In a universe filled with underachieving slackers, one of New Jersey’s best straight-ahead rock bands continues to gain recognition and widen their audience while each individual maintains a separate professional career outside the music industry. Taking their moniker from an early ‘90s Morristown hangout where kids bought dime bags (and million dollar homes now reside), The Hollow have been making waves with an energetic self-titled full-length debut since February.
Originally from Mendham, lead guitarist Brian Wilson met bassist Steve Babula in ‘96 while attending high school, playing in formative bands along the way. Around 2000, he befriended singer James Vilade while delivering kegs at Raritan Liquors’ beer cooler. Drummer Kevin Barry joined the troupe thereafter and the Meathooks, a ‘jam band’ forerunner of The Hollow, were formed. Playing festivals and getting airplay gave the Meathooks local exposure, but it’d be a few contests that’d make their newfangled rock-edged project, The Hollow, serious national contenders.
With a new image and sound, The Hollow took a 10-band Clash For The Cash battle at Sherman Theatre in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, winning an opening slot at the event. They then submitted entries for a Live Nation/Hard Rock Times Square competition, where the jolting Jerseyites were selected as Tri-State finalists and then treated like royalty.
“We had a killer Green Room, private caterer and bar staff,” Wilson shares. “It was thrilling. We won the Battle of the Bands in Times Square. Then, the winning DVD was sent to judges and we ended up one of 40 international bands chosen to get a chance at playing Hard Rock Calling 2011 in London’s Hyde Park (headlined by Bon Jovi, Kings Of Leon and the Killers). We finished second in the U.S. in online voting to a Biloxi, Mississippi band, Rosco Bandana. But we held our heads high since it was a great experience.”
Though Wilson is upset his foursome is not heading to England, further attention was provided by The Today Show, large-marketed New York City radio stations WPLJ and WRXP, plus Jersey’s finest rock radio outlet, WDHA. Little Steven (of Bruce Springsteen’s band and satellite radio’s Underground Garage Show) said The Hollow had “a certain blues and folk sound, combining to create something new,” comparing them to ‘60s psychedelic group Love, in an offhanded statement. They went on to open for ‘70s legends such as Marshall Tucker Band, Bonnie Raitt and, recently, Blue Oyster Cult, doing smaller gigs at many New York and Jersey venues.
Wilson’s childhood influences may’ve been classic rockers (Santana, Allman Brothers, Yardbirds, Cream), but as a teen he went on to discover Guns ‘N’ Roses’ hard rock masterpiece Appetite For Destruction on cassette tape, hiding it from his mother due to the strong language. Though his dad collected vintage guitars and at one time performed in tributary Rolling Stones crew, The Bouncing Pebbles, Wilson played drums through high school, taking in hard rock heroes AC/DC, Metallica and Mötley Crüe. But as he studied guitar during college, Wilson became a jam band enthusiast. As a self-proclaimed Phish head, he admires the Grateful Dead and their ensuing ilk (Umphrey’s McGee/ String Cheese Incident).
“I still like guitar shredders like Steve Vai, Eric Johnson and Joe Satriani. Our bassist, Steve, loves Radiohead. And Kevin, the drummer, likes ‘80s stuff. In a way, we’re polar opposites,” Wilson says.
An eclectic unit utilizing the basic guitar, bass, drums formula, The Hollow conjure many sub-genres, including metal, funk, punk and soul, delivering the goods in a totally accessible, wholly consistent and completely reliable manner. In fact, the shimmering emotional hardcore reflection, “Move On Past,” recalls D.C. post-punk icons Fugazi and Minor Threat, two iconic ‘80s trailblazers defining the now prominent DIY ethic.
But Wilson admits, “I’m the only guy in the band who knows Minor Threat. They had a cool punk vibe. However, “Move On Past” is more influenced by 311 or Perpetual Groove. The chorus is heavier and we almost used its name as our album title. But even if it’s our best written song, it didn’t distinctly represent our style and I thought it’d be an inaccurate description.”
Combining arena rock dramatics with a grungy, power-driven metallic shimmer, “Take You There,” an enthusiastic, escapist rallying cry, drafted in an Antiqua hotel room next to an open bar, perfectly exemplifies the blue-skied exuberance of its reflective exotic auspices.
“That’s a sleeper tune we rearranged many times and finally got it down,” Wilson discloses. “We were reluctant to release it as a single because its verse, interlude and short stop are not formulaic enough for airplay. Yet we got the highest rating by the Hard Rock judges with that song.”
Much like Wilson, singing partner James Vilade’s early guiding light was his father. Though relating better to the Grateful Dead and jam bands, his old man got him into music with a vast array of classic contemporary recordings, especially by R&B artists. The hirsute bard also remembers when his guitar-teaching uncle gave him lessons at age seven and how he subsequently got smitten with the Beach Boys and Springsteen. Now making his home in Randolph, Vilade likes to keep his lyrical intrigue above the surface, never masking emotions with complicated scripts, twisted rhetoric or triplicate meanings.
“I try to keep songs broad for a larger audience,” Vilade claims. “Songs should be relatable, dealing with personal experiences and feelings I’ve always had and things I’ve gone through. They’re not written specifically. I’m a big believer in having fun. Most songs escape to where I’ve enjoyed myself.”
But just like one of his Dead mentors, Jerry Garcia used to cringe when he’d hear his voice on tape, Vilade had to get over the slightly debilitating stigma to become an impressive frontman with expressive vocals delivered in a very forthrightly penetrative fashion.
“Garcia’s voice was very sweet and mellow and flowed with the music. My voice tends to get higher than most singers when we play live,” Vilade divulges. “I’m also a big Jane’s Addiction fan. Perry Farrell had a specific sound and unique voice. And Robert Plant’s fun to listen to in his different incarnations.”
One of Vilade’s best originals, “Ms. Behavior,” seems reminiscent of post-grunge plunderers Candlebox or Silverchair. Then again, its heavier moments are reminiscent of even more popular underground-initiated slammers he grew up with in the ‘90s, such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, Tool and Rage Against The Machine.
“We don’t strive for a specific sound; we let it flow organically,” informs Vilade. “Brain and Steve are classically trained musicians who could write simple songs or make difficult ones. I do the more basic songs and everyone throws in their two cents. It’s a straightforward sound that’s more visceral in concert. Sometimes we all sit together and write a song. Other times, someone comes up with two or three parts and I’ll come and do melodies.”
Vilade was also main composer for anthemic, call-and-response screamer “Let It Burn,” a raucous number that’d fit alongside head-banging ‘80s denizens Def Leppard and the Scorpions. Charging forward with tremendous aggression, it soon became a live staple that gets the crowd whipped into a rollicking frenzy.
“As an emerging band, sometimes you play to 25 people. So you’ve got to keep them interested,” Vilade concludes. “Every person and song matters. Keep it upbeat. If you kick ass, they’ll tell friends and burn CDs. We just purchased wireless equipment so now we could be free to jump around onstage and put on a show. There’s more of an edge to it.”
Keep an eye on The Hollow. They could be the latest worthy national breakouts from the Garden State.
Go to thehollowband.com for more information on the band and where you can see them perform next.