Baltimore’s dreamy, dark pop trio of The Holy Circle boasts a strong collection of talent. Vocalist Erica Burgner-Hannum possesses an angelic voice that carries a melancholic or brooding touch at times, comparable to the voice of Sade or Kate Bush. Joining her is her husband, Terence Hannum. He brings his synth wizardry from projects like Locrian and Axebreaker to the group. Also joining The Holy Circle is Nathan Jurgenson, of Screen Vinyl Image, who brings a wealth of talent on drums. Together, the three craft a wildly unique debut that combines an electronic, ethereal aura and a mortal, organic tone.
Much of this dichotomy arises from the choice to use live drums over a drum machine. Nathan’s expertise in both the kit and programming meant that whichever direction they took would lead to great music. However, the live kit brings more of a human element to the music, as does the more vulnerable moments in Erica’s vocal performance. Terence’s synth work is top-notch, anyone who has heard an ounce of his musical output can attest to it. His fluidity softens the polarity between tones, yet a large portion of the album’s darker tone comes from the lyrics.
Burgner-Hannum took the time to detail her processes for crafting the lyrics to each of the songs on the group’s self-titled debut.
“Terence and I initially wrote ‘Paris’ as an intro to ‘Basel’. The lyrics are about the elation and joy that often precedes a loss or crisis. The original recording of ‘Paris’ on our cassette release is more ambient but then Nathan added that heavy, Lightening Bolt-like drum beat and the song took on a life of its own. I love how heavy and loud it is and I just wanted the whole recording to sound big. I also didn’t want any of the elements to get lost which is a hard balance to achieve but I think Jay (Robbins) found it.”
“This is the only song on the album that we wrote in the studio. It started out as a beautiful, music-box-like riff that Terence recorded on my parents’ baby grand piano. I wanted to write lyrics about the difficulties I have experienced as an adult, maintaining a good relationship with my Christian evangelical family while being at odds with their belief system and worldview. The riff and the lyrics worked really well together. We intended to record the piano-based version but Nathan had an idea in the studio for the drum beat and we ended up liking that version best.”
“I wanted to write a song about my grandmothers and had been mulling over some ideas for lyrics. Terence played a sketch with those dramatic cords on the Korg and it made sense. I’m really interested in the concept of dealing with great loss yet possessing the fortitude to move on from that loss. Kate Bush and Karin Dreijer from The Knife are always inspirations but their unique vocal styles and phrasing choices were especially influential on my choices on this track.”
“I wrote the lyrics for ‘The Odds’ about a local story of a veteran with PTSD that ended in a fatal stand-off with police. I wanted to comment on this idea that a person is expected to be fully functioning after a traumatizing situation without being provided a support network. Then said person experiences mental crisis leading, often, to tragedy and society is shocked at the outcome.”
“These lyrics are about healing after tragedy and finally understanding love. Terence had written most of the song and I started arranging as I wrote the lyrics. We’ve tried and failed to write a part C on other songs. When we explained to Jay that it should be like the part C on Peter Gabriel’s ‘San Jacinto’ or ‘I Grieve’, he knew exactly what we meant and it came together beautifully.”
“The lyrics for ‘The Refugee’ were inspired by a story about a family of Syrian refugees in Germany that I saw on an episode of Frontline. The husband had been taken and tortured, presumably dead, and his wife and children fled. The wife was in a state of arrest, unable to move on or function on more than a superficial level, without closure about her husband. She was also struggling with the realization that her children were becoming acclimated to their new home and seemed happy. Her words devastated me. It was like watching a French Noir film. I wrote most of the lyrics right then and there. Terence had the experience, while on tour in Europe with Locrian, of seeing the refugee camp at Calis from his ferry to London. That inspired the gorgeous intro piece of the song. I think of ‘The Refugee’ as a country song lyrically and vocally. I was also very influenced by my choices by Karen Carpenter and Judy Sill.”
“The lyrics for ‘Shut Out’ are about a relationship hitting a wall and one partner’s desperation for the other to do something, to acknowledge them. I really wanted to maintain a close-to-the-mic breathy quality to my vocals throughout. My inspiration for the gloomy, doo-wop backup vocals came from The Carpenters and an obsession with Brian Wilson’s vocal arrangements on The Beach Boys Pet Sounds.”
“‘Basel’ was the first song that Terence and I wrote as The Holy Circle. I wrote the lyrics about a pregnancy loss I had experienced several years ago and a still birth that my sister had just a few months prior to writing the lyrics. I wanted to explore the emotions of grief and being faced with mortality but not, necessarily in a cynical way. Just an acknowledgment that it is. The first iteration of ‘Basel’ was more drone-like but Nathan joined the band and tried an idea that he had a Puerto Rico Flowers-esque beat. The result was like a lost Joy Division song. I was inspired by songs like Peter Gabriel’s “I Grieve”, Judy Sills “The Donor” and New Order‘s “The Him”. I wanted big, over-the-top vocal layers at the end of the synths and drums peak and then drop out. That ending was one of the most difficult moments to mix on the record and we really relied heavily on Jay’s intuition with it, as there was so much happening and so many directions to take it. It’s still my favorite song that we’ve written as The Holy Circle.”
Listen to The Holy Circle‘s fantastic debut album below. Pick up a digital copy of the album through the band’s Bandcamp page and a CD from Annihilvs Power Electronix. Also, follow the band on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.