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Holiday Ghosts are a band that contains multitudes. Give a listen to their upcoming album, Coat of Arms, out March 29 on Fat Cat Records, and several seemingly disparate facets immediately come into focus. Powerful, gut-punch punky garage rock; classic jangly indie pop; songs of protest and resistance; songs that resonate emotion and introspection. The four-piece line-up of Katja Rackin (drums, lead vocals), Sam Stacpoole (lead guitar, vocals), Morgan Lloyd-Mathews (bass), and Ben Nightingale (rhythm guitar, vocals), who came together to hone their skills on the band’s previous album, 2023’s equally kinetic Absolute Reality, have perfected a skin-tight flow that grabs onto the listener and refuses to let go until each brazen lyric and earworm hook has worked itself into their brain. Across its ten tracks, Coat of Arms marries the band’s signature style of self-assured indie with a new brand of urgency, serving songs that feel more direct, more compelling than ever before.
“Not to put it down to the genre, but I feel like there is a bit more punkiness in this album,” explains Kat. “It’s a bit more upbeat. The difference between this album and the last one is that this one is more succinct.” “It’s definitely more condensed,” adds Sam. “Every record we've done in the past has been a lot more focused on exploring all these different avenues that we've been down over the years. We've been very varied for a really long time.” Coat of Arms is the second album the band recorded with Phil Booth (The Cool Greenhouse, Sleaford Mods, Proto Idiot, Freak Genes), and was mastered by Alan Douches at West West Side Mastering. “When you listen to the drums, the beats are very stripped back, it’s not like there are loads of fills everywhere. It's similar with the guitars as well, like they’re as pure as possible.” “It gives a nice amount of space for everything to have its own feeling,” finishes Kat.
If it sounds like Kat and Sam are the type to finish each other’s sentences, that’s because they are. Holiday Ghosts began in Falmouth, UK in 2016, and since then, Kat and Sam have been the band’s two consistent members—Morgan and Ben joined in 2019, during the touring of the band’s North Street Air album. Over the next eight years and five albums, the band have toured extensively across the UK and Europe, played festivals like Latitude and Left of the Dial, become BBC Radio 6 darlings, and generally carved a robust spot for themselves in the UK music scene. The challenge for a band that has accomplished so much is to stay fresh and present new ideas to their fans: with Coat of Arms, they strived not only to exceed their audience’s expectations, but their own as well.
“Musically, I would say that we really wanted to make something that was more singular than our previous work, and for the record to be short and sweet,” says Kat. “We wanted to make this one a bit more poppy than before. We have always focused on showing as much variety as possible on an album, partly because we've never wanted the band to seem to have a specific genre. Now that we have existed as the sum of our parts for quite a long time, it feels we can be more certain in making a set of songs that we feel like is a tight package of one side of ‘our music’.”
Coat of Arm’s lead single, “Sublime Disconnect”, is a perfect distillation of the sound Holiday Ghosts have perfected over their career. Kat’s driving drumming style and staccato vocal delivery propels a rousing guitar melody and breakneck bassline, until a catchy chorus of “ba ba ba’s” erupts over the entire endeavor. However, the song’s buoyant demeanor belies a deeper lyrical meaning. “I’m Iranian, my parents were both born there and moved to Sweden after the Iranian revolution in the ‘80s,” explains Kat. “I was born in Malmö and moved to England when I was eight. I grew up as a child with little attachment to Iran as I tried my hardest to blend in with the people around me, but the older I got the more different I felt and the more blurred my sense of self got.”
“Sublime Disconnect”’s lyrics speak to this dissonance of identity, with lines like: “And now they ask who am I and where am I from/Will I find peace when I belong?” “In hindsight I can pinpoint a few incidents of racism that planted this seed that I didn't fully belong here, that Sweden or England, weren't really my home,” say Kat, “nor is Iran as I have never been there as my parents aren't allowed back. The song is partly putting this question out there: what does it mean to belong?”
