Holy Terror Freak Us Out With Their All-Star Talent
Tampa-based musician John Nowicki has gathered an ensemble with impressive pedigree to perform a style he calls “twangy dread.”
BY STEPHANIE POWERS | Nov. 29, 2018
The music scene in the Tampa Bay area is an ever-evolving yet interconnected melange of talent. One band’s guitarist might be another band’s drummer.
John Nowicki — a master of such versatility and integration — is best known for being behind the drum set for longtime area staple Poetry N’ Lotion, but he has been sneaking around town the last couple of years in disguise playing as Fat Jim Morrison.
Having recently parted ways with PNL, Nowicki is now focusing on his personal project The Holy Terror, contributing acoustic guitar, banjo, percussion and vocals.
“I wanted to put together a group of songs that were loosely tied together by the trappings, or the suggestion of, country music,” Nowicki explains. “Not country per se, not alt-country, but TWANGY DREAD. … I wanted the aesthetic to be one of a modern dead-end town in the middle of nowhere.”
Helping him find that mysterious nowhere place: bandmates Owen Meats, Scott Lavan Miller, Pete Nuffer, Troy Cedeno, Kenny Pullin and Melissa Grady.
Nowicki began recording his solo record, The Holy Terror (and Other Diversions) with Meats at his studio, Short Circuit Studio South, in Sarasota, July 2017. In the process, he decided he wanted to assemble a band around the material.
“I wanted this band to be made up of close friends,” he shares. “Last Easter, at a party at Scott’s, I got up the nerve to ask Troy, Pete, and Scott about it. Owen was on board recording from day one. Then I asked Melissa and Kenny about it. I’m damn pleased with the resulting band.”
Nowicki divulges his bandmates’ superpowers and starts by crediting bassist Owen Meats for being “three or four degrees more metal” than anyone else in the band.
“Tom Murray did it for Poetry N Lotion,” he says. “OE’s my man for Holy Terror.”
Scott Lavan Miller, “the band’s linchpin,” plays drums, lap steel and guitar. “I needed a drummer that I could count on to play a bunch of different genres, who also could switch to guitar for when I wanted to play drums. Oh, and he can rock the lap steel. What? Needle-in-a-haystack, right there.”
Cellist Melissa Grady played briefly with the band’s founder in Brand New Opiates and Same Day Delivery Orchestra. “The cello part on ‘Calm’ was just waiting for her to play it.”
Like Pullin, Grady has written her own parts to several of the band’s songs. “She’s an all-around bad-ass,” Nowicki adds.
A shared history informs Nowicki’s choice of guitarist and bassist Nuffer: “We go waaay back. “Like, so far back, that if we hadn’t formed Toast together in 2001, I wouldn’t have ever moved to Tampa. Musically, his guitar work is just mind-blowing. He can do exactly what I can’t do on guitar. His fingerpicking technique is ridiculous.”
As for Troy Cedeno, the keyboardist, sampler, guitarist and percussionist can play just about anything. “He’s very humble, so don’t tell him I said that. He can switch instruments without blinking an eye — sometimes in the middle of a song. He was a no-brainer.”
Trumpeter Kenny Pullin needs no introduction to a good many followers of the bay area music scene.
“KP and his damn trumpet, man. If you’ve lived in Tampa for more than a year, you’ve heard him play with one of his many bands. He was a main aspect of Poetry N Lotion’s sound for many years, and I had to have him play that solo on our song, ‘Carolina.’ He’s since written his own parts for several other songs in our setlist. My brotha from anotha.”
The rest of the band joins the conversation …
“The fact that our first practice was after the album was done, that’s a first for me,” Meats declares. “It’s usually the other way around, its made it exciting, and learning the songs together has allowed us to let some of them breathe a little differently than the recorded versions.
Nuffer: We initially got together to try to bring John’s music from his album to a live setting. A one-time special showcase quickly evolved as we starting digging into more of John’s material, and we found we were having way too much fun to just limit it to a showcase event.
Grady: The sound is very unique just like John’s personality. The band pretends to be no one and isn’t aiming to sound like anyone else but what each member has to offer. My other bands usually sound like a specific genre or cover other bands and try to sound as much like them as possible. The Holy Terror sounds exactly the way they craft their sound.
