You have to admire the attention to detail HolloH (yes, it has to be a perfect palindrome with dual capital Hs) show on their debut album. Especially since, for better and worse, they fit in the dreaded, oh-so-generic “corporate rock” slot.
“I’m looking forward to giving some insight into HolloH,” says guitarist Chad Townsend, “and what we’re all about.”
It helps to have insight when considering HolloH. Superficially, they’re just another superficial radio-rock band. The nine-song “rough mix” of their upcoming album (available for a listen at HolloHOnline.com), given only minimal attention, sounds like most of the corporate rock radio playlist: average, rote, familiar. The big choruses, the soupy guitars, the muscular-but-hooky arrangements—you’ve heard ’em before. Pay closer attention, though, and you’ll hear they’re not really just another mall-rock band.
Townsend, co-guitarist Tory Rollins and singer Mike “Milo” Holshue have known each other since elementary school, but didn’t start making music until their junior year of high school in 1999. Holshue had a handful of lyrics and a melody he’d called into an answering machine; Townsend had recently purchased a guitar and knew two chords from—wait for it—“watching MTV.” They wrote their first tune, a “pathetic and ever-so-sappy love song” you’d expect from such non-divine inspiration, in two hours.
By the end of high school, the pair was playing covers in Sugar House coffee shops. By 2001, the material was becoming more suited to a full electric band; Holshue and Townsend added drummer Joey Aszmann and the first of three bassists, finally settling on current four-stringer Isaac Jensen (Rollins defected from another band five months ago). Townsend credits Jensen with helping him see that “all music is good music” and anchoring HolloH during the long and dramatic period in which they refined their sound.
For most bands, refining their sound just means getting their act together; they’ve already chosen a genre, now they’re tightening up. It wasn’t much different with HolloH. As Townsend and Rollins tell it, HolloH wanted to set themselves apart from “typical four-chord rock bands” while at the same time playing what they think sounds good. Since HolloH’s common-denominator influence just happened to be huge, four-chord arena rock, they employed little touches to spice up the typical droning guitars, cathartic rhythms and dig-my-depth choruses.
In “Split-Second Bloom,” “Way Back Home” and what we’ll call Song 3 (no track listing was provided—only lyrics to three songs) the vocal harmonies veer from so-so to soulful, reminiscent of—gasp!—King’s X. (Townsend says Holshue spends an inordinate amount of time writing these parts.) Additionally, some guitar parts on “Way Back Home” sound straight out of the indie-rock handbook (which would be the polar opposite of the mainstream). Still other tracks betray an odd influence here and there—might be metal, might be pop, might be classical (Rollins is an admitted music-theory geek).
But HolloH aren’t perfect. Holshue isn’t always a vocal genius (he can still sound bland, and does—just not as often as he could). Track 1 features Townsend shrieking his backups like a scorned psychotic housewife—a screamo-trendy, tuneless affectation. Some songs, like “Drifting in the Night,” are soggy with guitar effects. Track 5 is a throwaway ballad—despite having the sweet vocals mentioned above. A few others are simply same-y, almost redundant.
Still, HolloH are one mainstream/corporate/radio band who, fortunately, don’t seem content to just be That Band. And while it remains weird that any band could somehow legitimize a sound so appropriately branded “corporate,” HolloH seem to be on that path.
In other words, HolloH aren’t completely hollow. They’re already planning another album for release this fall, and you can bet they’ll have worked out the kinks and come up with a few more interesting touches. That’s what they’re all about.
HOLLOH With Rifle Street Music. The Velvet Room, 149 W. 200 South, Thursday May 12, 9 p.m.