THE BLACK HOLLIES
Fuzzed-out, 1960s rock with hints of old-school soul.
Favorite NYC Venue:
“Definitely not Siberia. And I don’t care if anyone from there reads this and says ‘Who is this fucking asshole? I’ll punch him in his fucking lip.’ Do it, please. That was the worst place I’ve ever fucking played.”
Favorite NYC Bar:
“Any fine establishment with Old Speckled Hen on tap and a good jukebox or a decent DJ spinning what I like to hear.”
After a recent show opening for Ted Leo at Webster Hall, Black Hollies drummer Scott Bolasci performed a Google search to see what people were saying about their set. One of the comments he came across was something to this effect: “Don’t get me wrong — the Black Hollies were really good, but they try way, way, way too hard to pull off that 60s thing. And the singer sounded like he was British, but if I’m not mistaken, he said he was from Jersey City.”
The singer in question is Justin Morey, who is in fact from Jersey City and does in fact rock the occasional British accent. With a hint of embarrassment, he tries to defend himself, explaining that he is married to a “very loving and supportive, pretty British girl,” and that when he’s had a bit too much to drink, he unwittingly adopts her accent. Fair enough, I suppose.
It is without even the slightest hint of embarrassment, though, that Morey cops to his love of the 60s music that shaped the sound and overall aesthetic of the Black Hollies. Growing up with his mother in Jersey City, he was constantly exposed to early soul and British Invasion bands like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. Then, as teenagers often do, he began to stray from those sounds, carving out his own musical identity with the punk and post-hardcore bands that served as the influences for his other full-time band, Rye Coalition. But in 1996, he received as a Christmas present from his mother the recently reissued Nuggets box set, a compilation of lesser-known garage bands from the 60s. “I remember getting into my car and being really excited to hear all these songs that I remembered from my mom’s 45 collection. It sort of blew my mind, and I think that’s what fucked me up. From that point on, I started hunting these things down, trying to find copies for myself because my mom wouldn’t give me any of her records.”
His treasure hunt through garage rock’s past has also given him an appreciation for other aspects of the genre’s identity. Clad in tight-fitting pants and pointy motorcycle boots, and backed by a line of vintage guitar amps that emit blaring, soulful rock tones, Morey and the rest of the band do tend to look like throwbacks. “I don’t think we necessarily pay too much attention to stuff like that,” he says, “but we are concerned about the entire package, in a way. I like that people have referred to us as sharp dressers.” Even when he assures me that he’s aware of what really matters, he does so with such earnestly ornate and flowery language that I can’t help but believe every single word that comes out of his mouth: “You can’t lose sight of the important thing, which is capturing the sounds that you hear in your head and the colors that you see when you play with your eyes closed.”
Visit the Black Hollies Website
Gimmick-free, 80s-influenced rock songs with a modern production style.
Bravo Silva’s press clippings contain no shortage of comparisons to 80s pop bands. And their music does have a vaguely 80s feel to it, though I’ve never been able to pinpoint exactly where it comes from. The rhythm section is solid, but not particularly flashy, while the guitars are tight and admirably restrained, only letting go at the most opportune times. There are no irritating synths to speak of, and certainly no cheesy effects. What there is, though, is an impressive array of utterly brilliant melodies that are immediately memorable, without being sugary. And this, singer Joel Bravo points out, might be where all those vague comparisons stem from. “You find strong melodies in 80s music. The pop songwriting in the 80s was incredibly creative. It’s a decade worth revisiting.”
But still, they don’t want to be known as backward looking. “We’re conscious of the 80s tag. It’s a fair one,” says Joel. “The hope is our next album will move us further away from any sense of revivalism.”
That album might take a little longer to come out than the band would like. They’ve received a healthy amount of internet buzz, and when asked about that early hype as a stellar unsigned band, Bravo concedes, “It’s both helped us and hurt us. We love the independence and the control, but now we’re ready to record again, and we’re hoping to do it in a studio, but we have no money. A label could help with that.”
