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Hollyy Checks Their Egos At The Door

Written by on September 28, 2020

Photos shot by Koffivi Vonor

Five-piece band Hollyy takes a modern spin on vintage-sounding soul.

Influenced heavily by Leon Bridges, Sam Cooke and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, the group released their first EP “Miss the Feeling” on Sept. 25 after almost two years of playing together. 

Photos shot by Koffivi Vonor

You’ve said you’re influenced by the vocal stylings of people like Leon Bridges and Sam Cooke – which is really present throughout all of your music. How did you put your own individual mark on these influences? 

Tanner Bednar (Vocals): These two definitely shape a very strong influence in our music and the formation of this band. It’s all about paying respect to your influences that came before you and paved the way for the genre and creativity to prosper. Sam Cooke is usually at the top of everyone’s list of influences already, whereas Leon Bridges is another great example of a new artist that draws heavily on from 60’s soul music and gives it his own modern Texas flare. We certainly have deep musical influences in genres across the board and would love to mention the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Wilco, B.B. King, The Beatles and The Black Keys as well, but while we’re on the topic of soul artists I think it’s also pretty important to mention Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings’ influence on this band. We’re definitely music nerds, the list could quite literally go on forever and someone would still feel unfulfilled at the end of the day for leaving someone out. 

Brandon Couture (Guitar): We’re all drawn to the music of the 50’s and 60’s, and in particular artists like Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, The Beatles, Ray Charles – the list literally goes on and on. But we try bringing in a lot of elements from more modern artists including elements from hip-hop, psychedelic rock, and even pop. I think we’ve just scratched the surface of how we can draw upon and incorporate our different influences.

When did the five of you start playing music together, and how did you get your start? Do you ever have strong creative differences, or are you mostly all on the same wavelength creatively?

TB: We’ve been together now for almost two years as our core five-piece. Me and Brandon grew up together and have been playing in bands for probably over 15 years at this point. Rafe [Soto, drummer for Hollyy,] went to the same high school as me and he’s been playing in sister bands of ours for the last 10 or so years. Pete and Dom came into the mix post-graduation when we were just getting out of an old project and transitioning into a new one – not really knowing what it would be yet – but the timing was perfect and we all sort of immediately gelled and hit the ground running with writing music and booking local shows. In terms of creative differences, we definitely leave the ego thing at the door because that’s wack. We all know our strengths and we utilize those with the way we evenly contribute to songwriting, in what Rafe likes to describe as “Nashville style.”

BC: We’ve only been playing together for about two years now, after Tanner, Rafe and I were transitioning out of a different project and trying to regroup. I think we’ve been learning more from each other, when we get together it’s about the music so everyone’s energy is going toward making the best music we can make. 

Pete Giere (Keyboard): We definitely have creative differences in our approach to writing, but we leverage those differences to our advantage. We are always down to try someone’s idea or listen to an artist someone thinks we would like. I think we have subconsciously combined all of our influences into a very eclectic mix of soul driven music. Our common ground is love of the groove, music mainly with a strong backbeat. 

Photos shot by Koffivi Vonor

How does the songwriting process work for the group? 

TB: Nashville style songwriting essentially is a harmonious roundtable structure of songwriting where everyone contributes evenly, has equal say and gets an even piece of the pie in the end. We all are able to comfortably encourage or disagree with parts until we’re happy with the outcome and that becomes a song for us. Sometimes a member brings forth a pretty flushed out full version of a song and sometimes there’s just a guitar riff, or a vocal hook idea. Either way, we get after it in unison until we agree with the final product. 

BC: It’s always different, sometimes a song is almost finished when it’s brought to the table or it might just be a verse and a chorus. But once something is brought to the group it’s everyone’s project and we’re all doing our part to making it the best song we can.

PG: The process is pretty organic. Someone will come to practice with a song in some stage of completion, we all learn the chords and then riff over the top of the structure for a half hour or so to fill out the bones of the song. After a few hours of playing we will know if the song is going to be an uphill battle or if we are close to recording a demo. I would equate our process to sculpting, we kind of hammer away at the rough edges until things start to flow and clunky chord changes become our individual parts. There is usually this collective moment where everyone will find their own groove and the song will just start to feel super smooth. I think we all live for those long sessions when songs really start to take shape and become something we all feel connected to. 

Where does the name Hollyy come from?

TB: If all goes as planned, one day we’ll be able to include a long, drawn-out explanation of this question in our mockumentary film. But, to simply put it for now, “Hollyy” comes from a rebrand of “Holly, – comma intentional – in 2020 entirely for SEO purposes. And holy cow, did it work. Now you can find us easily across every platform – hooray! Apologies to our original and emphatic supporters of “Holly comma.” 

