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” , Donny Hathaway’s cover of “Jealous Guy” by John Lennon , Elton John’s song “Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters”  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.”