An Interview with Hollis Brown
Hollis Brown – the Queens based rock and roll band in every sense of the word made up of Mike Montali (guitarist/lead vocals,) and Jonathan Bonilla (guitar,) – long time high school friends and Dillon Devito (bass/backing vocals) Andrew Zehnal, (drummer) Adam Bock (piano/backing vocals) – whom they acquired from the New York music scene – have been on the road since South by Southwest in Austin last March. During that time, they’ve opened (separately) for the Zombies and the Heartless Bastards in the U.S and traveled across Europe for a solo tour, selling out shows in Madrid and playing for 4,000 in the Netherlands. Currently, they’re opening for Rich Robinson across the east coast.
“We have a much bigger fan base in Europe. When we go to Europe, it’s more of a thing,” Montali explained.
“We do better out there – that’s where we have a bigger fan base so it’s a little easier touring out there. Here, we’re trying to open for bands so it’s been a little more – I mean, it’s not our headlining show, you know you don’t get the accommodations as you would,” he continued.
It was their second time touring in Europe (they toured the Netherlands last year after releasing Ride the Train) but first full tour.
“I think we’re all feeling the time to just, to get home and write the next record and record it because we’ve been touring a lot this year. It’s incredible we get to see the world but I think the jet-lag is starting to set in – a little bit,” Montali said.
Yet, there was not a sign of constant touring on the boys’ faces onstage at Havana in New Hope, Pa. Instead, they gave a full energy show – complete with long guitar and piano solo’s, and a crisp sound. Lead singer Montali, with back-up vocals TK and TK, howling to melodies that could just as easily been played in New York circa 1976. Which is all you can really hope for from a band named after a Bob Dylan ballad.
The crew was all smiles during the show – Bock was air-guitaring when he wasn’t playing and Montali easily joked around with the crowd: when one attendee yelled out, ‘Are you guys brothers?’ he responded quickly, ‘No…wait which one’s?’ (Montali and Devito look almost identical with his recently shaved head.)
They played through most of their album, Ride the Train, which was released by Natural Sound (The Black Keys) last March and produced by Adam Landry (Deer Tick).
They recorded the album at Landry’s house in Nashville, Tennessee.
“We were really excited because it was our first time trying to make like a legit album. We went down to Nashville and we pretty much just stay around his house for ten or twelve days. He has a studio in his backyard so it was very comfortable, very laid back. We were just really tuned in to music. We did it all live off the analogue tape so what you hear is what you get – even the vocals were recorded live with the band as well. So it was a very organic process,” Montali said.
“We are really proud of the record. I think its the best record I’ve heard in a really long time,” he said about the finished product. He cited “any great American songwriting” like the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan, and Creedence Clearwater as influences.
And you can hear all of that on the album – blues, folk, country, and most prominently – rock and roll. Blues jam like “Doghouse Blues,” only sound better live and and softer melodies like “Faith and Love” or “When the Weather’s Warm,” which drips with emotion (“There are times when you look in your mirror, what you find can change your life. And baby when it’s getting near dawn,that’s when I want you to come on back home) were meant for the stage.
The real winner of the set was the new track – “Sweet Sandy Girl,” a fast-paced ballad about getting the best out of life that will get you excited about the new album.
At the end of their set, they left the stage to hang by the merch table and meet up with some old friends from Queens (one whose mother just happened to live a couple of blocks from the venue.)
Not available for purchase at the table (but is available on iTunes) is Hollis Brown Gets Loaded – a track for track retention of the Velvet Underground’s Loaded, that they created for Record Store Day last year, as part of a homage to the pre-punk music scene in New York. They sold out of the 500 copies they printed.
“Record sales are a taking a dump and in order to keep we need to keep musicians and people involved in music – you need to keeps engineers and people making records employed. Art is an important thing. We were happy to be a part of it and that’s why we wanted to to do something different and we didn’t just want to put a record out for Record Store day so we did Loaded for fun and it was a fun thing just to do for us. We love that album and we love the idea of it and it was fun to help the record shops and get involved it,” Montali said.
Hollis Brown has shows coming up in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York.
Montali is particularly excited about a show at The Lot LIC in Queens on September 6, which is on the street he grew up on Crescent Street. (His house is on the same street on the other side of the neighborhood.)
After this tour is over, Mike hints the band is ready to take a touring brake and record all of the new songs that they’re been working on. He can’t say too much about it, but he suggests the record will be released early next year and will be trying to expand upon the sound they created for Gets Loaded.
And then, of course, they’ll be back on the road.
Official website: http://hollisbrown.com