HOLY SHIP!!! Interview: Gary Richards talks Holy Ship, plans for 2015, and what Ship Fam means to him
Monday, January 20, 2014 at 12:00 AM | Alex Silva
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As one roams the decks and halls of the crowned jewel of almost every electronic music fans dream escape, one begins to question the foundations of a concept that only a few bold and groundbreaking individuals have been able to put into fruition, one being Gary Richards (aka Desctructo). And as post-ship reality continues to sink in, we've come to accept the fact that this year's Holy Ship!!! has come and gone once again, cue the nostalgia. But while only a select few fortunate souls (roughly 4,000) were able to embark on this year's new and improved experience of a lifetime aboard the MSC Divina, news of 2015's Holy Ship!!! plans are already underway, for the most part at least, according to curator Gary Richards.

"We’re going to try to expand to at least have two [Holy Ships] in 2015 to get more people in," Gary notes in our interview inside the MSC Divina's stylish little library lounge. "I don’t think longer is the move," Gary continued, "I think if anything we could do another one during a different time of year or maybe one in the Mediterranean to take an alternate route and give more people a chance to come."

While news of this has already hit the media, thanks to the fabulous Kat Bein over at Miami New Times, there's still a lot more to be digested about what it takes to put something of this magnitude together. So Joonbug sat down with Gary to talk about how it all came together, only to discover the true meaning behind how all of this "Ship Fam" hype has grown to parallel a music culture that roots itself all the way back to his early days at Burning Man and what he himself has taken home from this whole lifelong experience that he has diligently crafted. 

Let's start with Gary's involvement on Holy Ship (yes, we're dropping the !!! for the rest of this post, you get the picture by now). He's the mastermind behind all the HARD events that have geysered themselves across the nation from L.A. to New York, Detroit, Miami and even across the border in places like Toronto and at Mexico City but, aside from being HARD's head honcho, what exactly is his role in putting together Holy Ship?

"I've learned as HARD grew throughout the years, and then everything with Holy Ship, that the key to running a successful event is having a great team; we have an amazing team here. My responsibility is mostly booking the talent, the marketing and selling the tickets, but I have partners at Cloud 9 who do all the reservations, booking the rooms and dealing with the cruise ship. Under Cloud 9 they have a whole production team that we work with. This guy named Chris Sorlie [Head of Production], he’s kind of in charge of the whole thing and they're the experts at doing events on cruise ships so they make my life really easy. We also work with The Bowery Presents in New York [City], they’re our third partner."

What most people don't realize is how much work an event like this requires in order for it to actually ferment into something tasteful and worth spending your money on. And although Gary did brew the idea behind this sonic adventure at sea, he isn't the only man behind the scenes.

"I think what it was, and I was talking to Pharrell [Williams] about it earlier, is that I had the idea in my head and knew what it would be but I couldn’t explain it," Gary responded when asked about coming up with the idea of Holy Ship. "The things that I want to do are so big there’s no way I could do them all by myself, I’d get so worn out. All I do in L.A. is meet with the police and the fire department, and I’m good at it but there’s people that are way better at doing that job than me. Then, I can focus more on things like finding the new Kaytranada, listening to cool music and hanging out with Sonny [Skrillex], hearing what he’s working on and coming out with new shit rather going back to figure out where the exit is going to be at a festival. It’s just too much for one person to do and a big scale of running events is coordination; it’s being together and coordinating everything. It’s a lot to fucking do."

So with all this coordinating going on, when does the man with the plan find time to sleep? Surprisingly, he may have gotten more sleep than most of us.

"[I got] A little bit [of sleep]. The problem is that I DJ a bunch on the ship and I want to be able to get up and make it to the islands so I’ve gotten a couple hours of sleep each night. But I’ll get home [Sunday] and Friday I’m on tour for two weeks through the United States and Canada with Alex Metric. It’s cool because I’ve never really done a full tour like that before, mostly just like weekends but every person on this ship is like, 'I’ll see you in Seattle next week, or Providence or Boston or Gainesville.' They know what’s going on and, for me, I’m stoked because my favorite thing to do is DJ so there’s nothing worse than traveling five hours to get there and it’s not packed, for that I could just stay at home. When I promote it I know it’s going to be packed but when someone else is promoting it then, hopefully, they got their shit together at that point."

