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Interview With Conrad Bird Of 'Holy Moly And The Crackers'

Holy Moly And The Crackers have had a hell of a year. Their latest album "Take A Bite" was released to some excellent reviews. Not just that but they have been hitting every available stage possible with the sextet going from strength to strength as a live act. There was hardly a European stage they didn't appear on over the past festival season with their tuneful take on Folk, Punk and Pop being lapped up by audiences. At the moment they're currently on tour, taking a final gallop around in their van with some of their biggest headlining shows to date. Luckily we were able to catch up for a chat with Conrad Bird on the opening night at their hometown gig. Conrad handles vocals alongside his wife Ruth Patterson and also plays guitar and trumpet with the band. Onstage you'll find him running around, whipping up the audience and channeling their energy back into the band. We stood outside The Sage, an internationally renowned venue in Gateshead, on the banks of the river Tyne. Opposite, we could see Newcastle getting ready for it's Friday night antics as the evening started drawing in.

So, Holy Moly And The Crackers at The Sage in Gateshead. Big hometown gig for you guys really?

Oh yeah. We moved to Newcastle nine years ago when Ruth got her place to do Fashion at Northumbria (University) and we’d just started the band. We had no plans for the band, it was just something to do for fun, right? But, when we got here it was always the Sage. I mean, it is like the cultural flagship of the north east, so it’s always been there as this weird little beacon. And to be playing it and it’s on the verge of selling out? It’s kind of mind blowing....and totally nerve wracking.

Especially when you consider the band is very DIY.

Totally, we do the whole thing ourselves. We manage ourselves, we put our own records out. The kind of music we’s kind of in that DIY genre. And I think, for me, our music’s connected with people to the point where we can play the Sage. It’s totally life affirming. And that’s what you want from when you start a band.

I know, I’ve spoken to a few friends up and down the country and they were all really excited when I said I was coming to see you guys tonight.

Yeah, we tour like nutcases.

I remember I'd been sent your CD from a friend in Reading, listened to it and really liked it but it wasn’t until I got to see you guys supporting New Model Army last year and I was like “wow, these guys are amazing!”. To me it was like watching a more sober Urban Voodoo Machine. Well, not that much sober.

Well, the music’s more sober (laughs). And we kind of came from that scene. Urban Voodoo Machine, Gogol Bordello....... With Rosie Bristow on the accordion when we first started down South. I met her at a house party and she was playing and I thought “this is amazing”. But yeah, we kind of came from that. We were in the process of trying different stuff out.

Even if you go back to the first album "First Avenue" and then onto “Salem” there’s that constant evolution. There’s no massive jumps, like if you’d started adding lots of drum loops or something. It’s so natural.

I think you have to move, you have to change. I’m a big Bob Dylan fan......actually I’m a Bob Dylan fanatic. And his whole thing is you can’t stop moving. It’ll just get boring and it’ll just get stale, and I’m very scared of that. Also when you’ve got a band like Holy Moly it’s kind of its own beast. You say drum loops but I bet we’ll do an album that’s drum loopy and it would still sound like Holy Moly And The Crackers. Once you feed it though the machine it comes out with it’s own identity.

I remember when we first made “Salem” we were really scared. We put ‘Cold Comfort Lane’ out as the first single and I remember Rosie coming around and having a coffee with us going like “I think we’re doing the wrong thing here” as it was so far removed from our first album and what we’d come to be known for. I was like “I totally get you, but let’s give it a go, what have we got to lose?” And it totally paid off.

The album “First Avenue” has got reels and jigs, it's a lot more folky....

I mean for me, being analytical about it, it was the whole Mumford and Sons thing. I don’t really like Mumford and Sons but they did so much for bringing Folk music back. Because of Mumford and Sons I listened to Johnny Flynn, I listened to Old Crow Medicine show. And because of Old Crow Medicine show I listened to Bluegrass and old time So Mumford and Sons opened us to lot of great music. And then that kind of petered off. We were like we’ve done this, lets try something. You’ve got to take inspiration from everywhere I guess, whatever makes you feel something.

We went to this gig last night to see Mystery Lights, they’re one of my favourite bands in the world. They’re a New York Garage band and the gig was so distressing as it was so fucking loud, there was shouting between and it was so psychedelic with the smoke machines. I came out feeling like I’d been clobbered over the head thinking “I’m not sure if I enjoyed that” but that’s great as well. But that’s it, you just want to feel something I guess.

