The Director's Cut: Holiday87 - S/T

Ben Ruttner aka Holiday87 breaks down the samples, inspiration and ideas behind his debut self-titled album as Holiday87.
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Holiday87 Ben Ruttner B-Roc Record Store Vinyl

Ben Ruttner aka B-Roc aka Holiday87

You will know him as B-Roc of The Knocks, but Ben Ruttner recently launched his own side project Holiday87, which looks to play on nostalgia, house music, disco, breaks and doo-wop and soul samples. It isn’t too far of a turn from The Knocks, but still represents a new direction for Ruttner for some club-ready music whenever we can all dance together again. He has released his self-titled debut album under the project today.

The 13-track self-titled album ebbs and flows, built around a slew of different samples that we will get to in a little bit. There are moments of pure exaltation like on “Sunrise” or calmer reflection with “Lost” and even breakbeat madness on “Overflow500.” It covers a lot of ground in not too much time, while still feeling stuck together. This is an album to remind you of better times that will come again.

We linked up with Ruttner to break down the album for a Director’s Cut feature. He dives into the various influences and samples used on the record to help guide your listening. Listen as you read and grab a copy here.

1. H87

I used to have these very vivid and weird recurring dreams as a kid that would stick with me for days and days. Nothing too scary, but more like a strange indescribable feeling of being lost. It would make me scared of the dark sometimes. This intro is a nod to those dreams. I imagined the kid’s voice as my inner childhood.

2. Lucky

I sampled a demo recorded in 1961 called “She Bop” by The Green Men. It’s a barbershop quartet style acapella and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what the actual lyrics are. To me, I heard it as “You look lucky baby, yes I do;” which doesn’t really make too much sense but there was something about it that I loved. For the production, I combined melancholy chords to contrast with the confident vocal sample, which ended up making it feel tough to me. What started out as a piano loop and a drum groove idea soon became something special when I found the sample. The rest just fell into place.

3. Let U Go

This was one of the first songs that inspired this whole project. It started with the 1957 sample of “Janice” by Herb Johnson & The Ambassadors. This was another doo-wop sample that really spoke to me. The piano chords came to me quickly and when put over the vocal, it translated to a palpable, melancholic feeling. From there, I came across a 90’s R&B female vocal that really connected with me and started incorporating that into the song, creating a conversation between the two samples.

The result became a story of a relationship between 2 people from completely different lives (and decades): a hopeless romantic asking for commitment and wanting to be with someone forever -- a female character pushing back and needing her space and to give it time. It is not only a symbolic reflection of the times (societal commitment vs. female independence), but it also was quite personal to me as well. When I was producing this, I was going through something in my relationship that felt very relatable. When this song finally came together, it made me want to create an entire album under this sonic landscape.

4. Starlight

This was the last song I made for the album. I started it with my buddy Ben from the duo Gilligan Moss during lockdown in NYC. I was in the process of moving to upstate New York while my girlfriend was still in the city. I wanted it to feel like a lullaby for someone you miss. The song starts in the country (upstate) to get away, but eventually we feel the pull of the city. To home... to what was home. It's a journey back to what we love most. This uncertainty and change in my world heightened my emotional state and the longing for the people closest to me. 

“Starlight” is a journey. To capture this feeling, I sampled a saxophone player on a subway train in Brooklyn and also recorded nature sounds for the intro while upstate in the woods. Your environment has such a huge impact on how you feel, so it was important to capture these familiar sounds in each place. For the main vocal, I co-wrote with this incredible group called King Garbage out of North Carolina.

5. Daybreak feat. The Knocks

The initial idea was started way back in 2010 as a The Knocks song. We worked on the vocal with the brilliant Autumn Rowe and toyed with a bunch of different versions. After stepping away from it for several years, I reopened it while working on the Holiday87 project. That’s when everything just clicked and this final version came together really easily. It’s the most straightforward house song on the album, but I wanted a song that DJ’s could still play out, while maintaining the emotional congruity of Holiday87. When the world opens up again, I imagine playing this out in our DJ sets wherever people want to be together and dance.

