Interview: Folk Rockers The Sugar Hollows Discuss New Single ‘No Good’, Richmond Roots, & More

Hailing from the “River City” of Richmond, Virginia, comes The Sugar Hollows–– a self described “some-kind-of-rock-band” that has infectious Americana-rock melodies and endearing live instrumentalists to boot.

Pioneered by Michael Dunn (lead vocals, guitar), Gabriel Spadaccini (multi-instrumentalist), and Sean O’Reilly (bass), the band’s journey began with Dunn co-writing “everything” with Spadaccini. O’Reilly is a recent addition at bass player, and has since helped revolutionize the band’s live performances. 

The Sugar Hollows have recently released their newest single, “No Good”, which serves as a direct contrast to their previous single, “Follow The River”.  According to the band, “No Good” describes the phenomenon of self-sabotage as well as the feelings of melancholy and isolation that come with it. On the contrary, the band’s first single “Follow the River” was filled to the brim in thoughtful lyricism and flowing melodies.

The group deeply resonates with the message behind their most recent single: “[‘No Good’] is a song about breaking self-destructive habits, conquering self-doubt, and saying ‘fuck it’ to everything outside of our control.”

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To me personally, The Sugar Hollows could be described as an all-you-can-eat buffet… there’s going to be something about them that most everybody enjoys. With their funk-tinged rhythms, rock instrumentation, and their tender, soulful lyrics, The Sugar Hollows are a sweet treat that will keep audiences wanting more. 

We got the chance to talk to the guys to learn more about who they are, the new track, their upcoming album, and much more.

I read that you guys met in a very coincidental, happenstance type way. Can you tell us a little bit more about it and how the band came to be?

I (Gabe) was apartment hunting in Richmond before moving here with my wife. We were supposed to get a tour of this one complex, but the tour was canceled last minute, so we started snooping around on our own. We looked into the window of an apartment that we thought was empty when someone said, “That’s my apartment,” from behind us. It was Mike, whom we had never met before, and he ended up giving us a look around his apartment unit (what a nice guy!).

When my wife and I finally moved to RVA a few months later, lo-and-behold, Mike and his wife ended up being our neighbor. One day, Mike was playing guitar and singing, and I banged on the wall and yelled, “Play it louder!” We started jamming together the next week and began writing some songs and playing gigs in the months that followed.

Speaking of the band’s origin story, The Sugar Hollows is a catchy band name. How did you land on it?

Let us preface this answer with telling you that we had been thinking long and hard about names for a while, and we came up with some pretty bad ones. Anyway, not too far from RVA is Shenandoah National Park where we all love to hike, hang out, and enjoy nature. One of our favorite trails is called Sugar Hollow Trail, which leads to Sugar Hollow Dam where there are some beautiful views of the reservoir and surrounding area. One day, it just made sense to call ourselves The Sugar Hollows, and we never had to worry about another bad band name again.

What’s the music scene like in Richmond as a whole? How might you try to sell someone on it?

Richmond has a truly wonderful music scene; it is eclectic with artists from all different genres and really cool venues of all sizes. Everyone is so passionate about music even if they’re just a listener, and the artists, managers, bookers, and venues are all really hard-working. It’s a big enough market to make it competitive and keep people working towards their next goal, but it’s small enough to not be over-saturated, which gives artists and bands the chance to stand out. 

To Michael: How did growing up and forming The Sugar Hollows in Richmond influence the band’s sound and creative direction? 

Richmond is a relatively smaller southern city that’s changed a lot over the years, but it has always been rich with history, culture, and arts. There is always a variety of music events going on like Folk Fest and Friday Cheers that I’ve been attending religiously as I’ve grown up here. Nights by the river listening to a mix of bluegrass, folk, country, and anything in between is what sparked my interest in music and inspired me to write my own songs. Richmond really is the perfect mix of hippie culture, southern hospitality, and modern philosophies that all shake out in The Sugar Hollows’ sound.

