The beloved ’90s Sacramento indie icons get reissued by the equally respected Darla Records label. The duo discuss their career (interview originally published by the ever-diligent Dagger ‘zine). Photos follow the text, so scroll as you desire.
BY TIM HINELY
Holiday Flyer were truly something special in their 1990’s heyday. Hailing from Sacramento, but even in a scene that boasted bands like Tiger Trap and Rocketship, Holiday Flyer seemed to be off on their own island doin’ their own thing. Formed in the early 90’s by sibling John and Katie Conley, they released four LPs and several EPs and singles before calling it a day (and forming their next bands, California Orange for John and Sinking Ships for Katie,….now those bands are John’s Desario and Katie’s Soft Science).
I still remember them driving a few hours from Sacramento to Santa Rosa, where I was living and booking shows (circa 1994-’95) and introducing themselves to me at a show I had put together (I think it was Codeine) and telling me about their band, which got me immediately interested. The music was soft, spare and pretty….not quite folk music but close (with decidedly non-flowery lyrics). As the band went on and they added band members the sound got a bit denser but no less personal and still very melodic.
This year the Darla label is reissuing the first two albums, 1995’s Try Not To Worry and 1997’s The Rainbow Confection on limited edition vinyl (500 copies each). It’s the first time on vinyl for both and the download for each one includes several extra unreleased tracks.
Did you guys grow up in Sacramento or nearby?
John: We grew up in Rocklin and Roseville. In my early 20s I moved to downtown Sacramento. I have lived in or around the area ever since. Currently, I live in West Sacramento. I’m still really close to the downtown/midtown area of Sacramento which I like. I still try to go to as many shows as I can here in town.
Katie: So the Rocklin/ Roseville area is about 20 miles northeast of downtown Sacramento. It has grown a lot in the last several years with a major expansion of business and residential development. When we were young and growing up there the area still had a small town feel and some parts of the community were considered pretty rural – including our backyard ;-). I too eventually made it downtown and stayed for many years while I finished college. I still live in the Sacramento area.
What did you get into first…punk rock? New wave? Something else? What was the progression like?
John: The first genre of music I got into was Metal. The first album I ever bought was Blizzard of Ozz – Ozzy Osbourne. I met my Mike Yoas (Holiday Flyer, Desario) in 1985. He introduced me to Punk and New Wave. One of my favorite bands he turned me on to was Naked Raygun. They are still a favorite. Around 87 or 88 Katie and I started to listen to similar bands. We both loved The Smiths, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Echo and the Bunnymen etc. When she turned 15, our parents would let her go to shows with me, which was cool. Looking back now, she was pretty lucky. She got to see some killer show. A venue in Sacramento called the Cattle Club booked some amazing bands in the 90’s. We saw Ride, Lush, Slowdive and Nirvana there, just to name a few.
Katie: Yep, as little sister, John pretty much always had an influence on my musical taste. He’s got great taste so why not follow! But I have to say I never really got into the punk rock. As a young child I really loved Olivia Newton-John, Pat Benatar, Fleetwood Mac, and Madonna (I must confess). Later The Bangles and the Go-Go’s were pretty big in my world. By my mid-teens is when John and I really started seeing eye to eye again regarding music. We watched a lot of 120 Minutes on MTV together. I remember that the first music posters on my bedroom wall in high school were Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Smiths and R.E.M. Those bands pretty much sum up the start for me. And yes, I was seriously lucky my big brother didn’t mind taking his little sister with him to shows. The Ocean Blue and The Mighty Lemon Drops in San Francisco is one of the stand out shows John let me tag along on that comes immediately to mind.
Was it pretty early on that you and Katie began making music together?
John: Katie was always singing, even when she little. I started playing guitar when I was 13. I had a band my last year of high school and Katie would occasionally sing with us. We didn’t start playing together until after Katie graduated from High School.
Please tell me about the early days of Holiday Flyer? Was it pretty easy to make music with your sister or did it take some coaxing?
