RVA Mag presents the world premiere of “Hot Dice,” the new single from Richmond indie-psych trio Ten Pound Snail. Marilyn Drew Necci spoke to Ten Pound Snail frontperson Holden Wilson to get the lowdown on the new song and the story behind one of Richmond’s most intriguing new bands.
We all lost a lot during the 18-month shutdown that accompanied the pandemic, but if there’s one silver lining to all that, it’s to be found in the numerous bands that have sprung fully formed onto the Richmond scene in the months since things opened back up. Of all those new bands, one of the ones that captured my attention most quickly and thoroughly is Ten Pound Snail. This indie trio caught my attention with an intriguing blend of that quiet, moody sound known as slowcore (exemplified in the genre’s heyday by groups like Red House Painters, American Music Club, and Galaxie 500) and a more psychedelic, shoegaze-influenced sound that seems to reflect the influence of groups like Mazzy Star or Mojave 3.
Their debut release, an EP called Sunspots, entered the world in December 2020, at the height of the pandemic panic, but it was the followup, Parlor Tricks, which first showed up on my radar upon its release at the beginning of summer 2021. Heavy with atmosphere, it opened up a space inside your head and filled it with resonant emotion. It’s the sort of thing that might confuse listeners into thinking this band would be a quiet, listless live act. However, there’s a whole other side to the Ten Pound Snail side, one that brings in more energetic tempos and crunchy guitars than you’d ever expect from previous work.
That live sound first showed up on “Overgrowth,” a digital single Ten Pound Snail released at the tail end of 2021. It constitutes the first hint of the group’s upcoming full-length, which they’ve continued to hone and put finishing touches on since the release of “Overgrowth.” Now they’re giving us another single from that album, “Hot Dice,” which builds from a rather subdued opening section into an out-and-out rocker that’s more driving than anything else Ten Pound Snail have put to tape. RVA Magazine is pleased to bring this killer tune into the world, and you can stream it below. After you do so, keep scrolling to read our interview with Ten Pound Snail singer/guitarist Holden Wilson, in which we attempt to figure out where this band came from, what their goals are, and when the world will be graced with their new album.
Marilyn Drew Necci: Thanks for agreeing to the interview. I’ve enjoyed your music so far, but the fact is, I don’t know much about Ten Pound Snail beyond what I’ve heard. So, first things first: who is in the band?
Holden Wilson: The band consists of Josh Akerley on drums and percussion, Yusuf Goulmamine on bass guitar, and myself, Holden Wilson, on guitar and vocals, plus instruments that we use in the studio like piano and synths.
Drew: How did you get together?
Holden: We’ve played music together since becoming friends in high school, but never overlapped in any official projects together until this project began a couple years ago. I had come up with some full-band arrangements that I wanted to try out to see what came of it, but we quickly realized that we could hit the ground running with a full-force project after all the years of building that chemistry.
Drew: I’m not the only one who has described the sound of the early Ten Pound Snail recordings I’ve heard as “slowcore.” Do you guys identify with this genre? If so, why? If not, what genre do you feel like you’re trying for — if any in particular?
Holden: Much of our released material, particularly from Parlor Tricks, definitely shares some common ground with Slowcore. I’m a big fan of Unwound, Duster, Horse Jumper of Love, and other artists in that zone, mostly because of their approach to integrating jazzy harmony, psychedelic timbres, and stuff of that sort where it doesn’t traditionally belong. However, Parlor Tricks was just kind of a group of mellow songs that we chose to fast-track because it felt more reflective of our lives during the start of the “COVID era.” Our live set nowadays consists almost entirely of unreleased material, which has a lot more energy and emphasis on intricate rhythmic motifs [than it should in order] to fall completely [with]in the boundaries of a genre like that. But we have plans to revisit some more contemplative styles in the future, after we release the rock and roll stuff.
Drew: How did you land upon your sound? Did you come together with a specific goal of sounding like you do now, or was it something that came about organically once you all got together?
Holden: It has mostly just developed naturally, but I did have a few sort of free-form founding principles that I wanted to explore.
I think the easiest summary of the idea would be “doing whatever feels right,” but a bit more actively and intentionally than that would suggest. Our aim is to combine and blend the different musical influences that captivate us into something cohesive, on a few levels — within an album and across different releases for sure, but most importantly within individual songs. For example, we have a lot of upcoming work that has a noisy solo section and big, blissed-out psychedelic chords in the same minute. I’ll often listen to artists [like] Bill Evans and Oh Sees back to back, and I really enjoy how dizzy and rich that experience is. So I like to channel that idea of opposing forces into my own writing, which creates very interesting and automatic contrast and dynamics.
I also just get bored if a song stays in one place for too long, so a lot of the songs end up having plenty of room for these different sounds and styles; [they] “evolve,” more like a phasic composition than a classic verse-chorus-verse-chorus song structure. I think it’s a good sign if you struggle to describe your sound with existing genres or common adjectives, and that challenge seems to be a reliable result of our process of taking a wide variety of inputs, melting them down, and making some strange hybrid sculptures, so to speak. The tricky part is retaining a catchy sound and natural feeling, but that just comes with practice.
