"I'm more than just a singer." ---Holly Pyle
It’s a hot mid summer’s night in Scottsdale, Arizona and by the time I have checked into my hotel, secured dinner and cleaned up….it is well into the evening and the nightlife in this affluent suburb of Phoenix is well into their third drink of the night and music is pouring out of every wine bar, microbrewery and traditional bar in any direction I look. Keeping the canal to my right, I make way through the various art bodegas, galleries and yoga studios that dot the downtown area and ask locals along the way, “Where is a great place to check out killer music tonight?” Everybody gives me the same answer, but directions are as varied as the people that give them. One thing is agreed on: I am to “look for the large bouncer outside of a door with no name.” Rounding a corner and down a narrow alley, I see the promised bouncer and the anonymous door….I have come to the right place.
House of Stairs is the first group I have witnessed that features looping as an equal part to the traditional colors of a trio (guitar, bass, drums). Instead of looping serving as a small piece of the equation, the loop platform serves as the centerpiece of the ensemble and the rhythmic and harmonic colors fit seamlessly and organically around what is running through the looper. The artist doing the heavy lifting is Holly Pyle. Vocal looper, composer, songwriter and closet piano/uke player, Holly serves as frontwoman of a stacked band that ‘supports her looping habit’ and in her words, “wastes no time” in exploring musical ideas, avenues and possibilities.’
With influences like Schubert, Phillip Glass, Thom Yorke, Ella Fitzgerald and more, it is easy to see the sonic and creative footprint each of these artists has left on Pyle’s own career. With a a voice that emphasises the nuances of the lyrics rather than technique in which it is conveyed,it’s easy to hear the influence of Ella’s ‘Lullaby Of Birdland’, mix it with a Radiohead moodiness and and rich, realized sound of any parlor piece by Schubert, Holly Pyle honors her heroes of the past while still pushing House of Stairs into the future.
On the next break Holly and I sit in a booth trading looping stories in the muted glow of the venue when she shares her pre show routine. “I’m huge on pitch and intonation. I have excercises I have found on Youtube. You suck for the first five minutes...no doubt...but once you get into them, they are very helpful. After the show, I have my own warm down and if my voice is really tired, I make as little sound as possible.” I ask her what she wants to improve on: “I would love to get a wider beat boxing palette. A wider palette will allow a bass player to go a little more crazy and focus less on having to keep time.”
House of Stairs takes the stage again and go into their version of The Beatles ‘ “Across The Universe.” The song unravels like the a mystery novel. You’re not rewarded by a famous hook, or even the melody right away….the audience has to earn it by hanging onto to every note House Of Stairs rewards the listener with. Suddenly, the song has all of it’s primary colors and you’re well into the second chorus. The voices Holly has layered complement what the keyboards are doing ( courtesy of resident mad scientist and keyboardist-at-large Garrison Jones). The pitch is spot on. I’m left scratching my head on how these magicians pulled this trick off…..and the girl at the other end of the bar is too busy on Tinder to realize she was witness to killer musicianship.
A few days later I am in Holly’s home studio taking shelter from the relentless Phoenix sun and she is showing me how she uses the transpose feature onboard her 505. I show her the litany of vocal effects I use. She uses my EQ for vocal percussion. I try to decipher how she used the transpose feature five minutes before! What’s obvious about Pyle is that through constant experimentation, she is always on the edge and adding something new to her solo shows and as part of House Of Stairs. I ask her what is the most important quality a musician should have. “Being adaptive.I’m always listening to what the band is doing in hopes I can interact with it in some fashion. Within looping it’s the ultimate for matching/interacting with whatever tracks I lay down, regardless of whether it’s a deliberate arrangement or improvised loops.”
The next morning, with the sun breaking over the Arizona horizon I point my car home and race across the desert floor to Las Vegas and mull over my experience with House Of Cards and meeting each member at a personal level. Seeing the interaction onstage with a live looper was something I had never seen before and watching arrangement switch directions on a dime….incredible. Three hours later I pull into Vegas wanting my next musical address to be wherever the House of Cards may be found, and maybe...just maybe….get another lesson on the ‘transpose” button.
Be it at home or on the road, give House Of Stairs a listen when they are in your area. Keep up with them on Facebook and check in with them on their website.
Somewhere between Phoenix , Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada.
Just Alliance's Blog
Thoughts, ideas and musical musings from this Silver State Loop Artist.