Holy Fuck's Brian Borcherdt Fights Through Pot Anxiety to Get New Perspective on His Music
The frontman of Dusted reveals the synesthetic benefits of cannabis for his songwriting process
Published Feb 21, 2020Brian Borcherdt is best known as a founding member of dance rock trailblazers Holy Fuck and the frontman and primary songwriter of Dusted. With Holy Fuck having just released their euphoric fifth album, Deleter, we spoke with the Nova Scotia-based musician about his unique relationship to cannabis: although pot makes him anxious, he uses it as way to assist his artistic process, giving him new perspective on his own songs and allowing him to hear them with fresh ears. He also discusses the importance of de-stigmatizing cannabis, attempting to communicate with his sober self, and why restrictive drug laws have hurt more people than they've helped.
What do you smoke and how do you consume it?
I use it occasionally during the process of making records. For that reason I appreciate and even celebrate it. I also think it's important to acknowledge that for many of us pot is a difficult tool/activity to partake in. I've had very few 'easy' experiences with cannabis. I'm still trying. Coupled with alcohol (to take the edge off — in other words to suppress my anxiety), I can smoke small morsels of weed with a little pipe I found in my couch cushions after a party.
I've been experimenting with indica and sativa to see if I have a preference. Neither make me relaxed or sleepy. Sleep is nearly impossible with either (beer helps). But I've had the suspicion that indica gives me a better visual sensation. Something inanimate may appear to have more importance imbued upon it — it will look more beautiful or even become animate. But maybe I've got it backwards... I still don't know which one I like more. Either way it's not necessarily a relaxing experience. I'm not expecting to kick back and laugh at Netflix.
What do you like to do when you smoke?
I like to smoke and listen back to what I've been working on. I find it has a magic effect of shifting perspective, as it can with other situations such as revisiting conversations from earlier or other events that may be causing stress. A perspective shift is valuable. It can be confronting but also encourages empathy.
With music it helps me hear it 'new,' almost as a third person might hear it. I hear something that may have been causing me trouble and doubt all day, only now I know how to fix it. I rarely 'work' at this point, rather I make notes that I can work on later. Sometimes notes are hard to distinguish, like 'make it more orange.' But through practice I've gotten better at communicating with my future self. It can be more than a perspective shift — it can jumpstart a more synesthetic approach to listening. I feel better in touch with the 'space' that music takes up, the picture it forms, the constant evolving picture, because it's space but also time — duration and timing and feel all affect the canvas. I make a lot of sonic decisions based on the picture I see. Different frequencies and sounds have different colour or texture and panning choices within the stereo field open the canvas up and show greater depth. I like to think this is always available to me, but cannabis can help grant access. (Also, if I smoke tonight I'll probably reread all of this that I'm writing and edit it — I have a hard time expressing myself with written words partially because I suck at typing which makes my thoughts come out all wrong. Maybe pot will help me say it 'truer.')
What do you think about the recent changes in cannabis culture?
I'm glad we can talk about anxiety and other side effects we feel with cannabis. We can narrow down strains and hopefully find what we are looking for, and also use cannabis medicinally without stigma. Metaphorically speaking, imagine wanting to buy some booze and having to meet someone in an alley who gives you a mystery bottle — you don't know if it's gin or beer or antifreeze. That doesn't encourage a healthy good time. On a larger scale, that ignorance makes it difficult to really understand the consequences, good or bad, that a substance like cannabis or alcohol have on us as a functioning society — there are no controls. It's total clownery to push these substances into the dark. I think the laws have ruined more lives than the substances.
Where in your city is great for cannabis?
I just moved to rural Nova Scotia. I can buy it at the liquor store I guess. Luckily, I still have some left over from a café in Toronto (it lasts a long time for me — it'll probably disintegrate before I can finish it.) In terms of places to hang out, I spent a while the other night looking at a cool tree.
Are there hidden (or not-so-hidden) cannabis references in your songs?
I think there's a celebration of escapism in my music... not so hidden though. One needs perspective to understand life and getting on the other side of the veil can be helpful. It's all part of some great catharsis we are looking for.
Who are your Canadian cannabis heroes?
I think it's heroic to be more concerned with the world we are leaving to our children than the one we inhabit today. We need the system to evolve as we evolve; we need new solutions. De-stigmatizing cannabis is a step towards a more realistic future. I'm not really aquatinted with those who stood on the front lines for that.
As far musicians go, Gord Downie was about as big a rock star as one could be in this country, and while on one hand he sang about hockey, he also sang about smoking weed in a hammock and listening to Eric's Trip. I always thought that was really cool.