6. Elliptica

I started this idea with the incredible Chrome Sparks in Los Angeles. We had a day of playing with his analog synths and chopping up samples. I then took it back to NYC and added the vocal sample from an old turntablism record I had in my stash. I love the feeling of this song – it reminds me of California and the warm breeziness that so many people fall in love with. It has me day dreaming of driving down the PCH, smoking a joint and being in the moment.

7. Be Mine

Sticking with the doo wop/acapella vibe, “Be Mine” samples a group from the 1960’s called The Fairlines. The original song was recorded in 1962 as a demo, but wasn’t officially released until 2001 by The Philly Archives. I started the track with just the sample and a drum loop. From there, I sent to my girl Blu DeTiger who laid down a killer baseline and then came back to me to polish it off. This song feels very much like an interlude/cool down moment for the middle of the album.

8. Sunrise

I started this song with the sample of the Astral Projection’s song “Today I Saw The Sunrise,” released in 1961 by Metromedia Records. This is another one that went through multiple different versions. I wanted it to be a feel good dance floor ready song without it being just a standard straightforward house tune. Jean from St. Lucia came to the studio one day and he loved the initial idea, eventually helping with the chorus and adding incredible backing vocals. The day felt effortless and came together quickly. I can’t wait to play this song at a pool party one day soon.

9. Chimera

This is one of my favorite songs on the album! It embodies everything that Holiday87 is about. From the breakbeat, to the analog synths, to the melancholy sample, to the foley sounds. It samples Lady Fox & The Foxettes “I Think Of You” from 1962. It’s a euphoric young love song and my early electronic influences as a kid really come out on this one – it’s a nod to legends like Moby, The Avalanches & DJ Shadow.

10. One By One

This was another song that was apart of the first batch of ideas that inspired me to make this into a full album. The sample is by Benny Soebardja’s “One By One” recorded in 1965 and released 10 years later in 1975. I found the vocal from an old sample pack, which I then pitched and affected to make it sound like it was from an older era. I wrote the instrumentation over a holiday break at my parent’s house in the country & that’s how the name Holiday87 came to fruition. 

This whole project was a holiday break from The Knocks and the industry as a whole. I’ve spent so many years playing shows, press tours, and constantly thinking about “what’s next” for the band. Holiday is my escape. 87’ was the year I was born and when put together, it reminded me of my old AIM screen name as a kid or a graffiti name that I would tag in middle school.

11. Overflow500

I created this one in the peak of quarantine. I wanted to create something that felt manic and anxious. Music has always been an outlet for me to express how I’m feeling, so the goal of this song was to express not only how I was feeling, but also hopefully connect with how my friends, my family, and the world felt as well. An overflow of emotions, so to speak. It opens as a really beautiful calm piano ballad and then I flipped the script, taking it into a kind of atonal intense breakbeat freak out, then eventually bringing the two worlds together at the end. I had a lot of ups and downs during that period and I’m happy with how this track expresses that.

12. Lost

This was the track that introduced the Holiday87 project to the world. The sample used sounds like something from a bygone era, but it was actually recorded by a group called Los Yesterdays and released in 2017. They brilliantly capture a vibe that's reminiscent of the past, noting that their band "recalls their childhood as young chicanos.” The lyrics say “I can’t feel nothin, since I lost you.” I wanted the track to feel like a celebration of being numb from heartbreak. Enjoying the sadness and loneliness. I picture someone who is driving alone with their feelings after having their heart broken, but on the drive, experiencing an epiphany that they are finally getting over it. Light at the end of the tunnel.

13. Together

For this track, I found a video on YouTube of a children’s school music recital. For whatever reason, when they sang the word “together” in their song, it really struck a chord with me. I sent King Garbage an initial track idea with the sample and they added some vocals. It soon became this really cool anthemic tune that I think closes out the album really well. The fact that I made most of this album alone in quarantine on a laptop makes this song hit especially hard. We all miss being TOGETHER with our friends... with anyone really. It’s an ode to those experiences we have lost. 

This whole album ended up being a very personal, weird diary entry made during an isolated lonely time. But all things come to an end. “Together” is a longing for connection but also an optimistic reminder of what lies ahead. It’s a glimpse into the future and a return to being with the people you care most about. And of course, I had to end this journey with a sample of baby Ben/B-Roc/Holiday87/Amelia Airhorn/Ben from The Knocks. Just how it all started.

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