Remembering the songwriting genius of The Hummingbirds' Simon Holmes
Simon Holmes, founding member, singer and guitarist for adored Sydney indie pop outfit The Hummingbirds, has passed away.
Friends and family announced Holmes’ passing on social media Wednesday night, prompting fans around the world to remember the well-regarded artist and his lifetime of contributions to Australian music.
Of course, his most significant contribution was with The Hummingbirds, a Sydney band that were almost too good to be true. They had hooks, but they also had guts.
A song is an opportunity to try and make four minutes of perfection.Simon Holmes
In his Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop, Ian MacFarlane describes the band as “somewhere between The Velvet Underground, R.E.M., The Buzzcocks and Big Star”.
Listening to the many near perfect pop gems on their two brilliant albums loveBUZZ and Va Va Voom, it’s clear that’s not an overstatement.
The Hummingbirds’ record label rooArt released a track by track interview to go along with loveBUZZ, in which Holmes was frank about just how seriously he took his songwriting.
Most importantly, he knew what he wanted. Their acclaimed hit ‘Blush’, which hit number 19 in the ARIA charts, was a pure example of the marriage of pop and noise that Holmes so eagerly sought.
“‘Blush’ is an example of a song where we wanted to have noise and melody at the same time,” he said. “We don’t know whether we succeeded or not, but it would appear that some people think that we did.
“It’s just an uncomplicated, relatively tried and true formula for writing a pop song. But then we kind of try to throw real noise on top if we can get away with it. Because we just like songs with noisy guitar if we can possibly do it. Most of the time, anyway.
“I wrote it as a real 60s beat kind of song in terms of the chords that are actually used. Then I decided that was too boring, because I don’t like guitars without distortion. So, I decided I’d throw some blatant noise terror on top to see if it works. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t, I dunno. I like it."
While those comments make the process sound simple, the reality was anything but. Holmes went on to say that songs lived in his head for months before he even started playing them on guitar.
“It takes me a long time,” he conceded. “I think about them for months and months before I try to play them. Because then I don’t have to spend too much time hacking out the obvious changes on guitar once they’re written.”
The added benefit of working this way is allowing your own creative flow to dictate the direction of the song. It avoids the intellectualisation of music and, importantly, avoids you sounding like anyone else.
“If you write them in your head then you just have to try and make them sound the way they are in your head and they won’t fall into every cliché known to man, which is what you do if you sit with a guitar and go ‘I’m gonna write a song’,” he said.
“I think that’s the wrong way to do it. For me, anyway. I don’t want to do anything at all predictable or obvious or cliché ridden, it doesn’t appeal to me.
“A song is an opportunity to try and make four minutes of perfection, or four minutes of noise that’s exactly how you want it to be. To me, that requires an enormous amount of effort to make it exactly right, as far as I want it to be.
“I can’t really afford to just try and sit down and write a song, because it’s not going to be exactly how I want it. It’s just going to be a coincidence of what I play at that point of time. Which is not the way I like to have it.”