LOUDER WITH: Haggard Cat
After nearly two years of the music industry flapping and struggling in an attempt to keep its head above water, it takes a hefty amount of guts to sever ties with an industry leading record label, and take the plunge out into the big wide musical abyss alone. Yet, this is exactly the giant moon-gravity step that thrash rockers Haggard Cat have taken, in order to allow their impressive creative talents the best chance at flourishing. We caught up with the band just before their show at The Underground in Stoke-on-Trent, squashed into a small but cosy dressing room with autumn rain lashing at the windows, to discuss just how they managed to break out of that cookie-cutter mould.
We began by floating the seemingly obvious question of just how excited the band are to be returning to playing live shows at last, and the answer was just as emphatic as we predicted. “Oh, it feels amazing!”, said drummer Tom Marsh ardently. “It’s like so much time has passed, and yet also like no time has passed at all.”
“It’s just clicked back in, hasn’t it?”, agrees vocalist and guitarist Matt Reynolds. “The first day we felt a bit out of sync, and then suddenly, we were back in London and it’s like yeah, this is how we do this!
Although, as Matt recalls, their return to the stage wasn’t without its hiccups on the tour’s opening night: “During the London show, everything that could break managed to go down during the set - that was the moment where we were like ‘Yep, we’re back on tour!’”
This many-times-rescheduled run of shows is in celebration of the duo’s newly released EP, the sardonically titled ‘Cheer Up’. After so long without many new releases to indulge in, what has the response been like from their fans to this new music? “Unreal,”, smiles Tom, “and I’m bloody glad, because we put a lot into it!”
Matt elaborates: “This is our first time since we started out where we’re doing things completely on our own, so this is the first time doing all the behind-the-scenes things that you don’t think about - like PR and bookings and management and schmoozing and promoting and distribution - that we’ve never even thought about before, all of that has had to be done by me and Tom. So, it’s been a really long time coming, but it’s been a really rewarding process as well, because we get to see absolutely everything in real time as people pick it up and listen to it and enjoy it.
“From what I can remember, this seems to be the best received thing we’ve done to date, people have been really supportive of it and really seizing the music with both hands – we had like 20,000 plays in our first week, which is crazy, we never hit those kinds of numbers! I keep looking at it going up, thinking ‘That can’t be right!’”
As Matt has already alluded to, this is the band’s first release since an unceremonious parting of the ways with their previous major label backers. We were curious as to how the band went about putting together big projects such as music video shoots without the financial backing or team support that a label can assist their artists with – and the answer was heart-warmingly wholesome.
“It’s more a family of people rather than an official team,” Matt explains, “so we have our partners and friends, and Dave, who we’ve worked with on music videos since day one of being in bands together. But I think probably the biggest thing that has changed is the motivation level; we just want to do everything bigger and better because we know it’s ours, and we feel so attached to it now that we just want to do the music justice.”
“Our mentality has changed, definitely,” agrees Tom. “We’re just more fired up, especially now we don’t have the big label behind us, which is something I never thought I’d say!”
For Matt, “There was something demotivating about putting all that heart and soul into something, and then handing it over to a label who could just fuck around with it and do whatever they wanted with it and present it however they wanted, which was a big deal for us. We’re so image-focused when it comes to our visuals and stuff like that, so them fucking with it didn’t wash with us too well! Our mentality has always been quite DIY and to do a lot of things ourselves, and labels don’t seem to like that too much!”
Speaking of the image side of things, having watched the video for the second single from ‘Cheer Up’, the bristling ‘Amateur Dramatics’, countless times now, we were desperate to know - how on earth did they make that room spin so smoothly?! True to their proudly DIY ethos, the answer was simply: give it a go and see what happens!
“So, we’ve had that idea for about a year, and in the end we decided to build that room ourselves out of wood!” smiles Tom, rightfully proud of his impressive feat of engineering.
