Brighton-based indie rockers, Holiday Ghosts, have announced their third studio album North Street Air after signing to FatCat Records. The band’s guitarist and vocalist Sam Stacpoole, and drummer and vocalist Katja Rackin chatted with The Mic’s Amber Frost about their inspirations behind the album.
In the most complimentary way, Holiday Ghosts don’t sound like a band from the modern era. Their style is comparable to iconic bands such as The Velvet Underground and Violent Femmes which is refreshing to hear from younger musicians. Yet their lyrical concepts are more appropriate to the attitudes and society now. The playful Mr. Herandi, for example, opens the album and sets the musical tone as following in the footsteps of 1960’s indie bands such as Small Faces and The Kinks. The lyrical theme is set around corrupt, capitalist, money-thieving landlords who create their business selling unlivable housing whilst living their best life in sunny Spain.
Of course, commentary on class inequality and landlords are nothing new, but it feels more fitting to 2021 given the past year and all the issues that have been brought to more media attention. Musically and instrumentally speaking, the song is cheerful, upbeat, and one you can imagine hearing on a summer’s day in a beer garden. Perfect for the album’s release date, May 21st. Mr. Herandi is based on the band’s personal experience with the real Mr. Herandi. Whilst an utterly stressful and unsafe position to be in, Stacpoole and Rackin have been able to turn this negative experience into a fun, catchy song that reinforces the album’s ‘silver linings’ philosophy.
‘To gain creative insight, the band shacked up in a Cornwall Airbnb for a week and recorded most of the album.’
From a production point of view, the album was mixed over lockdown through Stacpoole’s own headphones. Once able, the band synched up with their new label and went into the studio to use their speakers and “do it properly.” Recorded mainly in an Airbnb in Cornwall, where Stacpoole’s family are based, the record conjures a soundscape of unpolished almost “playing around in your bedroom” vibes which add to the already humble, down-to-earth personas of Stacpoole and Rackin. To gain creative insight, the band shacked up in the Cornwall Airbnb for a week and recorded most of the album, with the exception of three songs penned in their bedroom, six months prior.
It’s not uncommon in the musician world to visit a calmer, more nature-focused area in order to really tap into creativity. Other indie-folk artists such as James Vincent McMorrow and Bon Iver have also created albums whilst being away from their regular spot. For Holiday Ghosts, in particular, the time away from the buzziness of Brighton provided a sense of calm amidst the chaos, which can be heard on hazy tracks such as 3rd Dream and Makin’ A Fool. Contradictory to this, however, the remote setting provided the chance for the band to “make as much noise as we wanted” which may explain the various percussive elements heard throughout the album.
Stacpoole and Rackin share joint responsibility with the vocals, and though you wouldn’t necessarily put them together on paper, they work gloriously well in tandem. The third track on the album, Blood Orange showcases this, as Rackin takes lead vocals and diverts from the hazy Stacpoole-penned follow-up: North Street Air. Despite this, the album is still incredibly cohesive, perhaps due to the slightly unpolished direction that the band have moved in. Whilst this may seem like an insult, it really works in their favor and reinforces that these are musicians that enjoy what they do and want to push creative boundaries. It’s almost a given that every creative is almost never entirely satisfied with their finished product: Holiday Ghosts are almost, too cool for this perfection. Their intent is to make hazy, summer music that you want to hear live and drink a beer too.
Ultimately, this attitude seems to stem from the vocals; the particular niche of Sprechstimme (spoken singing), which has increased over the past five years with bands such as Baxter Dury. It gives the overall tone of the band an almost effortless feel, again showcasing that the band have natural musicianship that carries throughout all of their music. Both Rackin and Stacpoole have a spoken-sung style that fits perfectly over reverbed guitar and hazy fingerpicking. Contradictory to this, the album’s penultimate track Glue showcases Rackin’s more melodic vocal talents, making it an extremely charming divergence. It also indirectly demonstrates how willing the band are to explore different techniques and styles whilst remaining true to their own sound; a sentiment that is important to the legacy of a band or musician.
‘Rich lyrical themes combined with the hazy guitar and sprechstimme vocals create an almost nostalgic feeling.’
The inspiration for tracks like North Street Air, which became the album’s title, stems from Stacpoole’s visits to Brighton’s North Street where he writes down everything he sees, smells, and hears. He joked about taking his notebook and “accidentally walking into people because [he] was so immersed in the creativity that leaped out just by being stood on this particular street.” This type of rich songwriting seems to have faded somewhat in recent years, with a lot of music feeling mass-produced or commodified, so it felt raw and authentic to hear how the band find inspiration for their lyrics.
The lyrical themes combined with the hazy guitar and sprechstimme vocals create an almost nostalgic feeling: the release of North Street Air is highly anticipated and is a must for everyone this summer.
Written by: Amber Frost Edited by: Olivia Stock