Considering the strength of their material and their outstanding live shows, it’s hard to believe people won’t be lining up to work with them. Not to mention Paper having recently named Joel and co-founder Henry Silva two of New York City’s most beautiful people. It’s an honor the hirsute Silva takes in stride. “I’ve done some body-hair modeling for MTV and Lexus, so that probably helped.”
Visit the Bravo Silva Website
Sparse, country-tinged folk music.
Megan Reilly’s story starts out just like those of so many other young, aspiring artists who move to New York. At the age of 23, she packed up and left her native Memphis to set up shop in our fair city. Shortly after arriving, she caught the attention of Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley, which is when her story starts to sound unlike most anyone’s you’ve ever heard. Shelley set up her first few shows, and before long she was playing with Tim Foljahn (Two Dollar Guitar), Steve Goulding (the Mekons) and Eric Morrison (Home). Her new record, Let Your Ghost Go, was mixed by John McEntire and produced by renowned songwriter Sue Garner — as impressive a cast of collaborators as anyone could hope for. Her good fortune is not lost on her, either. “I really cannot believe, to this day, that I have the players that I do. I’ve definitely garnered more respect for what I’m doing because people respect them, and assume that there must be something to this project they’re devoting all this time to.”
This, of course, is not to say that Reilly isn’t deserving of every last bit of praise she’s received. Let Your Ghost Go is a beautiful record that unfolds slowly and deals heavily with her having recently lost both her sister and her mother. When I tell her I find it interesting that she included a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘The Wedding Song’ alongside all these themes of death and mortality, she points out that, “Love is kinda why there’s grief, you know?” Then, as though she’s no longer sure of herself, she asks, “I don’t know… does the album sound schizophrenic?”
I tell her that it doesn’t, actually, and that now that I’ve heard her explain herself, I’m struck by how hopeful the record seems. How the whole thing seems kind of glorious and yet practical, an acknowledgement that she’s willing to go through the whole cycle again.
“Yeah!” She agrees.
Visit the Megan Reilly Website
Classic college rock for fans of the Smiths and R.E.M.
“To book a show, have people come out, then come up afterwards and say that they had a great time — it’s amazing. It may not be the scale that most music people operate on, but it’s a good feeling.” These are the words of Mugs drummer Ryan Raffa, as he paints a perfect picture of the Brooklyn band’s endearingly humble approach to life on the New York City club circuit.
The band recently released their debut, Paper Scissors Rock, and they’ve been getting some favorable attention for their smart, confident, pop-minded rock music. They’re another in a growing line of bands using modern tools — MySpace, MP3s, etc. — to promote themselves with a reworking of the standard DIY mentality we associate with 80s indie and punk-rock bands. They understand, though, that this approach isn’t quite as scientific as people are making it out to be, that what happened to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah isn’t going to happen to everyone. “The difficulty,” says bassist Bret Tieman, “is in leveraging a virtual fanbase into an actual fanbase at shows. The modern hype machine has been great about lifting bands into the spotlight, but unfortunately, hype doesn’t necessarily translate into paid bills for unsigned bands.”
Day jobs, however, do. When the Mugs decided to release the record with their own money, they were locking themselves in to a difficult lifestyle. But it was not a bad thing. Tieman explains, “We weren’t waiting for middlemen to show us the way to success. We started making our own plans and goals, and our day jobs became a necessary ingredient for maintaining the creative sanctuary of the band.” Daytime obligations do prevent the band from touring, which is another thing keeping them humble. “The internet love is a nice reminder that it’s a big world filled with people who haven’t been to a Mugs show.”
Visit The Mugs Website
Folk-inspired, psych rock featuring traditional strings and Marshall half-stacks.
If America’s multifarious, offbeat spaces had a soundtrack, it would be the music of Oakley Hall. Guitarist Fred Wallace, creator of the six-piece band’s roots-rock sound, took inspiration from both the looks and instrumentation of guitar animal Lindsey Buckingham. Guitarist and singer Pat Sullivan, however, is quick to denounce the idea that the band is alt-country, as it’s been repeatedly pigeonholed. True, they came together based on a common love of roots music’s offshoots and idioms, but remember, it’s a genre of American music influenced by not only country rock, but equal parts blues and rock ‘n’ roll. “We’re definitely a folk-rock, psych-rock band first and foremost. Being in New York and going increasingly insane over the years, we’ve gotten progressively louder and stranger.”
