Some 20 years ago, a 16-year-old Emil Amos wandered Jamaica Plain in fear of the city that surrounded him. Violent crime scenes and glamour-free drug addicts stumbled on street corners. It’s not too dissimilar from Portland, Oregon, his home of 13 years before his recent move to Brooklyn, New York — optimistic stories detailing the city’s food and music light up visitor’s eyes, but if you look at the past, you see a secretly dark underbelly.
Naturally, Amos turned to music. Over the next few decades, the singer-songwriter began releasing genre-bending albums on the regular, pushing himself to learn as many instruments as he could. “You have to be consumed with and totally curious about music,” he tells us. “At some point you will get weeded out if you’re not.” In no time, he found himself as a member of post-rock band Grails, doom metal act Om, downtempo electronica duo Lilacs & Champagne, and his own genre-spinning band, Holy Sons, immersed in sounds which mirrored that shadowed world he grew up in.
“The way my brain became wired from 12 years on makes it so the only thing I use it for is learning how to arrange songs, play all the parts, and think from a god’s eye view about what makes a great record,” says Amos. “All of that isn’t hard for me. What is hard is when you get to the actual practicality of jumping from tour to tour to studio to tour, there are situations where it’s almost impossible to play your best, but you have to try. Depending on how much of an alcoholic you are or if you’re jetlagged because you were in Japan, there are so many factors that sometimes you can’t represent the band as well as you could.”
Between these bands, Amos is constantly releasing albums, but Holy Sons, the more personal of his projects, allows for more legroom. “The process of listening to your album and deciding what is important enough to give to other people goes on for a few years usually,” he says. “As a songwriter, you’re trying to update your outlook like a diary, updating a chapter of your life so you properly express your entire value system of how you see the world. It’s a dense job cataloging your thoughts into ten songs.” Some material off Fall of Man, his newest album, is six years old. As months pass, he picks up songs and remixes them. For others, he slips headphones on and walks through Prospect Park, feeling out what’s important enough about each song to justify listeners paying for it. When you’ve written so much, refining what the album actually mean takes time.
“As you marinate in the various promotions that come with moving across the country, growing older, and getting a clearer viewpoint, you see what you’re going to do with life with the way that you’ve spent your life,” says Amos. “We’ve all fallen in love with bands that are unusual but fade into the opaque industry of art where they pump ourt records that sound a lot more like the people that imitated them when they were being so influential. Thankfully I never had any careerist attitudes towards Holy Sons. I will always write this music even if I don’t want others to see it as a part of this world. It will keep coming and it’s not even in my control. I have the advantage of living in a private planet, transmitting what I’m going to for others. My first priority is to head somewhere sonically that I haven’t been to yet. If I’m satisfying my own curiosity and standards, then I have to trust that someone else could feel the same.”
Fall of Man sees Holy Sons at their poppiest. “It would seem outrageous to write as much work as I have without writing an inviting entrance to suggest they get into this stack of records sometime,” Amos laughs. “When you’re dealing with the raw inquiry of where art comes, you’re always running through larger cycles of themes that you never actually know why you’re running through them — and they like a certain kind of melody that has an underlying philosophical aspect representing your life in that chapter. You’re living with this virus, pop melodies, until it goes away.”
The darker days of Jamaica Plain still appear in Amos’ mind from time to time, but Holy Sons’ twelfth album to date sees him moving on towards brighter times, replaying these very songs and the sunny refrains they boast.
EARTH, HOLY SONS, AND 27. MIDDLE EAST UPSTAIRS, 480 MASS AVE., CAMBRIDGE. 8PM/18+/$15. MIDEASTOFFERS.COM.