You were on about ‘Cold Comfort Lane’ earlier and that took off when it featured on the soundtrack for “Oceans 8”.

We’d been invited down to the premiere by the director and it was literally Kate Blanchett is just...there! I still haven’t really processed it. I can’t explain it. I mean what the fuck is that all about? Things like that.....that’s a lightning strike. That wasn’t planned and we couldn’t do that again. You can’t write a song like ‘Cold Comfort Lane’ twice. You’ve just got to go with that was a beautiful lightning strike, gave us some memories. It gave us a bit of a cash injection. “Take A Bite” happened because of ‘Cold Comfort Lane’. We wouldn’t have done that album if we hadn’t have gotten that film. I went through a bit of a period after ‘Cold Comfort Lane’ trying to write the song again, trying to remake it. But you can’t, I failed miserably. Once you start writing to a formula then you start ignoring what you’re feeling, you’re ignoring the reasons for writing.

The album “Take A Bite” has been getting some great reviews. It seems to have connected and resonated with people.

We spent quite a lot of time as a band writing the music and then Ruth and I spent a drunken summer when we weren’t touring staying up til three in the morning, drinking gin and just talking about lyricism, what we were wanting to say on the songs, and I think that does come across on the album. Obviously I’ve got all sorts of hang ups about that album, but I don’t think you can make something and be completely happy with it. And if you are then you’ve got another problem.

And I think that’s what helps define you as an artist, that constant need to improve and be better.

Totally, and that goes back to that thing that you develop, you can’t stand still. Don’t stand still, don’t be happy with what you’ve done. Don’t beat yourself up about it, there’s a line. I think. Every artist goes through anxiety. I mean, my dad's a visual artist, a painter, and some mornings I’ll wake up and he’s got his head in his hands saying “I’m shit” and then I’ll come downstairs and he’ll be sat in his studio painting going “I’m a genius!” And then two hours later he’s back to “I’m shit”. You’ve got to get a balance of the two.

I think as an artist you need that in you. I was listening to the new Nick Cave album (“Ghosteen’) this morning and I was thinking that people in a few years time are going to be looking at Cave the same way they do Dylan.

Totally, he’s the real deal. The thing about Dylan is you listen to a lot of his songs and the music's boring......well, it’s not boring but it doesn’t change. There’s no real solos or change but you get hammered over the head with his lyricism. And I get why people don’t connect to that but when they do, when someone finds that connection.....I could explain why I think he’s similar to Shakespeare but I’m not going to (laughs).

I’d agree. You can be listening and be thinking that I’m not sure, and then you’ll get that one line and you’ll be like (sharp intake of breath)...

Holy shit.

Where are you envisioning the band going next?

I don’t know. It’s a weird one as I feel like with “Take A Bite” we’ve been working intensely for three years and “Take A Bite” was the end vision of that. That was the thing we were building up to when we were working on “Salem” I knew there was another album afterwards. So right now I don’t quite know. I want to enjoy myself as a writer, I’m just going to continue writing for the pleasure of it and I’m hoping that’lll produce some half decent work. We’re going to record some singles and EP’s and experiment.

I had noticed that you were nipping in and out of the studio.

That was Ruth re-recording one of the tracks from “Take A BIte” to release as a single in November. It’s called ‘I’d Give It All’, it’s the one with the piano on the album. She’s recorded that with a string quartet and going to town on the production of it. So, that’s why we were in the studio over the summer to release it as a single version.

Yeah, I remember listening to the single/album version of “All I Got Is You” and I loved it and then Ruth did that piano version and I thought "oh my god!"

I mean that’s one of the things with Holy Moly, we’re a full on energy band and then we’ve got Ruth who just sings these songs. Actually, one of the things that’s going to happen next year is that we’re not going to stop touring but we’re not going to tour as constant as we have been because Ruth’s health can’t take it (Note: Ruth suffers from severe arthritis as well as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome). So we’re not going to tour as constantly but we’re going to make some EP’s. Ruth is going to launch her own project as she’s going to Artist in Residence here (at The Sage) next year. I think that will be another huge element to the work we’re doing which I think is great. I think Ruth will be able to explore her artistic vision. Historically we all contribute to Holy Moly but it was my idea. Everyone’s gone with it as they’re all fucking mad (laughs) but I think it’ll be really nice for Ruth to have a period where she can go what is my voice? What do I want to say? And I think that’s really exciting. I think there’s a change, a crossroads, and I’m really excited.

