Dave Holmes was a rarity as an MTV VJ during the Total Request Live era: a smart, collected, and enthusiastic fan of music whose comprehensive knowledge of pop culture made him both cool and endearing. You felt smart watching him on TV even if he was introducing, say, the new Papa Roach video.
Since then, Holmes has worked on FX and Court TV, written unbelievably funny recaps of American Idol and X-Factor for Vulture, and maintains one of the best and most follow-worthy Twitter accounts. In fact, he may be personally responsible for the single greatest tweet ever, which he wrote following New York’s passage of gay marriage: “As we celebrate today, let’s spare a warm thought for our opponents, who have lost absolutely nothing.”
In 2002 he gave an interview about being gay in Out magazine, and now he’s the host of Blip.TV’s excellent new web series about up-and-coming bands called Indie Across America. We phoned Holmes to talk about his musical tastes, choosing LA over New York, and the process of coming out in the media during the early 2000s.
The Backlot: Indie Across America is a great idea. Where do you find these bands to highlight? I hadn’t heard of the one featured in the first episode.
Dave Holmes: Honestly, I think 100% of them you won’t have heard of. We wanted to go deep and find people who are just starting out and trying to find a fanbase. We linked up with a production company in New York because they have a lot of ties to the New York music scene, and they do a lot of music videos. Jason Goldwatch, who directs our show, he directs a lot of hip-hop videos. It was really all about browsing MySpace and sh*t like that, looking for people who have a fanbase but aren’t quite there yet. There are a lot of people who are in that midlevel and labels are interested, but we didn’t want that. We wanted people who were really fresh.
TB: Where did you end up visiting with the show?
DH: We went all over the country. LA, San Diego, New York, Boston, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Eight bands in six cities over the course of a couple of weeks. It was just a perfect summer vacation. I got on the road, saw music, ate exotic foods — if you consider cheesesteaks exotic food, which I do. It was a fun summer job.
TB: There is so much new music nowadays. Do you keep up with it well? It occurred to me watching the show that I rarely hear the word “indie” anymore.
DH: You really don’t. The thing is, to a degree everyone is kind of independent now. There are a handful of bands that have big deals and fill stadiums, and everything else is so super niche. It’s a really weird time for music and it’s impossible to keep up. I’ve been talking about this a lot with my friends who are in the same age group, late thirties and early forties. I’ve initially chalked this up to the fact that I’m getting older, the fact that I can’t keep with music as much as I used to, but then younger people I know can’t either. There’s so much coming at you from so many different channels on so much different media. You just can’t keep up. There used to be sort of a dominant culture and an indie culture, and I grew up in the heyday of that in the ’80s and ’90s. There were three or four acceptable music tastes you could have, and now there are sort of a billion. Here in LA, there are always a million shows ago. I have to admit I don’t keep us much as I’d like to, and that would require me to leave my house and my dog and my boyfriend.
TB: Do you have a specific taste in this music? Or are your tastes constantly broadening?
DH: I think it’s broadening. It’s strange. There’s not one specific kind of music that I love. I’m a little weird and schizophrenic with it, and that’s why I love having satellite radio. My moods swing pretty dramatically when it comes to music. I feel like there’s something to be said for pretty much everything. There’s not much I won’t listen to. It depends on the day. Now that autumn is nearly upon us, I’m listening to all that New England-y college music like the Lemonheads and Juliana Hatfield, all that sh*t. I’m listening to the chill and ambient station for whatever reason too? So it’s broad. And because, like I said, there’s so many ways to get music — there’s satellite radio, there’s Pandora, Spotify, all that — whatever kind of itch you have, you can scratch it immediately.
TB: I think of you as someone who knows a lot — a lot — about music, entertainment, and pop culture. You’ve always worn that knowledge on your sleeve. Did you grow up admiring anyone with that kind of comprehensive knowledge? And where are those people nowadays?
DH: I think those people run the internet now. They absolutely exist right now. That’s why there are so many great websites for obsessives. Not to sound like I’m trying curry your favor, but The Backlot, Vulture, AV Club, Previously.tv — there are a million websites for obsessives. Growing up, I guess there were some MTV folks. There was a guy named Kevin Seal on MTV who I worshipped. I have no idea if he was as much of a nerd for this stuff as I was, but he came off that way. Certainly before I came on board there was Matt Panfield. It is scary how much he knows. I feel like I know a good amount, like if I hear an obscure song I can know who sang it. But he knows what day it was recorded, who else was in the studio, what they ordered for dinner, stories about it — he goes so deep with it. It’s intimidating and frightening. And it’s great that he’s found his place in the world and continues to do what he does.
