INTERVIEW: Holy Moly & The Crackers | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The release of a third album is an important developmental moment in a band’s career. It usually marks the beginning of musical maturity and the establishment of an enduring creative identity. This is especially true of Newcastle’s eccentric folk rock ensemble Holy Moly & The Crackers. After two album releases and years of experimenting with different styles and lyrical focus, their third album Take A Bite, released on 5th April, is pivotal in their cohesion as a band, in their reputation as rip-roaring music makers and in their journey of developing a unique sonic madness.

Their musical eccentricity has characterised their look and sound since the beginning. Starting out as a gypsy folk band, their breakthrough came when they released Salem in 2017, which marked the start of a productive collaboration with producer Matt Terry. It also marked a change towards music that could appeal to a wider audience. Led by Terry, their experimentation with production effects and rock elements was not only meant to increase their commercial viability, it was also a learning process that helped them to refine their musical identity.

In continually reevaluating their approach to writing and recording songs, none of their defining madness has disappeared. “In the new album, I think we have kept that sense of madness,” vocalist and trumpeter Conrad Bird says, “but I also think we have kind of matured in some way.”

The vivid red, black and white Art Deco album cover immediately breaks ties with the dark artwork of Salem, and proves that they are still on course to recreate the wackiest of genres, keeping the pot of creativity boiling with dashes of change. Take A Bite develops some of the best elements from previous releases, including dipping in and out of blues, and demonstrating bombastic brass energy, Balkan vibes and sonorous violin narratives. It also balances out the gritty rock ‘n’ roll with dulcet touches of swing and pop in irresistibly catchy songs like Can’t Get Enough.

The perceivable gap between the two latest albums is largely down to the writing process. Whereas Salem was written in the studio, Take A Bite was written while touring. Vocalist Ruth Pattison explains that “everybody had some songwriting input into this album”, with the band gathering ideas from things they saw on the road or places they’ve been to. The inspiration for the songs being more personal, Ruth feels that “everybody felt equally invested in the band and they’re all excited by it.”

The recording process was just as vital in influencing the final product and it was a more comfortable, natural process. “We knew how to do things,” Conrad explains, “how to work with each other, we’ve built that relationship together with us as a band and the producer and I think you can tell that on the record, because it sounds like a band and an engineer working together towards one goal.”

Recording the album track by track, allowing the band to fully immerse themselves in the world of each song, also helped them to produce a much more cohesive piece of work that was inspired by snippets from their everyday lives.

In fact, putting technical details and musical changes aside, central to the evolution between Salem and Take A Bite is the lyrics; it is their most biographical album yet. On Salem, most songs were not based on personal experience. “The song Salem itself is a metaphor for the global hysteric fear of blaming minorities,” says Ruth, and although poignant and pertinent, expresses a general reality in society. Singing “through the prism of personal experience” is what Holy Moly wanted for their new album, bringing their own, unusual stories alive in music.

An embodiment of the band’s move towards something more personal is the track Upside Down. Co-written by Ruth and accordionist Rosie Bristow, it’s based on one of Rosie’s friends who works at the circus. The line, “You’re only happy when you’re upside down” expresses the fact that her friend looks most content when she is on the trapeze and, although seemingly simple, it is songs like these that come across best on stage and touches audiences the most.  

Holy Moly & The Crackers unify the grotesque and sublime as they build songs with technical precision and refine it through the discipline of rewriting

 

For a band like Holy Moly & The Crackers, whose initial inspiration and reputation is strongly rooted in the folk tradition, testing new musical waters is clearly not diverting their music away from folk’s storytelling function nor its emphasis on live performance. According to them, as folk elements become rarer they become more important, like little jewels within the set. A new depth of personality also enters their lyrics as they unveil hidden parts of their lives. “I discovered a lot through writing this album,” says Ruth. “I realised it was therapeutic to write a kind of angry song.” She is referring to the track Through With Talking, which is based on different negative experiences she has had with people and the realisation that “after a while you just have to cut them loose.”

Born out of contradictions, driven by inspiration from influences as diverse as the circus, imagist poetry, jazz and Balkan culture, Holy Moly & The Crackers unify the grotesque and sublime as they build songs with technical precision and refine it through the discipline of rewriting, yet never lose that touch of madness. In fact, to them it only seems to get madder, because there is also that drop of magic — a combination of emotion from real experiences, distinct creative personalities and pops of fiddle and accordion, most acutely appreciated when heard live.

So, as much as they progress and reinvent themselves from one album to another, at heart Holy Moly & The Crackers will always keep their folk roots, because everything they do is for that magic moment when sonic madness pulsates through instrument bodies, igniting feelings in the crowd and lighting up the room with a contagious energy.

“We make the album as good as possible for the live show,” says Conrad, “because music is to be listened to live. To be enjoyed live. To be played live.”

Holy Moly & The Crackers play The Cluny, Newcastle on Friday 5th and The Georgian Theatre, Stockton on Saturday 6th April.

 

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