to remaster and place on Bandcamp for free.
Already respectively finding himself under four labels – LA based Lazy Roar Records, Pilgrim Talk Records, Rok Lok Records, and Canadian label Scotch Tape – I was interested to find out a little bit more about the how’s and why’s of this lone man’s musical endeavors, and the exact reasons for his clear and obviously driven work ethic.
I first came across his music online somehow accidentally; the search bar misleading me into one of the best new found discoveries I was to make of 2013. Soon after rushing myself through his entire available catalogue of music, I took some steps back, and re-listened, and heard them all once more in a very strange, very different light.
Have you ever heard a sound so familiar that it stops you in your tracks? I have. June 2012, Swim Ignorant Fire releases Weddings and Funerals, put out on Cassette and available via his Bandcamp page. I hear it early 2013 for the first time and allow myself to digest it over a period of two weeks. It dissolves the moving world around me, but reinstates a nostalgic warmth I had almost forgotten existed.
The opening track ‘In the interval between grasp and reach’ – allows its listening audience to fall melodically deeper and deeper into a chasm of thought, and eventually land themselves upon the strong, yet fathomable conclusion that reminiscing isn’t all that bad for the soul, and that they should visit this place more often.
You see, personally, that’s what this 6-track is for me – a gateway. As though Holliger has gifted me with the key to unlock the door on my own buried past, and how I feel ashamed when I see it all, sitting there neatly tucked away in a small box hiding beneath the cool shadows of it’s apparent deathbed.
But that’s not to say this EP is in anyway desolate, nor does it radiate any unnecessary dark vibes, only dance with them when safe to do so.
Although, what this EP does do is drive us to the point of questioning our existence in the now – why do we seek what we cannot obtain? Why is it that when yesterday becomes one hundred yesterdays ago, we crave it, desire it, hurt for it that much more? It’s a reminder that we long for the obsolete, and that we, for that lone reason, are unmistakably and eternally human.
Yet on the surface ripples a miraculously smooth sea of harmonic synth stretches and warm vocal workings. It is truly hard to tell whether we are too look no further than what the plain eye can see, or take the ghastly plunge into the deeper, darker elements of Weddings and Funerals – although however you choose to listen, just know one thing – you will not be the same person at the tail end of this musical journey; Holliger is a man who knows his craft and has mastered it, and how that shines through on this seemingly very personal, very intimate collection of sounds.
However, his vast and arrayed available selection of music leaves the understandable yet mutely bitter question hanging above ones own head – has the journey of Swim Ignorant Fire been a successfully planned out one? Or has the pleasing consistency in both sound and length been something of an accident – as if Holliger has somehow tripped and fell, making all sorts of wondrous noises on his way down?
You see, the partnerships and collaborations suggest that Holliger is a man swept up in the romance of experimentation, always seeking out something singularly special – and whilst noting his split 7” with GK and Free Download split with Count Brent on Lazy Roar Records, and also his joint effort with BOAR which has been self-described as ‘Extremely Noisy’ – it is still laid out for anyone to see noticeably; Swim Ignorant Fire is an artist, and a devoted one at that, who is prepared to go that extra mile and share his gift with others for the sake of the craft.
That is why we here at The Two Way Radio feel absolutely honored to get the chance to talk to Holliger – about his life, his music, and the future of his creative pursuits.
TTWR – Firstly, can you explain your decision to pursue such a creative pathway?
Stephen Holliger – I don’t think I’ve made a decision to pursue a creative pathway. Music is just something I’ve always done since I was drumming in 4th grade, its always just been an escape and release.
The path for SIF – has always been unknown but fearless all in the same … The music and the band name has been centered around human struggle and the beauty of hope. I’ve always been interested in combining melodicism over noisy textures and fueling both worlds but somehow combining them.
The first couple of releases I was really into anti-genre, I didn’t want to do just one thing, I feel like the last two albums I’ve finally found something that has stuck for me. I feel like the music has really matured and is more focused on a specific feeling or atmosphere and allowing that space to take over than being so schizophrenic in changing scenes 2 to 3 times in a song.
In the beginning it was only a recording project and I think that shapes a lot of how my songs are formed, I’m throwing things up in the air and waiting for an idea to hit me right in the eye and I’ll build on that.
I don’t really think I’m pursuing anything, I’m just playing music – just like anybody else who also has a need to just create. This music is still a release and I aim to move people and myself at the same time with it, so I guess I aim to keep things cinematic and progressive but in a bill viola half speed.
Swim Ignorant Fire is focused on the beauty of perseverance and the relationship of gaining and losing hope for oneself or humanity.
TTWR – What were the ideas behind the project when you first begun?
Stephen Holliger – My ideas behind the project have been mostly driven by what I’ve seen growing up in the bible belt of central Illinois. A lot of the ideas are driven by the fallacy of man and his pursuit of religion and the hope for something better. There’s just something beautiful to me about anyone who pursues something convicting amidst a world that is against them even if it’s after man’s own ignorance or faith.
TTWR – You have clearly dabbled and mastered in the creation of Drone and Experimental music, were these genres that held you as a fan before an artist?
Stephen Holliger – I have always appreciated experimental music but have only really embraced this new direction of progressive drone music over the last 5 years or so. I was not necessarily into drone music 10 years ago but still into Zorn, Mr. Bungle, and free jazz-y stuff and experimental electronica like Oval, Matmos, and Four Tet.
TTWR – If so, can you name any particularly big influences involved in the Drone/Experimental music scene– any artists, albums or tracks that have had impact on the way in which you as an artist operate?
