Cranford Hollow’s Frontman Discusses Their Unique Blend of Rock
I stumbled across this talented, hard rocking quartet in South Carolina recently, and loved their energetic and eclectic rock music. I had a chance to sit down with front man John Cranford to learn a bit more about the band, their influences and their future.
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Cretin: I caught Cranford Hollow performing in Hilton Head Island a few weeks ago and loved your band’s energy, and really liked your sound, very distinctive. How would you describe your sound?
John Cranford: We sort of coined this phrase low country stomp, which we are moving away from a little bit as we progress as musicians and songwriters. We started with this four-on-the-floor, kick drum shuffle beat, with crunchy rock ‘n roll punk rock guitar, and a fiddle. That was our initial sound that fit and it had a lot to do with our musical background.
Cretin: And where are you headed now?
John Cranford: It’s a blend of rock ‘n roll, Southern rock, this Appalachian Celtic fiddle thing and some pretty big influence from bands like Widespread Panic or Umphrey’s McGee. We’re not really a jam band, but we appreciate a lot of different kinds of music. We’re not limiting ourselves to any style, which I think is nice.
Cretin: The day I caught you, the sound was very diverse and eclectic and really kind of refreshing.
John Cranford: Any show we go to, no matter who is in the crowd, there seems to be something that anybody from any background or age can take away from the show, and that’s something that’s really important to us. It keeps the shows lively and keeps us from getting bored.
Cretin: That’s got to make it a lot more fun for you guys on stage.
John Cranford: It keeps you on your toes as a musician to constantly be changing up your style or your pace. It makes you a better musician and forces you to focus on the song a little bit more and the set a little bit more. We never write a setlist and we kind of leave it up in the air. We feed off of the crowd and what they are getting into.
Cretin: To be able to pull that off, you must know a crapload of music in your repertoire?
John Cranford: We started out as a fulltime cover band – that’s sort of how you get work in Hilton Head. Doing the bar band, cover band thing you could play almost every night in the summer. We had this long list of eclectic stuff from The Band, Van Morrison and some more obscure stuff, and some Widespread Panic and Johnny Cash. We tried to stay away from the cliché Top 40 stuff. Unfortunately we had to play “Wagon Wheel” for awhile.
Cretin: Of course.
John Cranford: Gradually, we kept writing new material and new sets of songs. Now we’re working on our fourth full record with all originals. It’s been a slow, but steady process of moving forward. It’s been a really nice transition coming into our own and being able to go out there and play our own stuff.
Cretin: The show that I saw you perform was a St. Patty’s Day event, and you boasted a definite Irish flair. Is that typical for you guys or just something special for the occasion?
John Cranford: That Celtic fiddle undertone thing, that’s pretty consistent. However on some of the new material, we’ve pulled back from that a little bit and we’re using the fiddle more as an orchestral instrument rather than a standalone voice. It’s called a reel the way Eric plays, sort of an authentic Irish reel. He plays between the vocals and fills in sort of like a lead guitarist would do.
Cretin: Nice version of “Oh Danny Boy” by the way. I’ve never heard that song anything like what you played.
John Cranford: Well, that’s an original. The song is actually called “Shine.”
Cretin: Well that would explain it.
John Cranford: I got the first part from the traditional “Oh Danny Boy” song. But, the song is actually about Stephen King’s book The Shining.
Grab the song on iTunes: Shine (Danny Boy) – Spanish Moss & Smoke
Cretin: Cool. I loved that book.
John Cranford: It’s kind of a children’s story about the book. When we were making the last record, Spanish Moss and Smoke, I was reading Dr. Sleep which is the second book in The Shining installment. It’s about Danny Torrance twenty-three years later and all of the skeletons in his closet.
Cretin: I definitely need to check that out. So, who usually does the writing? Is that usually you or a group effort?
John Cranford: Phil and I do the majority of the writing. A lot of times I’ll start with something that’s pretty much done on guitar. Our bass player, Phil is a fantastic lyricist and he’ll add some cowboy chords. Then we’ll all sit down and work on that together and arrange it.
Cretin: Do all four of you arrange it?
John Cranford: Yeah, all four of us, based on the record we are working on now and Spanish Moss and Smoke. If it wasn’t written coming into the room, it’s written there. We kind of piecemeal it together. At least the three core members; we have had four drummers.
Cretin: So, you’re kind of the Spinal Tap of Hilton Head.
John Cranford: (Laughing) None of them have died or anything. All of them are still in good help and remain on pretty good terms with the band. It’s been tough, but I also feel it’s an important characteristic of the sound, as far as the rhythm aspect of the sound changes pretty often but the songwriting and structure of the songs is stylistically the same.
Cretin: So, who are some of the band’s influences? Any Irish punk types?
John Cranford: Well, Eric is a big Dropkick (Murphys) and Flogging Molly fan. I grew up in the early 90s of skateboarding and punk rock. I liked The Misfits, Ill Effects, and I loved some Beastie Boys, their late eighties stuff like License To Ill, before they got more hip hoppy. That kind of rock ‘n roll hangs on in my mind – that sort of thrash and bash.
I’m not really a guitar player by trade, I played jazz bass through college, so there’s some of that structural musical theory ingrained in me. Eric’s background is everything from Top 40 Country to bluegrass to Southern rap. And then Phil grew up in the Macon, Georgia scene where the Allman Brothers are god and everyone else falls on a scale somewhere below that. And, he’s still a pretty big jam band aficionado; Widespread and Umphreys obviously being the top of the tier.
Cretin: Good stuff.
John Cranford: When we go to Macon, and going to a show at The Cox Capitol Theatre, you’re going to see a lot of Fender Stratocasters and Les Paul’s. It’s this sound coming from Central Georgia that I don’t hear anywhere else, and a lot of the bands from there we hold in pretty high regard. The group the Matt Brantley Band blow us away every time. They’re an exceptional outlaw country, Southern rock band. So, we admire a lot of stuff from all over the board which may be why our live shows and records are all over the spectrum.
Cretin: Which I think is a good thing. I’m tired of hearing the same thing on the radio all of the time.
John Cranford: Unfortunately that’s where things have gone. You listen to Top 40 and everything sounds the same and anything that doesn’t fit that vibe is Indie, and I’m not sure where we fit. I don’t ever want to be in a rut where everything we write sounds the same. I want it to be different and open-ended and no right or wrong.
Cretin: I heard you’ve recorded in Florida?
John Cranford: We’ve recorded in Crescent Beach, just South of St. Augustine. Jim Devito, has a studio down there, Retrophonic Studios. It’s this huge room with every piece of gear that you ever wanted that was made before 1970, with a ton of vintage microphones, a big 24 channel console and a tape machine. It’s the real deal, but it’s so different with what’s going on these days with pro tools. Even though we used a lot of that in making our third record, there’s something amazing about that saturation on a tape machine, and that salty Florida air. We really like St. Augustine and the Jacksonville area.
Cretin: What’s on the horizon for Cranford Hollow?
John Cranford: We have a fourth album in the works, some songs that are very old and some new stuff that’s kind of way out of left field.
And, this Western market, this Colorado thing, it feels like home to us. It feels like Hilton Head. The people are receptive and they’re super warm. They take excellent care of us, and we love our booking agent, Rocky Mountain Artists. They do a fantastic job setting us up with great tours. I think we’ll hit this Colorado thing, and the Southeast and try to break in the Midwest market, and hopefully land some larger scale shows. I think the live show and the direction of the band is starting to settle into this place of its own and the sound is beginning to solidify into this thing. We’re putting more feeling than thought into the shows and I’m excited to see the direction of the band over the next few years.
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