‘I think the more influences you throw into the pot, the more original you’ll sound when you come out,’ muses guitarist, trumpeter and vocalist Conrad Bird. One-sixth of Geordie band Holy Moly and the Crackers, Conrad knows a fair bit about stirring the creative pot – the band’s musical style having been likened to riotous and foot-stomping ‘ragtag folk’ in their time. ‘Rather than saying: “right guys, today we’re going to write an Arctic Monkeys song,”’ he reasons, ‘which is likely to come out sounding like a poorer version of the original, if we think: “ok, today we’re going to write a song that’s got some of Alex Turner’s phrasing, Beth Ditto’s sass, Jack White’s guitar solo style, Queen of the Stone Ages’ groove, and we’re going to write everything with an Eastern European melodic scale,” by the end of that it’s going to come out as something we’ve never really heard before.’
Holy Moly and the Crackers certainly have creative individuality in abundance. Alongside Conrad in the band is Ruth Patterson on vocals/fiddle, Rosie Bristow on accordion, Nick Tyler on electric guitar, Jamie Shields on bass and Tommy Evans on drums, and together the six-piece have reimagined a British folk tradition to incorporate a rawer, riff-heavy melodic style of rock’n’soul – together with sharp indie-rock, vulnerable balladeering and festival-ready psychedelic trips towards the Middle East. And their third album, Take A Bite (set for release on 5th April) is set to continue to propel the band into artistically unchartered territory.
‘It depends who’s writing a particular song, because there are a few writers in the band,’ Conrad reasons. ‘Speaking for myself, I’m really influenced by the American folk tradition. That sort of thematically-driven music, all to do with place and archetypal characters, like the gambler, or the circus performer. That’s always infused my writing. I’d say it’s the same for Rosie, who wrote one or two songs on the last album. But interestingly, on this album, Ruth did the majority of the lyric writing. That’s not happened before. I remember when we sat down at the beginning of the process (me and her were having a very late night drink and we were a few bottles of wine in) and she said: “on this album I really want to try and stay away from generic characters and themes, because I feel like it’s too easy and we’ve done it before.” She wanted whatever we were singing about on this album – whether we were addressing it through a prism of an archetypal theme or not – to be real. That was her main stipulation, and I think she’s really given that in her songs.’
Building upon the success of their last album, and particularly its breakthrough single Cold Comfort Lane – which was featured on the end credits of 2018’s summer blockbuster movie, Oceans 8 – Holy Moly and the Crackers have again worked with producer Matt Terry (who has previously produced albums for The Prodigy, Ocean Colour Scene, Noisettes and The Enemy). This time around, however, the recording process was marked by a shift in production technique; instead of recording all of the drum tracks for each song on the album first, followed by all the bass tracks and so forth, until each song is built up by individual layer, for Take A Bite every song was individually recorded in its entirety before the band would move onto the next track.
‘Matt was very clear that he wanted to record a whole song before we moved onto the next one, because then we’d be living it,’ says Conrad. ‘When you record all the drums for every track one after another, it becomes more of a test of stamina for our drummer, Tommy, rather than a creative process of performance. And that’s the same with all of us. So we really did just live in every song. On all our tea breaks we’d be talking about the particular song we were recording at that time and what we could each bring to it.’
Things even went one step further during the recording of the Byrds-influenced track Can’t Get Enough, with Matt stipulating that the band dress up in full ‘60s garb to record in order to create a fully immersive studio experience.
‘There are a number of things that come into play when we’re recording. The first one is, Matt is completely eccentric – and we love him for it!’ Conrad laughs. ‘He suits us down to the ground, because we’re all a bit mad and weird. The second thing is, we were recording for a whole month so it gets pretty intense – you come up with all sorts of ideas. But also, it was the end (to a silly degree) of the recording process we were going through.
‘With Can’t Get Enough, we’d just finished recording a different song and were having dinner, and were just starting to talk about that track. Matt mentioned that the drum break reminded him of Crosstown Traffic by Jimi Hendrix, and he was adamant that he wanted to go down that ‘60s route in terms of its production. He was getting more and more excited, and then about midnight he was just like: “screw it, tomorrow morning come into work in flares and bandanas, looking like hippies, and and we’re going to pretend we’re living in the ‘60s!” It was really easy actually, because his house is a big old mansion in the middle of nowhere, so you can just lock yourself away – and when we woke up he’d put incense everywhere and had some Indian music playing… it was a lot of fun!’
Holy Moly and the Crackers will be hoping the fun they had in the recording studio extends to the stage, as they prepare to embark upon their next UK headlining tour in support of the album this spring.
‘It’s what I enjoy most about this whole process – I love the stage,’ says Conrad. ‘It’s hard to talk about this without sounding pretentious, but what I love is when the energy in the room is really moving between the stage and the audience and, by the end of it, you all feel like you’re in the same ship going to the same place. And it doesn’t always happen, but when it does happen that, for me, is what it’s all about. To bring the audience into what you’re doing. I told you I was going to sound pretentious as anything! But that’s what I enjoy the most. It’s also the moment when all the work you do – the writing, the recording, the social media, the finances, everything you do as a band – comes together; you’re on stage and you just realise: this is why we do it.’
The tour will see Holy Moly and the Crackers return, once again, to their Northern roots: the band set to perform at The Cluny on 5th April – the same day as the album’s release.
‘Newcastle is a place that means a hell of a lot to us, because we grew up as a band here,’ says Conrad. ‘Newcastle really welcomed us in when we first arrived – the venues really helped us out, musicians just said: “yeah, come and play with us!” We’d reach out for advice and the whole community would just instantly want to support us. And I know that doesn’t happen in some cities. So for us, Newcastle is and will always be a really special place. Most of us have grown up in Heaton and our first gigs were at The Cluny, so performing there in particular on this tour really is like a homecoming.’
And whether you’re watching Holy Moly and the Crackers perform live for the first time, or you’ve followed their rise from the early days, one thing’s for certain – you’re in for a rip-roaring good time.
‘Our thing has always been energy – we want people to feel,’ Conrad smiles. ‘Whether on a record or in a show, our whole vibe is just: okay, you’re coming here to have a drink, to have a dance, to have a party, to meet some new friends; it’s a real inclusive kind of: let’s just grab each other and go a bit mental! For us, from the beginning of every show to the very end, we will be about inclusivity: come and meet your new best friend, come and have a party with us, we’ll be at the bar after the show – let’s have a drink!’
Holy Moly and the Crackers third album, Take A Bite, will be released on 5th April. The band will be performing at The Cluny, Newcastle, on the same day.
For more information, visit www.holymolyandthecrackers.com