Sure, as it’s almost like “Salem” and “Take A Bite” are almost two half’s of the same album.

Totally. I mean they were made with the same producer Matt Terry. We went through the same experience recording them. I think with the next recordings we might work with someone else. There’s a possible American guy that’s produced music that’s more analogue. “Salem” was a lot more high production, Matt’s gear is ridiculous. I mean, The Darkness have recorded with him, high production Pop Rock. Which has been really cool taking that production to a DIY messy band like Holy Moly, its a bit of a juxtaposition. Our show is always a bit chaotic but the production is so slick. And that was a great learning experience to go through.

If you’d told me there was one kind of changing point in front of the band from as we where we are to where we were it was meeting Matt Terry, the producer. We’d recorded something with us and he was “I fucking love you guys, your imagination, your buzz and energy that I don’t see in a lot of bands and I fucking love it. But come back and do another single, I’ll do it on the cheap for you, but let's do it my way. I want to teach you some stuff and I don’t want you to have to accept it but let’s just do one song”. So we did it and I was like “THIS is great”. I don’t know if it’s my kind of thing but being any kind of artist means you’re learning. And we’ve got a whole world of learning. He’s the guy who made “Cold Comfort Lane”, he totally changed the way we approach song writing and what we want from our songs. Before we met him we were breaking all the rules of songwriting but we didn’t know why we were breaking them. But now I feel like we can write an album, break the rules because I love breaking rules, but know there’s a reason why. You talk about Picasso and at fourteen years old he was one the greatest realist painters. So, when he invented cubism he knew what and why he was doing it, and I think that makes for really powerful work, when you’ve got this highly technical artist who knows all the foundations and rules, and then when he snaps the fucking line at absolutely the right point for the right’s unbelievable.

For me Holy Moly is one of the ultimate Punk bands as you say you’re doing things your way. I think that if Joe Strummer was alive he’d be loving this as it’s so much like the Mescalaros.

I’m an old school Punk. I remember my mum buying me The Clash “Live From Here To Eternity” and (the Sex Pistols’) “Never Mind The Bollocks” and it really blew my tits off. I was like “holy shit, what is this?” And as you listen to it you get to realise that there’s been Punk artists from the twenties. Like Leadbelly, Woodie Guthrie......they were the biggest punks out there. Bob Dylan.....

....Johnny Cash......

Johnny Cash! Punk is not a genre.

It’s definitely an attitude and I think you guys bring that to the fore.

Well, we try to.

You’re touring pretty much until the end of the year now.

Yeah, we’re touring until the first week of November and this is the perfect way to kick it off. And then we’re heading around. We’re really looking forward to it. London’s always a great show for us, and York and Leeds because me and Ruth are from Yorkshire.

There’s some great bands coming out from Yorkshire, it’s got such a great scene. You see Dan Lucas with Boss Caine from York, Haloed In The Headlights and The Idol Dead coming out from Leeds. Eureka Machines. Such a great bands there but nobody else really knows that much about them.

But they will know about them one day. You know, the big eye of Sauron, sorry to go all Lord Of The Rings (we both laugh), but it’s moving from London and I think you can start seeing a Sam Fender here. All these local scenes. Because of the way the record industry works, because of streaming, it’s all about live music now. I think the music industry has never been in a healthier place, as for a live band, that’s where a band makes their money. And because it’s live you get all this little beautiful local scenes blowing up in the likes of Leeds, York, Newcastle, Manchester....... Manchester’s got a thriving music scene. And that’s why I love touring. You kind of pop into them and get a sense of them.

I’m very excited about this tour. We’re very blown out. You can tell we’re getting to the end of the year. I mean we’ve done a hundred and twenty shows. And that’s what’s great about this tour, we’re getting chance to do a big blow out and then we can kind of..... We’ve got some shows around Christmas but they’re rural shows in pubs and old village halls which we love doing because everyone’s just so nice. Then record in December and then starting ramping up for next year. I think next year we’re doing a big European tour in the spring, then we’ll do festival season and then I think we’ll be doing one big UK tour roughly this time next year as we’ve done two this year, one around the release of the album and then this one, so I think we’re going to give it a bit of a breathing space. Ruth will be releasing some her own stuff. We'll be releasing a couple of singles, maybes an EP,, then tour again next year. And the continual wheel keeps turning. I’m never going to stop, whether it’s with Holy Moly or whether it’s with something else. Once you start making music you’ll be doing that right until the end.

Interview - Scott Hamilton

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