7 Questions with Singer-Guitarist Mike Montali (of indie rock band Hollis Brown)

New York-based band Hollis Brown
New York-based band Hollis Brown

Promoting their fourth studio album “3 Shots,” roots-rock outfit Hollis Brown is currently touring North America playing to sold out crowds in support of renowned rockers Counting Crows and singer-songwriter Citizen Cope.

Based in New York, Hollis Brown’s influences are taken from various musical genres says lead singer-guitarist Mike Montali, “We listen to so much stuff especially when we’re driving all the time.” He admits, “I grew up listening to hip-hop too, so influences are a weird word [to me] because I’m influenced by everything.” With members hailing from Missouri, New York and Ohio and a sound that’s a blend of folk, country, blues and rock, Hollis Brown’s music is eclectic yet accessible. The quintet includes Montali, guitarist Jon Bonilla, pianist/vocalist Adam Bock, bassist/vocalist Dillon DeVito and drummer Andrew Zehnal.

Taking time from a busy schedule, Mike Montali spoke to me from Huber Heights, Ohio, as the band prepared for a show that night (Sept. 8). The Queens, New York native shared what life on the road is like, musical inspirations from Willie Nelson to Donny Hathaway and a couple of his music pet peeves.

You guys tour a lot. As you’re currently supporting Counting Crows and Citizen Cope, then next month you guys are off to Europe, so what’s the one thing from home that you have to bring with you while on tour to make yourself feel more comfortable?

I always take a book with me that I’m reading at the time. I just read “The Dark Tower” by Stephen King. It’s a pretty old book [series]. But I always bring a book and try to read a lot. I also always bring an iPad because I need to be connected somehow. Your personal space is like a weird thing on the road, so it’s nice have something you can plug into and relax. And I also bring my guitar because I need to play. I play an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar; I work with a company called D’Angelico Guitars, they’re based out of New York. And they’re a really cool company so I always bring that.

How do you relax on the road? Do guys get out and see the cities you visit?

It’s so different. It’s weird on the road because you never know what you’re getting. It’s like a mixed bag of goods, everyday is so different. This tour, logistically, is better for us. Like last night we got to go out. We were in Columbus, Ohio, and it happened to be an early show; the whole show was done by like 8:30, it was a really good show actually.

So we got to go out with Citizen Cope, his name is Clarence, he’s on the tour with us, so that was the first time we hung out. It’s weird because all the bands are on different schedules, because we’re all playing at different times. But whenever we’re over in Europe, I like to try and walk around as much as possible.

I know Bob Dylan is the inspiration behind the band’s name, but who are your other musical inspirations when creating new music?

Oh man. We listen to so much stuff especially when we’re driving all the time; we’re like part-time musicians and full-time truck drivers. [Laughter] So we get a lot of time to listen to music. We all listen to different things. I’ve been listening to a lot of Willie Nelson lately. It kind of changes a lot; my main influences are “On the Beach” (1974) by Neil Young, it’s a great record I love. My influences are weird; I grew up in Queens, New York, it’s so diverse, so I listen all types of different things.

[For inspiration] We do a thing sometimes where everybody picks a few songs and we go in order. The last songs I picked were Willie Nelson’s “Time of the Preacher” [1975], Donny Hathaway’s cover of  “Jealous Guy” by John Lennon [1972], Elton John’s song “Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters” [1972] and the fourth one … what did I pick? I can’t remember; it’s just all over the place really. I grew up listening to hip-hop too, so influences are a weird word because I’m influenced by everything.

“3 Shots” seems to be an introspective record, told through various stories. For those who have yet to hear the album, what do you want them to take away from it?

I just want them to be moved by it in some way. The good thing about music is that everybody can feel a different way. This record, I wanted to use it as an opportunity to tell stories; so every song is more of a story about something in relation to a particular character.

The first song is like a prayer, it’s called “Cathedral,” “3 Shots” is about violence in America through the eyes of a kid. “John Wayne” is about the changing of the guard of American society; John Wayne is like a metaphor for the old way of doing things. “Death Of An Actress” is about the excess of Hollywood. They all have themes through the eyes of different characters, so I guess it was like a creative writing exercise.

