by Melissa Caruso
[I]t seems like just yesterday that Hollis Brown was playing their hearts out all around NYC’s seedy dive bar and club scene to a mere handful fans. Now, with both a solo European tour and a North American tour with the Zombies under their belt, as well as a brand new album, the band seems to have climbed the ladder of rock ‘n‘ roll stardom to exciting heights.
The band’s new record, 3 Shots, which was produced by Don Dilego at his Velvet Elk home studio in the Pocono Mountains and mixed by studio stalwart John Agnello (Bob Dylan, Kurt Vile, Dinosaur Jr.) at Brooklyn’s Fluxivity Recording, finds the guys reflecting on heavier issues than compared to 2013’s joyride Ride On The Train. Take the title track, for instance, a shocking realization of society’s relationship with violence, most evident in the song’s dissonant keyboard. “‘3 Shots’ is how we’re so desensitized to tragedies,” Montali explained. Columbine was huge; the world stood still that year, but afterwards, it seems that we’ve become used to such forms of violence… Virginia Tech, movie theaters, Connecticut elementary schools. Clearly, it’s a song that’s been marinating in Montali and guitarist Jonathan Bonilla’s minds for quite some time. In fact, it’s one of the very first songs the two wrote, all the way back in high school. Given such a long working history, the chemistry that exists between these two is undeniable, and becomes all the more intriguing as the album unfolds. “Wait For Me Virginia” bleeds with raw emotion, highlighting producer Adam Landry’s (Deer Tick, Diamond Rugs) vision, while “Highway One” showcases Nashville’s leading lady Nikki Lane, who offers a heartfelt duet with Montali. A conversation between two ex-lovers who reunite 40 years later, the track vacillates between reality and what could have been.
Perhaps the album’s most exciting track is “Rain Dance,” a unique endeavor built around a previously unreleased rhythm track, first crafted by Bo Diddley in his home studio. Hollis Brown was approached by Diddley’s representatives and offered the opportunity to work with the coveted material. Of course they jumped at the offer. “Just hearing his demos was cool enough,” Montali gushed. With “Rain Dance,” the band takes on a funky tribal strut replete with chants reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk.” Montali explained the pressures, as well as the advantages, of having to complete the track in a day’s length. “I like to work under pressure, to make decisions on the fly,” he explained, because, “If you constantly go back to something, you end up in a rut. This is what it is. The song is still going to shine if it’s a good song.”
So far, nobody’s complaining. After a successful SXSW run and a song premiere via Relix, Hollis Brown continues to round up fans across state lines. In the ensuing months, they look forward to tours with Gringo Star, Citizen Cope and Counting Crows. On the upcoming Counting Crows tour, I couldn’t resist asking, “Any cool fuckin’ venues on that list you get to play, like Red Rocks?” I asked frontman Mike Montali during our interview. “Actually,” he laughs, “fuckin’ Red Rocks.” The most exciting thing about revisiting venues on the stretch of road that lies before them is the opportunity to reflect on their growth. “It’s great to be able to come to certain places where we had previously played to only 50 people,” said Montali. It’s also great to cross off some of those bucket list item venues off the list like Red Rocks.
So what is it that finally put Hollis Brown on the map? Who cares. Point is, we’re all hooked. See what I mean this Wednesday at Webster Hall as Hollis Brown celebrates the release of 3 Shots.
Just remember boys, New York loved you first.