“First off, bullying really sucks. I experienced it quite a bit as a child, and there’s no justification for it. I’m not sure if it has directly shaped my musical ambitions, but experiencing it then definitely made me value empathy, kindness and understanding. And I think that shapes why I like to explore the complexity of different perspectives in my music.”
Alex Mankoo, better known now as his alter-ego Holy ‘57 is a London-based songwriter and producer. He first emerged in the summer of 2015 with his debut Island Kids. The song, which charted on Hype Machine and has over 250k streams on Spotify paved the way for his first EP, H released later that year to critical acclaim. The EP was the first in a series of releases: H, O, L and now Y. Forward to 2020, we caught up with the artist following the release of his final instalment “Y”.
The artist explains how like a few musicians, his music career isn’t his only career path. Pointing out how he has enjoyed composing and producing since his childhood and teenage years, playing in various bands. On embarking at university in London, Mankoo started taking performing more seriously. Leading to the development of the Holy 57 project. A pivotal era in the artists musical career, as Mankoo highlights this was the point where he started to narrow down his musical identity.
As the final instalment in the HOLY series, Mankoo saw “Y” as the place where he was bringing together the musical, conceptual and lyrical threads that he had introduced over the course of the four releases. The artist in this respect feels he definitely pushed himself to experiment with songwriting, concept and production on these tracks. Going onto explain how when it came to songs with reference to ‘A History of Violence’, he found taking an allegorical approach to storytelling, allowing himself the freedom to experiment with the arrangement and the production. Seeking to weave in his influences from jazz and hip-hop. Highlighting this particular release as his most ambitious to date.
“Conceptually, there is a narrative across the “Y” mini-album, but there’s also a thematic narrative across the four EPs in the HOLY series. Both of those narratives tie into themes of ancestry, my mixed heritage, and memory. The inspiration for “Y” came largely from my grandmother. I wrote most of it in the wake of her passing, and it explores posthumous memory and how we connect to our past once our ancestors are no longer with us.”
Holy 57 describes his music as a bit of a melting pot, mixing sounds from jazz and R&B with rock and pop, and combined with the cultural and conceptual material within. Melodies and lyrics that the artist feels offers a very unique offering. The artist enjoys the idea of exploring his mixed cultural background through music, and using conceptual songwriting (that draws more from hip-hop, jazz, or experimental music) to execute the final product as he envisions it.
Mankoo highlights one of his most memorable pieces of music and art as those that make him sit back and think about the different meanings and ways they could be interpreted, and what significance that has for artist personally. Keen to try to leave aspects of his songs and albums ambiguous, to allow the listener to construct their own narratives through the music. In the hope that others who listen find opportunities for that reflection and exploration.
The artist points to the biggest influence on this record as being led via his family and specifically his grandmother. “The whole album was really my way of exploring the idea of posthumous memory, of reflecting on her life and celebrating it in all its complexity after her passing.” Mankoo explains how the music industry can be quite a challenging place, and no matter how talented you are, the reality is exists that you will never please everyone. The artist sees music as very subjective, and with the view that people are idiosyncratic. This combination makes it incredibly difficult to know whether a production is going to be a hit in Mankoo’s eyes. This being said, the artist highlights the importance of building a community of supporters. For reasons ranging from providing perspective, and feedback, to fun, collaboration, wellbeing and those who are there to provide understanding for where you are in the journey as an artist.
Looking to the Future
Holy 57 highlights how tough working in the arts and events industries is right now in the context of the pandemic. He points to three key things to keep in mind are perseverance, community, and practice. “There’s no such thing as overnight success in my opinion, most artists who I know that have broken ‘big’ have been working at it for years behind the scenes. I think the key is to stick with it, keep honing your craft and making music that you are excited about, and to develop a community of people around you who are also excited about music and art “. The artist highlights the importance of having a community there to support you when you are having a tough time or a crisis of confidence is invaluable.
The biggest challenge for the artist to date has been maintaining perspective and confidence. He highlights for him personally and musically, staying focused on making the music that he believes in, that makes him excited and happy, whether or not it appeals to everyone, is really important. By doing so, this has helped Holy 57 to stay focused on the processes of creativity and growth, rather than trying to make what comes out right for everyone.
As part of this release campaign, Mankoo has started a podcast series called ‘Spectres’ that is about the ‘ghostliness’ of producing music. With additional plans in the pipeline lined up relating to the album, with the next chapter exploring more experimental material with some different concepts and styles going forward.