UK rock band Holy Moly & the Crackers release new New Orleans inspired album

UK band Holy Moly & the Crackers  has been loosely defined as “gypsy folk rock,” but their new album Salem is decidedly more rock than anything else.  Turn it on and turn it up. This one’s a rager.

Just released on Pink Lane Records, lyrics feature allusions to baroque, superstitious practice and the dark arts — tarot, memento mori, witchcraft, hallucination — but with a heavier, crunchier sound than past efforts. 

Holy Moly and the Crackers Salem album artwork

HMatC started out as a trio featuring Ruth Patterson (vocals, violin, keys), Conrad Bird (vocals) and Rosie Bristow (accordion, keys, saxophone). Over the past six years, they’ve added drummer Thomas Evans, bassist Jamie Shields, guitarist Peter Hogan and Martha Wheatley (trombone, backing vocals). 

Patterson and Bird have an affinity for New Orleans music and culture, despite having yet to visit the US. “I think that makes it all the more mystical for us,” says Patterson. “All of our idols come from America: Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, they’re our kind of bread and butter.”

“I don’t know if America is actually anything like what I imagine in my head, but New Orleans is definitely someplace we’d really like to go. I just love the brass bands, the carnival idea of it.” 

Patterson scored the entire album for string quartet and covered all those parts along with guest cellist Kerrin Tatman, a friend who recently moved nearby. The entire band went into the studio with parts fleshed out and knowing exactly what they were going to do. 

Produced by Matt Terry (Alison Moyet, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Killing Joke) Salem was fittingly recorded  at the idyllic Vada Studios, which was once a medieval chapel above a family tomb. “It’s one of the best studios in the country. The acoustics — you can’t describe how good they are,” says Patterson. 

Written in a day and a half after Patterson got pissed off, the title track uses the Salem Witch Trials as a metaphor for blaming others when things go wrong. “We kind of blame anybody else, all the vulnerable people in the world that can’t stand up for themselves, whether it’s refugees, asylum seekers, disabled people, women. It feels like they get a raw deal. It seems like everybody’s on a witch hunt for everybody else at the moment,” says Patterson. 

Patterson takes these attitudes personally. “I’m actually a disabled person. I’m a wheelchair user. And I do find a lot of kind of anger towards people. I do have a lot of comments like, ‘Oh, you’re taking the benefits. You’re adding to society’s problems.’ It just made me really angry. There’s a lot in the media about blame this, blame that, and there’s this big fear thing we have. So Salem is about that and is a reaction against that.” 

Vocalist Conrad Bird wrote the chords and initial lyric ideas for Mary about three years ago, and his brother Lo finished it off. The brothers agreed each could take the song to their respective bands and complete their own version. “It’s Noel and Liam Gallagher all over again,” jokes Bird.

HMatC had taken Mary into the studio in the past, but it hadn’t quite worked out. When they were getting the songs together for Salem, Bird rewrote it with folk-rap, celtic melodies and an industrial rock groove. It’s heavy, ballsy attitude fit right in with the rest of the album.

“I based the lyrics on the standard folk-song trope: you wake up and your woman is gone, so you hit the road. It’s Beat (in the Kerouac sense) and it’s blues,” continues Bird. “Mary leaves on St. Valentines Day, writing her message on the wall as cryptic explanation: ‘I’m a broken-winged raven, even Jesus needed saving, I’m a rose in the crown of thorns.’ So the protagonist hits the road, trying to forget her but can’t. A lot of my writing incorporates archetypes and folk song tropes to keep connection with that tradition, even if musically we are developing our genre and aesthetic.”

Whereas Patterson and Bird wrote most songs on the album separately,  Hallelujah Amen was the first they wrote together from scratch. Bird’s vocal style is reminiscent of Tom Waits, giving a nice counterbalance to Patterson’s angelic tone. “I do think we captured the growl-y, gravely part. Then you’ve got this sort of ethereal thing,” she says.  

The song concludes with an appearance by The Birmingham Community Gospel Choir. “There was not a dry eye in the room when they were doing their takes, because it’s just so powerful, their harmonies…. We were in the control room and no one spoke. It was amazing.” 

Accordian player Rosie Bristow and Patterson wrote Cold Comfort Lane together.  Bristow wrote most of the lyrics and the structure of the song, and Patterson insisted on its punchy, rock and roll arrangement.

“It’s a kind of girl power song. You don’t get a lot of that attitude— It’s usually boy bands that do this kind of thing, so it felt quite good to be a girl screaming into a mic,” affirms Patterson. “I’d never really done that before, found that kind of rock voice, so that was a new experiment for this album. Matt Terry was going, ‘give me more! Give me more!'” 