“Sublime Disconnect” can be seen at the album’s political crux, the track and anchors the band’s activist identity. “I think this question of belonging is kind of rhetorical though, because I don't think there is peace for anyone except for those that make the rules,” says Kat. “I think living under governments where the immigration policies are getting more and more dystopian has also hugely contributed to this song and the notion of belonging. The line: ‘Does your future burn bright? And what about me? A free pass, favour, till I’m back on my feet,’ is a reference to privilege versus having to start from scratch, about the obliviousness that some people have towards the struggle of others.”
Another track that speaks to the band’s social consciousness, while also maintaining their uplifting musical style, is “Big Congratulations”, a rollicking number whose head-bopping chorus might be the catchiest of the bunch. Starting with an alt-country-tinged guitar line, the song culls from a rich history of 1980s UK indie pop (think classics like Shop Assistants or The Flatmates), but with a decidedly modern, 21st century spin. “The lyrics in ”Big Congratulations” are a sort of a narrative about excess, and the need to fulfill yourself with consumerism, keeping up with the Joneses,” says Kat. “There's a constant promise of a better life with better connections through what you might purchase or how you can upgrade your life. At the end of the day, that quest for happiness can be more of a snake eating its own tail kind of thing.”
Much like “Sublime Disconnect”, tracks like “Big Congratulations” also speak to Holiday Ghost’s ability to mesh cutting lyrics with attention-grabbing music—something that was expressly designed when writing Coat of Arms. “One of the things that we really focus on is trying to get lyrics across as clearly as we can,” says Sam. Maybe 70 percent of what we really care about in the songs is making sure that we're singing lyrics that we are proud of, and that lead the song more than just a musical hook.” Kat continues: “Often, the way I write a lot of the songs is writing the words first, and then the music kind of grows around it. One nice thing about the band is that it's a real collaborative thing. So with the songwriting, especially with the ones on this album that Sam and I wrote together, we’ve really merged.”
Kat and Sam demoed the majority of the album across five days in an Airbnb with just a drumkit and a guitar, before all four members came together in live writing and recording sessions with Phil Booth—and as a result, Coat of Arms might be the most cohesive, collaborative album Holiday Ghosts have ever made. “On previous albums, I would write a song, and then we'd sort of work on that, then Sam would write a song, and Ben and Morgan would normally write one or two songs as well,” explains Kat. “The process would be quite separate. Whereas I think the nice thing about this album is that it's all come together very collaboratively. Me and Sam even wrote some of the words together, and we did a lot of the demoing together from the start. We’ve really grown.”
According to the band, while around half of the songs on Coat of Arms speak to their political leanings, the other half are more traditional Holiday Ghosts: songs about deep emotions and personal introspection. The title track, written and sung by Ben, is a prime example, a track about learning to know yourself and the spoils of self-actualization. “The lyric “The voice in your head only whispers’ was an old line I’d written and ended up being the apex of the chorus in “Coat of Arms”, explains Ben. “The song is about having sympathy for the stoic, realising that the stiff upper lip will eventually tremble given the right impetus, how a slight change in the wind can result in a falling facade." Musically, Coat of Arms is a bit more laid back than the more uptempo songs like “Sublime Disconnect” or “Big Congratulations”, but holds onto the album’s emotional core.
“Energy” is also about self-exploration, but this time, the weird lengths people will go to find their life purpose. Inspired by a Devo deep cut (“Golden Energy”), the track takes a new wave vibe and mixes it with buzzing, garage-riff guitars. “The song talks about all the different and personal quests people swear by and that define what provides their life's vital energy,” says Sam. “I always find these things really funny and fascinating because everyone swears FACT to something that obviously only works for them because it ticks some deep personal box. I’ll never forget a man named Thor telling me that I should take an ecstasy pill to cure my flu,” he laughs.
In the end, perhaps the thing that ties everything Holiday Ghosts does together is this sense of being able to observe, dissect, examine, and understand the forces that make being a human being so damn interesting. Whether it be the political awareness, the deep knowledge of the legacy of rock music that makes them tick, their emotional openness, or their collective songwriting prowess, Coat of Arms is the culmination of a band who know exactly who they are, and yet never tire of exploring new avenues of actualization and evolution.
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