Hype List 2023: Crawlers: “There’s such joy in being surrounded by people who understand you”

The band unafraid to speak their truth.
Photo credit: Patrick Gunning

The band unafraid to speak their truth.

Words: Ali Shutler.
Photos: Patrick Gunning.

“It’s all a bit silly,” grins Holly Minto, summing up Crawlers’ 2022. Not only have the Liverpool-based four-piece gone out on their very first headline tour and released their brilliant debut mixtape ‘Loud Without Noises’, but the emo rock group have also travelled to America for the first time, played the iconic Reading & Leeds and supported both My Chemical Romance and Maneskin. They’ve never once looked out of their depth, either.

Crawlers have been at it for a few years now, with guitarist Amy Woodall, bassist Liv Kettle and vocalist Holly first coming together in 2018 to make angsty, grunge-inspired rock and roll. They’d spend their weekends driving around in Amy’s Fiat Punto, playing every grassroots venue in the North West and soon developed a cult following. Drummer Harry Breen joined a few singles later, then 2021’s ‘Come Over (Again)’ became a sudden viral hit, with 34 million Spotify streams and counting.

Holly says that breakthrough track was “a real risk” for the band, who had made a name for themselves with aggy punk-rock that featured sweeping lyrics like “the youth are broken” (2020’s ‘Placebo’). ‘Come Over (Again)’ was written after Holly taught herself to play the guitar, allowing her to sit with her feelings and “get more vulnerable” than she’d previously been able to when she was writing stories over snarling riffs in band practices. “We knew it was a good song,” says Holly. “We obviously weren’t expecting it to do as well as it did, though.”

It opened the door for Crawlers to really explore their vulnerabilities and gave Holly the self-belief to take tracks like ‘Fuck Me’ and ‘Hang Me Like Jesus’ (both of which were written before ‘Come Over’) to the band.

One year later and Crawlers have just released ‘Loud Without Noise’. “It’s so emotional,” beams Holly. There are a few niggling nerves about “getting a message from my ex, but we move,” she continues. “I just don’t seem to be able to hold back.”

‘Loud Without Noise’ is “different” to their self-titled EP, with the lyrics to the mixtape coming from a far more personal place. “It’s a lot more exposing,” says Holly. “But I know they’re the songs that make fans feel less alone.”

She goes on to say that the mixtape tackles the “things I’m anxious about. It’s about the things that are constantly on my mind, that I’m trying to distract myself from. It’s where the title comes from because my thoughts are loud without distractions.”

The record explores “bad relationships and the recovery of the mental health crisis I had in 2020,” says Holly. “It also touches on sexual assault and other traumas that I’ve gone through, as well as talking about politics and how I’m a lot more privileged now I’m signed to a major label. I feel quite naked releasing this into the world,” she admits.

She goes on to say that playing the songs in practice “does sometimes get a bit much” even though they’ve fostered a safe space between the four of them, but playing big, sold-out rock shows is a completely different vibe. “You’re playing music that evokes such emotion in you, but there are all these people screaming the words back at you. Every person has their own story behind the lyrics resonating with them,” says Holly, who’s had countless fans come up and explain how Crawlers’ music has positively impacted their lives. “There’s such joy in being surrounded by people who understand you, at least a little. It’s really magic.”

“All I ever dreamed about for Crawlers was making a safe space for people who were like me in school”

Holly Minto

If you’ve seen Crawlers this year, you know the euphoria they deal in. They’re just getting started as well. A flurry of festival dates has allowed the band to be exposed to a variety of bands at the very top of their game, with Holly listing Charli XCX, The 1975, Rina Sawayama, Self Esteem, Bring Me The Horizon and Olivia Rodrigo as artists that have taught her that “performing can be so much more than playing music and getting people to sing along.”

Sure, there’s still imposter syndrome that comes with being thrust onto those big stages, and the band are still getting their heads around meeting their idols backstage, but Crawlers are quickly realising they’re fine to do things their way. “I grew up seeing artists I admired talking about dramatic films or obscure literature as sources for inspiration,” says Holly. “I felt like I needed to be the same, but I’ve realised none of that really inspires me. I like Bojack Horseman, Fleabag and scrolling on Reddit. And that’s fine.”

Early this year, The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins posed the question “Are Crawlers the new stadium rock band we’ve been looking for?” on his Rides Again YouTube channel. At first, Holly wasn’t sure. “I’m five foot two; it’d be like a mosquito jumping around on a stage that big,” but recently, she’s coming around to the idea.

“Once the songs are good enough, and enough people are singing along,” she starts. “Hand on my heart, I’m in a band with the most talented people ever. Amy is so ambitious and is a great producer as well as being the best, I’ve never seen anyone have as much fun behind a drum kit as Harry, and if I wasn’t onstage, you wouldn’t care because you’d be watching Liv play bass. There’s no reason why we can’t amp things up.”

“You always want to be part of something bigger than yourself,” Holly continues, a lifelong fan of bands like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance who conjured that communal spirit. “It wasn’t just about the music; it was about the community. All I ever dreamed about for Crawlers was making a safe space for people who were like me in school. I didn’t fit in,” she explains. “Yes, I know every artist says that they didn’t fit in because they were so weird or quirky, but I didn’t even know I didn’t fit in. I was so blissfully unaware because I was so busy with music.”