To Gabriel: How has your time working with Chvnce and running your own record label helped in establishing the sound and dynamic of The Sugar Hollows?

Working with Chvnce had a big influence on me in many ways. Before joining Chvnce, I was the lead guitarist and main lyricist for a couple of indie rock bands, but playing drums (the first instrument I started playing when I was 12-years-old) for Chvnce, which was a different genre and roll than my previous groups, gave me a new perspective on playing and how I can contribute within the context of an entire group rather than having to lead or manage a project; it gave me the freedom to just play and have fun, and it reminded me of the reasons why I started playing music all those years ago.

This new perspective along with the technical playing skills and life skills I learned have certainly translated to managing a small indie label where I’m forced to wear multiple hats; sometimes you’re the A&R guy scouting potential artists to add to the roster, sometimes you’re helping to produce music, sometimes you’re handling normal business operations like updating the website, making sure finances are in-line, posting on social media, what have you. But, all of these things are necessary and play their part in helping you move forward. This all contributes to my attitude and writing with The Sugar Hollows, which is a very collaborative effort with everyone pulling their weight and doing what’s necessary to help drive the band forward.

So you recently dropped your new single, “No Good.” What’s the inspiration and back story behind it?

This song was inspired by a friend that was going through a tough time and the circumstances he found himself in because of it. Helping him through this difficult time in his life made us reflect on the difficult times we’ve had in our own lives, which really put life into perspective for us. As low and down as we may feel sometimes, there’s often someone out there that has gone through something similar, or much worse for that matter, and found their way out of it. Sometimes it takes a wake-up call, and sometimes we just need a little extra support, but we can all find our way. 

What takeaways or messages do you hope fans and first-time-listeners have after listening to “No Good?”

The main hook, “You said I’m no good,” could be taken in many different contexts from many different perspectives, which we really like about it; it’s a little ambiguous and open for interpretation. The main message from our perspective is to just keep moving forward through hard times, no matter what that entails.

There’s so much craziness in the world on top of any personal issues we might be dealing with, that sometimes it can feel hard just to exist, but the only way forward is, well, forward. You can’t let yourself get stuck in a hard time and spiral out of control. Sometimes moving forward means reflecting on our own personal qualities and choices, confronting them, and making a change to be better. Other times moving forward means disregarding others’ opinions about who we are or what we’ve done. 

How does the songwriting process work within the band?

It’s a very collaborative process. A member of the band might bring an idea to a session whether it’s a guitar riff, bass line, or lyric, and we can build off of that to put something cohesive together. Other times, it’s much more spontaneous; we might be rehearsing a song and accidentally play a wrong note, chord, riff, etc. that can spark a new idea. I think 5-6 of the 10 songs on the album were all spontaneously written in one day (it was a great day for us as a band that day). There are also 2-3 other songs that have taken months to really figure out; we’re not afraid to set something aside for a little while because we want it to feel natural and not forced. We just kind of go with the flow and get things done however we need to in order to progress. 

I see you’ve got a new album in the works as well. What can you tell us about it, and what can fans expect?

Fans can expect a lot of different things on the album. Going hand-in-hand with our collaborative songwriting, this album is an amalgamation of all of our different musical interests and styles of playing. There are a couple of mellow indie rock songs, a couple of hard hitting rock songs, a couple of laid back folky songs, as well as some funk inspired instrumental songs. We really explored our capabilities as a collective group and tried not to conform to one style, though the songs are all tied together in our own Sugar-Hollowy way. 

What other goals and aspirations might The Sugar Hollows have for 2022?

This is going to be a big year for us; we’ve released two singles, one of which had a coinciding music video, with a third single on the way, and we plan to release a full-length 10-song album by August. Other than releasing new music, we are looking to play more gigs at our local clubs and breweries around RVA as well as other markets in and out of the state.

We are working on a small regional tour in the fall to promote the album, which leads us into 2023 when we hope to start playing on the region’s festival circuits. We have some big goals in mind and are working really hard to make them our reality, but we also appreciate the journey we are on and look forward to the road ahead.

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