Skinny Hobos : Big Riffs, Big Drums
By Terianne Grady
When I first heard of the band Skinny Hobos, I was instantly intrigued. I genuinely wondered if they were real life skinny hobos; the image of emaciated homeless vagrants began to manifest inside my head. After seeing them play live, I have to admit I was a little disappointed they weren’t in rags playing with pans and spoons. Fortunately, they made up for it with their unique saturated blues rock sound and larger than life stage presence.
Alex Elvis Ferrier and Sam Texas Holdom are big personalities who create big music; between the two of them they manage to produce an energy that surpasses many fully fledged bands. They have a party on stage, and that party is contagious.
I managed to have a chat with the Hobos ahead of their recent Hamilton show at Nivara Lounge.
Why Skinny Hobos? Where did the name come from?
Alex: I wish that we had a better story for it. I was trying to come up with a band name for my older band, and Skinny Hobos came up when I was drunk with my buddies. I can’t remember why - because I was drunk. It was a name that I really liked the sound of, but it didn’t really suit the last band. As soon as me and Sam played together I knew that it really suited the style of music that we were doing. It was easy to get behind and it was a fun name so yeah. Where it came from I’m not entirely sure. I just had it and I wanted it to be a band.
Sam: The best band names kind of come out of nowhere you know. You can use band name generators and think of puns - that kind of thing. If you really calculate it you can come up with something good, otherwise the best ones are just completely off the cuff.
Alex: We are really lucky to have it because it’s really difficult to name bands these days, and most importantly its really difficult to find one that hasn’t already been done. Skinny Hobos if you look that up on google were the only thing that comes up. Especially when you are trying to establish yourself, you’ve got to be accessible and easy to find.
Sam: When we first applied it to the band we’d have people come up to us and ask what’s your band name, and we’d say Skinny Hobos; people would just crack up laughing like Skinny Hobos that’s ridiculous! I love it!
How do you describe your music?
Sam: I’ve been saying is heavy blues rock, that’s kind of the easiest way to describe it. It is loud and heavy, there’s elements of blues and its rock and roll. That’s putting it in the most generic terms - or the easiest way to describe it so that people can identify with it. I mean There’s elements of a lot of things in there though. There’s blues, rock, there’s punk, there’s stoner aspects there’s even some grunge I guess you could argue as well.
Has the band always been a two piece - was that always the plan?
Sam: Yip, from day one. We’ve had a jam with a saxophonist, that was quite cool, but he just totally blended in with Alex’s guitars.
Alex: I make so much noise that there’s not exactly room for another musician.
Sam: I was playing quietly with my lighter sticks and he was still just like “you guys are way too loud I don’t know how you actually do anything” and it was like well - be louder! That’s the only thing we have.
Alex: We worked together at a music store, and we jammed together after work one time. It just kind of worked right away, ya know the riffs and the sound of the drums. I’ve always wanted to be in a two piece, so it was kind of nice to come across it organically.
Sam: With the whole two-piece thing you think of bands like The Black Keys and The White Stripes - who are two pieces, but they do a lot more on their studio records. When we first started jamming I was a little bit hesitant, because I didn’t really know what was going to become of it. At the same time, I fully trusted what Alex was doing with his sound. I was quite happy just jamming guitar and drums. Then he started adding bass and it was like ok we can start making a really full sound without having to add any extra bits and pieces; no studio trickery backing tracks that kind of thing. Adding backing tracks is the last thing I want to do, so the fact we can make as much noise as we do with just the two of us, ended up being a really happy coincidence.
Alex: It was a long process to get the sound to a point where we didn’t sound quiet or bland compared to other full bands that we were playing with. We’ve always really respected bands who sound the same on the record as they do live, because to us a record is supposed to be a way of capturing your band’s sound. The more you do with it the less true to your band; so we’ve found this way of making a whole bunch of noise and just being honest with our music.
Did your sound start out as loud as it is now?
Alex: No, I just played through a guitar amp at first. Then I got the Electroharmonix Pog, but that was still going through the same amp as the octave pedal. To make the sound bigger I added a second guitar amp, but it was missing the low end. Then it was a bass head through a guitar cab or a guitar head through a bass cab. I mean there was a lot of different set ups, before we found the one that’s worked the best for us. We’ve been touring since March/ April last year and it has basically been the same since then.
Sam: There was a lot of hours spent at band practice, just him fucking around with pedals and amps and tones – that sort of thing, trying to find a sound.
Alex: I come from an audio engineering background. I actually put down my guitar for a couple years and was working in studios, producing electronic music and hip hop as well as recording bands. From that background I’ve found my way of treating my guitar tone the same way that I would treat something that I’m audio engineering. So I’m looking for something that will take up the various different key points on the frequency spectrum. I’ve got my low end covered, my high end covered, and the drums and everything has its place - the same way that it would if you were recording an album. I look at that live and I think that’s helped us to have a sound that’s tight and it pretty much tends to sound good where ever we are: big stages with the big PA’s or small rooms with no PA’s - we can get the sound that we’re going for everywhere. It’s become really easy to play shows literally anywhere and be happy with what we’ve got going on, and convey the sound that were trying to get across.
