Exclusive Interview with Mark Holland

Mark Holland How did you discover the bluesharp?
~ I started off as a drummer at age 11. Around age 24, I began playing straight harp, but it became real boring to me. I had read about cross harp, and so thought I would give it a go. I loved it! And, I could play it fairly well from the start. It felt very natural to me, as natural as talking. I could really express myself. I don't cup a mic like most players do; I play into a standing mic like Sonny Boy. I also play in a rack a lot as I accompany myself on guitar a lot, so I have learned to control the harp using only my mouth and tongue. That doesn't mean I don't like to play using my hands only. I love that, too. The acoustic trio I play in with my twin brother Mike and bassist Billie Feather does a lot of country blues and old time country. When you play cross harp on top of those styles, it sounds really unique. I haven't found anyone that plays like me and I consider my style pretty unique. There are lots of guys trying to be Little Walter and it gets monotonous, to me anyway. As a drummer, I love rhythm and play with a lot of syncopation. I am a fan of jazz as well as blues and I keep both in mind when I play. Some times I use vibrato, sometimes I want a flat sound like Miles Davis.

If everything would be possible (waking the dead included) , which bluesharp player would you invite for a jam session?
~ Sonny Boy Williamson II

What is your favorite blues harp brand / type and tell us why?
~ I am a Seydel endorser. I think they sound the best and feel the best, even their lowest model. They give their endorsers great support and they will send me harps when I need one within a day or two.

What are the most important tips you can give to someone who wants to learn to play the bluesharp?
~ Don't get discouraged. The harp is easy to play, but not easy to play well. Give yourself a time frame of several years of steady playing to begin to get good.

Tongue blocking or lip pursing, what do you prefer and tell us why.
~ I use both, but prefer to tongue block. The tongue is so nimble. You can do so many things with it. And, there is the practicality of keeping the harp wet more easily. You can do much more with tongue blocking.

Give us the 3 most important albums every (beginning) blues harp player must buy.
~ Sonny Boy Williamson: Sugar Mama, Little Walter: Hate to see you go, Sonny Boy Williamson: Help Me.

How do you clean your harps?
~ Warm soap and water.

What is the question interviewers never seem to ask you and...you wish they would? (Please provide your answer as well.)
~ What is at the heart of your sound? Music is a form of expression and I express how I am feeling at the moment. I play in the moment. I play joy, sadness, loneliness, exhilaration, madness, anger, life and death and everything in between. I exhaust myself and put everything I have into it. I never coast. I want to feel empty and drained when I am done. I want the crowd to know that I have given them everything and to leave with a different view of blues harp. I don't want to sound like anyone else. I don't want to be another Little Walter or Sonny Boy clone.

Describe the ultimate recording studio (not the technique but the facilities)
~ One mic, a Tascam analog 4-track and a personal space. I know that is contrary to what most people would say, but to me, the more you can stay within your own skin, the better.

Are you still nervous before going on stage and if so, do you use any "rituals" to calm you nerves?
~ I never get nervous! I live for it! I am an introvert/extrovert mix and can either be shy or the life of the party. I don't acknowledge the crowd until well within the set or maybe not even until the end just to check them out. Sometimes I mingle, sometimes I slip out and go home without a word.

What was the most memorable day in your musical career?
~ I think it was about 5 years ago, when I really felt I had gotten to a place where I could do with the harp exactly what I was hearing in my mind. It was a small gig, with about 50 people at a beer garden here near Pittsboro, NC at a village called Fearrington. I had total control. I could express myself completely and the crowd felt it to. I think my tips were amazing that day and I haven't looked back since!

Mark Holland

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Answers given on january 8, 2017