How long after the release of a new album do guys start working on the next one? “3 Shots” has been out since May, right?

Yeah, we put this record out in May and we tour our material a lot. We like to tour the record, so this tour happened to be a really big tour; it’s going to run through November 20 or something. So it’s like six months of touring just for the record.

While we are ready to record again, we’re all kind of in touring mode and promoting this record. We have a bunch of songs that we’ve been working on, and a bunch of different producers we’ve been talking to, so we’d like to get back into the studio like late December and January and get the record done then.

How many days a year do you guys tour on average? Is it like over 200, 300 days?

Nah, we probably do like, the last two years we did like 130 concerts probably in about 10 or 11 countries. With travel days it’s probably 160 or 170 days on the road a year. It’s like six months.

I like to tour a lot. I feel like the bands I always admired and the bands I like were bands that you cared about their recordings as well. I always wanted to be a band where our records were equally as important as our concerts. I like to be on tour six months a year, and take like three months to make a record and then three months to figure out how to put it.

What is your biggest music pet peeve? Like is it Auto-Tune or YouTube stars? I feel like everyone has one.

[Laughter] Let me see… I would say a band coming into a dressing room and thinking they own it. That drives me crazy. It also drives me crazy when musicians say they’re in bands, you know like seven different bands, and none of them ever play.

“3 Shots” is available online and in stores everywhere. Below check out Hollis Brown’s latest music video “Sweet Tooth.”

KDHX Concert Review: Orgone (with Al Holliday) showcases true soul music at Old Rock House, Sunday, August 30

Orgone at Old Rock House in St. Louis, MO, Sunday, August 30, 2015
Orgone at Old Rock House in St. Louis, MO, Sunday, August 30, 2015

Led by keyboardist Dan Hastie and guitarist Sergio Rios, Orgone represents everything good with music — from wildly funky lyrics, to tightly coiled musicianship, to authentic grooves and equal spotlight for each member, including powerhouse vocalist Adryon de León, the group carried us to another planet with their brand of soul, funk and afro-disco.

The eight-piece ensemble returned to St. Louis in promotion of their seventh studio album, “Beyond the Sun.” With a name that literally means “creative force in nature,” the eight-piece crew stormed through a set of music that from start to finish had everyone on the floor, singing and clapping along to each and every song. Touring consistently for over a decade now, the L.A.-based outfit has been tearing through music festivals and arenas alike since the spring.

But it’s their newest addition, songstress Adryon de León that takes the band to another level — not only with her commanding vocals but also with stage presence. Wearing all black and rocking a super curly blonde afro, she flirted and danced along, doing a call and response, egging us on, making for an exciting hour-and-a half performance.

Al Holliday and the East Side Rhythm Band were a perfect start to the night. Hailing from St. Louis, the collection created a summer-night filled with great music, cold beer and feel-good energy. With their New Orleans jazz and R&B influence, and Saint Louis blues sound, Holiday’s voice — a mix of pain and pleasure, carried into the night sky as he belted life into every song, including a Joe Cocker cover. Towards the end of his set, Holliday even moved from Rhodes piano to electric guitar, singing a funk-laden tune that had everyone dancing like it was a summer music festival, moving and grooving across the dance floor.

Akin to listening to a live ’70s Blackploxtation soundtrack, Orgone shared some of the funkiest funk and soul instrumentals this side of the Mississippi. Mixing things up, the unit — which also includes Will Phillips on percussion, Sam Halterman on drums, Paul Chandler on trumpet, Darren Cardoza on trombone and Dale Jennings on bass — not only allowed each band member to shine in their own right with album cuts such as the title track “Beyond the Sun” and “Don’t Stop,” but they also incorporated a funky cover of ’90s R&B duo Zhane’s “Hey Mr. DJ“. With some of the nastiest funkiest material I’ve heard, Orgone brought summer to an official unofficial close.

Album Review: Teedra Moses – Cognac & Conversaton [R&B]

Teedra Moses, Cognac & Conversation
Teedra Moses, Cognac & Conversation

More than a decade has passed since Teedra Moses’ stellar debut, Complex Simplicity. Now the New Orleans-bred singer-songwriter drops a proper sophomore release, Cognac & Conversation.

