Holiday Sidewinder Explores Weird Pop with Eccentric Collaborators on Sophomore LP Face of God

Playing Melbourne
Photo Credit: Julia Rylskova

When indie pop songstress Holiday Sidewinder wants to make music, she goes directly to the best in the business. If the business is weird, transcendental, adventurous dance music, all the better. For her second album, Face Of God, she collaborated with dance music royalty Nick Littlemore, best known for his projects PNAU (with Peter Mayes) and Empire of the Sun (with Luke Steele). Australian singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Littlemore has worked with Groove Armada and Elton John, while also stretching his composition skills as musical director for Cirque du Soleil in 2010. For her part, Sidewinder has been in the music business since her early teens, cutting her teeth with Sydney-based experimental indie rock outfit Bridezilla from 2005 until they disbanded in 2013.

Sidewinder has known Littlemore since her Bridezilla days, and says PNAU was the impetus for her own embrace of pop music. “I knew nothing about Nick before I met him when I was 15. I had been flown to Adelaide to sing on a Mercy Arms record and he was producing with Pete from PNAU. He had a shaved head and a missing front tooth when we met, so he had this big gappy smile,” Sidewinder remembers. “In a group of boisterous teenage guys, he felt like a cultured, spirited human that I could connect with. He told me I was a total pro and really boosted my confidence.”

In her final year of high school, Sidewinder did distance education while on tour with PNAU. “It is why I started pop music, actually,” she says. “After Bridezilla [shows], people would be crying, but with PNAU, people were having the time of their lives – they were so happy. It’s what spurred me on, and I thought I could make myself happier too. So I put sad lyrics to happy music!”

Still, working with Littlemore wasn’t on her radar until he asked her to sing his poetry over abstract music for his improvisational Two Leaves project. Both were living in Los Angeles at the time and recorded a rough version of Face of God in his Hollywood-based studio in just five days, with Sidewinder (a multi-instrumentalist in her own right) on guitar and bass. “Nick had that respect for me as an instrumentalist,” Sidewinder says. “I’m always writing my own lyrics, but it was nice to be able to meld someone else’s thoughts and ideas with my own in such an intimate way. Nick would leave me alone for hours to record vocals by myself, so I was able to sing however I wanted to sing without interference, to be vulnerable.”

But the album languished for years while Littlemore reworked the production with Broadway composer Billy Jay Stein and re-tracked the songs in 2017 with a New York-based band that included disco vets Nicky Moroch, Chris Tarry, and Doug Yowell. Finally released May 21 on Littlemore and Mayes’ Lab78, Face Of God is cosmic disco via transcendental dance, taking elements of psychedelic indie rock, electronica and new wave synths to result in a highly-referential, wholly new sonic playground. Depending on the age and musical knowledge of the listener, they may pick up on Bee Gees, Nile Rodgers and Blondie, or they may think it’s more aligned with Tame Impala and the xx, with a dash of Underworld and The Flaming Lips for good measure.

Holiday Sidewinder Carmen-Sparks (indeed, her real name) is right at home working with artists of the mind-bendingly wonderful variety. Her mother, Lo Carmen, is a singer-songwriter and actor, and her father, Jeremy Sparks, is a film set builder and engineer. Both her step-parents are well known actors (Aden Young and Claudia Karvan). Her godfather is the actor Noah Taylor.

As a teen, Sidewinder attended Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, which is where – aged 13 – she formed Bridezilla with a friend in 2005. Two years later, they were signed to Ivy League Records, and in 2009, Inertia Recordings. Their touring schedule included opening for John Cale, Wilco, Stephen Makmus, The Drones, Interpol and Sia. By 2010, the band chose to take a hiatus, re-emerging briefly in 2012, only to play their final gig a month after reforming. In the interim, Sidewinder had appeared on popular local TV show RocKwiz, performing duets with well-known fellow artists in the studio version and the live tours.

Two of those artists were friends Alex Cameron and Kirin J. Callinan, both known for their idiosyncratic artistry playing in bands and as solo artists. Sidewinder has known both since she was in her early teens. She’d toured with Cameron when he was in Seekae and Callinan when he was in Mercy Arms.

“We were a handful of people from that Sydney 2004 new wave, indie, electronic scene, who continued to do music and went on to have solo careers, which also includes Jack Ladder, my absolute best friend. We bonded over that and created a family of musicians,” explains Sidewinder. “Alex called me at a rough time, mid-breakup, and asked me to play keyboards on tour with him. I taught myself by ear how to play his songs and spent the new few years touring with him [until 2019]. Kirin would stay on my couch if he was in London and I’d do the same in LA.”

Once Bridezilla was finished, Sidewinder dedicated herself to relocation and her solo career. In London, she sought to establish herself in pop, and by 2014, had released the single “Carousel,” written with Mike Chapman (Blondie), followed by a string of singles: “Tra$h Can Luv,” “Baby-Oil,” “Whispers,” and “Leo” amongst them. 

These tracks made it onto her 2019 synth-pop debut album, Forever Or Whatever. But her latest album is a much stranger beast. Beginning with the concept itself, the album pushes the boundaries of pop; as melodic and catchy as it is, it is not background music. With Face of God, she was able to return to more of the work she was doing as a teenager, which is “formless, without structure.”

When we connect over Zoom to discuss her new album, Sidewinder is in Thailand after spending a few months in both Estonia and Cypress. She doesn’t know where she’ll head next; she doesn’t like to plan and is a nomad at heart. “I felt like there was a bit of a ceiling for me in what I could achieve in Australia,” says Sidewinder. “You play the same five cities over and over again… and it’s so easy to tour Europe and the UK. The same with America,” she says. “I think there’s more room for niche music, whereas Australia has a tastemaker in radio and if you’re not in that, then you don’t have much of a career. The same set-up exists everywhere – you need to get on BBC 1 or 6 in the UK, but you can still be a full-time touring band without being on the radio because you can be working, interacting with fans.”

Being raw and real suits Sidewinder, and her own passion for music as a listener fuels her desire to write and make music that creates an emotional response in her own audience. “I have always found solace in music – it’s all I’ve known since I was a kid,” she muses. “I’ve been writing songs since I was three. My parents, grandparents, everyone writes songs. My mum worked at a CD store when I was a kid, so we’ve got a lot of indie stuff from the ’90s. I like to do deep dives into genres: there are times I just listen to female rap, or Bollywood music, piano house music, but sometimes nothing is moving me and it’s not until a song hits the right spot that I feel it again.” One song that always gets her there is Callinan’s cover of “Vienna” by Ultravox, she says.

Despite her successes in the music industry, Sidewinder has always had to hustle to get by, never quite able to just pick up a microphone and bypass the typical casual jobs all teens and 20-something creatives rely on to pay the bills. She’s written honestly about her years of (horrible) experience working in bars and cafes on her website, proving herself to be an excellent diarist. It’s easy to imagine her name on the front cover of a book, too – which brings us to a bit of exclusive news for Audiofemme: Sidewinder is working on a book. Her personal posts on her website caught the eye of an agent in Australia.

A Hot Mess is a series of my memoirs, but I’m fleshing it out to write a whole book about my twenties, touring, and my life because I guess it is unconventional. I’m so slow, and I’ve just got to finish it. I think by the end of the year, I’ll have the full book together,” she says. “I’ve been really inspired by [artist and author] Eve Babitz. It’s so refreshing hearing a female voice writing about her life as it’s happening rather than looking back from some point of success in the future. As women, we get written out of history so much that it’s important we write our own stories and capture it.”

Follow Holiday Sidewinder on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

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