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No Boundaries: Haggard Cat Talk New Album 'Common Sense Holiday'

Thursday, 16 January 2020 Written by Helen Payne

Photo: Carla Mundy

How do you make a sound like Haggard Cat? No, not the high-pitched yowl of a scrawny feline, but hefty, high-energy, blues-driven noise. The answer, surprisingly, isn’t found by assembling a boat-load of angry punks ready to thrash out an adrenaline-fuelled racket. Instead, the raw materials are provided by but a pair of humble, giggly mates from Nottingham. “The rawest, most honest form of us playing music is just the two of us,” guitarist and vocalist Matt Reynolds notes. “That’s how we write.”

The duo, completed by powerhouse drummer Tom Marsh, have played in a few bands together over the years, lived together for a time and even rescued a poor cat together from the mean streets of Nottingham (hence the band name). The easy chemistry of their friendship is a joy to witness upstairs at Bristol’s Thekla, prior to their set opening for UK post-hardcore great Jamie Lenman. They talk over each other excitedly and laugh a lot.

Haggard Cat, they explain, actually started as a joke while they were plying their trade in their already successful band Baby Godzilla, which was eventually renamed Heck after a legal intervention from the folks behind actual Godzilla. “We were sat in a bar, having a burger, when a promoter for [Nottingham venue] Rock City came in asking if we could replace a support band who’d dropped out,” Marsh narrates. 

The rest of Baby Godzilla weren’t around, but they jokingly suggested making something up and jamming on the spot. “He was desperate,” Reynolds exclaims, before Marsh finishes the story. “We drove straight home in our Fiestas,” he elaborates. “We chucked some amps in the car, drove straight into Rock City, put the stuff on the stage and made up half an hour’s worth of music. It sounds so rock ‘n’ roll but that’s what happened.” “Sell it with the eyes,” Reynolds adds convincingly.

Haggard Cat was just a “stupid thing” they did that one time. But then it happened again. And again. It became a special little thing for Reynolds and Marsh, their baby of sorts. They played the hell out of Nottingham, and often had people suggesting that what they were doing was better than their primary project, who split in 2017. Reynolds says: “We’d just go home thinking, ‘hmmm…’” Eventually, he says, “it made sense for this to become our main thing.” Their debut album, ‘Challenger’, duly arrived in April 2018.

The process behind writing Haggard Cat songs is much like the slapdash way the band was conceived. “We plug in, turn on, and as cliché as it sounds, just play something.” Marsh states. “It’s whatever hits you first, isn’t it,” Reynolds chimes. “How the amps are sounding that day, which guitar you pick up, how everything is feeling. That shapes what the song is more than putting any brain work into it.”

The undefined, casual nature of their work is particularly clear in their latest single European Hardware, which is now a captivating staple in their live sets. The bones of it were written in 10 minutes. “Matt will literally pull a riff out of his arse, and we would leave the studio not expecting to, but having written a song,” Marsh chuckles. Beaming, Reynolds mimes pulling a riff out of his arse. 

Even when we consider the duo’s spontaneous, fun and often childlike nature, the epic songs on their second album, ‘Common Sense Holiday’, showcase their progression as songwriters and growth as musicians. Expansive and experimental, they fit together as a fluid body of work rather than just a collection of songs.

“Heck was very specific. It was all about pushing ourselves,” Marsh reflects. In contrast to the impenetrable wall of hardcore noise that their infamously destructive previous outfit created, nowadays Haggard Cat’s sound takes the pace down a notch. While still landing pretty high on the face-melt-o-meter, ‘Challenger’ tended towards a more structured and rhythmic style of noise-rock, with some blues features thrown in for good measure. “We don’t want to ever see a boundary,” Marsh reiterates. The “no rules thing” stops Haggard Cat from being tied down musically, and also loops in to the title of their second LP. 

“‘Common Sense Holiday’ is the idea of abandoning all rhyme and reason,” Reynolds says. He explains that, as a lyricist, his words are inspired by what’s happening around him and are a reflection of the world at large. “Both politically and environmentally, especially for the last three or four years, we’ve been living in very uncertain climes,” he says. ‘Common Sense Holiday’ seemed to resonate more, therefore, as the world seemed to be taking a vacation from things that made sense.

Reynolds says assuredly that he’s not an overtly political person, but their track European Hardware sure seems to be. The line “we’re building a wall” is repeated, taking aim at Donald Trump’s border control and immigration policies. “It was originally quite satirical on the US government and that whole ‘we’re gonna build a wall!’ thing, and how ridiculous that idea is,” he confirms. “Then it basically draws a parallel with the way that our government then became.”

Soon, there was the concrete box live stream, a political statement which, in true Haggard Cat style, started off as a joke among friends over a pint in Wetherspoons (ironically what Reynolds calls “the most pro-Brexit pub in the world.”). With the duo sealing themselves within four brick walls for 24 hours, the video signified how Brexit would trap UK grassroots artists and inhibit their touring potential overseas, as well as drawing parallels with the wider economic picture. “It felt right,” Reynolds admits. “By the end it felt like a fairly noble thing. We do care about this.” 

And while the duo are aware that video stunts like being trapped in a concrete cube might not make a realistic impact on the political situation at large, they’re sure it will at least plant seeds, strike up conversations and get more people talking and thinking critically about it. Reynolds concludes: “The more people that do bizarre, weird stuff and don’t behave the way people expect them to the better.”

‘Common Sense Holiday’ is due for release on March 13.

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