With the band hitting the road in May for a countrywide tour (half of it with the Constantines), and their second full-length record of the year due out June 6, Sullivan is philosophical about the band’s wider appeal: “Generally, audiences enjoy us and think we’re unique, especially in New York. But outside of the city, people tend to make assumptions about us being Brooklyn country rock… like it’s raise your glass and drink beer, good times music. That’s not really the case.”
And indeed, lyrically, the themes are less concerned with good times than they are with mortality, love gone sour, being broke as shit, and finding solace in all the wrong chemicals. And, really, what genre of music doesn’t address these themes? Sullivan mentions the band’s central paradox, and what makes their music so unique:
“You can cry in your beer and dance to it.”
Visit the Oakley Hall Website
The alt-country soundtrack for your sepia-toned dreams.
Many musicians have a difficult time breaking free from the constraints of the alt-country genre, but occasionally a band tests the boundaries without losing sight of the genre’s defining principle — at the heart of every good song is one that can be played on an acoustic guitar.
One such band is Brooklyn’s Phonograph, who combine singer Matthew Welsh’s traditional sensibilities with the rest of the members’ disparate backgrounds to create a sound that strays just enough. “Abe Seirerth [guitar] is a certified MOOG artist and is mostly known for really out-there jazz stuff,” says Welsh. “John Davis was playing with JoJo Mayer and Nerve, who are primarily known for drum and bass.”
Phonograph have completed their second full-length, but after a deal with Wilco bassist John Stirratt’s Broadamoor Records fell through, they found themselves in search of a new label. Happily though, through their ties to Stirratt, Wilco fast became one of the band’s biggest supporters, asking them along on tour. Obviously, it’s an interesting experience for any young band. “Pulling our 15-passenger van next to Wilco’s two matching limousine buses and having to answer questions about what type of cheese we wanted in the dressing room was a little surreal. I remember looking out at the crowd trying to remember a lyric and seeing Jeff Tweedy ten feet away watching what I was doing. How do you react to that?”
Welsh knows things like that won’t be commonplace just yet, and he’s staying realistic about their situation. “I’m not going to lie and say that playing to 4,000 people in a venue the size of Radio City is a drag. But we’re really trying to make a name for ourselves on our own turf. We’ve been lucky to play some great venues, though we’d still play a Brooklyn BBQ at the drop of a hat.”
Visit the Phonograph Website
Powerful, dynamic rock music with a timeless feel.
If you spend a stupid amount of time reading blogs and music-related message boards, you’ve probably witnessed some of the debate over which city has the bragging rights to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. “Because, like, the wall with the graffiti is in Brooklyn, but the singer totally lives in Philly.” Or something.
It’s completely retarded, but wait a few months and we could very well see the same thing happening with the Favourite Sons, who currently call Brooklyn home, but have deep roots in Philadelphia. Four of the band’s five members played in the band Aspera, while singer Ken Griffin was in a band called Rollerskate Skinny. When asked how the Sons got together, Griffin says, “Justin found me lost and slowly dying, working in a bar in New York. We started talking about music and realized we knew each other. I had some songs and we got together, and it seemed to work almost immediately.”
And it did. The band formed in 2004 and started playing shows the following year. Before long, they would release a 7” on GSL Records and an EP on the UK’s Loog Records. And now, the band has secured a deal with Vice Records, who will be releasing their debut full-length, Down Beside Your Beauty, in September. It’s a lot of good fortune for such a young band, but it’s far from unwarranted. Their songs are driven by Ken Griffin’s sturdy, direct singing style, which recalls Iggy Pop, or even Lou Reed at his most biting. As a whole, there’s something kind of menacing about the band, as they traipse through all sorts of 70s rock without ever seeming like direct descendants of anything in particular.
In describing the upcoming album, Griffin says, “Influences don’t go much further than the end of my fingertips these days. Courage has never been easy for me. I wanted to do something courageous and almost brutal.” And if it’s anything like the songs they’ve already released, he has.
Visit the Favourite Sons Website