by Ben Krieger
The Hollows are a 5-piece band from Brooklyn who specialize in the multi-part harmony, instrument-swapping, kitchen sink approach that the band made famous. Formed in 2009, the group has developed a solid local following, due to their energetic live shows, which despite lacking a drummer keep the audience’s toes tapping nonstop.
In June of 2010 you had a residency at Pete’s Candy Store. Can you talk a bit about the how you developed your fan base leading up to that event?
JEFF: That June was actually our second residency at Pete’s, the first being Tuesdays in December of 2009— where sometimes there would be five people in the crowd sometimes twenty. Basically, we learned that there was no such thing as a built-in audience— but back then, it was just as much about playing shows at all. We played every show we could get our hands on about thirty or forty in our first year. Pete’s was kind enough to ask us back in June 2010 on Saturdays at 11, a prime slot. At this point we were trying to be a bit savvier with social media, YouTube, and an official website, thehollowsonline.com. The best we could do to get people to shows was to let them know what we were working on, what our schedule was, et cetera. Consistent updates kept the momentum going and kept people checking back to see what was new. Shortly before the 2010 residency, we’d also embarked on a small tour, which is around the time we started sending a mailing list around at shows. It helps to be able to send personalized messages directly to mailboxes as opposed to blanket invites on sites like Facebook and Twitter. The bottom line is we try to keep our fans informed and involved with us as we grow and try to use every medium at our disposal to do so. The album, Belong to the Land, is the next step in that process— it’ll be the first time that we have a piece of ourselves and our music to offer our fan base outside of a live performance.
With all five members contributing to the songwriting process, is there also a shared vision for what you hope the audience gets from your material?
ERIK: In our creative process there isn’t a whole lot of attention paid to how our material will be received, but instead we try to be integrated and specific with one another about the message(s) and aesthetics that we are promoting. Once an artist begins to cater to his/her audience, it’s contradictory to the fundamental principles of any artistic endeavor: trying to inspire people by openly expressing one’s world view, having a sense of the “whole”, trying to tap into universal truths about hope, fear, joy, lust, triumph, anguish, forgiveness…the list goes on. As far as the collaborative process is concerned, the most successful orchestrations of our material happen by committee and also a commitment to digging into the dialogue we have with one another. We are an ensemble from start to finish, with no defined roles. It can be frustrating at times to be so nebulous, but in the end, our trust in each other helps us to listen to the pulse of the group rather than any of its individual parts. The overall aesthetic we are driving towards is in every way a product of five individuals working together toward a common goal.
To me, your live performances always come across like melodic, fiery hoedowns. In terms of the debut recording, did you try to emulate this energy or take a different route?
DAN: For recording we went upstate and were mostly by ourselves. We did have an exceptional group of visitors that made everything feel like home and that helped a great deal— but really, unless you have all those people from a live audience there with you in the studio, it’s hard to recreate that energy. We did record a bunch of close friends and fans in Jeff’s apartment for a song called “Sticks and Stones,” and their presence— singing, dancing, shouting, playing— really made the track into something that we feel is magical and special. Live shows and recordings are two completely different mediums and it will always be a struggle to marry the two. This is definitely a studio album. We wanted something that was a little different from our live shows, but it’s a compass that hopefully leads more people to our live shows, and then they can sweat, curse, drink, dance, and make merry with us. What we do in a live show is try to show people how much we genuinely love playing together, and share that passion with our audience. And I think when you see anybody achieve that onstage it’s infectious. None of us were musicians by trade. We’re all actors, and I think our idea of performance is different from a lot of bands. Most important is the idea that none of us belong to a genre, individually or as a group, be it the band or any of our fans. Everyone has their own story to tell, and that necessitates a certain amount of freedom and letting go of definitions we’ve never really felt the need to seriously define our music. We’re very lucky that a lot of different-sounding songs and stories happen to live together quite well— you’ll hear dirge songs and murder ballads, raucous celebratory marches, love songs, promise songs, break-up songs, rock, blues, country, folk, roots music, orchestral music— we will barrel through anything and take you along with us. We aren’t asking you to hone in on any certain kind of sound or mood. Everyone is a songwriter in this group and we have to respect and embrace where everyone’s inspiration is coming from. We have a saying: “together together,” and whether it’s a live show or an album, at the end of the day we believe that and we couldn’t have gotten to wherever it is we are without everyone believing in that sentiment. If you listen to this album or come to a show, then you’re a part of that too: “together together.”
You used Kickstarter to raise nearly $10,000 to record this record with nearly 200 backers–way over your $6,000 goal. Can you talk about the work that went into this successful fundraiser?
DAVE: We’re so grateful to everyone who put their trust and support behind us and really made this record happen. At first, we weren’t sure if it was going to happen at all, let alone be as above-and-beyond successful as it was. Kickstarter offers a great platform to build on, and it gave us a lot of ideas about ways to keep people excited and interested in the project (sending updates, offering advance copies of the album, sharing “sneak peeks” of recordings-in-progress, and so on). A lot of what Jeff said about developing our fan base rings true here as well— constantly keeping people informed and updated: at live shows, in personal conversation, the internet… self-promotion can be a difficult task, and it’s easy to feel like you’re bugging people. But in the end it was really thanks to our friends and fans who believed in us— some who had only heard a home recording on MySpace or something some who may have never heard us at all, but were aware of just how hard we were working to get ourselves out there— who helped spread the word and helped us reach way beyond our initial goal. The majority of our donors only pledged about twenty dollars per person, so it was really just a wonderful example of people banding together and sharing an excitement for something that we asked them to believe in. We couldn’t be more honored and we can’t wait to give something back that will hopefully show all the love and gratitude we’ve received and tried to channel directly into this recording. “Together together.”
Are there any approaches (new instruments, etc) that you haven’t tried yet but would like to attempt at some point?
ROB: We’re blessed to have so many multi-instrumentalists in our band. Since we all write songs, the influence of a variety of instruments can really rub off on the type of song we’re working on. We’re definitely the sort of group who likes a challenge if one of us wants to write a blues song on slide guitar, we all embrace that impulse, even if slide guitar isn’t a staple instrument or the blues our most familiar song framework. At the same time, The Hollows are still a young band, and the songs on Belong to the Land definitely represent a first phase of creativity together as a group. There’s a very exciting tone to the newer material we’ve been kicking around since then rather than saying it’s more complex (which it arguably is), I’d say that everyone’s writing and playing is becoming more specific. In a lot of cases, this actually makes the material simpler. We love to make a hard-hitting, concrete-block-to-the-face sound with songs like “Youngblood” and “Whiskey and Wine,” or a really ornate and layered sound like on “Basilica,” but the flip side of that is the fascinating thing that happens when you hear a sparse song that is nothing more than wind blowing through leaves. We’re finding a nice sense of breath and space within songs, which I hope draws the listener in it invites the audience to become a part of the world that the lyrics are painting. The members of The Hollows will probably always be switching instruments between each other at live shows, but I think there’s an encouraging amount of growth and creativity flowing up from the wellspring of a simpler sound, a real lived-in comfort and knowledge that comes from sticking with one or two instruments instead of four or five. Less really is more.