Hollis Brown with guests Great Peacock coming to Jack Rabbits

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Growing up in New York, the members of Hollis Brown learned to write from life whether it was sitting in a garage playing Zappa, Bowie and Reed records on a continuous, hazy loop or modeling the reverent lyrical tones of folk forefathers like Paul Simon and Bob Dylan who walked the same city streets.

Named for the Bob Dylan song “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” from his 1964 album, “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” Hollis Brown pays homage to the heroes in songs structured from the ancestral bones, whispers of history swirling like a dust cloud and coming to rest on the strings that play on in their name.

Vocally, singer Mike Montali sounds like a throwback between Roy Orbison and Buddy Holley and Hollis Brown has been described as sounding “just as alive today as it would’ve been in 1966 and will 40 years from now.”

“We have some aggressive sounds that are hard rock or punk influence. We also have some singer songwriter stuff. But that’s also what New York is. It’s a melting pot of so many different sounds and styles. We just try to be a sponge I guess and soak it in,” he says. “You don’t know what you’re going to create until you just do it,” says Montali. “It’s weird being an artist sometimes because you’re instinct just takes you where it takes you and you just have to follow the ride and be responsive and open to creating what is coming out of you naturally and not trying to force it.”

Montali spoke with EU Jacksonville at the start of a three-month tour, kicking off in Asbury Park, NJ and heading west for a three-week run. “We have a few festivals we’re doing in September and the Americana Fest in Nashville then we go to Europe for four weeks after that,” he says. “We’re just excited to get back out on tour and work on new stuff. Hopefully we have a good run.”

“It’s weird being an artist sometimes because you’re instinct just takes you where it takes you and you just have to follow the ride and be responsive and open to creating what is coming out of you naturally and not trying to force it.”

Hollis Brown with guests Great Peacock will take the stage Aug. 14 at Jack Rabbits. Tickets are $10 in advance.

When laying the groundwork for the third album, Mike Montali says the band decided to get out of the way and let the new material soak in the flavors of the road, the characteristics of each venue, the life of the stage and the energy of the bodies in the crowd city after city.

This will be a different kind of tour for Hollis Brown. Rather than divide the touring from the writing, the band will write new material from the road which is a departure from past two albums. Montali says he looking forward to adding a new layer to the bands’ creative process.

“We’re really trying to use this time to focus on writing new material for a new record. The one thing we’ve never really done is written while we’re playing every night and developing the songs in front of a different audience every night. Usually, we kind of have a break when we tour our asses off when recording a record then take a few months and don’t do anything but write and record and make the record how we like it,” he says. “The last two records that we’ve made have been that way and I always feel like there’s a little separation because once we tour the record, we develop the songs even more live. And by the end of the tour, the songs have become something new so we figured let’s try and it a different way this time and develop them while we’re on tour. That way the songs will be developed a different way than just sitting in a room. I think it will be a cool creative process.”

Montali says the goal is to get in the studio once the European tour wraps and have something ready to release next year. While the material will come to life in a decidedly different way, it will still resonate with its signature grit in a nod to the storytellers who paved the way in the early New York music scene.

“We grew up in New York and that’s kind of where we cut our teeth. New York is weird because it has a rich history in folk music and rock music but it’s never been at the forefront of the New York scene.”

“It’s a combination of a lot of things. We grew up in New York and that’s kind of where we cut our teeth. New York is weird because it has a rich history in folk music and rock music but it’s never been at the forefront of the New York scene. It’s always either like an art rock scene or a punk rock scene. Now it seems to be like this Williamsburg Neo-Synth thing but historically, Bob Dylan started in Greenwich Village in New York. I feel like there has always been a rich history of great songwriters coming out of New York like Paul Simon and Simon and Garfunkel and that’s what we’ve aspired to be. We are a ‘song first’ kind of band.”

Each member contributes a unique collection of influences through varied musical background in training and taste. Drummer Andrew Zehnal was originally a jazz drummer. Montali majored in English and wanted to write short stories.

“It just so happened that songs were the best outlet for me to get that stuff across,” he says. “On the last record “3 Shots”, each song had a topic about a social issue or something that I wanted to express through the eyes of different characters. The song “Cathedral” is kind of like a prayer and “3 Shots” is about violence in America. The songs that we’re writing now have a darkness to them. It’s a little meaner and it’s more relatable. The music is a little heavier but the lyrical content isn’t as deep and philosophical,” Montali says.

“We always work on the songwriting aspect and then take it in the direction that we feel comfortable playing. We don’t think too much about trying to fit into this scene or that scene. We just try to put out the best sound that we can. We are all very different in our musical tastes and what we listen to in our own time.”

“There is something about holding vinyl that is not like anything that you can get from clicking on iTunes.”

Montali and guitarist John Bonilla bonded over the trifecta of Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust”, Lou Reed’s “Loaded” and Zappa’s “Freak Out”. “They are all really artistic records but also kind of pop records in a weird way. We really bonded over the sound and the recording styles and, because we live in New York, we always joked that it would be really cool if we announced a show do the “Loaded” record in full just to do it. When Lou Reed passed away, they were throwing benefit and asked us to come and do a song. They had all these artists do one song and we were just like ‘fuck it, let’s do the whole album’.”

The performance got the attention of a record label who contacted the band the following day about issuing a limited release live album for Record Store Day. Only 500 copies of “Hollis Brown Gets Loaded” were pressed and quickly sold out.

“It wasn’t intentional. It just kind of steamrolled. Our most successful records have been record store releases. I like the idea of putting something tangible out into the word. It’s really all I listen to at home and we love doing stuff for record store day because it’s important to keep the music business going. They’re the ones that really bring music to people. There is something about holding vinyl that is not like anything that you can get from clicking on iTunes. It’s not the same experience. You don’t connect to anything.”Mike Montali

About Liza Mitchell