HMatC is currently playing throughout the UK and hopes to make their way to the US within a year. Here’s hoping that happens. I for one will drive a great distance to see them do their thing. 

 
 
 
 

Melodic Rockers The Kickback Unleash New Breakup Album, Tour

Chicago melodic rock band The Kickback knows how to write a catchy pop song, even through the pain and heartbreak of divorce. Their sophomore album Weddings and Funerals just dropped Friday, and is almost entirely about the end of frontman Billy Yost’s marriage.

A universal, relatable breakup album for sure, but this is not sad bastard music like Elliott Smith or Bon Iver. If you don’t listen to the lyrics, the upbeat tone could seem almost the opposite. It starts off loud and fast and doesn’t let up for 32 minutes.

The Kickback Weddings and Funerals

In late 2009, Yost moved to Chicago from his home town of Beresford, South Dakota. He made the move for a girl, whom he ended up marrying. Fast-forward a few years and divorce was imminent.

They’d met at the University of South Dakota when he was a 19-year-old freshman and she was a junior. “We were together for about 10 years and married for the last three,” he recalls. “The band was just gone all the time and dictated our ability to really do much of anything. I don’t fault her for leaving. I was just so blindly in love while not being able to understand how hard it was for her to prop us both up for so long.”

This past December, The Kickback traveled to Los Angeles to record Weddings and Funerals with multi-Grammy-winning producer/songwriter Dennis Herring (Elvis Costello, Animal Collective, The Walkmen, Ben Folds) at DTLA Recording, an expansive open space in the historic Arts District that Yost believes used to be an illegal marijuana grow house. 

“It’s a very non-traditional studio,” says Yost. “It’s giant, it’s open-air. There are these big garage doors that are up most of the time unless you’re recording really loud stuff. The ceilings are probably 30-feet. It’s just this big room. Everybody’s just in the same room at all times. If you’re not the one recording stuff, you’re still in the middle of everything, which was a really cool way to make a record. You always knew what was going on.”

So the band arrived at the studio with a handful of partially written songs and got to work. “Our first record, we went in with every part completely written and ready to put on tape. But for this record, we showed up in LA with the verses and choruses and bridges but no idea of how everything was gonna come together,” he says. “That was scary, but it was also weirdly kind of freeing.”

Herring had a hand in helping the songs take shape. “It was good to work with someone who’s as bull-headed as we are,” says Yost. “We were hoping we could work with someone who would fight for songs, and Dennis was definitely that guy. He said, ‘When you’re recording, your feelings don’t really matter.’ He just wanted the songs to be good.”

“Dennis had a song-by-song approach, which I liked,” says Yost. “It takes longer, but Dennis works a little chaotically. At any given moment you weren’t sure if you were gonna spend the whole day reading a magazine, or if you needed to be ready to record drums on a song that had been reworked five times already and you weren’t really sure what the part was.”

“Especially for the other guys. I think it was 30 days of having to be on your toes at any possible moment, which I think was a little stressful for everybody, but it’s the way Dennis works.”

Despite his powerful singing voice and energetic promo videos, Yost is soft-spoken over the phone today. But he’s also super hilarious. Never once laughing at his own jokes, he delivers anecdotes and one-liners with a deadpan even tone.

“Dennis is kind of like that guy where they did that experiment where they would give a kid one donut now, or if they could wait, they’d give them two donuts an hour from now. That’s kind of how the workflow wound up working.”

The first track of the album, Will T, was also the first single they released. Will T starts off with a “La-ha-ha-ha” hook Yost describes as “the obnoxious one.” The track sounds like it just as well could have come from now-defunct Philly rock band Free Energy, if Free Energy had swapped the cowbell for sleigh bells and lasted long enough to suffer the demise of a wedded union.

“It’s the kind of hook where if you don’t like that song, you’re gonna fucking hate that song, and I get that,” he says. ”It’s one of those hooks that you wake up with in your head and wind up beating yourself over the head with a frying pan trying to get out.”

He started playing with the verses of Will T in college when he was 18, writing about “being scared of always eventually being disappointed in a relationship.” He put the song away for several years until it crept back in during his divorce. “We stuck that scary laughing chorus with it because the whole song just seemed like a joke. When I pulled it back out to look at it, the whole thing just seemed weirdly true, weirdly naive, or probably a little bit of both. So that laugh part just kind of made itself, and it’s really annoying. I think it just might be so jarring, it just forces you to listen to it whether you want to or not.”

The song False Jeopardy hits with a pretty big Pixies vibe, especially for the first half, but Yost says that wasn’t an intentional influence. “I think you spend a lot of your time ripping off bands you love, and hopefully you get to a point where they just become a little part of you. So I think I maybe years ago would have been actively trying to rip off the Pixies because I love them so much, but now I think it’s just a little part of our DNA.”

