Interview: Rock 'n Roll with The Hollow Roots
The Hollow Roots sound like a band who should be famous already. It’s not just the catchy name you could see lit up on venue marquees — it’s that they’re just so goddamn good. They play like they’ve been at it for decades, delivering high-energy performances and producing high-quality rock ‘n roll anthems to go hard to. It feels criminal that The Hollow Roots aren’t a household name yet, but we’re more than happy to take it slow.
Based in Nashville, the four-piece rock outfit are flipping the script on what we know and love about Music City. The Hollow Roots originated back in 2011 as a way to get involved with the house show scene popular among university students, so their whole goal since inception has been simply to produce the kind of thigh-slapping, head-banging songs you’d hear at house ragers deep into the AM before the neighbors cried noise complaint. On their latest release, Ghost(s), the band is still at it.
Ghost(s) opens with its title track, a brilliant introduction to what we can expect from the rest of the album: thick percussion-led arrangements and howling vocals. Right away, the band goes full throttle, delivering a high-energy rock romp seemingly unending until suddenly, it does in fact end, and “Queen Of Nothing” begins. Without hearing the rest of the album, it’s already a standout — fast-paced percussion stays steady beneath searing guitar and deep bass, charging along as the vocals give as versatile a performance as the complex multi-instrumentation. Fresh bursts of percussion and a cool hook give the track life. On “Criminal,” the band channel a darker energy. The arrangement is still rocking and rolling, but the vocals ache this time around and the guitar sings a bittersweet drone, likely influenced by the sad-boi brand of pop-punk. There’s no time to think, though, because the song plows straight through with increasing urgency, as if seeking to outrun whatever it is that had it adopting these blues-tinged shadows.
“Moonlight” comes next, quick and brash but creeping with a woozy rhythm line and the introduction of percussive shimmers in addition to the thick slaps that typically steady their arrangements. It’s hook-y and eerie, fast-paced and ready for placement on rock radio. On “Easier As It Goes,” the resounding twang of guitar strums opens the track, a minimalist base that allows us to finally hear just how impressive The Hollow Roots’ lead vocals are — strong, impassioned, and soulful all at once, though this fact is often clouded by the thrash of rock instrumentation. As quickly as that quiet strum came, it’s gone, trampled by robust rhythms easing in and out of the desperate indie delivery going on here. “Lie To Me” follows with a sexy blues rhythm line serving as a wobbling base for the rest of the zesty, uptempo instrumentation to samba on. In a similar fashion, “Won’t Go Easy” buzzes with the rapid-fire indie-rock tendencies of The Raconteurs, fueled by flavorful rhythm lines and catchy vocal riffs all running amok on unrelenting percussion. Back-to-back, we lose the hardness of the first half of the record but keep the speed.
When “I’ve Been Waiting” hits, we realize that we know nothing about The Hollow Roots. They have far more depth to them than their rollicking rock suggests. It’s the longest track on the album and for good reason — it takes its time, finally, the first song off Ghost(s) to do so, and it’s beautiful. The guitar line rolls in tender waves, the vocals are at their best (aided by a dreamy backing choir), and The Hollow Roots’ signature rock still abounds, but it’s rarefied, toned down until it floats through the sweet soundscape to touch down quietly like ghosts on their way to their next haunting. There’s nothing paranormal here, though — maybe just in the sense that this mesmeric power ballad is wholly unexpected. The moment ends far too soon as we return to the post-rock treatment on “Get Back Up (On Your Feet).” It’s not nearly as in-your-face as previous songs are, instead opting to crawl through the muck of distortion to get to frenzied breakdowns.
On “Lines,” The Hollow Roots build a dizzying alt-rock soundscape sans much aggression, five minutes of rich guitar riffs and thick slaps of percussion moving in and out of the shadows. Ghost(s) ends with “Waves,” practically unmistakable to Led Zeppelin’s rich instrumental openers, but made fresh with woozy vocal croons and searing multi-instrumentation that just doesn’t quit. It’s not a dynamic conclusion, but it’s a solid one: a clear representation of the immense talent The Hollow Roots boast. Ghost(s) proves, over and over again, that the guys of The Hollow Roots were made and meant for delivering savage rock fueled by the hungry want for wildness.