Blending R&B, soul and hip-hop alongside lyrics on love, life and relationships, Moses has always kept it real in song and, one can assume, in life as well. On “Get It Right” she speaks, “Rather have a king than a boss/Rather have a good man than a daddy/Rather ride shotgun in an old school wit’ a cool dude than a rich dude acting badly.” That’s what makes Teedra so likeable; she showcases that kind of vulnerability and vitality throughout the album.

With frequent collaborator Rick Ross appearing on two tracks (“All I Ever Wanted” and the title track), and singer Anthony Hamilton on the beautiful “That One,” Cognac & Conversation reads like a series of reflections and awareness in the love arena. From “Only U” (“I won’t waste another breath on someone who isn’t you”) to “Yesterday Ain’t Tomorrow (“I still believe that love can heal anything”) to the self-explanatory closing track “No Regrets,” Teedra lays her heart all out on this album. But let’s hope it doesn’t take another 10 years before we get another superb project.

Album Review: Onra – FUNDAMENTALS [hip-hop/R&B]

Onra's Fundamentals
Onra’s Fundamentals (All City Dublin)

Born Arnaud Bernard and carrying influences from R&B, soul and the golden era of hip-hop, Onra’s productions are a cross pollination of downtempo and futuristic electronica. The Paris-based producer’s latest offering alludes to the basics of music, a time and space when songs were fun and genuine (and sexy without being offensive). With a heavy, late ’80s and early ’90s R&B and hip-hop power, Fundamentals is the perfect summertime drive soundtrack. Production-wise, each song meshes with the next creating a continuous flow of vibes. With features from singer Olivier DaySoul, Cool Kids rapper Chuck Inglish, Chicago rap trio Do or Die, Amsterdam rapper MC Melodee and rapper/producer Black Milk, much like 2012’s Deep In the Night EP,  Fundamentals begs to be put on repeat. Favorite spins include “Over & Over,” “Every Second,” “Vibe With U,” “Anything,” “Love Tip,” and “Like You Miss Me.”

KDHX Concert Review: Turkuaz (with the Service) at Old Rock House, Wednesday, August 5

Turkuaz_Dave Brandwein
Lead man Dave Brandwein (of Turkuaz) / photo: ND McCray

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how a show starts, because it’s all about how it ends. And Turkuaz made sure it ended with a bang.

Except for maybe a few regulars, the first half hour of opening band the Service‘s set on Wednesday night (August 5) didn’t attract much of a crowd at the Old Rock House. Perhaps the torrential downpour pushed fans away, but for patrons clad in t-shirts, shorts and sandals, and eating and/or drinking their dinner, the music served as a fun and funky backdrop to an otherwise casual evening. Starting the night with an assorted mix of blues and funk-inspired instrumentals and vocal tracks, the St. Louis-based band confidently carried the night. Over the course of a near hour-long set, a handful of folks did eventually appear in the stage area, rocking and smiling as the quartet slipped into a soulful Curtis Mayfield cover.

By the time Turkuaz made its entry, the audience had grown larger and moved closer to the stage. Having followed the Brooklyn, New York outfit since it first hit the music scene in 2010, and having seen the band perform live many times while living in the borough, I found Turkuaz’s new show quite powerful in arrangement, production and style. From the musicianship to song structures to lighting and even the synchronized dance moves the musicians executed during the first song, it all came together so effortlessly that it was only a matter of time before folks with beers in hand were gyrating in front of the stage.

Alongside funk appeal and palpable influences of George Clinton and Sly and the Family Stone, Turkuaz — who describe the sound as “Powerfunk” — adds the catchy pop and groove of Talking Heads and Motown-inspired tunes. Like its predecessors, the band fills the stage with a nine-piece ensemble, including Dave Brandwein on vocals and guitar, Craig Brodhead on guitar and synths, Chris Brouwers on trumpet and keyboard, Michelangelo Carubba on drums, Shira Elias on vocals, Sammi Garett on tambourine and vocals, Greg Sanderson on saxophone, Joshua Schwartz on sax and vocals and Taylor Shell on bass.