PG: Not sure exactly where “Holly” itself came from but the name has a sort of floating re-textualization. I recently came across this Smokey Robinson song actually called “Holly,” which is about a long-lost free-spirited woman that is no longer in this man’s life. There’s a sort of a prevailing bittersweet and reminiscent feeling in the song that reminded me of a lot of the music we’ve written. I think it’s really more of a placeholder name we use to connect ourselves to our individual pasts to draw inspiration upon in our writing. 

If you had to pick a favorite of your songs, which would it be and why?

TB: Hmm … Probably, like, any cover we play? Just kidding. Personally, my favorite tends to change monthly because we play some into the ground until they’re not as enthralling anymore. So now I’m incredibly psyched about some unreleased material we’re working on.

BC: “Beach” has always been one of my favorite songs. Rafe wrote the song and the sweet guitar lick at the beginning and I gave my little spin on it. The whole song really came together naturally when we all hopped in. It’s especially fun to play live cause we play it back to back with “Miss the Feeling.”

PG: The last time we played “Turn it Around,” it was clear everyone put pretty much everything in the tank into that song. The ending of that one really crescendos into this Springsteen-esque tempo change. Even as the keyboard player it always makes me feel like I’m playing punk rock. 

Dominic Zeier (Bass): I think one of my favorites is “Talkin’ Bout My Baby.” It was one of the first songs that really felt right from a songwriting perspective, being the sort of music I wanted to write with people. I like the easy, laid-back, California vibe it has, while also having an old-timey feel. If I had to choose one of our newer songs, I’d go with “Miss the Feeling.” I love the intimate intro. It gives me strong John Mayer vibes.

Photos shot by Koffivi Vonor

Obviously so much of life has changed due to COVID-19. How has your everyday life as a musician changed? Has it had a major effect on your creative process?

TB: I just miss consistent rehearsals the most, to be honest. Yes, it’s magical to play your music on a stage, but there’s something unparalleled about making magic in that basement studio of ours with just us. So that’s been incredibly tough. Creatively though, I must say it has been a bit of a renaissance fortunately. Lots of time to just write music and surround myself with new and old records to keep me inspired. I think I’ve watched every KEXP session that’s ever existed over this period as well.

BC: Our entire process had to change. It’s still changing. We’ve been figuring out how to pass ideas back and forth and find ways to work together in smaller groups to be safe. Luckily with technology we can all write and record from our own homes and we’re still able to collaborate creatively. I’m definitely ready to get together like we used to and even more ready to play live shows again.

PG: The whole entire creative process definitely requires much much more patience. Where something that would take five to 10 minutes of us hashing it out in the basement now takes a couple zoom calls and like three demos back and forth to figure out. I would say the day-to-day things I miss is just the connection to the bandmates. We’ve all grown pretty tight-knit and to not be able to even just spend time with one another has really just sucked. I will say the one socially distanced live stream we did do together was pretty freaking magical. With minimal practice we all sort of snapped back to where we left off. It gave me some hope. 

DZ: Honestly, we’ve had a pretty solid grind, doing as much as we can. I think when [the pandemic] first hit, with all the uncertainty, we wanted to see how it would play out. So we didn’t practice too much. But shortly after, we needed to maintain momentum. We have weekly zoom meetings with each other. Working through lyrics, recordings, business, etc. I’d say other than the instant feedback of playing together and seeing what does and doesn’t work, we’ve remained pretty busy with writing new songs and sending recording projects back and forth, bouncing ideas off each other. I think that’s awesome. While it’s a lot more fun to play to an audience, it is pretty amazing we live in a time where we can still play for people online, still release music and collaborate even if we can’t be in the same room together. Other than that, just a lot of practicing. It would be bad to one day just forget how to play our songs!

What does the future look like for Hollyy, what’s on your horizon?

TB: Honestly it’s a little tough to tell at this point, but here is our plan! We need to finish up our first full length album – which, fortunately, we’re getting close. We need to keep beefing up our home studio with more gear than humanly necessary. We need to buy a real tour van. And when the day comes that we can safely play live shows again, I think we’re going to really try our best to get after it and tour heavy while strategically releasing more and more music we have in our arsenal.

BC: Once we drop this EP, our focus is going to be on finishing up our first full-length album. We’ve been writing so much and I’m really excited to finish up this project and people to hear it. Then, once things are safe enough, we want to get out and play shows and keep pushing the music.

PG: Moving to Canada … haha.

DZ: Hmm. Probably a sandwich or a gyro. Take a long walk outside before it gets too cold to do that. Slap some bass.

Photos shot by Koffivi Vonor

Check out Hollyy on Instagram, and stream “Miss the Feeling” below.

Interview edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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