Who is Holly Waxwing?
That’s not an easy question to answer. In short, Holly Waxwing is an electronic musician living in Birmingham who makes strange, spacious and surprisingly groovy music from her vast collection of found and created sounds. But that doesn’t really explain who Holly Waxwing actually is.
“A lot of times I’ll just tell people, ‘I make electronic music,’ just because it’s easy to say,” Garrett Crosby explains, smiling over his drink.
In fact, Holly Waxwing is not a “her” at all, but a feminine pseudonym imagined by Crosby, the man behind the music. He creates, compiles and composes an almost endless array of samples, some only tenths of a second long, into erratic tracks that ebb and flow as though they were alive.
“I like to kind of hold up the false identity of Holly Waxwing,” Crosby says, “but I don’t want to be the kind of person that won’t tell you their real name. I don’t want it to be a gimmick. All that really matters is the music that I make.”
Toeing the line between rhythmic dance and airy ambience, Holly Waxwing’s creations are well suited for body shaking on Saturday night, yet still demure enough to accompany the following morning’s yoga session. Fans of Tycho, Four Tet and Bonobo know this musical geography well.
“I really began making this kind of music when I was 13 or 14,” Crosby says, “when I started listening to more electronic-based music. I got GarageBand, was learning the guitar, and as I got older I started playing more with recording the guitar and processing it on my computer. I got to where I really enjoyed sampling sounds and experimenting with them.”
When the terms “electronic music” or “sampling” arise in conversation, many minds immediately conjure an image of college kids in brightly colored sunglasses all shouting “Let’s get weird!” as they dehydrate to some faceless DJ spinning snippets of the Billboard Top 40. With Holly Waxwing, though, the eclectic tunes are far more Mozart than molly.
“A lot of my music, especially my first LP [2013’s Goldleaf Acrobatics], is inspired by classical composers,” Crosby notes. ”I really enjoy the minimal classical stuff from the ‘60s – Philip Glass, Steve Reich. The ideas they express in their compositions help push me forward.”
Holly Waxwing isn’t the first electronic musician to draw inspiration from classical; the connective tissue between the seemingly disparate genres is quite strong. Legends such as Daft Punk, DJ Shadow and Wolfgang Gartner have all expounded upon the similarities between composing an orchestra and composing samples.
“Classical isn’t usually the first thing that people associate with electronic music,” Crosby says. “But in both you’re taking dozens of individual parts and using them to build a greater piece. This means refining the timbre of each instrument until it complements all the other instruments in the composition. It’ll sometimes take me months of recording and playing with a single sample before I can place it into the landscape of a piece. It’s a lot more work than people realize, but I love doing it.”
Crosby is currently hard at work on his next full-length release, expected to be released around March of next year, in addition to remixing a bevy of other artists to help better acclimate the indietronic world to the fitful vibrations of Holly Waxwing.
“I’m really wanting to do more performing live,” Crosby says. “I usually only do about a show a month right now, but that’s because I write so slowly. I don’t want to be playing the same songs over and over for people. But I do plan on touring pretty extensively once my full-length comes out next year. I also hope to get into next year’s South by Southwest lineup.”
Even with his penchant for sparsely scheduled shows, Birmingham has welcomed Holly Waxing with a growing sense of excitement. Crosby attributes this to the city’s stellar ability to open its mind as well as its arms to musicians of every genre.
As 2015 approaches, Crosby is optimistic about the future. Holly Waxwing has garnered the attention of international record label Cascine, as well as Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Digitalis Recordings. Noumenal Loom, Crosby’s own label, is also gaining support from across the globe, boosted by increasing demand for Goldleaf Acrobatics.
For more information about Holly Waxwing, including upcoming performances around Birmingham, check her out on Facebook and at soundcloud.com/noumenalloom.
*Correction (4:25 p.m., 11/24/14): An earlier version of this story included incorrect material. That material has been removed.