The next question we were curious about is during all the production madness, while all the innovative streams of creativity were being woven together to put a lid on all the other stressful aspects of finalizing Holy Ship, when did the fun part kick in? And by that we mean putting together the music lineup. This year's roster took a bit of a turn in a new direction and we were anxious to ask what drove Gary to bring on acts like Flume, Kaytranada, Jerome LOLShlohmo and more.

"For everything that we do, if I don’t like the music then I don’t really bring it. I’m really big on all that. A couple guys that I work with now were turning me on to new music like those cats on MixedManagement, Body High and all that. It’s just another cool style that fits with HARD, I’m always trying to find something that’s not big room EDM like everyone else is doing. There’s all these cool slivers whether it’s trap, hip hop, house, disco or whatever you want to call Flume’s sound. It just all somehow works, even with Pharrell today. He was probably nervous thinking to himself like, 'What am I doing?,' then instantly everyone started singing the words to his songs. People that come to our events, they know music because they’re smart educated music people and they can go from Biggie to Chemical Brothers to Skrillex, RL Grime, Shlohmo and somehow it all works. I think it’s a testament to the people that support us and know what the fuck is going on. That’s how we pick [the music]; there’s a lot of things that are popular that we don’t bring."

This year even captured a bit of those live instrumental vibes we've come to love here at Joonbug, booking acts like Gramatik, alongside Exmag bandmate Eric Mendelson on guitar as usual. The duo closed out the Pantheon Theatre on Friday night from 5-6am and performed their second performance Saturday night in the Black & White Lounge from 10-11pm. While Chromeo's Dave 1 didn't bring his guitar on stage for their DJ set that Friday night, it was nice to close out with the sounds of Mendelson's soulful guitar odyssey.

"We do a lot of that at HARD. We’ve had Cut Copy, Miike Snow, N.E.R.D. with a full band, and we’ve had Empire of the Sun and Bloc Party too. For me, music is just music; if it’s good, it’s good. It doesn’t matter if you’re DJing, playing the harmonica or have a band, you just got to fit the theme of HARD and Holy Ship. The thing I do for this is number one, it’s quality music, but number two, it’s still a party. Those are the two elements that make it [Holy Ship] what it is. If I can I always try to have some instrumental flair, I think that adds something to the performance. It’s always better to add that in but as long as it works. It’s fucking music, just play something."

As most of you have also probably already heard, Tiesto was the special guest for both secret sets this year. He played two performances on the ship, one following Zedd in the Patheon Theatre for the initial surprise; the other, an exclusive deep house set b2b with Destructo in the Galaxy Disco the following night. Unfortunately, and this may be the only regret of the weekend, his deep house set reached capacity and we (as well as basically anyone and everyone not already inside) weren't allowed to reenter following a brief break of fresh air out on the disco's outer deck. Anyhow, here's the scoop on how Tiesto came around to joining the Ship Fam crew this year and how Gary managed to keep him a total secret from just about everyone but Tiesto's management.

"When I was in Australia with Zedd, he [Zedd] introduced me to Tiesto and was telling him about how cool this cruise is and Tiesto kind of wanted to come. Then, of course, there's all the business people and everybody, they’re not really into that; nobody wants to play a show where everything is dialed in. He’s a big act so with all the production, writers and all that, that’s not what this is about; it’s more about family vibes. His agent hit me up a couple months ago and said, 'Tiesto thinks he wants to come this year, do you have room for him?' and we had already sold out but I was like, 'Of course, I’ll always have room for Tiesto that dudes a legend.' But when people say they’re going to come as guests you never know if they’re actually going to show up so I just held some rooms for him and then his agent confirmed that he was definitely going to come. We decided we would hide him so nobody would know, I didn’t tell anyone. It was a really cool surprise especially since we had him play right after Zedd so everyone who really likes Zedd would be fans of him as the surprise guest."

How exactly did they manage to hide someone as iconic and recognizable as Tiesto? Well, here's the interesting part:

"We have another boat — the Yacht Club, it’s private for all the artists. We brought him in the back and kind of put him in the Yacht Club, he was a good sport about it waiting out there until 3 [am], so he didn’t get to see the first night." 

Sure it sounds exclusive, being that Tiesto had to be hidden away from the first night just to be able to perform, but it's all part of the show. And while many fans of Gary and his events haven't had the opportunity to make it on the ship yet, it's easy to see how one might feel excluded from the fun with all the "Ship Fam" hype thrifting through every corner of EDM social media. But is the Ship Fam really all that snooty and privatized? Not at all. As Gary explained, there's a handful of reasons why it's so hard to get a spot on the ship. Here's the true meaning of what it means to be a part of the Ship Fam and we hope that one day you'll be able to experience the magic for yourself. 