The day before Holly speaks to Dork, Amy visited her house to write some new songs and reflect on their barmy journey so far. Amy brought with her a video from four years ago, back when Holly would take to the stage with a “moody, fake badass” persona and a weird Elvis Presley singing voice (“so cringe”). In the clip, Holly can be heard asking, “why have no labels come to us? Why does no one know who we are.”

“We never stopped being ambitious, even when we were bad,” she grins today. “If we weren’t ambitious, though, we wouldn’t have improved, and we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Crawlers’ ascent comes at a time when emo has stopped being an insult, and that melodramatic music is now resonating with a new generation. “I think it’s because we’ve all just become a lot more cripplingly self-aware. We’re more in touch with our emotions, and musicians can write about things that are horrible, but true.”

“There was definitely a phase in 2020 where everyone became a little more alternative, but that just meant people were free to explore their identities,” she continues. “For some, emo was a trend, but that’s fine. It let them experiment, and that should always be encouraged. Others discovered a new way of life, and when you’re struggling, it’s nice to have that community that relates to you.”

With so many great emo bands now thriving, Holly often finds herself asking why so many people are making a community around hers. She reckons it’s ‘cos the four people that make up Crawlers are so wildly different from one another, but are also so connected. “We also make music that’s so real and so honest. It’s the sort of thing I needed to hear when I was 14,” she explains. “We give people space to be themselves.”

“People do use our music to help them feel less alone, and that’s huge, but I’m not behind the healing process,” says Holly, who refuses to take credit for the band’s music saving any lives. “All we’ve done is soundtrack your own success. Each and every person should be proud of their own actions.”

As well as a busy 2023 that’ll see the band turn their eye from becoming Britain’s most exciting new rock band to something more global, Crawlers have also started thinking about new music.

“A lot of people are asking questions about an album,” starts Holly. “It’s coming, it’s happening, but if we rush it, it’s not going to be any good, so we’ve decided to wait until it’s perfect. Everyone will know when it’s done anyway because I’ll start hinting on Twitter cos I have no self-control.” She goes on to describe Crawlers as “an album band”, and says they want to create something “inspiring and encompassing”.

“If you’ve got a creative interest, you should be able to pursue it”

Holly Minto

The band also have a vision for what Crawlers’ debut album will be, but it’s still new. “Before the mixtape, I was a bit worried because we were getting pulled in every direction,” says Holly, with the band taking in rock and pop alongside singer-songwriter confessionals. “Now, though, we’ve settled into this new wave of sound. The mixtape shows off everything that we can do, and now we’ve got space to create a well-rounded, sonically cohesive Crawlers album. I don’t want to spoil too much, but there are already songs that are pretty much done for it.”

The biggest culture shock for Crawlers has been realising “we really do come from nothing. I used to be so unaware of how little we had, and I honestly wasn’t aware of this until we were plunged into the music industry,” says Holly. “We’re working class, and no one in our families had any contacts that could help us chase this dream. We all just loved music.”

“I wasn’t trusted in primary school to play an instrument because they thought I’d break it, when really I just had undiagnosed ADHD,” says Holly before going on to explain how she got “really lucky” at secondary school. “My teachers gave me free trumpet lessons because I couldn’t afford them. Those trumpet lessons were the first drops of music for a working-class person who probably would have never been able to do it otherwise,” she says, with both Liv and Amy having similar stories.

“We could never afford new instruments either. My dad worked in a charity shop, so if ever a guitar came in, we’d buy that, and I’d work on setting it up. It’s a different world to most people in the music industry,” Holly continues. “Now I’m signed to a major label, I’ve suddenly got all this privilege that I never had before.” Rather than wallowing in how hard they’ve had it, Crawlers want to “stand up for the fact that anyone should be able to do this. Music is a right. It’s not, as the government may think, a thing just for people with privilege and money. If you’ve got a creative interest, you should be able to pursue it.”

It comes as the band refuse to put a limit on themselves. As well as racking up successes within the industry, Crawlers have also worked with the team behind the new queer play A Billion Times I Love You to soundtrack the production. “We watched the actors’ movements and used our music to create a story,” says Holly. “It’s gone on to inspire our live show.”

The band have always aimed big, but “we’re more ambitious than ever now,” says Holly. “My poor manager gets all sorts of messages from me, with every weird idea that comes to me in my dreams.”

Sure, it’s occasionally “politely suggested that maybe we don’t have the money and time just yet”, but it’s never a no. Over lockdown, Harry brought one of Liv’s teddies onto a livestream, and since then, Soup has become something of an unofficial mascot for Crawlers. The band even suggested they buy the rights to the doll. The label said yes. Holly cackles at the idea.  

“Music is obviously the focus, but the sky’s the limit, really,” she continues. Liv really enjoys illustrations, and Crawlers have been toying with the idea of doing a series of comic books, while Holly is excited to finally get to the level of touring around in a bus, so she can cook meals for the whole band. “If we just limit ourselves to just being a band, how are we going to create the kind of community and do all the other things that we believe in.”

So if in the next few years, you see this “silly eyeliner band” playing Wembley Stadium with a giant, inflatable teddy as their backdrop, don’t say we didn’t warn you. ■

Taken from the December 2022 / January 2023 edition of Dork.

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