Get up. Shower. Work all day. Gym. Dinner. Sleep.
Do it all over again.
That is how my days usually go.
Sometimes I throw in a Frisbee game on Wednesday nights, or a concert, or getting my nails did, but after getting a real, grown-up job I have realized that my days are reduced to a tough choice between sleep or extra activities.
The guys – Tim Laidman (a graphic designer), Ben Tillmann (a technical artist on 3D feature films who does freelance illustration on the side), Mikey Hill (a fourth-year med school student), Kohji Nagata (a software developer), and Bourke Tillmann (a resident in emergency medicine) – have just finished recording their third EP, From the Throne to the Lions, which addresses “hard hitting issues … including the tragic death of a close friend, the aftermath of a car crash and the ever-present effect of drugs on our culture.”
HOLDING.SKY’s music infuses fluid melodic vocals, heavy rock and pulsating rhythmic guitar and as such creates music that is as eclectic as its members. With two members in medical school and the other three holding post-graduate degrees, the members of HOLDING.SKY use their diverse and unconventional backgrounds to their advantage, creating a sound that is anything but ordinary.
It is this last fact that I think makes this band so interesting and the reason why I sat down with them to talk about their passion for music, how music helped them get their careers and – just for fun – who they’d most want to tour with.
Q. How do you juggle your “legitimate” careers and still have the time and energy to play in a professional band?
Bourke. A lot of it is about choosing what you sacrifice. I do medicine and I do a band, but I don’t do a lot else and they’re two things I’m passionate about. It has ruined some relationships in my life, but I’ve given up what I find not the greatest things in the world for the greatest things. And, yes, sometimes I don’t sleep either.
Q. Do you think your involvement in music has helped you start your career?
Mikey. I’ve used music as an outlet sometimes to keep me distracted from what I’m doing or keep me sane or whatever, but I’ve also used it as a medium to get further in other places. Because it’s about balance, right, and when you can show people that you’re capable of that balance you just look better and that’s a good thing in terms of jobs.
Kohji. You don’t need to look better, buddy.
Mikey. You’re so cute. I love you.
Bourke. Especially when you’re in a career like medicine, a lot of us tend to look the same on paper. We all went to university, all went to med school, all had very good grades, so you don’t really stand apart when you look at your academic standpoint.
Whereas, by doing music, I’ve gone to every dingy bar you can find across Ontario and I’ve interacted with a bunch of different people, and it gives me this completely different perspective not only on my patient population but just the groups I interact with in general.
That’s something that distinguished me enough to help me land a job in the city I wanted to work in. So it really has benefited me.
Tim. For me – not so much lately but in the past – I used to do quite a few of our show posters and things like that, so when I went to find a career in graphic design, I ended up including a lot of that in my portfolio and it stuck out to them in the interviews.
That’s just something I was doing for fun for us and I brought it into that world and it actually helped me get a job. It intertwines in different ways.
Q. Do you find that your careers hinder your musical inspiration or the ability to be a professional musician?
Kohji. I spend a lot of time listening to music or listening to interviews or videos on guitar pedals and things like that while I work so I can try to soak it in as I work, and it’s worked pretty well so far.
Bourke. I actually agree with Kohji, I don’t think my job hinders my music and I have a bit of a rant on this. It’s about how we have so many artists who last for two years and disappear and it’s a new flavour all the time.
Whereas if you look back you used to have Bruce Springsteen, who I absolutely love, who is someone who wrote music that connected with the people.
When you’re one of these people who at age 18 stops going to school and sits around naked on the porch with their bongos, you’re not interacting with people you’re not seeing what’s happening in the world and you’re so separated from everyone else and what they’re doing that trying to connect through your music becomes a lot harder. You can make a popular sound and you can do something interesting but it starts to feel so fake and so unbelievable.
Tim. Sometimes it’s tough to work all day especially for someone like myself because I commute and my day tends to be quite long. So by the time evening rolls around and I want to work on lyrics or I want to try to come up with some guitar parts, the steam might be gone for me sometimes. I don’t know about you guys, but I get tired.
It affects some of the creativity because you’re not able to just have all that energy that you should have to put into it, but that’s not always the case. It happens sometimes, more than it should really.
Q. What would you say to people who think you’ve “sold out” because you have a career?
Ben. Well, as a professional artist and as a professional musician, no. I hate the whole issue of selling out. People have got to survive. “Selling your artwork to the man to survive” is a load of crud.
If you are trying to make it as an artist, you have to survive as an artist. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices in order to make ends meet.
It just gets under my skin when people say, “Oh, you’re selling out because you’re working for ‘the man’.” I’m a freelance illustrator. Of course I’m working for “the man.” Who else is going to pay me? I work on movies.
Kohji. All the money that I make at this regular job – and even the money I don’t have – goes back into my musical equipment. I’ve probably spent thousands and thousands of dollars that I don’t have – and still don’t have – on guitars and pedals.
But also, if someone came to me and said, “Here’s a bunch of money to play this music you don’t like,” I would still do it because it’s probably better than the best job you’re going to get that’s not music. So anyone who’s calling you a sellout: look at what you do and if you like your job, and then talk to me about what I’m doing.
Bourke. I think having a “real job” plus being in a professional band…
Ben. You do have a real job. Your job doesn’t get much more real.
Bourke. I think it’s not selling out at all because I’m using something I am good at – thankfully I am good at what I do – and if I were to be like, “You know what? I don’t respect myself because I’m good at doing medicine, so I’m going to quit that,” it would be a disservice.
One, the fact that I went through med school. That is a very hard to get in program, so I took someone’s space and left it to not sell out. That would be incredibly selfish.
Two, we all have talents. Some of us are talented musicians and talented artists, so we’re using both those skills. I have a talent in doing medicine well, so why wouldn’t I use my talents that are medical as well as my talents that are artistic?
Most starving artists have a job, whether it be delivering pizzas or something and doing music. You have to live somehow or else you’re never going to make music.