“We found a video on YouTube of some guys doing it, and we were just like ‘Do you reckon we could do that as well?’. All our music video ideas come from someone saying something stupid and massive, and then we just go ‘Well, you’ve said it now!’, so then we have to find a way to make it happen.”
Matt adds with a wry smile: “We watched that seven-minute-long video of the guys building it, and then Tom just goes “Yeah, I can build that!”. But it was such a task not only to build it, but then to figure out the task of winching it up onto the A-frame with the wheels, that all took so much calculating. We had to borrow this huge drill off Tom’s partner’s dad to drill into the concrete floor as well!”
Chuckling, Tom recalls that: “The whole thing ended up weighing about 600kg, it was so heavy, but when we balanced it on the wheels to turn it, you could push it with a finger, it was crazy!”
“The first time it did a full 360-degree rotation, we were just in shock that it worked!” laughs Matt. “It was just feelings of pure triumph, especially for Tom, because he built it – I just painted things and screwed a few screws in! And, surprisingly, it ended up being both cheaper and better than a lot of other videos we’ve made!”
The biggest question of all, however: how many takes did they have to do before they managed not to fall over?
Matt instantly admits: “Oh, it took a while! And then when you got out of the room at the end of the day, the whole room felt like it was swaying!”
“It’s really strange,” adds Tom, “it’s like when you’ve been on a boat and you get a bit of sea legs!”
In contrast to the wonderful camaraderie that is evident amongst their team of family and supporters, we’ve spoken to Haggard Cat in interviews gone by about the sad fact that people often associate heavy music solely with feelings of anger. While there definitely is some frustration and anger on the band’s latest record, Matt also wants people to take much more positive emotions away from these five tracks too.
“When we went into making this EP,” he explains, “we were so sick of hearing people recording ‘lockdown material’, which was all about Covid and it was so depressing. So, we wanted to make something that was fun and a joy to listen to, rather than something that was just a slog to listen to that made people remember what a hard time this has been. So, the whole motivation behind it was to say: ‘Fuck that, we’re still here, we can still make music, and still turn it up full blast, so cheer up!’
Ever the considerate frontman, he quickly hastens to add: “Obviously, the whole ‘Cheer Up’ thing is a bit tongue-in-cheek, it’s supposed to represent that dry British humour of ‘Well, it could be worse!’”
In that case, when the guys are not only talking the talk but walking the walk, and looking to brighter skies ahead, what do they do to help themselves cheer up when the chips are down? Matt states proudly: “I’ve taken to running, which I really like – you wouldn’t think that would make you cheer up, and honestly I didn’t think it would make me cheer up either to be honest!
“It still takes me forever to get out of the house and put the running shoes on, but as soon as I’ve done it and I get back, even if I’m all sweaty and dying after running a 10K, all the noise is just gone. That hour that you spend out running is just pure processing time, where your brain just finds new ways of dealing with things, and that rush of endorphins you get is just great. Basically, just go outside, press go on your legs, and go!”
Blushing a little, Tom confesses, slightly sheepishly,: “I always hate saying the word, but I’ve rekindled my love of juggling and circus skills, which gives me a similar thing – you’re concentrating so much on what you’re doing that you can’t think about anything else. It’s the same with drumming – when you’re up on stage you can’t think about anything other than what’s right in front of you.”
A sentiment which held true for the enraptured audience too, as they piled through the graffiti-strewn doors of The Underground a few hours later. Despite not taking the stage until gone 10pm on a murky Thursday evening, Haggard Cat captured the attention of the audience from the get-go – and definitely burst a few eardrums too! Their frenetic, white-hot energy rolled off the stage in waves, as the band inched closer and closer to the precipice of chaos, only holding on to their rhythms (and indeed, their instruments!) by a hair’s breadth.
Proving, once and for all, that when you have the unadulterated joys of live music in your life, and four King-size Pot Noodles in the dressing room, who needs a major label?