"The first year we did this cruise we didn’t sell it out. We came close but we had about 2,400-2,500 people who took a leap of faith with me and put down almost $1000 to fly down to Miami, or if they lived there, to roll with me on this crazy idea. The next year we did it we felt that those people should get priority, so we gave them priority but on the second year's boat it was the same capacity – only 2800 people could fit and most people came back. This year's boat holds 4,000 so we had room to craft in 1,200 more people, but I think that people who took a chance with me the first time around should have the chance to book first. It’s not like we do it that way by design, we don’t want to keep people out it’s just that we’re on a cruise ship that only holds so many people. My festival in L.A. holds 70,000 people, so we can get everybody in. We did sell out but I’m sure they’re was a couple thousand that couldn’t get a ticket. Here, on Holy Ship, there’s people coming from Korea, Australia, Berlin and all over the world. Initially, there was no way to show people what Holy Ship was about, that’s why when we did the first video we rented the helicopter so people could see what it was. The next year it sold out in a second because everyone could get a visual as to what Holy Ship was really about. I appreciate those first people because I could have done that the first year, nobody could have showed up, I could have lost millions of dollars and I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. So it’s because of those first people that we are here tonight."

And of course, as talks of the original Holy Shippers became the center of conversation, Joonbug had to get a scoop on the girl who has been the center of this "Ship Fam" since the very beginning —Emily Morin. So we had to ask, who is this girl and what does she mean to Gary against the background of it all?

"She came on the cruise the first year. She is kind of like the spirit leader of the Ship Fam that corrals everybody, she even started the whole fathead thing. She's cool and a sweet girl. The thing that people tell me most about the cruise, obviously the boat is amazing and for me it’s the music, is that what came out of it is that people made friendships. All these people that came the first year and took a chance with me for some reason are all similar, so even though Emily lives in Boston she’s friends with this girl Zoe who lives in Auckland, New Zealand and they’re homies through Facebook. When I was in New Zealand she [Zoe] was telling me how Emily sent her love and it’s just crazy how they are all connected through this event. They always come up to me and thank me because they’ve made life long friends through this [boat]. This year she brought the tattoos onboard that said “Ship Fam” and “Boat Swag” and made signs, all that merch shit like Gary heads. People think I made that but I wouldn’t make that. It’s weird but she does that and it’s become a thing. I haven’t seen her much on the boat though, but it’s funny because I did see her once earlier. There was this shark dancing and it was her, she was wearing a full body shark suit. Their new thing is "team no face" so they are all hiding now and you don’t know who they are. I was even involved in a secret santa thing with the whole Ship Fam, I sent someone posters and HARD swag and I got these Mickey Mouse shirts, it’s a cool thought."

As we continued to talk about what Ship Fam means to Gary, we ventured into the most heartfelt part of our interview. As he closed in on his final thoughts about Holy Ship, he turned down memory lane and compared the Ship Fam experience to memories of his times at Burning Man and how Holy Ship has instilled the same vibes in him throughout the friendships he's made and the bonds he's helped created for those who have embarked on this lifelong journey with him.

"I haven’t hung with the Ship Fam a lot mostly because I’m busy running the whole thing, but in a way I kind of relate it a lot to Burning Man because I’ve been there a lot back in the day and you meet people at Burning Man out of your daily routine. I went in 2004 when my brother passed away and I made his initials out of wood and then I wanted to burn them. The guys camping next to me asked me about what I was doing and at sunrise they got a group of people together to come see this thing I built so I could tell them about my brother. I was there with like 50 total strangers talking about my brother with these people and it was such a moment that I would never even have even experienced with my every day next-door-neighbor but because of Burning Man it all came together. That’s how I see the Ship Fam. It’s hard for me to just enjoy it because I have so much to do but for them they have the bond of the music and the beach and everything they do together to create that bond and I think it’s something that will last a lifetime. For me, I’m just trying to make cool music but that’s just a side thing that happened and I think that’s more important to them than the music."

Let's just leave it at that. To all our fellow Ship Fam and future Ship Fam, until next year!

[Photos by Rukes (except the one of Emily Morin on the beach)]

Follow Alex Silva on Twitter @Silvasgoldd

Tags: interviews, Burning Man, All Access Pass, holy ship, Gary Richards, destructo, Rukes