With ‘SHIA,’ Holiday Mountain’s Laura Patiño finds freedom in self-expression

By Kayleigh Hughes, special to the American-Statesman

Laura Patiño of electronic dance duo Holiday Mountain is learning that the payoff is pretty great when you take the risk of truly being yourself.

Onstage and in music videos, Patiño, the Austin band’s singer, songwriter and keyboardist, is magnetic and seemingly fearless, commanding the energy of a room and welcoming everyone into the bright musical world she and bandmate Zander Kagle have built. One on one, Patiño is warm and open, speaking with frankness about her artistic and personal growth.

Holiday Mountain’s new album, “SHIA,” is a sharp combination of hypnotic bass-heavy electronic and unabashed dance-pop, also integrating hip-hop and reggae. Above all, the record is confident, something Patiño says is an important element of both her and the band’s growth over the years. “I honestly don’t think, for me, there’s anything more important than expressing the truth and how you honestly feel,” she says. (Holiday Mountain is part of the Austin Music Video Festival this week. Details here.)

The album was named in honor of Shia LaBeouf and in an interview with Billboard, the band explained that they were inspired by the actor for taking an artistic path in life. His “Just do it” motivational speech, they said, exemplified the fearlessness that they wanted to convey with the new album.

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Speaking to the Austin American-Statesman, Patiño further breaks down “SHIA’s” concept. “The album really is about the end of self-compromise or letting fear compromise who you really want to be,” she says. And as excited as she was “to see something that took so much work finally coming to fruition,” she says she’s also had to, in a sense, “(put) my money where my mouth is and show the world and my family” who she is as an artist and a person.

“Just putting yourself out there, coming out of the closet in different ways, was so relieving,” she says. “The fear leading up to (the album and video releases), of like, ‘What if this or that happens,’ felt so much worse. Once I got it all out it was like ‘Everybody’s just has to deal with me being me,’ and I feel great. I feel so much lighter every time something else comes out. No matter how it’s perceived, no matter what the feedback is, it just feels really good — kind of like a confessional, like: This is who I am.”

HolidayMountainAlbumCoverPatiño grew up in a Mexican-American Catholic household in Colorado, and describes her younger self as “awkward”: “I knew I was beautiful in some way but I didn’t know how to carry it, I guess, just like most women.” She said it’s been “a long journey” to learning to love her body. “It’s taken a lot of practice but, I think with age … you just start really critically looking at stuff and growing out of some things.”

Seeing the way beauty standards have evolved has helped. With bafflement and indignation, she shares a story from her childhood about having a gap in her teeth: “My orthodontist wanted to break my jaw. And now the models have the gap in their teeth! And now they cosmetically make the gap!”

Patiño has grown to love qualities that make people unique, and Holiday Mountain’s vibrant music celebrates individuality. This can be seen particularly in the video for single “Como te Llamas” featuring Mexican Institute of Sound, which was directed by Brittany Reeber. The video celebrates bodies of all shapes and pokes fun at society’s beauty standards.

What Patiño says she hopes people understand about the physical expression in the “Como” video, which explodes with spandex, tropical fruit and super sexy dance moves, is that “it’s a message of power and sexuality and empowerment all together, and that that looks like a lot of different things at once and it feels like a lot different things at once.”

The video is Holiday Mountain’s strongest, most creatively ambitious visual project so far, but Patiño was still worried about how people would respond. “Part of me was like, if I come out as pro-expressing sexuality, as I am, is that going to affect me later in life? I feel like we’re told that so much. I had to let all that go, but it’s crazy how much it’s still a voice there.”

The video reached a large international audience online, and more visibility has meant more praise and also more criticism. Patiño tries to take it in stride: “The people that criticize; they’re being exposed to something new and that’s what you want.” Even Patiño’s mother, who was uneasy about her daughter expressing her sexuality in such a public way, eventually came around to the radicalism that lies within the loud physicality of the “Como” video concept. “It just took us both having a couple drinks to get there,” Patiño says with a laugh.

The musician notes that society is in a major moment of growth and progression. “I think our generation, we question sexuality and gender a lot less, we’re open to it being flexible almost inherently,” she says. Still, when it comes to gender equality, Patiño has experienced enough sexism in the music industry to say there’s still a long way to go. She shares stories of being the only woman in the room, or having men approach her and bandmate Kagle, to give compliments about the band to only him while ignoring her.

“(These issues) affect me a lot so I’d just rather have people know,” she says. “A lot of times when you say something that’s really true, people don’t necessarily want to hear it all the time.” But that’s why Patiño says it’s important to be outspoken about these experiences, and she recently did an engaging interview about sexism and racism with feminist website The Establishment. “At least,” Patino says, when women share their experiences, “we know we’re not alone in it.”

Asked what she has planned for the next video, the songwriter shares, “I think the Barbie concept is really interesting, packaging femininity and a woman.” Patiño’s been gathering props from friends, including a “creepy” full-sized male mannequin named Jordan — “I do love him now,” she admits — and a huge collection of Barbies. “I’ve just been painting all of them gold and they’re looking sick.”

With “SHIA’s” official release on Aug. 12 and the band’s upcoming tour schedule, which includes a New York City residency and a string of tour dates opening for electronic world-fusion maestros Beats Antique (“I’m so pumped,” Patiño says), it’s likely Holiday Mountain will be entering a larger public stage than ever before. “It is scary to stick out,” she says, “but it feels good at the same time.”

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