Eric Daino talks The Holophonics’ most serious, personal album yet, ‘LAVOS’
There's a lot to unpack on long-running ska-punk band The Holophonics' new album LAVOS, but there's one thing singer/guitarist Eric Daino wants to make sure you know: The Holophonics are not a cover band. LAVOS follows three other full-length albums and a whopping seventeen covers albums, but Eric assures us they'll never do another one again. "I hate the covers," he said upon meeting me at a coffee shop in Brooklyn the morning before he left town for tour. "We are done with covers, never again. That is squarely in the past. I am so glad I can finally officially say that with no doubt."
Eric grew up on Long Island and was a regular at the local mixed-genre, church-basement shows. Eric played in a metal band, and also absorbed the emo, screamo, and post-hardcore that Long Island became famous for in the early 2000s, but he also played shows with ska bands and desperately wanted to be in one himself. He left town when he was 18, went to college in Delaware where he played in a local ska band, and then moved to Denton, Texas. He first started playing in a hip hop band alongside future Holophonics drummer Will Huebner, and they would jam with current Holophonics trumpet player Harrell Petersen, and after a couple years of that, The Holophonics were born in 2012. They started out as a satirical band; "I was kind of going off of The Aquabats thing," Eric says. "We were a character band. Our costumes were Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake from the '90s, we were doing a bit."
"Part of every '90s ska band was doing a lot of covers, so we put out a covers album" Eric continued. "We did a Christmas album immediately, after being a band for like three months, like 'what's the biggest sellout move we can do?.' Then we did our first original album [2013's Third Wave Undead], and it was mostly Reel Big Fish rip-off stuff, but that was part of the bit. And, the covers were getting traction on YouTube, so we were like 'let's do more.'"
As the covers continued to gain interest, The Holophonics started getting booked on more and more shows, and in 2015 they released a second album of original material, Don't Mess With the Holophonics, which was still committing to the satirical bit of their debut, but eventually, Eric wanted The Holophonics to be something more. "I kinda got bored with the joke, or at least like, there wasn't a different punchline that we were able to tell over and over again," he said. He also realized that not everyone was even getting the joke. "They weren't really understanding that we were making this satire thing, and they were just taking it at face value, and that's not how I intended it." Their covers were still popular, and they kept getting commissioned to do more and more, so it ended up taking the band about seven years to phase them out completely, but Eric says they're finally there. "Exclusively original music going forward."
The Holophonics' third album, 2018's Phantom Arrival, was much closer to Eric's current vision for the band, and their even better new album LAVOS feels like the most proper introduction to The Holophonics yet, even if it comes ten years into their career. Eric began writing LAVOS around the time Phantom Arrival was released; he didn't intend for it to take four and a half years to come out, but COVID slowed down their timeline. After self-releasing their first three albums, LAVOS is the band's first for Bad Time Records -- the fast-rising ska-punk label founded by Mike Sosinski of Kill Lincoln, who Eric met years ago when The Holophonics started touring more and finding other pockets of people doing ska -- and it's the band's most honest, authentic, serious album yet. '90s-style ska-punk is still an influence, but LAVOS also channels various eras of ska, reggae, and dub, while also incorporating emo, hardcore, skate punk, prog, and more. One track is a seven-minute instrumental.
"I wrote more naturally than I had been," Eric said. "The weird thing about being in a ska band is, even subconsciously, there are weird constraints placed on your songwriting, like you have to do these genre-specific things. And a lot of my influences are outside of ska, especially the stuff that I came up with on Long Island, like out of the screamo scene. Bands like Thursday, Thrice, a lot of those Equal Vision bands from the early 2000s, and of course RX Bandits, more proggy stuff like The Mars Volta -- all of that became part of my songwriting DNA since I was a teenager, that's really where most of my stylistic influences lie. So, writing this record, I was just sort of letting all that come through in a way that was not necessarily constrained by it having to be a specific ska thing. And of course ska is a huge part of my influences, and all the subgenres under the umbrella of ska."
LAVOS is an album that you really have to hear from start to finish to fully understand the scope of; as good as the singles are, none of them prepare you for how vast the music on this album is. These are also the darkest, most personal songs Eric has ever written for The Holophonics. "I had been assaulted on stage by Be Like Max singer Charley Fine, and a lot of this record is directly about dealing with that trauma," Eric said. "A lot of these lyrics I wrote while that was happening to me and directly thereafter. The lyrics for this record were written basically between 2019 and 2020, during and the direct aftermath of the terrible experience, and a lot of the anxiety and shame that comes with surviving experiences like that." (In 2021, Eric publicly accused Charley Fine of assault and homophobia that took place when Eric acted as Be Like Max's touring guitarist in 2019. Be Like Max broke up following the accusation.)
Some songs on LAVOS deal with this trauma more directly and explicitly than others, and one of the songs that really tackles the experience head-on is recent single "Luminaire," which Eric says is probably his favorite song on the record. "I remember writing the lyrics to that song, it was right after I had the conversation with Charley that I was leaving Be Like Max. I was having these really intense anxiety attacks for the next couple days, I could not sleep -- it's what started me going to therapy. There was this week-long period where I was totally off the wall, I couldn't handle anything. I severed ties, but I didn't know what to do going forward. I had this shitty part-time job cashiering at CVS, and in the middle of an anxiety attack while cashiering, I just fucked off for a half hour and just wrote these lyrics."
With vivid lines like "I feel my throat closing up and I recoil at your touch, at the looming thought that the monster you've become is who you've been all along," the trauma and anxiety that fueled the song is evident, but Eric also wraps the song in metaphor. In the case of "Luminaire," he filtered his feelings through references to Chrono Trigger, his favorite video game of all time. "Just having a metaphor in one place, no matter what it is, even if it's this video game from 25 years ago, having a metaphor available to filter things through, it makes it a little more artistic I guess," Eric says. "I don't want it to be more vague, but more relatable, and in a more universal sense someone hearing the song can figure out a way that it applies to them."
Another key moment in the album's story is "Silent Protagonist," a song that deals with "the shame and the aftermath and not knowing how to go about dealing with [the experience] -- will everybody think this is my fault, and what did I do wrong to bring this on myself?"
"It's nice being able to write honestly, as opposed to ten years go when I was writing parody lyrics," Eric adds. "It sucks that the impetus behind a lot of these lyrics was such a ridiculous, terrible experience, but that's just how the cards landed." He hopes that the album can stand tall on its own, and not live in the shadow of the experiences that informed it, but at the same time he says that "it has to be reckoned with that it's about a specific moment of homophobic trauma."
He also adds, "I hope that people can get to know me a little bit from the lyrics. I don't think that I've really put myself out there like I have on this record, and I've never really been a huge social media person, I'm not usually spilling my guts on Twitter or anything like that. That's the most you're gonna get from me, and I hope people read into that as much as they can and get to know me a little bit more."
LAVOS is out now via Bad Time Records. Stream it and watch two videos from the album below...