Interview with San Holo

Recently, San Holo came to Pittsburgh as part of his tour, and the Tartan got a chance to be able to interview him. San Holo is a Dutch DJ and EDM producer who recently released his debut album, album1. This is a shortened and edited transcript of the original interview.

Q: So my first question I want to ask: where did you get the name San Holo?

San Holo: So my real name is Sander Van Dijck. It’s a super dutch name. San Holo just started out as a joke. People would call me San for a long time, and one time I was with a group of friends and they were like, “San, you know your name isn’t cool enough to be an artist name, you know. Maybe you should do something like San Holo,” and everyone started laughing because of the Star Wars thing. But then I kind of started using that, and now I’m here, you know. I never expected to blow up this way.

Q: Yeah, I was wondering about your name. There had to be a Star Wars joke in there somewhere.

SH: The thing is I’m not a huge Star Wars fan at all. But it’s just because my name is San, or Sander.

Q: Alright, we got the obligatory name question out of the way. I recently got around to listening to your album and I have very limited experience with EDM music. You can probably tell by my Metallica shirt. But your music sounds a lot more airy and ambient than what I’ve heard, and you use guitar in there quite often. So my question is who are your primary influences and what is your writing process?

SH: So I’m from your scene. I used to be in rock bands and indie bands, and then I studied guitar, and I’m a graduated guitarist. No one ever asked me for my credentials, or my diploma, ever, but I studied guitar for a long time. At some point I didn’t feel like I could do anything new on the guitar anymore. Everyone sounded the same, you know. All bands sounded the same, and I was like “I’m gonna make some beats.” And with the beats stuff, I was really able to go into my own direction. I even dropped the guitar for years. But at a certain point, I started feeling the same way about electronic music. You know, I can’t do anything new anymore. I want to be able to innovate s**t. And that’s when the guitar came back in my production, and I feel like I’m in my own lane again. I love bands like Explosions in the Sky, I don’t know if you know them. I love Metallica too, I mean they’re great. I really listen to a lot of music, you know, classical music, rock music, ambient music. Yeah.

Q: The other thing I was interested in is the persona of San Holo. Where do you think you’d take this persona next? What do you plan on doing with this style of music in the future?

SH: Yeah, I really want to keep developing my own style. For me, the most important thing is to be in my own lane always. I always want to feel like I’m doing something of my own. Like, I don’t like being compared to other DJs. I don’t like it when someone says, “Yeah yeah you’re great. You sound a little bit like that.” I never like that. I always want to be known for my sound. If someone puts on my music, I want them to instantly know that it’s a San Holo song because of the guitar, or the samples or sounds I use. So I want to keep doing that as long as I can, you know. Staying in my lane and doing my own thing. And yeah, that’s it.

Q: Yeah, I also write music on the side. I have a prog band and one of the challenges we have is to not sound like Dream Theater you know? So your answer was really relatable.

SH: My girlfriend has a kind of a prog band, like a math band. Have you ever heard of Covet?

Q: Oh yeah, I’ve heard of Covet. I’ve been meaning to get into their stuff lately.

SH: Yeah they’ve been touring with Polyphia. You probably know Polyphia as well.

Q: Yeah, I know Polyphia.

SH: Yeah I have fairly limited experience in the prog scene because I don’t really listen to that specifically. But yeah, like you said. At first you think, “Oh it’s cool, we’re great because we sound a little bit like that band.” But then you realize that it’s not good to sound like someone else. Everyone starts out with an instrument copying other people. I started out trying to be Jimi Hendrix, you know. John Mayer, Stevie Ray Vaughn, all those guitar players that I love. Then at some point you realize that this has all been done before. I’m just looking for that new sound always.

Q: I know one of the questions artists get asked a lot is, what to made you want to start writing music? What was that flashpoint? I’m assuming for you that it’s that drive to find your own sound and your own unique voice, right?

SH: Yeah. My own unique thing, I think. I started guitar because I felt like it was a cool thing to do, and you know, sometimes there’s not really a reason for it. It’s just a feeling. It never was a choice for me, like I wanted to be a musician. Ever since I started playing guitar, I knew that music was going to be a big thing in my life.

Q: So this next question is something I really want to ask to up and coming artists in the industry, and it’s a two part question. So the first part of the question is, what’s something you’ve learned about the industry that hasn’t necessarily made you jaded, but has changed your viewpoint on the glamor of the industry?

SH: Yeah the music industry is not about music. It’s about industry. I’m in it for the music. The music industry is more about the brand and everything around it. You know, I’ve noticed a lot of beautiful things. I think it’s beautiful how people can relate to my music sometimes, and like, feel something. It’s mind-blowing. I have fans that help me through hard times in my life. There’s music that speaks to you and motivates you to do stuff, and to have people look at me the same way I look at my heroes, you know that’s really a crazy feeling. I’m literally making music that speaks to so many people in the crowd tonight, and it’s surreal and it’s overwhelming. Also, maybe kind of a sad thing I realized, a thing that made me a little depressed when I found out was that music is not, per se, all about music. I think people who are fans of a band are mostly because of the music but there’s also a lot of people that are fans of them because of the aesthetic, or the way they present themselves you know. Like if it’s a beautiful guy or a beautiful girl on stage, or they have a really cool brand or a really cool helmet on.

There’s a lot of people that can’t distinguish sounds from each other. Like, you’re a musician. You would probably be able to say, “Oh I know the difference between Dream Theater and Polyphia.” But a lot of people can’t. They just hear the sound coming out, and it’s good for me to realize that. I think I have a fairly distinct sound, and if you put me beside other EDM producers, I could definitely tell that this is different. A lot of people can’t. I don’t know how to explain this, but if people can’t distinguish artists by listening to them, then it becomes a visual thing. It’s definitely not only the music, and I’m also guilty of it. Like when I listened to Limp Bizkit when I was a kid. I still think they’re an awesome band. It’s not a very fair comparison, but there is a reason that Limp Bizkit was bigger and more hype back then than Rage Against the Machine was. Because I feel like, you know, Limp Bizkit was just the guy with the hat on, and there was Fred Durst, you know, the guitar player with the f******g makeup on and that really works as well. The music has to be good you know, but there is more to music than just music. But for me as a creator, it’s just music. That was a really long and complicated answer.

Q: No it’s a really tough question to answer. Because part two of the question is what’s something you wish you knew about the industry before you entered it? Because from what it sounds like, you wish you understood the fact that the industry isn’t always about the music.

SH: Yeah, yeah. That’s a very good question. Almost too good. Let me just answer it like this. There are so many things I’ve learned throughout the years by touring and listening to music, and you know, just being in the music industry that I can’t even remember what I didn’t know when I started because I’ve learned so much. It’s been a crazy trip. But when we think of, you know, Jimi Hendrix, the first thing you think about when you hear the name Jimi Hendrix, you think about how he looks and what guitar he plays. But we should actually be thinking about the music right? If you think about a band, you kind of visualize the band right. Like how they look or the logo or something, but not the songs. I personally don’t, maybe you do. Sorry, I’m going in the completely wrong direction.

Q: No I understand what you’re going for.

SH: Let me answer that question by I learned a lot. I learned a lot throughout the years about my life, about love, human beings in general. It’s just too much to talk about.

Q: Alright, this was great. Thank you so much for your time.

SH: No problem man. Don’t write too badly about me.

Check out San Holo’s album, album1, on Spotify, iTunes, and Soundcloud.