Cedeno: This is the first band I’ve been in as an adult. I am a producer and own a studio, The C-Lab, and mainly operate from behind the scenes. This differs from other projects mainly because I make soul, funk, and R&B and what we’re playing is WAY on the other end of that spectrum. It’s been a blast … once I get over the stage fright.
Pullin: Holy Terror is different than other projects in its open approach to intertwine different genres and sounds. Poetry n’ Lotion definitely had a fusion aspect, and The Holy Terror continues to burn that torch.
Nowicki: Most of my top influences are stylistic chameleons. Frank Zappa, Ween, Tom Waits… they are all impossible to pin down to one, or even THREE, genres. I’m fascinated by that kind of genre alchemy. What makes them the best at that peculiar talent is the fact that it isn’t completely random. With each of those artists, the genres they weave together become a cohesive tapestry that is more than just a pile of genres mashed together. I’ve tried to work that aesthetic into most of the music I’ve made in my adult life.
Other projects, current and previous
Owen Meats: Ill Faded, Superfly TNT/Neckbone, Toast, Porch, Swampuss, Electric Scream Machine; former co-owner of Tallgrass Studios and Short Circuit Studios; Current Owner Short Circuit Studio South.
Miller: Genghis Flan (previous); The End of Daisies and Swampuss (on hiatus).
Nuffer: Toast, Pale Orchestra, Swampuss, Rototiller.
Grady: I started originally in my parent’s band called The Spirit of Woodstock. My Dad played keyboards, my Mom played flute and my sister plays the viola. My Dad wanted string parts so he gave me a keyboard, pencils and staff paper. He told me I had a week to finish the parts for their setlist and hire my friends to play. It was pretty amazing. In Tampa, I have made music with Candy Bars, Rec Center, The Brand New Opiates, and Band of Sorrows. I am currently a member of The Holy Terror and I have my own project with my awesome husband, Joe Grady, called Same Day Delivery Orchestra. We take local band songs and orchestrate them for a 10 member string and percussion ensemble.
Cedeno: Never been in a band but I did produce the Best Of The Bay-winning album Color Fool by Ari Chi last year!
Pullin: Other bands I’ve been in include Poetry n Lotion, Magadog, Sugardaddy, The Apes, d’ Visitors, Tribal Style, Gwan Massive, Have Gun, Will Travel, Rocksteady@8.
Nowicki: Previous bands include Toast, Rose Connelly, Pale Orchestra, Poetry n Lotion. No Name Rider, Brand New Opiates, Same Day Delivery Orchestra. The Holy Terror is currently the only band I’m working on.
Why did you want to be a part of the Holy Terror?
Meats: Nowicki and I met back when he was still underage to drink, and I knew he was putting together a lineup that I would be honored to play with, it was a no-brainer. So many of these musicians are and have been close personal friends for over 15 years. It feels like family.
Miller: I really like John’s voice, and I trust him to captain the ship. these are people I just want to hang out with anyhow. They’re all badass.
Nuffer: I cut my teeth with Nowicki in the early 2000’s playing in Toast – it was really the formation of anything music related for me in Tampa. John’s always been a brilliant drummer and a slight madman of a songwriter, to get a chance to play with him 18 years later, after the evolution both of us have gone through during that time was a chance I couldn’t pass up.
Grady: John asked me to play a couple of songs on his record and when John Nowicki asks, you say YES. Then he asked if I wanted to perform with the stellar line of musicians he had gathered and there was no way I wasn’t going to experience being in the middle of that lineup.-
Cedeno: All of the band members are best friends and I thought it would be a blast to play with them and help create our brothers’ album in a live environment.
Pullin: I wanted to be part of The Holy Terror, firstly because Nowicki is my homeboy, and I’ve been friends with most of the other members for more than a decade as well. Great people, great musicians, great tunes, and frightening band name…what more could I ask for?!
Being such a large group, how does that change things from when you are performing your solo stuff live?
Nowicki: Playing these songs as a 7-piece band is so different from playing them as a solo acoustic performer. It’s insane how much life these folks bring to the material. There are certain songs that I’ve actually never been able to play solo, as well. On a couple songs, I put my instrument down completely and just shout at people, while the rest of the band carries it. It allows me to be a ‘front man’ for the first time ever. It’s exhilarating.