Stephen Holliger – Ben Frost’s has two tracks that impact me almost every listen -1st Theory of Machines (off theory of machines) 2. You, Me and the end of Everything (off steel wound)
Colin Stetsons last song on New History Warfare II “in love and in justice” is something very influential to me. or that whole album rather. I just love knowing these sounds are coming from one man in one take.
Tim Hecker is and always will be a huge influence on me – his whole discography is gold.
Locally – bands like
Gilder and Cleared have been putting out some great releases lately.
TTWR – Particularly on your album Weddings and Funerals, there seems to be a vicious, yet strangely comforting reoccurring theme of exploring dangerous, darker territory – An example being track ‘Devil in Her Eyes & God in His Heart’ – instrumentally it seems to take itself a little more seriously than the previous tracks. Were there always plans to have some harsher sounds on that EP or did they just evolve as the project went on?
Stephen Holliger – Yes, I typically aim to add harsher sounds either subtle or deliberate – but they typically evolve as the project or tracks move forward and it also depends on what I decide to use or process when the time comes get textural.
The two acoustic songs were written for a completely different project and just kind of grew into themselves with the textures in the end. In the beginning they were just acoustic guitar ideas that were up in the air.
TTWR – If so, what attracted you to the darker sounds of this project? Perhaps a particular occurrence or incident at the time of creation that may have impacted the overall end product?
Stephen Holliger – These darker sounds or directions were me exploring folk’y songwriting territory – They are the two songs that really break up the album and it was new territory for me as a producer and songwriter. During the time these two acoustic songs were written with my ex and W&F was written entirely over the course of the break up- so that incident had a lot to do with why these two acoustic songs are wired in the album because it incidentally made sense for its time of creation. This incident also developed the whole idea for W&F. I feel my new album Belly of the Whale is a lot more darker than I had expected it to be, but once again at the time of its creation – it fit….
What’s NOT attractive about the dark side?
TTWR – What is it that gets the creative energy in you flowing? Do you have any albums you return to, or books you read?
Stephen Holliger – Bill Violas video work has a huge impact on me – circa 2008 installations – Acceptance, five angels for the millennium, and ocean without a shore.
Honestly, Fall and Winter get my creative energy flowing…… along with Season Depression! haha
Being from Illinois I’ve always looked forward to the cold winters. I love cold weather. Its a very nostalgic time for me. Everything around you starts to die and allows something else to grow. That is what Weddings & Funerals is about. I was reading Plato’s Symposium during this album, and I got really into the philosophy of Socrates for a hot minute during that winter…. those ideas really influenced the title for Weddings & Funerals – its a central idea around love and how one could perceive falling in love as a personal death to its owner – but this also begins the birth for that relationship.
In love is Death and in Death is Birth (basically).
TTWR –Your newest pursuit HUGHES features a lot of heavy, lo-fi noises – at times sounding similar to the more recent works of Amon Tobin – notably ISAM. It’s glitchy, and barbaric. When speaking of the project, you speak of having no preparation and being deliberately sloppy with the recordings – Could you talk us through those decisions a little more in depth?
Stephen Holliger – HUGHES is a completely different project aside from Swim Ignorant Fire.
HUGHES was something I started with a friend over winter of 2012. He is an MC from DC and really developed a musical understanding relationship once I gave him a copy of the W&F tape. From there, he started to show me some of his new beats using found pieces in his room (a dijjaridoo? and basketball). I’ve been trying to produce a harsh instrumental release with a focus on all organic sounds and especially with my work in sound design and foley it made sense for us to come together. It was almost magical, we never really discussed what we were going to do or represent in our music, we just started tracking and stacking sounds on each for the next month or two and out of 7-8 ideas – we started to narrow it down as a 4 song EP. “The Crown” which is the first track on the new EP was our first song we wrote together, that was probably tracked in a night fueled with Kentucky Velvet Whiskey and the harsh winter of Chicago outside. Since we had no discussion about the project, I would only bring 1-3 items with me each night for a tracking session – but besides that – We really enjoyed the pursuit of sounds in a unprepared setting – it kept it exciting and really forced us to think outside the box with what we needed to use in order to find or use the sounds we were looking for. Most of the time when we tracked, we would have the monitors played in the background – and later we began to use those bleeds to our advantage in say – prefacing a synth part with its bleed over a track where we are slapping a basketball. We would introduce that synth part through its bleed on another track before the actual synth part comes in. Overall HUGHES has been very intuitive and natural in its own process without a single discussion. We are currently tracking a summer EP, our first track has been sourced by a game of Croquet and crushing beer cans so far.
Andrew P is the other side of HUGHES; he goes by the name Lou Tully – his new mixtape is coming out in a couple weeks.
You can find out more here:
TTWR –Do you think the desire to experiment and explore is something that will never leave you as an artist?
Stephen Holliger – Yes, Exploration is everything and experimenting is the only way to find new grounds in sound and structure.
TTWR – What does the future hold for SWIM IGNORANT FIRE?
Stephen Holliger – Swim Ignorant Fire may be on its way to being a recording project, a lot of my gear has been dying away (like my laptop last year) and I’m itching to play in a band again. I’m playing bass again with a lot of my friends from back home who all live in Chicago. We are attempting a fast-paced post punk shoegaze sound. We have 5 songs written and will be writing, recording, rehearsing all of this year – we’re called HAREBRAIN. Along with post production I’ve been asked to compose for a few short films this year, and ideally it seems like that is where this music taking me. So I plan on releasing my original songs to these upcoming films as soundtracks and continue writing music that way. I have been doing a black metal / ambient online collaboration with a longtime musician friend from back home as well. We plan on releasing 20 minute or so EP of combining 8 string Djent with black ambient drones. Besides, that I’m focusing more on sound design and custom sounds for films in my freelance career as a sound designer for film.