The Holy Gasp: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Beatnik jazz-punk conga frenzy
File Next To:
Tom Waits, The Contortions, Friendly Rich & the Lollipop People, Igor Stravinsky
Wavelength’s Doors Open Toronto After-Party, Saturday May 27 @ Bike Pirates. Get tickets here, or at the door!

There is no band anywhere quite like The Holy Gasp. Toronto’s only beatnik jazz-punk party band exploded onto the scene a few years back, energizing the city’s disaffected, endangered, gentrification-afflicted bohemians with their conga frenzy, no-wave punk-funk rhythms, stylish black berets, and anthems like “A Daily Affirmation.” With two exciting Wavelength gigs coming up – a live score at the Christie Pits Film Festival as well this Saturday’s Doors Open after-party at Bike Pirates – the Gasp’s fearless bandleader Benjamin Hackman talked to WL’s Jonny Dovercourt about their upcoming sophomore album, Island life, cycling, fashion, and more.

Who are the Holy Gasp, and how did you come to find one another?

The Holy Gasp is comprised of myself, and my collaborative life partner, Sebastian Shinwell. I write the words and music, and Sebastian arranges the material. We were introduced by a mutual friend who paired us together on a poetry project in which poems were to be set to music. Sebastian and I got on well, and worked gracefully together. We have been working together since, and have almost no overlapping talents. This aspect alone makes for a very symbiotic and joyful arrangement. We’ll be joined this Saturday at Bike Pirates by Karen Ng (alto sax/flute), Oso (drums), Joseph Organ (organ), and James McEleney (upright bass).  

What’s in a Gasp? Shock, surprise, or ________?

Brief, fleeting moments of inexplicable, inarticulable beauty.

It’s been over two years since The Last Generation of Love came out. What have you been up to all this time? Is there new Gasp material on the way at long last?

We have been quite busy actually. We wrote and recorded a new record at Artscape Gibraltar Point composed for 19 musicians and vocalists (new tracks should be out later this autumn). We’re also presently composers-in-residence at the Church of St. Andrew By The Lake on Toronto Island, where we’ve been hard at work on an original score to the 1925 silent comedy, The Freshman, starring Harold Lloyd. We’ll be performing the score live alongside the film later this summer at the Christie Pits Film Festival as well as Slapstick by Starlight at Parkway Forest Park. You can find out dates and details on the Toronto Outdoor Picture Show website. [Both co-presented with Wavelength!]     

So you’ve spent some time on the Island recently. Do you perceive time to move differently while on Island time?

Toronto Island is the fourth island I’ve lived on — fifth if you include Montreal. There is a cultural phenomenon known as “island time.” This does not seem to have anything to do with region or culture, and islanders of the world seem to recognize this phenomenon as real. Things do in fact move slower on islands. Days are longer, and require more careful planning around resource consumption. When one is surrounded by water, one must renegotiate how they perceive physical limitations and entrapment. One is, figuratively speaking, surrounded by their own reservoirs of emotion.

Are you a cyclist? Does playing in a bike shop hold special appeal to you? If so, describe these feelings at length. (If not, are you alive??)

Sebastian and I are both enthusiastic cyclists. We even commute to the church each day on a tandem. Our bells go ding for fellow cyclists. #TwoWheelsGood #FourWheelsBad  

Are you trying to bring berets back? Please explain.

As a hat, it has a lot going for it. There are a lot of ways one can don a beret, and frankly, because of the vastness of looks that can be achieved, pretty much everyone can look good in a beret, regardless of gender, skin colour, age, body shape, or hair length… it all works. At worst, you look pretentious and French; at best —very, very hip.

Describe your dream bill of Toronto bands and venue, and break it down for us in terms of its components of awesomeness.

Joseph Organ playing the piano in my living room, while I lounge on a rocking chair sipping tea. That’d be enough for me. 

Favourite season, and how do you take your coffee for it?

Summer. Black year round. 

Which deceased composer was the most punk rock?
Stravinsky. I can’t imagine a compelling rebuttal.