"I think we wanted to make a statement to say that rock music can still be done in a modern way but that is still as good as some of those acts from the past," frontman Mike Montali, who co-founded the group 10 years ago with guitarist Jonathan Bonilla, tells Billboard. "That's what we set out to do, just great songs but rock n' roll with the sound of 2019, not the sound of 1976."
The Queens, N.Y., quartet gave itself time to do that on Ozone Park as well. Hollis Brown — named after Bob Dylan's "The Ballad of Hollis Brown" — stayed off the road for the better part of a year in order to write and record the album, as well as to rebuild its business operations, including management and label (now with the Mascot Label Group). "It was a challenging year for us," Montali acknowledges. "We're so used to playing so much; Being home and not playing was something very different. But it was all worth it. We felt like it was time to take a step back and get the right team together so that when this album comes out we're firing on all cylinders." Extensive pre-production helped the group make Ozone Park quickly — over eight days with producer Adam Landry in Fort Myers, Fla. — and also experiment a bit. "We did some sampling, some 808 digital drums on some of the songs and synth stuff we weren't doing before, just to bring a youthful flair to the sound," Montali says. "But if it's a great song it's always a great song, no matter how you dress them up."
Ozone Park is definitely diverse and contemporary, blending smooth pop touches into Hollis Brown's Americana stock in trade — and ranging from the fuzzy hard rock of "Bad Mistakes" to the funky groove of "Go For It." "I always like to try and do each song to be different," Montali explains. "I think that probably comes from growing up in Queens and seeing the different cultures and diversity there. I fell in love with all different types of music," he recalls. "We had hip-hop, we had funk music, we had rock n' roll music, we had singer-songwriters. Everybody in the band loves all those things, so it's nice to try and incorporate all those things. We're really open."
As Ozone Park makes its way out into the world — preceded by the single "Do Me Right" — Hollis Brown is ready to return to touring. The group will celebrate the release with a free June 9 performance and signing at Rough Trade in Brooklyn, then play Mountain Jam on June 16 in Bethel, N.Y. before hitting the road in earnest during July. It's also slated to play Aug. 18 at Woodstock 50 if the Watkins Glen, N.Y., festival does indeed happen. "We're just going to plan on hitting the road again and watch it grow," Montali says. "We love to play live and definitely want to play live as much as we can. We've done a lot in the last 10 years, and we still love it, which is the most important thing. We still believe in it and bringing music we believe in to people — which is something that's missing. We still live it. We really feel like the last of the great American rock bands, and I think this record is one of the best rock records out."
Hollis Brown's current slate of tour dates includes:
June 9 – Rough Trade – Brooklyn, NY (album release show and signing)
June 16 – Mountain Jam – Bethel, NY
July 11 – The Mercantile – Huntsville, AL (with Dishwalla)
July 12 – The Nick – Birmingham, AL
July 13 – Hi-Tone – Memphis, TN
July 14 – Smith's Olde Bar – Atlanta, GA
July 18 – Infinity Hall – Norfolk, CT (with Robert Randolph & the Family Band)
July 24 – Payomet Performing Arts Center – North Truro, MA (with Robert Randolph & the Family Band)
July 25 – City Winery – Boston, MA (with Robert Randolph & the Family Band)
July 27 – Levitt Pavilion Steelstacks – Bethlehem, PA
July 29 – Encore @ Uptown Theatre – Kansas City, MO (with Thunderpussy)
July 30 – Firebird – St. Louis, MO (with Thunderpussy)
July 31 – The Basement – Columbus, OH (with Thunderpussy)
August 2 – Grog Shop – Cleveland, OH (with Thunderpussy)
August 4 – Turbo Haüs – Montreal, QC (with Thunderpussy)
August 5 – Horseshoe Tavern – Toronto, ON (with Thunderpussy)
August 7 – Sonia – Cambridge, MA (with Thunderpussy)
August 8 – The Saint – Asbury Park, NJ (with Thunderpussy)
August 9 – Brooklyn Bowl – Brooklyn, NY (with Thunderpussy)
August 10 – Milkboy – Philadelphia, PA (with Thunderpussy)
August 11 – Metro Gallery – Baltimore, MD (with Thunderpussy)
August 13 – High Watt – Nashville, TN (with Thunderpussy)
August 15 – The Hi-Fi – Indianapolis, IN (with Thunderpussy)
August 16 – Reggie's Rock Club – Chicago, IL (with Thunderpussy)