There’s lots going on for Hobo Chang this week, with the release of their new EP and a headline show at Colchester Arts Centre on Friday. I got the opportunity to ask them all about it.

Hello, Hobo Chang. It’s great to catch up with you all. For those who might be new to your music, can you tell us a bit about the origins of the band and how you all came together?

It was in 1999 that Hobo Chang was born, although there was no singer, and it was just instrumental stuff, a jam band, really. The name comes from a Captain Beefheart album, Trout Master Replica; there’s a song on there called Hobo Chang Ba; Nick, I think, came up with that. Then, in 2000, Fiona saw them playing at the Wivenhoe Nayfair. She said to herself, “Mmmm, they are quite good, but they need a singer”, and thought no more of it until she was off her rocker at a party in the woods a few months later. She met the bass player at the time, Tom, who said, “I hear you are a singer; we need a singer to come and have a jam.” The rest is history.

The original lineup was Fiona Harmon. Nick Munt,  Phil Pain, Tom Frankish and Andy Kearton. in true rock in roll style. The band has taken on many forms, line up changes, dramas and loss over the years, but since Polly, Tom, Ian, and Mary joined the band, it just got better and better. It sounds cliche, but we are a musical family. We have all been through a lot, and we all have stuck by each other.

Your sound is described as experimental and authentic, with roots in blues, jazz, reggae, and rock. How do you blend these diverse influences to create the unique sound of Hobo Chang?

“The sound comes from each individual person’s musical feel and vibe without sounding too pretentious, but I suppose I’m going to; we literally vibe off each other, and that’s what comes out. On stage, on record, or in a rehearsal, it’s not complex; it’s organic and not too serious. Our musical influences drip through into the mix, and it comes out like Hobo Chang.”

Fiona, as the band’s vocalist, how do you approach your role in bringing the band’s eclectic sound to life?

“I literally just open my mouth and sing from my guts, and I’m lucky the vocals fit, and they all like it.”

Nick Munt was a founding member and an integral part of Hobo Chang. His passing was a huge loss for the band and all of us in the local music community. Can you share some of your fondest memories of making music with Nick and how his influence continues to shape your music?

“There’s not a day that goes by or a gig that we do that we don’t look on stage for him; obviously, he’s not there, and it’s so tough, but he will always be part of us. Fondest memories are hard as they will always be bittersweet, but memories of being in the same room as him, hanging out, jamming and writing, having a laugh, taking the mick out of each other and having massive arguments about who was right and who was wrong, all in good faith though. he is missed greatly. And we know he would be proud of what we are achieving musically right now.”

Polly, you’re a key part of the band’s rhythm section. How has being in the Hobo Chang differed from fronting your own band?

“I think the main difference is Tom (Drummer) gets to see more of my face and less of my back… but in all seriousness, playing in a rhythm section has given me a better understanding of lots of things – band dynamics, groove, experience with different music styles – which in turn has actually helped my own band-  some songs for my band I start writing on bass now which wouldn’t have happened years ago. I think I’m coming up to a good few years in Hobo Chang now, so the bass and I are part of the furniture, and I’m looking forward to the new release, which features some strong and groovy bass lines.”

Phil, your keyboard and Rhodes contributions add a distinct flavour to Hobo Chang’s music. Can you talk about your musical background and how you approach creating the band’s signature sound?

“Classical training with rigorous theory, then I learned to play by ear in my teens and undid all the good work by daring to play jazz (shock, horror….I hear you say). I try to use a free, relatively improvisatory style as much as possible but also with a disciplined use of stricter linear structures and often with the addition of seventh chords (both major and minor), which gives the music a flavour of jazz and blues.”

Tom, as the drummer, you provide the backbone for Hobo Chang’s performances. What do you find most exciting about playing live, and how do you keep the energy high during shows?

“For me, doing live shows is exciting, especially when you find yourself playing in the pocket (drum talk for being locked in) with the other performers. There’s nothing quite like that unspoken synergy that manifests itself when you’re playing a live show.

I have been known to keep the band on their toes, maybe throwing in an ad-hoc stop or breakdown to keep the energy going. I think the audience picks up on the little nuances that only happen in a live show, and that definitely catches their attention!”

Ian, you joined the band on guitar after Nick. How has it been stepping into such a significant role, and what do you bring to Hobo Chang’s musical landscape?

“Stepping into the role was daunting to begin with, as I had to learn how to play the parts that Nick had written. Nick was a very good guitarist, and trying to sound like him has been challenging.

It certainly helped to know Nick personally before taking on the role; we were good friends from school and stayed good friends throughout our adult lives. He used to come and jam with me every once in a while. It was from those jam sessions that he’d tell me interesting facts about how he went about composing music and how to play reggae, ska, and dub.  I owe a lot of my musical prowess to him.

I have often had people remark to me that after joining the band, I have “some large shoes to fill”, but I knew Nick personally, and his feet weren’t that big.

I try to get what I play to fit in as best as possible. The tracks that we wrote for the new EP were all a collaboration, and they were created during jam sessions with the other members of the band present. A couple of these songs were borne from ideas for songs that I created on my iPad which were then  developed by us all in jam sessions.”

Mary, you play sax and flute, and provide backing vocals for Hobo Chang. You were also part of the much-loved local band Top Deck All Stars. It’s great to see you back on stage; how does this experience compare with the Top Deck All Stars days?

“I’ve known and guested with Hobo Chang on and off for many years, so it feels very comfortable. Like the Allstars, they never fail to get people dancing, and that’s what I love!”

Your forthcoming gig at Colchester Arts Centre on Friday, 12th July, promises to be a good one. What can fans expect from this performance?

“Hobo Chang being Hobo Chang”

You’ve had the opportunity to perform with some legendary artists like The Beat, Lee Scratch Perry, Toots & The Maytals, and John Cooper Clarke. How have these experiences influenced your music and performance style?

“Getting compliments from established artists means a lot. We have been super lucky to have played with so many wonderful artists. It’s given us confidence, and we feel like a proper band. I mean, who wouldn’t like being told by the late Lee Scratch Perry that you are great and that we should record together?”

Your latest EP, “Eulogy”, is also being released on Friday. What can you tell us about the inspiration behind this EP and how it differs from your previous work?

“It’s the first music released since Nick died, and it’s the first time we have all co-wrote together; it feels special, and we are really proud of the new songs.”

The band has been through some tough times, yet you continue to make music and perform. What drives you to keep going?

“Writing and performing are who we all are, and as long as we are putting out good songs and people want to see us, we will keep at it.”

Finally, what’s next for Hobo Chang after the Colchester Arts Centre gig? Are there any new projects or gigs we can look forward to?

“We have a few more songs to record, a few gigs are on the horizon, some festivals next year, videos, press and bits and pieces to do, so we will be busy.”

Hobo Chang’s latest EP, Eulogy, is out on Friday, 12th July. The band also plays Colchester Arts Centre on the same day, supported by Templeheads. Tickets are available.

Hobo Chang

Hobo Chang

Nick Munt

Nick Munt