Drew: The new song that we’re premiering, “Hot Dice” — this is part of a larger project, right? What can you tell us about that project? How is it an advance on what you’ve done before? What are your goals for it? When do you expect it to be out?
Holden: “Hot Dice” is the second single for our upcoming album, following our first single, “Overgrowth.” The album will pretty much just be all the songs from our current live set plus an ambient interlude, about 14 songs in total. There’s a lot of energy and force in this batch of songs, but it’s packaged a little differently in each one. My main goal is for it to feel layered and fully developed without sounding maximalist or losing focus, so it’ll likely have some more dimension and a wider scope than our previous work.
We’re also recording and mixing it ourselves, which is a double-edged sword. You get a lot more creative control over all the small details, and have time to add and subtract and think on it a bit more. But the other side of that is that a lot more time, effort, and education goes into making it happen, and you have to have the grit to trust that it’ll work out when you inevitably get lost in the process. The timetable is still very much in the air, but we’ll have another single or two within the next few months. Our goal has been to have the full release out by the end of the year so we have time to be really thorough with it, but I’d love to accelerate the process if we manage our time well.
Drew: Some might tell you that the pandemic has gone away, but it seems to me that in very real ways we’ll be dealing with it for the rest of our lives. How has the pandemic affected Ten Pound Snail in the present? Do you feel the same way about, say, touring, or playing live, as you would have if the pandemic had never happened?
Holden: As I mentioned earlier, it definitely affected our musical direction at the beginning, but in a way that felt natural and fulfilling. Outside of that, our first performance was December 2019, a little over two years ago, so it took a big chunk out of our potential growth at the time, not being able to play shows for so long. We’ve only been regularly performing for a little under a year now, even though it feels like so much longer, but I couldn’t be more grateful for the response and momentum since getting back to it. I think it was initially a little disappointing to have to step back from shows for a year, but in hindsight I’m extremely grateful for how we approached it. Putting out Parlor Tricks, learning new songs, and writing a mountain of material for the future (much of which we still have yet to explore) were all crucial pieces in our growth, and have permitted us to keep pushing forward in a way that may not have occurred without that forced free time and preparation.
Drew: In an email, you told me that Ten Pound Snail had queer members. Would you care to elaborate on this/be more specific? If not, that’s fine, but regardless, how do you think queerness has affected your creative work as a band?
Holden: I identify as non-binary. I think that aligns with my current feelings around gender fairly well, but I still have a lot of questions that I haven’t been able to answer yet, so I’m not quite sure what the future holds. All I can really tell you is that it won’t get any less queer from here [laughs]. The most pronounced influence that it has on the music is through my writing process, but those are fairly subtle explorations so far and probably won’t appear on recordings until later. On the performance side, wearing big formal dresses for an engaged live audience has also felt personally affirming. There’s a lot of people who’ve voiced their appreciation for how I display that element of myself in a scene where rock and roll often looks quite different, so I really value that too.
Drew: Are there specific political or social ideas you’re attempting to get across in your lyrics? If so, please elaborate. If not, what do you write lyrics about?
Holden: There’s a few lyrical passages that deal with the aggravation of progressive ideals not being implemented well or unanimously supported, but it’s not a very common theme within the songs themselves. The songs mostly pertain to personal challenges and mental health, or sometimes there’s a little story thrown in there. The most consistent element of my lyrics is abstract imagery and fraying the edges of what actually makes sense, in an attempt to invert common ideas and paint a picture of a different, less predictable world. I like to write things that have a certain degree of ambiguity or crypticness to them, which in turn allows for more open interpretation — which I also enjoy.
As far as what the lyrics mean to me, a common theme is my childhood mental illness and how that’s evolved over time, but more often I write about knowing where I want to be nowadays, but not being able to think it into existence, which is my default reaction to everything. Actually getting there, for me, only ever comes from a sort of mindfulness that I’ve identified in great detail, but have struggled to implement. I think that feeling of progress eluding you again and again is a lifelong challenge for most people, so it’s a good intersection of relatability, while still being able to paint the world in the unique way that I view it personally. A lot of the motivation to create centers around music being the medium by which I can really express the more complex, compounded emotions of real life, beyond one-dimensional things like “happy” or “sad.” I like to twist things until they feel ambitious, melancholy, hopeful, unsure, mysterious… things of that nature where you’re kind of being pulled in different directions. I find those feelings better pertain to the natural oscillations of health and confidence, and end up representing human feelings in day-to-day life more accurately, which feels more fulfilling to me both as an artist and a listener.
Drew: Let me know about any future plans you have as a band. Upcoming shows? Planned tours? Any releases coming up that aren’t already included in the question above?
Holden: We had our first tour this past spring, and are hoping to do another round this winter. The past few months have been pretty intense — our summer plans are a bit more sparse for the purpose of continuing to record, mix, and learn new songs, but I believe we have some local shows planned for June 17 and July 8, and we’ll definitely play more often in the fall. Historically we’ve thrown house shows under the house name Spiral Mansion every month or two, so we might throw one of those in there at some point. We’re also hoping to start performing new songs and recording another album as soon as we finish this one.