Interview: Hollis Brown

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“We got started in a garage in Queens, New York in 2009,” laughs Mike Montali of roots rock outfit Hollis Brown as we relaxed on a bench outside of the American Legion in East Nashville during this year’s AmericanaFest. Montali and fellow band member Jonathan Bonilla met in high school, and began to write music. “We said, ‘well, now we have songs, we need to get a band together’,” he continues. “We started sneaking into clubs in New York to play, started packing out rooms, ventured to play in places like Philadelphia and D.C. Now we’ve got three albums out and we’re about to do our fifth European tour.”

Hollis Brown recorded their latest album, Cluster Of Pearls, in Nashville with producer Adam Landry (Lilly Hiatt, T. Hardy Morris) at his studio, Playground Sound. “We recorded our first record with him also, he’s great. Working with Adam goes by quickly; when we record, we do it live with very few edits. Adam believes, and so do we, that editing to try to perfect recordings in the studio dehumanizes everything, and makes it sound so sterile. He doesn’t do digital platforms, we recorded everything right to tape. You are who you are, and you play how you play, it really whips us into shape when we work with him,” explains Montali. “It’s raw and spontaneous. He has a way of giving good songs a vintage sound with modern flair.”

Montali acknowledges that while New York has a deep and rich folk scene and a booming rock community, Hollis Brown doesn’t necessarily fit into those niches. “We’re like edgy roots rock–that’s not really the trend in New York right now, but that’s okay with us. We’re just trying to write great music and do what’s authentic to us, what makes us feel good about being on stage. We’ve tried to put ourselves in a position where we’re in charge of our own destiny and in charge of our creativity,” he says. “We do what’s in our hearts first.”

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Susan Hubbard

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