Don’t be fooled. There may only be two Skinny Hobos, but they come with big riffs, big hair and big volume. Necessarily quite a big attitude too, but actually they are two very laid back guys who both have day jobs in music retail land and seem to come alive on stage. It’s just guitar and drums, but with Alex Ferrier and Sam Holdom that ‘just’ is misplaced. ‘Skinny Hobos are two hairy men from Auckland making more noise than any two people should’, as their Bandcamp admits. Amberleigh Jack talked to (aka) Alex Elvis and Texas Holdom ahead of the 2018 NZ Music Awards – which their self-titled debut album saw them attending as finalists in the Best Rock Group category.
In many ways, having a conversation with the two guys who comprise Auckland rock group Skinny Hobos is like having a conversation with two small children. In the best possible way. The kind of chat that has you finding yourself down a rabbit hole of tangents 40 minutes after asking one question. The kind of conversation that’s confusing as hell, but entertaining enough that you don’t really want it to end.
Not that they’re unaware of it.
“We tend to just talk for a while about nothing,” Alex Ferrier laughs. “There are definitely some people that get frustrated with us.”
Though the pair had first met years earlier, Skinny Hobos began to take shape in 2012, when U.S.-born guitarist Ferrier returned to Auckland following a six-year sojourn in Canada. He reunited with Auckland-born drummer Sam Holdom, and the pair started playing together again.
Gigging regularly and touring almost relentlessly Skinny Hobos made a name for themselves amongst local rock fans, garnering a loyal following for their distinctive, energetic rock sound. Skinny Hobos released their self-titled debut album earlier in 2018 – an album, it turns out, that was recorded almost three years earlier.
“We put the album down before really properly finishing the songs,” Holdom explains with a wry smile. “We recorded the album in 2015, then played it live, then released it. So what’s on the album is not necessarily the ‘finished’ versions of the songs. We make subtle changes to them live.”
“It’s like with any band,” Ferrier continues. “It changes and evolves as you play it live, that’s the nature of music. The album is a snapshot of a picture in time. This is what it was at Roundhead Studios in September 2015!”
Engineering and mixing credits for the album sit with Nick Poortman, with Alex Ferrier identified as producer. Word is that he perhaps has perfectionist tendencies to match the ridiculous expanse of his guitar pedal board, but they’re not easily drawn to any candid explanation of that delay between recording and releasing. It certainly wouldn’t have helped that Ferrier had to undergo throat surgery a year ago. It makes it tough to promote an album when you can’t sing.
“That’s in the past, though,” he says, pausing while he exchanges a look with Holdom. “Actually it’s still fucking me up, but y’know…”
Still, not enough to noticeably hinder the band’s progress. In fact, at the time we are speaking, Skinny Hobos have recently been announced as finalist nominees for Best Rock Group for the 2018 NZ Music Awards. No mean feat for any local act, and something the guys are pretty damn proud of.
“Ever since I’ve been in a band and known that the Music Awards are a thing I’ve wanted to be invited – so I can walk down the red carpet and wear a flash-as-shit tux,” Holdom laughs. “I want to go overboard. I kind’a wanna get creative and go all out on the hobo thing.”
I start to talk about the what ifs, but they have no expectations – and coming second won’t stop them having long term bragging rights.
“We’re forever NZ Music Awards’ nominated artists,” Ferrier laughs. “That’s what our official title is now – ‘VNZMA-nominated-artists-Skinny Hobos’.”
Despite almost touching such national-awareness success, the guys aren’t under any illusions that rock and roll will ever be an easy gig.
“Rock music has become so niche that it’s hard to stand out,” Ferrier acknowledges, suggesting that their fan base is largely comprised of people with an interest in specific rock music, or local music, rather than those who may have simply stumbled across the sound and liked what they heard.
“The only way to do it is through sheer determination.”
And a love of the game, as well.
“We don’t know any other way,” Ferrier ponders. “If nobody came to our shows we’d still be getting drunk on stage and doing what we do.”
As for the future? Well, there are some shows later this year.
“We can’t talk about those,” interjects Ferrier.
Okay, but look out for some gigs next year, then.
“We can’t talk about those either.”
So what can they talk about, then? Plenty, it seems. John Mayer is underrated as a talented songwriter, for one. People that move next to speedway and then complain about noise are frustrating as hell. Ferrier once learned a valuable lesson about not getting so drunk at the show that he couldn’t play…
Oh, and a second album. It’ll come. At some stage. [A new EP, ‘Lucifer’, was released in March 2019]
“Look out for it on album number two: ‘From the VNZMA-nominated-artists-Skinny Hobos.’”