Great Peacock, Hollis Brown
Friday, Aug. 19, with doors at 9 p.m.
The Merry Widow, 51 S. Conception St., www.themerrywidow.net
Tickets: $12, available at venue and its website
It is 3:30 on a Friday afternoon, and Hollis Brown has just pulled into its hotel room in Tampa before heading to the evening’s gig. For the past few weeks, this five-piece from Queens, New York, has been bringing its soulful style of roots rock to the Southeast. According to vocalist/guitarist Mike Montali, the band’s tour schedule has filled its members’ lives with late nights, early mornings and long drives. Even though Montali admits Hollis Brown is in dire need of a day off, he also knows life couldn’t get much better, with its members already anticipating The Merry Widow audience’s response.
“We’re playing every night, but it’s been really good,” Montali said. “We’ve gotten a lot of support from people around us who are helping us be a little more comfortable out here. It’s been a great trip, and we’ve gotten to meet a lot of good people and play a lot of good places that we’ve never been before.”
Tampa is a long way from the band’s home, where Montali and guitarist Johnathan Bonilla first began conceptualizing Hollis Brown’s sound. As songs came into being, the duo formulated a common thread throughout each. Every track echoed an unblemished form of American rock ‘n’ roll.
Montali and Bonilla also recruited three musicians from across America. Cleveland’s Andrew Zehnal brought his drum beat. Bostonian Scott Thompson laid down bass lines. St. Louis native Adam Bock completed the group with his keys.
Taking a cue from The Rolling Stones, the band sought a musical inspiration for its name. The members’ creative bond with Bob Dylan and his song “Ballad of Hollis Brown” led them to choose the name.
“Hollis Brown seemed like it was more of an identity,” Montali said. “It’s giving five different people in the band the same name.”
With the lineup complete, the group’s new-generation take on a traditional rock sound resulted in a beautiful finished product. However, the modern music scene across the Five Boroughs seems to concentrate more on indie and experimental rock so while Hollis Brown found an audience, Montali says they never found their niche. Touring has been the band’s salvation in finding an extensive fan base.
“Sonically, I don’t know if we fit exactly into that world,” Montali said. “So, I think we’re still searching for that. We make the music that we make and write what we write and try. We tour a lot, and we’ve had the chance to get out of being a New York band. I think that’s shaped our sound also.”
While its sound may be shaped by tradition, Hollis Brown recognizes the new business model for a music industry that Montali describes as a “single-driven world.” Montali says the constant release of new material is a way of expanding and maintaining a listening audience. While the band’s discography boasts three full-lengths and a Lou Reed tribute, Hollis Brown knows the power of the EP.
Montali explains that sometimes exclusively releasing full-lengths can result in too much time between new tracks. Instead of releasing 12 songs at once, the group would rather give its fans a steady supply of new music, keeping material fresh and the audience growing with mini-releases and the occasional full-length.
“I think it’s important for us; it’s more about constantly releasing music and being active and prolific and [to] keep putting stuff out there for people to hear and not getting stale,” Montali said. “We don’t want to be playing the same songs in our setlist for three or four years. Constantly releasing music is important for us.”
“Cluster of Pearls” is Hollis Brown’s latest means of keeping new material in the public ear. Originally this EP was a special Record Store Day release with a limited number of psychedelic purple vinyl copies for public consumption. However, the reception of this album led the band to release “Cluster of Pearls” in a digital format.
While two of the EP’s tracks are new, four songs are previously unreleased, recorded during the session that resulted in the band’s 2013 release “Ride on the Train.” Montali says Hollis Brown originally recorded 17 songs for the album. As they began to sift through the tracks for keepers, the band found four that did not fit with the effort’s dominant sound.
“It wasn’t about whether it was a good song or not,” Montali said. “It just could be the vibe didn’t fit the other songs. We had all these songs in the vault, and we were like, ‘Alright, let’s clear them out.’ They seemed to work well together as a separate batch from the original album.”
The EP’s title track is one of the four songs snatched from the past. The upbeat track is filled with a sporadic musical contrast that makes the song memorable. Thompson and Zehnal keep the rhythm energetic with a steady rock beat as Montali shifts back and forth from smooth croons and rhythmic verbal flow. According to Montali, this song is dedicated to the plethora of coming-of-age stories literature has given the world. From works such as “A Streetcar Named Desire” to characters such as Scheherazade, the song reflects the nature of change in art that is reflected in the real world.
“It’s about learning from your mistakes and pushing through to adulthood,” Montali said. “A cluster of pearls are a visual image to show a group of things are all little jewels that need to be discovered, in a way.”
“Hey Baby” is one of the new tracks. This song shows Hollis Brown getting back to rock ‘n’ roll’s blues roots, but infused with new attitude. For Hollis Brown, blues serves as the foundation for a number of genres. To authenticate this song, the band traveled to Nashville to record. When it began, Montali said, this “boogie” came from the band’s desire to “have fun and play music in a room.”
After they complete their American tour, Hollis Brown will travel to Europe to promote “Cluster of Pearls.” As far as the next release, Montali says the road is “good practice” for new material. The band learned early on that the best way to mold songs into a final form is to perform them in a live setting. Montali hopes the upcoming tour schedule inspires the band to create new songs, and that by the end of the tour Hollis Brown will have enough new material for another full-length album.