With a rocking rhythm section and awesome swells, on top of a tight performance, James Brown would have been proud. Performing songs like the massively addictive “Tiptoe Through the Crypto” and several other tracks from their recent two albums, “Stereochrome” and “Future 86,” as well as returning to the stage for a mind-and-body altering, funk-induced encore, Turkuaz is a band everyone should groove to at least once in their lifetime.

STL: #Ferguson Is Everywhere Concert at FuBar, August 9


According to Talib Kweli’s website, the Action Support Committee (ASC) is a committee of activists, organizers and artists established by the musician. ASC is committed to supporting the ongoing social justice work of individuals and community organizations based in Ferguson, Missouri and at large.

On Sunday, August 9, ASC will present FERGUSON IS EVERYWHERE CONCERT featuring a host of artists including, Talib Kweli, Kenora Ross, M1 from Dead Prez, Tef Poe, Bun B of UGK, Jasiri X, Immortal Technique, Pharoahe Monch and Nappy DJ Needles. Please support.

Hosted by Tory Russell.


3108 Locust St.
St. Louis, MO

Album Review: Bilal – IN ANOTHER LIFE [soul/jazz/rock]

Bilal's In Another Life
Bilal’s In Another Life

First hitting the scene with 2001’s 1st Born Second — a classic neo soul record in its own right, Philadelphia native Bilal follow’s up his 2013 album, A Love Surreal with the alt-soul, rock and jazz-inspired In Another Life.

With a wide range of vocal styles and musical influences, over the years the singer-songwriter has worked with fellow Philly crew The Roots, jazz pianist Robert Glasper, rappers Common and Lupe Fiasco and singer Erykah Badu, among many. In Another Life, Bilal’s fourth proper release, production credits goes to Adrian Younge, a talented composer and producer who worked with Jay-Z on “Picasso Baby” and “Heaven” from the rapper’s Magna Carta… Holy Grail LP. Bilal’s “Sirens” is sampled on “Picasso Baby,” which is from Younge’s Something About April LP.

With guest spots from newcomers Big K.R.I.T. and Kendrick Lamar, as well as vocalist Kimbra (known from Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used to Know”), In Another Life has a definite 70s and 80s soul vibe (“Pleasure Toy”) with some jazz (“I Really Don’t Care,” “Spiraling”) and alt-rock and hip hop (“Money Over Love”) mixed in. Bilal is a progressive artist who expands and builds upon each new project, and In Another Life he shows us those skills. Check out the video below for “Money Over Love.”

KDHX Concert review: Glass Animals energize the summer outdoors at the Old Rock House, Friday, July 24

Glass Animals at Old Rock House, photo credit: Dustin Winter
Glass Animals at Old Rock House, photo credit: Dustin Winter

Though “Gooey” made my top 10 list of favorite tunes last year, and even after seeing Glass Animals perform it live at Old Rock House on Friday night, I still haven’t any clue what the song is actually about. But none of that mattered anyway, because dancing was what the night was really about.

With lyrics like “Ride my little pooh bear, wanna take a chance,” lead man Dave Bayley knows how to craft clever pop-rock-R&B songs that leave you wondering, “What the hell am I listening to?” but feeling good all at the same. Having released their debut studio album “Zaba” last summer and two previous EPs, Glass Animals are creating a buzz and playing to sold-out music festivals around the world like Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits.

And it doesn’t hurt that they are signed to super producer Paul Epworth’s new label Wolf Tone. Epworth has received Grammy’s and written songs for Adele, Cee Lo Green, Coldplay, Florence + the Machine, Lorde and Paul McCartney, among others.

An outdoor stage at the Old Rock House was a perfect setting for the band, which consists of songwriter Bayley, guitarist and keyboardist Drew MacFarlane, as well as bassist Edmund Irwin-Singer and drummer Joe Seaward. The guys, who have been friends since age 13, create music that is dreamy and smooth, sexy and smart but catchy and weird: “Mind my simple song, this ain’t gonna work / Mind my wicked words and tipsy topsy smirk.”

The music evokes movement whether you want to or not. If the crowd wasn’t swaying to the music, they were all out grooving and floating to songs like “Black Mambo,” “Psylla,” “Gooey,” “Hazey,” “Toes” and a dope cover of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown.” Whether you understand the lyrics or not, the music is what will grab you.