Hollis Brown Hopes to Introduce Itself to Miami at Bayfront Park

Hollis Brown hopes to introduce themselves to Bayfront Park.
Hollis Brown hopes to introduce themselves to Bayfront Park.
Photo by Becky Yee

Thanks to Bob Dylan, plenty of rock and roll fans are familiar with the name Hollis Brown. His 1964 hit, “Ballad of Hollis Brown,” is the dark tale of a South Dakota farmer who escapes poverty by killing his family and then himself. These days however, Hollis Brown is a name that casts a much, much brighter light over music audiences everywhere.

Hollis Brown is a New York based five-piece that encompasses all of the passion and melody of Dylan's songwriting with touches of The Allman Brothers, Dawes, Elton John, Johnny Cash, and the Beatles – the band is over the place in terms of influence, but in a very good way. They combine country-fried southern rock with the pop sensibilities of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.

Hollis Brown has released three albums to date including last year's Hollis Brown Gets Loaded, a song-for-song recreation of The Velvet Underground’s 1970 classic, Loaded, created specifically for Record Store Day. Beginning this Thursday, Hollis Brown will be promoting their latest LP, 3 Shots, as the opening act for Counting Crows at Miami's Bayfront Park Amphitheatre. We spoke to frontman and lead vocalist Mike Montali about the upcoming national tour and some of the more interesting aspects of the group's new record.

New Times: Were you guys fans of Counting Crows growing up?
Mike Montali: Yeah, actually when I was growing up, that first record I really liked a lot, August and Everything After. I think Adam Duritz is an especially great songwriter. We're big fans of songwriting and songwriters. This will be real cool. It's our first real chance to be on stage at these big amphitheatres.

Let's talk about the new album, 3 Shots. It's named after the second track on the record. Why that title?
The song itself is about violence in America, but it obviously has the pun about three shots while you're out drinking. It's kind of our third record, that had something to do with it. We were really happy with that song and wanted to lead with it. I like albums that are named after songs. That was one of the first songs Jon [Bonilla, guitarist] and I ever wrote and we put it aside for a number of years. We never could get it right. We decided to revisit it and for some it started working. 

What's different about this album?
The new record was produced by Don Dilego, we went up to his house in the Poconos for like two weeks and we recorded it there. We really had to reach deeper than the first record. The second [record] is the Loaded one — I don't even know if that counts as a record, and yeah, this one has a little more depth, it's a little edgier, a little more topical, a little more mature.

One of the tracks, “Rain Dance” is a collaboration with the late, great Bo Diddley who passed away in 2008. The song is the result of one of his demos with Hollis Brown filling in the blanks. What was the estate's reaction to the finished product?
They were looking for somebody to continue the greatness of Bo Diddley. They want to keep Bo's name out in public life, show his influence still all these years later. I guess they're trying to get some young bands and maybe we were the guinea pigs. And they loved it. It was hands on. We were all there working together.

What do you think he'd say of the outcome?
I hope he'd like it. We didn't stray too much from his feel. For us the feel was the Bo Diddley feel. We wanted to make sure that lyrically, conceptually, we'd do him justice. You can only hope. 

Tell me about your Spanglish number, “Mi Amor.” How did that come about?
Ah, the Spanglish of “Mi Amor.” We'd just finished our first European tour. I had a week off from the tour and my girl flew out and we spent the week in Paris. I was walking around the city looking for inspiration everywhere and nothing was coming to me so I went to the Salvador Dali Museum in Montmartre and I saw this painting, “Girl at a Window.” I said, oh, it would be cool to write a song about a painting and that happened to be the one that I picked. It's supposed to be about a sister and them spending the summer in Spain. I love the Beatles and I always wanted to write a song like “Michelle” that has a French chorus. I wanted to do that, but in Spanish and make it tie into the imagery.

Do you speak Spanish?
No, I speak Italian, but not Spanish. I wasn't sure if I got it right.

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So somebody helped you with that?
Maybe Google Translate at the time [Laughs].

This record is incredibly diverse in its sound, bouncing back and forth between blues, country, folk, pop, and roots rock. Is there a song on 3 Shots that you feel gets to the heart of the album?
Oh boy, that's really interesting. For me it would have to be maybe “John Wayne” or maybe “The Ballad of Mr. Rose.” Those are our best moments for me. But I don't know. It's hard for me to pick; they're all my babies. My gut says “John Wayne." It has a ballad moment, but it can also kick you in the face dynamically.

Is there anything else you'd like music fans to know about Hollis Brown?
Yeah, I'd like them to know that we're the best band out there [Laughs]. We're trying to be authentic to an American sound and we're working hard and trying to get it out to people. 

Counting Crows with Citizen Cope and Hollis Brown. 7 p.m.Thursday, July 30, at Bayfront Park Amphitheatre, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305­-358-­7550; bayfrontparkmiami.com. Tickets cost $35 to $195 via livenation.com.

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