Intuitive choices and undisturbed flow: Talking Tech with Patrick Holland

Last year saw Montreal-based producer Patrick Holland begin a new chapter in his musical explorations. Having first cut his teeth in the city’s underground, releasing lo-fi house under his previous pseudonym Project Pablo, he’s since transitioned away from that sound and scene, and with that came the choice to begin releasing music under his given name.

Signalling a more personal and complex sound that he feels is truer to him, at the beginning of 2020 he released his first single ‘Up To You’ into the world as Patrick Holland on his own Verdicchio Music Publishing imprint that he runs alongside Jump Source, 2 Responsible, Rest Corp and 8prn.

Now he’s followed this up with his first full EP Simstin under the new guise, continuing to peddle a more refined sound that blends delicate synth lines, tight compositions and layers of melody. Following the release, we sat down with him to chat studio set ups, how he approaches production and inspirations outside of music.

Simstim is out now – grab your copy.

First off, what’s your musical education?

I was self taught on most instruments (piano, guitar and drums) with some lessons as a kid, but then ended up attending University for composition. I dropped out after two years, and never went back.

What was your first ever set-up, when you started making music?

In my parents’ basement I had a laptop, an M-Audio fastrack, a two octave midi keyboard, and some passive speakers a friend lent me. I continued with that same setup until about 2014, and started upgrading once I began releasing records.

What was the first serious piece of kit you bought?

I wasn’t much of a gear purchaser in the beginning. I grabbed an Apogee Duet 2 in 2013, and considered that to be a huge purchase and step in improving my production value. But I guess the real “serious” stuff started to pop up for me when I settled into a permanent studio setup two years ago. Acquiring a UAD card, along with some rack synths – Waldorf Micro Q, Roland JV 1080 and Oberheim Matrix 1000 – were my first real jump into moving outside the box.

Thanks for taking some photos around your studio. Could you give us a little walk through the main components?

Everything is routed through the 24 channel Soundtracs PC Midi board. Each instrument has a dedicated channel, with 2 stereo auxiliary sends. These sends are then routed to a patch bay, that allows for chaining whatever combination of effects are available – Eventide H3000 & H9, Alesis Midiverb II, and other various pedals and units. This patch bay then routes directly to the sound card, along with the dry channels from the board. Having this setup allows for working outside of the box, and encourages printing ideas with live automation. All sequencing happens inside Ableton, the midi is routed via a MOTU interface for note info to each synth, while an ERM Multiclock controls the clock info for drum machines and MPC2000XL.

Where is it located and do you share with anyone else?

It’s located in Montreal, off an iconic strip called St. Hubert Plaza, about a 35 minute walk from my house. The studio is inside a building shared with Radio, a couple other music studios, a ceramics studio and Arbutus Record label office. It’s a warm hub.

What’s been your method for creating this studio? Has it been a gradual accumulation or a bulk purchase? Any key inspirations in pulling it together?

It was previously a closet for storing espresso machine parts, so it took a lot of work to convert it into the comfy den it is now. Francis (aka Priori) and I acquired the room two years ago, and we had to dive deep into gutting the place, setting bass traps, sound proofing and treating, as well as designing how we’d combine our equipment together. At first we quickly set up our stuff, routed it through a single patchbay and didn’t even have a proper desk for about a year. Eventually we were gifted the Sountracs board, which became the main hub, bought a real desk, upgraded our cables/patch chords, and started pooling money together for more gear.

Are you always seeking to experiment and develop your studio, by changing or adding equipment? If so, what warrants a change?

Francis and I did a lot of adding and taking away in the first year, which was great to do in order to really figure out what works best. I recently added some guitars into the mix, for a little live element and it’s been going great so far. Having a variety of different tonal instruments to write with is crucial I’ve now noticed. Before I was glued to my usual keyboard tricks and habits. Going back and forth between keys and strings has opened up a whole new world.

If money were no object what would you add?

I would add an array of mics, amps, preamps…. and an extension to make a live room.

You must have a most treasured bit of equipment. If you had to keep just one piece, what would it be?

I’ve become too committed to using the MPC2000XL. It isn’t mine though, but I don’t think I could finish a track without it at this point. For percussion it’s just too precious.

Before you head to the studio, is there anything you do to prepare or get in the right headspace?

I enjoy walking to the studio – weather permitting – while listening to a genre of music that I don’t intend to make. It inspires a stream of alternative production and song writing ideas that I wouldn’t normally think about, and inevitably results in a unique idea or angle to start a session off with.

What’s your creative approach when you’re in the studio? Do you go in with a concept in mind or is it usually an impulsive exercise?

It’s always different. I tend to split my time between writing and producing/mixing in different stages. For a week I may just focus on quickly writing and committing to new ideas, without the worry of mixing or sound design. After making about 5-10 different projects I would then decide to revisit a few, re-record each element on different instruments, and begin mixing/structuring the song at the same time. Doing this approach allows for a lot of intuitive choices in song writing and mixing, and just keeps the flow undisturbed, without getting stuck on anything. I find it’s always good to move on instead of hitting a wall.

Are you someone to labour over a track until every crease is ironed out, or do you prefer a raw, instinctive approach without dwelling too much on something?

I like to keep it raw and intuitive, let it sit for months, revisit and make some fixes, then later decide if it should be on a record.

Where do you go or what do you do when you have writers block? Anything to reset the mental hardware?

I always just power through it. If I find myself falling into a rut, I decide a new method on how to approach writing music. For instance, if I keep veering toward the same chord progression, melody, or song structure, I just pick a different instrument to get an idea going, whether that be a guitar, the mpc, my voice, or even a sample to use as a jump off point.

What inspires you outside the world of music?

Looking at photo books, watching boring movies, and reading a balance of fiction and non-fiction.

What else is on the horizon this year that’s getting you excited?

Staying home, writing lots of songs. Feeling totally unable to predict how to go about releasing music in the near future, but keeping optimistic.

Simstim is out now – grab your copy.

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