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Interview With Conrad Bird From Holy Moly & The Crackers

It doesn’t feel like I year ago since I last talked with Conrad Bird from Holy Moly & The Crackers and so much as happened for everyone since then. 2020 was going to be a relatively quiet one for the band as they were choosing to play a few select live dates while focusing on other things and projects. Then world fell on its backside all thanks to a global pandemic and forced everything and everyone to change and adapt. We caught up for a chat over email to find out how they were dealing with things, who has started an unusual hobby and how they are about to release their first live album next month.

It's been a crazy year. I can't believe that it was about a year ago when I was chatting with you about HM's plans for 2020 which was relatively chilled for you guys. And then COVID happened. How have you guys been holding up?

It's all so insane isn't? It feels like we're living in some dystopian comic book. This tier system and the North/South dividing that its insidiously created - it feels like a cross between Hunger Games and Game of Thrones!

Like you say, 2020 was a relatively chilled year for us, so we were lucky in that regard. I feel really sorry for artists who were releasing albums this year. The amount of planning and investment that goes into an album campaign is crazy, and to have it all pulled from underneath your feet - desperate! Saying that, we still had a really busy touring schedule lined up and it's been tough re-adjusting - mentally, physically and economically. The summer especially was rough. For the last 6 years we've spent May-September zooming from field to field, country to country, playing festivals and shows: making new friends, hearing new bands. And to spend it at home, seeing the same thing every day, walking the same walk every day - I found it really hard. .

You were actually on tour in Europe when the news came through about closing the borders and going into lockdown. How was the journey back?

Well, as you can imagine, pretty grim. It was Ruth's birthday and to celebrate we spent 13 hours in a van racing home, worrying that the borders might close. When we set off on tour at the end February we knew that it was going to be a rollercoaster. Every morning Covid seemed to spread like a shadow towards us. First we were like, Oh - we might not make it to Italy. Next day: Ok, maybe Austria's unlikely. Next day - Germany feels a little risky. And then on 11th march we played a show in Denmark, and just as we came off stage the tour manager said that the Danish government was closing all venues and that we should set off for the UK as soon as possible. I felt like we were living in a dream. Yep, the journey back was weird. You could feel all the tension and adrenaline and excitement was leaking out - like an oil spillage, just dissipating.

This year has seen some radical changes to how artists approach making music and perform. How has this affected how you approach your process?

Hah, I think we're still working that out. For me the one thing that we've never had, which we now have an abundance of, is time. Before all of this, writing songs was manic, chaotic, a race to the finish. We were on the constant merry-go-round of a touring schedule and songs were the the diesel fuelling the ride - you couldn't ever let it run out. I really enjoy this process, you just have to chuck things at the wall without thinking too much and see what sticks. But now there's time to think and experiment and grow as an artist. Personally, I'm writing for myself at the moment, rather than the band. And I think, when the band re-groups, this process of development and experimentation, that we're all going through as individuals, will kick-start the new chapter as a collective.

How had Ruth been doing? Has this affected how she was going to be working with The Sage as an artist in resident this year?

Ruth, because of her health and disability, was shielding until June. I genuinely think she didn't leave our house or yard. So obviously her residency was cut short. And Sage, as you can imagine, was in turmoil, like every venue, trying to cancel and rearrange and work out what the hell was going on. But typical of Ruth, she's probably been busier than ever. She's released two singles, recorded at home two B-side releases, demoed an EPs worth of material, stepped up her activism work, and is even virtually appearing in Parliament soon, to advocate for disability rights and opportunity in a post-Covid music industry. As someone who has had to deal with upheaval and adversity since she was 16 when she was diagnosed with arthritis and subsequently been a wheelchair user, she's pretty bloody good in a crisis.

How have the band been using the enforced downtime this year? Has anyone started any unusual hobbies?

HA! Rosie, of course, wins this hand. In April she volunteered on an organic farm down in Cambridgeshire. I think she found it really inspiring because now she's developing a business to make clothes out of flax and hemp. She's amazing really. Her Instagram is @strawintogold. Everyone should follow her and see what she's up to. Totally mad, totally brilliant.

We talked a lot about Dylan the last time we chatted and how he kept reinventing himself. Do you think the past few months have helped change the band in anyway at all?

Like I say, we're using this time to explore and develop. And you know, everything has changed now. And the last thing I want to do is come back out, whenever this is all over, and do the same thing, make the same work. It wouldn't feel authentic. I've changed, the band has changed, the whole world has changed. Or, changing at least. I don't have any answers or even any sense of what is forward or back. Like Dylan says, we're all "no direction home". But that's ok.

You've got a new live album "Live In Europe 2020" coming out in December. Could you tell us a little bit more about it?

Yeh, it's super exciting. We were REALLY lucky that we were recording our concerts around the Netherlands and Scandinavia. We didn't have any plans to release them but wanted to use them to improve the show. Like football teams who analyse the performance post-match. When we got home in March, I forgot about them. Sometime in summer Nicky (our guitar player) reminded me that he had the recordings on a usb stick. We had a quick listen and hell, they were actually good, like really good. So - I called up George Perks, a good friend who works as an engineer, producer and mixer at Vada Studios, where we recorded 'Salem' and 'Take A Bite' with Matt Terry and asked if he'd whip them into shape. He's done a really great job. Holy Moly always thrived live on stage - it's what we're all about and who knows what we’ll look or sound like when this is all over. So, this album is a really cool window-in-time of Holy Moly at full throttle.

I know you had some dates pencilled in for November and December. How're they looking at the moment?

Ha, I'm afraid to say they're up in smoke. We're working through cancellations and re-scheduled shows with our agent and promoters and will be making announcements over the next few weeks. Myself and Ruth are playing a little acoustic show on 30th November at Tyne Bank Brewery and that'll be our only live appearance for the rest of the year. As it stands I couldn't face doing a "socially distanced" sit down gig with the full band. It'd just be too depressing. Holy Moly shows are all about coming together, the sweat and the energy. I'd find it too weird and disconnecting.

With everything being so up in the air at the moment what are you guys hoping to do next year? Are there plans afoot for a new album?

Up in the air is the word of the year. To be perfectly honest, I actually have no idea. But we are writing and we are planning shows. So hopefully there will be tours, and yes maybe even a new album, or new music of some kind. But, I'm not emotionally attaching myself to that idea, I couldn't deal with the heartbreak of having it ripped away again. Take each day as it comes - learn, grow, make. And roll with the punches. That's the plan at the moment.

Finally, I think it's easy to let the current situation become overwhelming. What's your advice for living your best life at the moment?

Well, I'm not sure I'm the best person to ask advice off. But I think there's always opportunity in any situation. Before Covid we were all in a race. Life was fast and we were all chasing something. Dreams, ambitions, rent, the next meal, a holiday. Stuff, always stuff. That's capitalism for you. But, maybe, if you are in a privileged position to do so, take this time to look inwards and work out what you want from life, rather than what life wants from you. Be kind to yourself. Read, exercise, learn something new ... or binge watch Netflix and eat fast food. No one's judging because no one knows what the rules are. And I think that's exciting in a way.

Interview - Scott Hamilton


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