The Music Mermaid: First, can you tell The Music Mermaid a little about yourselves and your music?
The Hollow Roots: We are a four piece rock band that formed in Murfreesboro, TN. We all moved there from our respective home states to go to school — we formed the band so we could be a part of the massive house show scene that was very active back in 2011. Our music is what you get when you mix [lead vocalist] Zach's classic rock songwriting style with the [rest] of our influences that come from more modern, more progressive styles.
TMM: Like so many of the artists we love and cover, you guys are based in Nashville. What do you love most about working in such a creative space like Music City?
THR: We are surrounded by so many talented people who are really good at what they do and dedicate their lives to it. It forces you to be better. Also, there are so many eclectic genres of music that go way beyond country and rock music that inspires so much creativity.
TMM: What was the production process like for your latest record, Ghost(s)?
THR: We had been playing these songs for the past few years and just wanted to get them down finally. We worked out of a home studio in Nashville run by Caleb of Cygnus Sound Studios. He had seen us play at the Cobra Lounge and immediately wanted to work with us. He is a wizard! Since we had been playing the songs for so long, we were able to get them completed in just a couple of days.
TMM: What about the songwriting process -- is it collaborative? Are there any central themes you’ve employed?
THR: Our lead singer Zach usually comes up with a melody and sometimes a verse. When he introduces it to us, we jam on it for some time and the song kind of creates itself. Because we do it this way, everyone's own sounds and styles are kept in the music.
TMM: In what ways does Ghost(s) differ from your self-titled EP from last year?
THR: Well first, the first album was recorded live and all in one day, so the sound quality is way better. I think you can hear a maturity in the songwriting and how everyone plays to the song more on this second album. We definitely wanted to write good songs for this album.
TMM: I think what’s most remarkable about Ghost(s) is how vast it is. There are so many different elements and genres and inspirations hiding in the corners here, from power ballads to prog-rock to woozy blues and so much more. Can you talk a little about how you experiment and blend to craft The Hollow Roots’ sound?
THR: Definitely. As I mentioned, we all grew up with very different musical tastes. Colten, the lead guitarist, is more into progressive, post-rock sounds. Our drummer Billy is more of a hard-hitting, punk-rock drummer, so from them you definitely get the modern sounding, fast rock songs. Zach and our bassist Tyler like Tom Petty and The Beatles respectively so they are more into writing good songs with nice melodies and older, more rootsy-sounding styles.
TMM: If you ask me, you guys should really be sharing the stage with fellow badasses like Gary Clark Jr., The Raconteurs, and obviously Robert Plant. If you could collab with anybody, who would it be and why?
THR: That would be badass! I think we all share a love for Paul McCartney. He and The Beatles had a very similar approach to life where they just stuck to what they wanted to do for honest reasons and the rest seems to follow. They seemed to just be doing it for no other reason other than that they felt like it. They didn't have a destination in mind other than to enjoy life, and I think people saw that.
TMM: Who are three musicians you think the world needs to hear ASAP?
THR: Our friends in The Dirty Delusions write some killer songs and play with insane energy. They're wild and honest. Illiterate Light are a very hardworking band and really nice guys. And our bffs in D3bra — they bring a lot of character to their music.
TMM: What has been your most memorable music moment so far?
THR: I think just driving around the country in our beat-up van and meeting welcoming people who appreciate what we do from night to night. Our music has taken us to places we thought we would never see. Any show where the crowd gives the energy back is the best show, no matter where you are.
The Music Mermaid: Finally, what’s next for The Hollow Roots?
The Hollow Roots: We plan to hit the road hard next year. We love traveling and playing shows and we want to go everywhere. We want to get out there and stay out there.