John: After High School, I had a couple of bands that didn’t last very long. I kind of lost interest in playing music for about 6 or 8 months afterwards. I didn’t stop listening though. I think one of the records that got me to pick the guitar back up was Today by Galaxie 500. There was something so different and special about that album for me. I started writing songs again and Katie would just come into my room and start sing with me. That was sort of the beginning of Holiday Flyer.
Katie: Yep, I pretty much forced my way in with harmonies that were not asked for.
What kind of stuff were you guys listening to at the time the band started?
John: I was really into a lot of shoegaze stuff. Ride, Lush, Slowdive. I think the band Moose had a huge influence on our writing. I had the early Moose EPs and remember buying an import copy of their first album. It was so different from the EPs, not shoegaze at all. It was really 70s folk influenced but still dreampop. At that time we were also really into some unfashionable 70s soft rock like Al Stewart, Bread, early Chicago, early Bee Gees ( Katie learned to play the snare/ride cymbal set-up playing along to Chicago and Carpenters records).
Katie: Bands I recall listening to quite a bit during the early days of Holiday Flyer, include The Red House Painters and Belly. Looking at both of our lists, I think its clear that the bands we regularly listened to at the time were quite different that what we were. We never really set out to replicate a sound. If anything I think the influence or take away we always had from whatever we were listening to was melodies, lyrics, and song structure. This was put through our filters and out came HF songs.
Had either of you been in bands before or was Holiday Flyer your first band? At what point did Verna come into the picture? Who else was in the band other than the two of you?
John: I had a short lived punk band in High School. After that I had a band for a couple years called The Boon with Mike Yoas (Desario), and then another short-lived band called Ellie. There was a band called Light Iris that Katie and I were in with Jim Rivas ( Rocketship, Holiday Flyer, Desario). Katie and I both felt we were better able to achieve what we wanted to do musically as a duo so we left. Jim went on to play in Rocketship. That’s how we met Verna. We played shows with Rocketship and Dustin Reske engineered all of the early Holiday Flyer recordings. Katie and I worked as duo for the first year. The early recordings are layered guitars and Katie and I singing. We didn’t play live that often at first. In fact, we didn’t play a show until after we started sending out demos. We got asked to play a showcase for Alias Records in LA, and I had to wrangle a show at a cafe just to make sure we could pull off the songs before we went to LA. We continued to played shows as a duo (electric guitar and vocals). Katie added the snare drum and cymbal after we released our first 7″. When Rocketship broke up we asked Verna to play bass with us. This was the core band for most of Holiday Flyer. We had guests on most of the records. Our friend Toby Marshall played lead guitar on the Sweet and Sour EP. Ross Levine (Soft Science) played trombone on “The Rainbow Confection”. Mike Yoas played bass and Matt Levine (Soft Science) played guitar on “You Make Us Go”. For “I Hope”, we expanded to a full band with Jim Rivas on drums, Mike Yoas on bass.
When did it feel like a real band? When the first record came out or even before that?
John: It started feeling like a real band after we released “Try Not To Worry”. We were getting good reviews for the album and doing fanzine interviews. We were also playing shows in San Francisco and LA and opening shows for Red House Painters, America Music Club, Low and Smog.
Lyrically were there any specific themes you were exploring?
Katie: Looking back at the lyrics, some of them I really love, and a few of them I think oh no…can’t listen. They are lyrics only 19 year old me could have written. But overall, I think the HF lyrics are really just kids trying to make sense of it all in a somewhat sweet naive way. I think that might be part of the appeal? They are very honest.
John: I agree with Katie, I think most of the lyrics, especially on the early recording and first couple of records were us just writing what we knew. Some of it is difficult to listen to now, for numerous reasons. Ha Ha! That being said, I’m really proud of what we did in Holiday Flyer.
Katie: Me too.
When and why did the band break up?
Katie: Oh boy, why do you have to bring up old shite? Ha, Ha.
John: Well, it was my decision to end Holiday Flyer. It was just a good place to stop. We had made our most polished album, I Hope and I wanted to do something different. Verna and I had already released the first California Oranges album with our friend Ross Levine on drums. After a couple of show as a trio, we added Ross’s twin brother Matt on lead guitar and started working on our 2nd album “Oranges and Pineapples”. During that time Katie and Verna started recording a record with Ross and Matt which ended up being The Sinking Ships. About a year later we decided to merge the two bands and Katie joined California Oranges.
