Somewhere in between The Band, The Lumineers, and Tom Waits lies Brooklyn-based 6-piece The Hollows.
Their latest EP, Lonesome Ghost, is their first release since 2016, displaying more introspective lyricism and the ability to bend across multiple genres within its six tracks. The record is the fruition of a collaborative effort with producer James Frazee (Sharon Van Etten, My Morning Jacket).
Lonesome Ghost is a collection of songs that is both playful and somber, full of modern twists met with traditional roots-oriented sounds. From free-spirited dust bowl folk (“Haunted House”) to gritty bluegrass-y rock (“Who Am I to Judge”) to ballad-like guitar reverberations (“The Poor and the Stranger”), Lonesome Ghost has all the fixings for just about anybody.
The story of The Hollows starts with their formation in 2009, where the band quickly became known for their diverse repertoire and their incredible live stage presence. Their 2011 debut album, Belong to the Land was a hit, prompting the release of their 2013 live album, Neverending Show. Their 2016 release of Between the Water and the Wonder Wheel saw a production collab with the esteemed John Siket (Dave Matthews Band, Phish) and also explored the band’s more electric Americana side.
The Hollows’ current lineup consists of Rob Morrison (mandolin, guitar), David Paarlberg (keys, guitar, trumpet, accordion), Erik Saxvik (keys, guitar), Justin Aaronson (drums), Ian Bakerman (bass), and Daniel Kwiatkowski (guitar, banjo).
We had the chance to chat with the guys about being NYC musicians in today’s social climate, Lonesome Ghost, and much more.
I see you guys are from Brooklyn. Being a band with a more roots-rock-oriented sound, how has the city shaped or influenced your music?
It might sound contrived, but New York is of course a melting pot of many cultures and ideas. As an artist, it’s exciting and challenging (in a good way) to be in the sort of environment where you’re exposed to all kinds of art from all kinds of perspectives. It fosters growth, and the idea that anything is possible.
What’s it like being musicians in New York City, especially these days? Is it challenging? Rewarding? Both?
Live music only recently “came back,” so in that sense this is a very different city than the one we’ve gigged in for the last 12 years— but yes, it’s definitely both. The logistics of doing anything, the cost of virtually everything, and the amount of sheer humanity that you need to navigate through it— that’s all challenging. But when you overcome the obstacles, it is indeed incredibly rewarding. It’s inspiring to be in a city where art always finds a way to thrive.
Let’s talk about Lonesome Ghost, your latest EP. What are the main ideas and inspirations behind it?
These tunes were born out of a fertile period for the band in which we had just changed our roster a bit, finished a couple tours, and were looking to write just for the sake of writing— the biggest takeaway might be that we wrote and recorded this EP as much for ourselves as for anyone else. We didn’t approach it with any kind of “thesis statement,” necessarily; our focus was primarily on each individual song. It was only later that some of the lyrical themes revealed themselves and it became clear that the individual pieces had more in common as a whole than we’d initially realized or even intended— the title Lonesome Ghost helps tie that narrative together (it also happens to be the name we’ve used for our publishing all these years, so all in all kind of a kismet thing).
How might it differ from your previous releases?
Each of our records has taken things a step further, arguably honing the sound of the band into something more and more specific. Besides being sonically more refined and reflecting our growth as musicians both individually and as an ensemble, we didn’t approach this EP with the same desire to have commercial appeal, maybe, as our last full-length, Between the Water and the Wonder Wheel (2016). We made choices on that record that were very polished and consumable, and while we’re certainly proud of it, there is something that might be a bit more presentational on that one. With Lonesome Ghost, we’re letting the listener in on thoughts / feelings / ideas that are more private; perhaps more vulnerable.
What was it like getting the chance to collaborate with producer James Frazee?
Frazee is a total gem and wise beyond his years. He engineered our last album and has produced a few other projects we’ve each done outside The Hollows, so the band has a really solid, trusting rapport with him. He’s a wonderful collaborator— unfailingly supportive and a “yes man” in the best way possible. He also often comes up with great suggestions that wouldn’t have occurred to any of us on our own.
What is the band’s songwriting process like? And do you typically start with lyrics or melody, or just whatever happens to strike you first?
Out of all of the songs that we’ve ever written, it’s possible that no two have had a similar journey from the time that they were a tiny idea until we “finished” them. We have a number of different songwriters in the band, so there’s a variety of approaches. Generally, the principal songwriter brings their ideas to the group, and the group collaborates on orchestration, frequently making suggestions about structure, lyrics, or any number of facets of a given song. We’re a collaborative outfit, so there are always tons of ideas and experiments.
Once y’all are ready to return to live shows, which song(s) from Lonesome Ghost are you most excited to perform live?
It’s rare that we’ll track something in the studio without workshopping it live first, and these songs are no exception. “Who Am I to Judge” has been a crowd favorite, as it lends itself to being different every time. We actually tamed the intro section on that one for the studio version, but in a live setting, that jammy soundscape has been known to evolve and undulate for a few minutes. It’s a fun exercise in listening and letting go. “Bread Pudding” also tends to put smiles on faces when people realize what the song is actually about, and it’s got that nice groove you can sway along with.
To follow that up, do you have the wheels in motion for 2022 gigs?
Not at the moment! We’re trying to lay low, enjoy time with family and friends as much as we can for the holidays, and not spread Omicron.
What do you hope listeners take away from your music?
A smile. It’s understandable (and necessary) to find a means of escape even during normal times, and much more so during the last few years. Hopefully our music provides some much-needed aural transport.
What does success mean to you as artists?
We just want to keep making things, ultimately. After almost 13 years of being in this enterprise, we’ve come to measure success differently. There are many ways in which we feel we’ve been successful, and probably an equal number of ways in which we’ve maybe been less successful. At the end of the day, though, we’re proud of the work. Being able to continue finding joy through playing and writing music is its own success.