Nov. 17--On Jan. 1, 2011, John Cranford and his bandmates Phillip Sirmans and Eric Reid decided to quit their jobs and work on their music full time.
Although the trio was excited about the prospect of being professional musicians, the endeavor quickly lost its luster. Two months after their resolution, the group found itself on the road with $2 in their pockets trying to figure out what they could eat and how to make it to their next gig. It made them rethink their New Year's decision.
But regardless of how tough times got, the group never gave up on their passion for music. Now they are playing shows multiple times a week -- sometimes even multiple times a day -- and released their second album in October. Cranford Hollow, which is led by 2003 Eau Claire Memorial graduate Cranford and based out of Hilton Head, S.C., has gone from a band that played at local bars to a band that has played 750 shows in the past three years.
"It just ended up working for us," Cranford said. "We found our music appealed to a mass audience. We weren't necessarily good, but we could entertain a wide variety of people of all different ages. We started to be able to get a lot of gigs and that's the magical thing about this whole journey is that now we're gainfully employed as musicians."
Cranford Hollow -- which was originally called Cranford and Sons, but the band changed its name after many listeners got confused and thought the band was a cover band for the popular Mumford and Sons -- released their first album about a year and a half ago. The first record took them only nine days to complete, which is a vast difference from their sophomore album.
The self-titled album, "Cranford Hollow," took nine months to complete. Cranford described the music as Americana and that the style pulls from a multitude of sources. Cranford, Reid and Sirmans all contributed to the songwriting as the trio wrote about three or four songs together -- the band also consists of a drummer, Julius DeAngelis, but he was added to the lineup midway through the recording process -- and then each submitted their own songs to the album.
"This is a big step away from our first record," Cranford said. "Our first album stuck to one sound and this one incorporated a lot more. We didn't really say no to any ideas and that helped us put the best product out. I'm really proud of this one."
Cranford said the band's fan base liked the sophomore album right off the bat -- Cranford Hollow plays a weekly gig at a bar in Hilton Head and has established a following in the area. But the most important reaction to Cranford was that his grandmother and mother -- who worked for the Eau Claire School District for 30 years -- truly enjoyed the album. He said their approval means more to him than anything.
"Cranford Hollow" was recorded and produced by Greg Critchley at The Sound in Hilton Head and the producer is just as thrilled with the final product as the band and the fans are.
"I am entirely pleased with how the album turned out," Critchley said. "I think it's killer. It's a great representation of this group. It shows where they're headed with one toe in where they've been. It's mature and it fits them."
The band has now been together for about three years -- with the exception of DeAngelis, who joined after the original drummer stepped away.
Each year, Cranford Hollow has gotten more and more gigs at bigger venues. During the summer, Cranford said the group can play as many as nine shows a week. And the biggest reason for that, he said, is because the group had a passion to play and made sure to "kill" every show in an attempt to continue getting booked.
"Hunger is the biggest factor," Cranford said. "We all wanted to succeed at something. For me, I didn't graduate college and I had been working a monotonous job as a chef. We were tough and determined and played as much as we could. It was hard, it was stressful, but slowly but surely things started to happen to us. The fact that we're starting to be recognized in not our hometown means we're heading in the right direction."
With the release of their second album and their growing success and popularity in the Southeast, Cranford Hollow was picked up by a booking agency out of Denver and has a tour slated in the West for December.
Cranford, who moved to South Carolina in 2008, hopes the now-national exposure will help him get back to play in Eau Claire sometime soon. He has never played a gig in his hometown and he said it would "make his life" if he were able to play a Friday night set at House of Rock on Water Street. Although he can't guarantee anything, he hopes to get back to Wisconsin with his band sometime during 2014.
And even if the members of Cranford Hollow can't guarantee anything about the band's future, their producer certainly believes their recently released album will open up a lot of doors for the group.
"This record opens them up to a national audience instead of just a regional one," Critchley said. "They're no longer sentenced to being just a regional success."
Syrstad can be reached at 715-833-9206, 800-236-7077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c)2013 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)
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