TB: You’ve lived in LA for awhile, but lots of people know you as a TRL mainstay in New York. Do you prefer one or the other?
DH: I go back and forth on that. I’m at my house right now in my office. I have a backyard and a pool, which I’m looking out at. I couldn’t possibly have this in New York. If I had Jimmy Fallon’s life, I don’t think I’d be able to afford there what I can afford in LA. Every single day is beautiful here. There are a lot of people here doing the same thing as you so you can collaborate with each other. I’ve met some wonderful, talented, funny, hardworking people. It’s a good life, but of course every time I go back to New York I just think, God. There’s something pulling me back there. But you’d have to live like a f*cking animal in New York. I feel like it’s a nice place to be young and broke or in your forties and very, very rich. So, I did the broke twenties thing. Then I hit 30 and I thought, “I don’t want to f*cking have roommates. I can’t live like this anymore.” So I guess the plan is to get very, very rich, then move back to New York.
TB: I was first aware of the fact that you were gay in 2007. You were cohosting Bravo’s coverage of the Live Earth concert event with Karen Duffy, and I read on the site’s blog a comment you’d made about being gay. What’s been the evolution of your coming out in regards to the media?
DH: I would always make comments on air sort of vaguely. I never had an official “coming out” coming out on the air, because there wasn’t really any place to do it. I remember talking to the muckety-mucks in production about a National Coming Out Day special, and that didn’t go anywhere. It’s weird even for me to look back on the ’90s now because it’s so fundamentally different. There was no such thing as having a blog or having Twitter or an online life. I lived very openly and I feel like I spoke very openly, but there was no… if you wanted to come out publicly, it needed to be a thing. You had to get the press involved. And the gay press was just not ever interested in having anything to do with me. And still isn’t! I think it was 2001 or 2002 I finally got them to do a story. It was still deep in a magazine — like, you had to do this sort of thing in a magazine! It’s not that long ago! When you’re a guy like me, it’s tough to convince them to do that. I wish I had had Twitter or a Tumblr just to be as frank and open as I could be on my own. Anything I said or did on air at MTV — they didn’t micromanage, but kind of had to clear things; it was something I never absolutely did there. But I wouldn’t have considered myself closeted either. I would’ve spoken if anyone had asked, but nobody asked. I was never the face of the network that anyone was interested in, and that was fine.
TB: I take it you were personally out well before you started on TV?
DH: Oh yeah. I was out in high school, really, to close friends and family, then the rest of the world in college. And open afterward. You can’t force the press to be interested in you, it turns out! It took awhile to do an official sort of coming out.
TB: Finally, I think of you as someone with particular and great taste in entertainment. What do you care about right now?
DH: I’m binge-watching Breaking Bad because my boyfriend and I want to get through it before the finale. We started watching it awhile ago, liked it, and now suddenly the finale’s coming up and there’s a gun to my head. I’m looking at everything on the internet with my hand in front of my face because Breaking Bad is the internet right now. Like, I work for Vulture and I can’t read Vulture. It’s 80% articles about Breaking Bad. I’ll be watching the finale with the rest of the world. I’m neck deep in it right now. Everyone loves it and it’s very, very good, but it’s dark. Dark, dark. I need to binge-watch Hee Haw or f*cking Aunt Sissy’s Gingham Variety Hour to keep my mind off it. A cartoon or whatever. I’m obsessed with this band The 1975. I cannot stop listening. They have one album out, and it’s on repeat in my car. Oh my God, right now Coronation Street is on Hulu? It’s a British soap opera that’s been running for 50-something years. It is SO good. And in fact it’s the perfect antidote to Breaking Bad. We have a tendency to watch an episode of Coronation Street after three or four Breaking Bad. I grew up on All My Children, which is kind of online right now and it’s so-so, but the American soap opera has just taken a turn and is headed for extinction, but British soap operas tell simple stories very well. It’s all believable. Nobody’s rich. Very few people are attractive. When you die, you die. You weren’t faking your death because you’re a spy or whatever. No one has a twin. It’s all very believable and very charming.