“(False Jeopardy) was the first or second song that got written for the record. That song’s kind of about blindly hoping everything’s gonna be okay and trying to talk somebody out of leaving. I think it’s a point a lot of people reach in their relationship where you spend most of the time trying to convince the other person they should stay, even though it’s probably not the right decision anymore.”

You can hear a demo of False Jeopardy during the fist two minutes of a movie starring Keanu Reeves called To the Bone, streaming on Netflix right now. “We didn’t even have the album version recorded yet,” says Yost. “But they liked the demo so much they wound up using it in the movie.”

Along with False Jeopardy, Rube was one of the first couple tunes written for the album. “I wasn’t sure how the record was gonna work yet. I started working on it right when I found out my marriage was ending, so I wasn’t sure whether I was gonna try and write about that yet, or just write about anything else but that,” says Yost. “So (Rube) wound up being a hybrid, sort of, about Lee Harvey Oswald, who I was reading about at the time, and this lady falling in love with him. But it still ended up being also about the end of my marriage. But people dancing to a song about Lee Harvey Oswald seemed like a funny proposition to me.”

Pale King  was one of the last songs written for the album. Yost wrote it after watching the four-hour documentary Tom Petty: Runnin’ Down a Dream. “As we were getting close to finishing vocals, Dennis kind of put on his California night scarf and was just like, ‘I want you to get the last two choruses done and we won’t do many vocals tomorrow because you shouldn’t be able to talk very well.’” The song title was borrowed from the unfinished David Foster Wallace novel, which he was writing when he committed suicide. “It’s mostly just about hating what you are,” admits Yost. “I think that’s probably what a lot of these are about.”

Yost says the track Reptile Fund is an example of Dennis Herring’s work method. “We were working really hard on something else one night. Dennis had been gone for a day or two, so we’d been left to our own devices. And Dennis rolled in about 7:00 one night, and we thought he was gonna just pop in and say hey. But he said, ‘let’s stop everything we’re doing and record this really ornate part.’ You can’t really hear it on the choruses of that song, but there’s this countermelody going on with a glockenspiel and a piano and a sped-up guitar line and like two other instruments. That’s just what he felt like doing at that moment. I love it. It’s one of my favorite parts of that song.”

So what was it like to write an entire album about the dissolution of your marriage? Turns out it’s not always the salve we’ve been led to believe.

“When I was writing the songs, I didn’t ever feel better,” admits Yost. “I felt like I just kept churning out all of this horror that seemed to just keep going on and on. I didn’t feel better. It wasn’t cathartic, just tiring. It wasn’t until the record was close to done that I just became grateful those feelings had somewhere else to go.”

The Kickback are currently on tour and possibly coming to your city soon. They’ve been on the road for much of the past few months and will continue for a several weeks more. They recently ended about seven weeks opening shows for ‘90s alt-rock heavyweights Bush (as in Glycerine, Machinehead, Everything Zen) and have recently begun their own tour of headlining dates. 

July
18 — Raleigh, NC — The Pour House Music Hall
19 — Charlotte, NC — The Evening Muse
20 — Charleston, SC — The Royal American
21 — Atlanta, GA — Vinyl (Center Stage – The Loft – Vinyl)
22 — New Orleans, LA — Gasa Gasa
23 — Houston, TX — Warehouse Live Greenroom
25 — Austin, TX — Stubb’s Austin
26 — Dallas, TX — Gas Monkey Dallas
28 — Kansas City, MO — recordBar
August
4 — Appleton, WI — Mile of Music Festival
5 — Appleton, WI — Mile of Music Festival
9 — Indianapolis, IN — HI-FI Indy
10 — Cleveland, OH — Grog Shop
11 — Columbus, OH — Rumba Cafe
12 — Chicago, IL — Thalia Hall “TKB Thalia Brawl”
16 — Horicon, WI — Horicon Phoenix Program Summer Concert Series
17 — Minneapolis, MN — 7th St. Entry (First Avenue & 7th St Entry)
18 — Sioux Falls, SD — White Wall Session
19 — Fargo, ND — The Aquarium
22 — Seattle, WA — High Dive
23 — Portland, OR — Doug Fir Lounge
24 — San Francisco, CA — Brick & Mortar Music Hall
26 — San Diego, CA — Soda Bar
29 — Los Angeles, CA — Resident
30 — Las Vegas, NV — Beauty Bar Las Vegas
31 — Salt Lake City, UT — Kilby Court
September
1 — Denver, CO — Lion’s Lair
2 — Sioux Falls, SD — Icon Event Hall + Lounge