Do you think that being a two piece holds you back, or do you think it gives you an advantage?
Alex: Both, I’ve always thought that constraints can help your creativity. If you set limitations on what you can do your forced to be more creative to try to overcome those limitations. In saying that, there’s obviously quite a bit holding us back. If there were other members we could do other things, but it works really well for what we do. I do a bit of looping ya know I’ll loop the bass through the bass amp or the guitar through the guitar amp and play something through the other one. It’s almost like having a third person for a little while just jamming along. so yes and no.
Sam: The other thing about the whole two-piece thing is that it adds a point of difference to most other bands. When we’d rock up to gigs in our early days, people would ask “how many are in your band - is there any more of you to turn up?” and we were like nope this is us. People were really surprised like oh you’re a two piece ok sure what ever. Then we get on stage and play - 99% of the other bands were like whoa I did not expect that amount of sound to come out of just two of you. If anything it takes people by surprise when we sound like a full rock band with only two of us.
Alex: I think it’s kind of a little bit more accessible for the average person in the audience, you get a good feeling from just seeing two people on stage doing their thing. I think it gives hope for people. I mean what I play is not overly complicated, and I guess it’s like an everyman kind of thing.
Sam: I think the other thing as well is the dynamic between us. Because there’s only two of us, we’ve got to bounce of each other, and a lot of that energy and personality comes across on stage. We banter back and forth and its easy for the crowd to connect with one or the other; rather than having four or five different points to look at. There’s one sort of apex in the middle of us where it’s like you can focus on the harmony between us rather than having to bounce between individual members. So it’s a connection thing between us and from the audience to us as well.
Only one person to fight with?
Sam: Yeah, or agree with.
Alex: We don’t fight very often.
Sam: Yeah we don’t! we’re very harmonious.
Alex: Because I played drums before I played guitar, I’ve clashed with a lot of drummers as a result. I’ll have an idea in my head of what I want to be there. Sam tends to play what I would play if I was him; so it naturally just worked really well and we get along great. Our personalities gel and musically we gel.
How did you guys meet?
Sam: Well we met at High School and we played in different bands and played gigs together. We met up at Rockquest and jammed at various gigs throughout that period of time. Then later went on a tour with our separate bands as well. Then he went back to Canada, I moved to Dunedin, so we kind of separated, and didn’t keep in touch. Then at the end of 2013 we started working at the Rock Shop together, purely coincidently. I took the job from Dunedin - I moved up to be assistant manager. Then this guy ended up being a full time staff member there.
Alex: Yeah it was just like I got there and day 1 it was like “Sam mother fuckin Holdem! “
Sam: “Alex fuckin Farrier!”
Alex: Jesus Christ.
Sam: It had been four or five years since we actually had anything to do with each other. Then yeah we got into the same building and started getting along. Had that jam, and was like well this is kind of cool – let’s do something with this. It was very serendipitous, I don’t want to call it fate, but there was something along those lines going on there.
Where did the inspiration for the song Merchant of Tirau come from?
Alex: The name came from the liquor store The Merchant of Tirau. The only liquor store in Tirau. At the end of 2014 we played a festival just outside of Tirau. There were technical difficulties, so we went to the town just to kill some time and we found the merchant of Tirau. It had this great sign, the signs not there anymore, but it was this wooden sign with letters falling off of it. It just evoked this image, for me anyhow, that the merchant of Tirau was like rumple stiltskins cabin in the woods, like some evil dark twisted fairy-tale kind of imagery - all just from looking at that sign. But we spent some time inside and we talked to the lady that owned it, and she was lovely and in all honesty we needed a song name for the song.
Sam: Yeah it was ‘the new song’ at that point and we were calling it that between ourselves, so when that came up it seemed to fit the aesthetic of it without really trying to. I think that’s been a real constant, we don’t try to make anything fit, it just sort of does. Which is really nice, it makes life easy.
Alex: We’ve got an album that’s on the way.
Sam: There’s a second single that’s coming out soon, we don’t have an exact date.
Is there a name so far? We’re still deciding on what song is going to be the second single.
Alex: We’re down to like three, and were trying to make up our minds which one it’s going to be.
Sam: all the decisions go through us; because there’s no manager making the decision for us, or an agent saying this song is your best song. We’re just deciding on past experience and drawing from what we’ve done in the past. You know what works and what doesn’t and what we think people will enjoy. Basically a couple more releases, and there’s some more gigs in the pipeline too. The big thing for the end of the year is getting the releases out and pushing those as hard as we can.
Alex: We’re definitely going to tour again. Probably two times I’d say.
Sam: Ideally two, nothings solidified but those are the plans for now.
Alex: your talking to us now as we’ve just finished our most recent tour. If it was up to me we’d be on the road every day.
Sam: Likewise, there’s nothing more fun than going to a place you haven’t been before and playing gigs to people that haven’t seen your music. I mean that’s what we do it for ya know, to get the reaction from the crowd and to get that energy from them back. If we could, we’d be on the road all the time.