Sacramento is kind of a low-key city but has always had a great indie rock/pop scene throughout the years with all of your bands plus Rocketship, Tiger Trap, etc. Why do you think that is? Something in the water?
Katie: Perhaps the area somehow cultivates shut-ins? Ha, Ha.
John: Not really sure it’s big enough to call it a scene (ha ha). I think there might be a one degree of separation for most of the indie bands from Sacramento.
Please tell me about the reissues that Darla Records is doing?
John: James Agren at Darla has been wanting to reissue Try Not to Worry and The Rainbow Confection for a long time. Both albums were originally released on Silver Girl Records and have been out of print/unavailable for many years. With these reissues the entire HF catalog will now be available through Darla records. About a year ago James was finally able to get me to start the process. I felt it was a good time to reissue them. It took us awhile to gather all the miscellaneous tracks which will be included with the digital downloads of each record. I’m looking forward to them being available on vinyl for the first time. Both albums have been remastered by Mike Yoas along with all the bonus material including demos and songs we recorded for compilations. I’m really happy with how it turned out. The LPs sound really good. I think people who like the records will be happy with them. I designed new sleeves for both records too, which was fun. They also have liner notes written by Jack Rabid and Dave Heaton, which is super cool.
Will the band be (or have you been?) playing any gigs for the reissues?
Katie: I love singing with John it is a special experience that I really appreciate now that I have more perspective on what we did. But, we will have to see. We are both pretty busy with our other projects right now.
John: Katie and I played a few show over the last few years. One was opening for Mark Eitzel which was cool. We played a show with Mike Yoas on bass and Jim Rivas on drums for a local Summer concert series last year. Our current bands come first at this point, but if the right opportunity came up I’m sure we’d make it work.
Katie: Yes, we really appreciate everyone who helped make the reissues happen! Even our friend Scott Cymbala from Fingepaint Records (the label that released the first HF 7”- also Beck’s first 10”) dug through boxes at his house to find original copies of old songs that were remastered and are included with the bonus material.
What are you two doing musically these days?
John: I’ve been in Desario now for going on 15 years, which seems crazy. It’s not as easy to find time for music like when we were younger, but I’m glad to still be playing. Desario are going to start recording a new album in January and hopefully play some shows out of the Sacramento area next year.
Katie: I am in Soft Science. Our 3rd album Maps came out in June of 2018. It was released through Test Pattern Records which Ross and Matt Levine run, and I help here and there on occasion. John does most of the graphic design for the Test Pattern releases as well. We are all very fortunate for that! This last year was a pretty amazing year for Soft Science. A couple highlights include playing Paris Popfest and traveling to Michigan to play at the Kalamashoegazer fest. I enjoyed seeing you there Tim! I also enjoyed seeing my old pen pal from the HF days, the wonderful Janice Headley, who created the Copacetic zine in the early 1990s. I had not gotten to see her in many moons so that was fantastic. She was there playing in Tears Run Rings so that was an extra treat! For 2019 Soft Science will just be doing whatever we can with the current momentum we have. All in consideration of our normal lives of course ;-). But we all love it so, new songs, and more live shows are in the works!
What are some current Sacramento bands that we might not know about but need to?
Katie: Soft Science played with Rosemother this year and I thought they were quite good!
John: Arts & Leisure are working on a new record, which I’m excited about. Two other Sacramento bands I really like are Ghostplay and The Surrounded. Ghostplay has and EP out now, and The Surrounded are working on an LP or EP.
Any final thoughts? Closing comments? Anything you wanted to mention that I didn’t ask?
John: Thanks Tim for all the support and interest over the years for our music. I’m also thankful to still be playing and look forward recording and playing live in 2019.
Katie: Just thanks for asking us to do the interview! We are thrilled there is interest in the reissues of our old HF albums. There is an overwhelming amount of music out there so when anyone listens and likes you it is best to be grateful. That we are!