Far Out Meets: Slaves’ Isaac Holman is Baby Dave

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In November 2018, Slaves took to the stage for the largest headline show of their career at the illustrious Alexandra Palace in London. Everything looked perfect, and they’d just released their celebrated third album, Acts of Fear and Love. Then little over a year later, frontman Isaac Holman’s life had been turned upside down, and he moved home with his parents after suffering a severe mental health breakdown.

All the success he’d enjoyed with Slaves in his early twenties and their three top ten albums didn’t compensate for anything. The duo cancelled their UK tour at the end of 2019 in heartbreaking circumstances due to the ill health of Laurie Vincent’s partner, who has tragically since passed away.

The two pillars of the group both agreed family comes first, and Slaves was rightly placed on the backburner. Vincent has been making music as part of Larry Pink, The Human since 2020, while Holman was holed up at his parents’ home in Tunbridge Wells after his whole world had also come crashing down.

Over time, and with the aid of GarageBand, Holman slowly started to reconnect with his creativity and began making music once more. It was mainly to keep himself occupied, keep the mind whirring away on positive creation, and having an outlet became a healthy vice. Soon enough, Holman had a collection of songs started to spring up—Baby Dave was born.

“I didn’t even know I was making the tunes for any particular reason,” Holman tells me over Zoom from his flat about the origin of Baby Dave. “I wasn’t doing well mentally, living at my parents’ house, and I had to focus on something. At the time, it was more like therapy, and it wasn’t until later on when I had more tunes that I realised I could do something with this.”

It was a drastic change in his life, and Holman’s body could no longer keep up with the frantic pace of his reckless way of living, which led to him being back at square one. “It was nuts,” Holman reflects about his manic time with Slaves. “My lifestyle with Slaves definitely played a big part in my mental health declining, it was just crazy for such a long time I wasn’t looking after myself, and it was just the perfect storm.”

The adrenaline rush of playing to thousands of people every night is impossible to comprehend if you haven’t been in that position. Holman struggled to adapt to civilian life when touring ended, and he explained to me how he would look elsewhere to replace the high.

“For quite a while, I couldn’t really do anything,” Holman explains about his lowest moment. “I was just literally being looked after by my parents, and then it took like two years for me to get out of my parents’ house and into a flat. I’m way, way, way better than I was, but I’m still on my road to recovery.”

Another vital part of Holman’s recovery was him finding a new purpose and began helping out with a local gardening firm which is quite the jump from playing Glastonbury, but it was an experience he cherished. “I used to get recognised when I was gardening for people, and they were like: ‘What are you doing?’” he laughs. “That was all I wanted to do at the time. I wanted to get my head down and keep myself busy. I really enjoyed it.

“When I get back from tour and haven’t got much on, I used to get lost, and things start to go wrong, but now I want to balance the music with the gardening. I just felt so unwell and useless, and I needed to wake up and do something. So when I get off tour, my mate who I used to work with has always got work on, so I want to knuckle down gardening with him,” Holman gleefully says.

At the start of 2021, Holman got a new job with a gardening firm rather than just helping out his friend. However, the itch to make music full-time surprisingly returned, and he handed in his notice to focus on his solo project. Although work had started in 2020 on the project, it was initially a pastime rather than a priority for Holman. He says: “I was working on it throughout that time, but very slowly, and I just had two or three tunes under my belt. I couldn’t write any lyrics, and I was just making beats. It wasn’t until I moved into this flat on my own in 2021 that I started to write lyrics and piece things together.”

Once he had songs, Holman next needed a name, and naturally, he decided upon Baby Dave. He explains: “My dad’s called Dave, and we were talking about babies and baby names. Somebody said there’s never any babies called Dave anymore, and I was trying to think of a name for so long, and as soon as they said it, I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s bang on’.”

Now he had the music ready and a name in place; Holman just needed to recruit a superstar producer before recording Monkey Brain. Slaves had previously worked with Damon Albarn on the Gorillaz track ‘Momentary Bliss’ along with Slowthai, and he bravely decided to chance his arm with the legendary musician.

“I was like, ‘You know what, I’m just gonna take a long shot’, and I messaged someone from Damon’s management. She was like, ‘Send me the tunes over,’ and she sent them to him and then told me he was up for it. I was like, ‘What the fuck?’ I expected him to say no, so I was buzzing,” Holman smiles.

The two artists then met in the studio with Holman under the expectations Albarn would want to rerecord the entire album. However, to his surprise, the Blur frontman liked the rawness of the demos and chose to simply add a lick of paint to the existing work. “It was wicked because that gave me the belief in the project and that I could carry on making tunes like that. Instead of seeing it as rough, I was like: ‘This is how I’m doing it’. I just kept making them on GarageBand and kept them super stripped back,” Holman continued.

Having Albarn’s seal of approval gave Holman the confidence boost he desperately needed. Although working with him in the studio was a surreal experience: “On one hand, it felt nice and normal, but, on the other hand, I kept on disassociating, and being like: ‘What the fuck is going on?’ Obviously, the man’s a fucking legend, but he’s also a really lovely bloke.”

Holman admits making an album as a solo artist is one that he’s found “way harder” than with Slaves. Without Vincent around, he’s used his girlfriend as a soundboard throughout the process as he picked apart every last detail of the album.

Both members of the group are on their own respective paths and making music on two different ends of the spectrum. When I ask if the group are still together, Holman coyly replies: “We’re parked for now. I can’t really say, but yeah, we’re not doing anything right now. We’ve both got over shit we want to do.”

Judging from Holman’s remarks, I wouldn’t expect Slaves to return to the stage anytime soon, and neither should they when both men’s hearts are currently residing elsewhere.

With Baby Dave, Holman is showing a side to himself we’d only previously heard snippets of, such as on the duo’s Baxter Dury collaboration ‘Steer Clear’. He had to play the snarling frontman, but that only tells part of Holman’s story. For the first time, he’s been genuinely vulnerable with his songwriting while still being hilariously irreverent too, and Monkey Brain is the most honest portrait of him as a human.

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