By David DeRocco
The members of Hollerado are on the verge – of releasing a new album, of embarking on a summer tour, of finally achieving the level of success that’s so-far evaded them, and maybe, on the verge of a massive breakdown from exhaustion. Who really knows what the future holds beyond their May 23 show at Fort Erie’s new Bell Tower Sanctuary? As an independent band that has been existing in a perpetual state of touring to pay their bills, feed their families and satiate their fan-base, Menno Versteeg, Nixon Boyd, Dean Baxter and Jake Boyd – a.k.a. Hollerado – are used to facing challenges. The funny thing is, they’ve never been happier.
“We are the most excited we’ve ever been playing in the band,” says lead vocalist and guitarist Menno, on a break from another long day in a New York City studio where band members are recording their third album. “I don’t know what it is but we’re all excited, hopeful, we’re really enjoying the process of making this record. It’s kind of strange really. We realize with this record that is really do or die for us. We realize there’s a lot of pressure on this record but we’re not really feeling it.”
The pressure is partially due to the fact the album emerging from these NYC studio sessions will be the culmination of over two years of song-writing that began with a promise to fans – 111 fans to be exact. That’s the number of songs band members found themselves committed to writing after promising to customize a new song to each fan who bought the premium CD package for the second Hollerado release, White Paint. What started as kind of a marketing ploy for that album suddenly turned into a major responsibility, an idea on which band members quickly realized they had to follow through.
“We stick to our word, and sometimes we have really stupid ideas,” confessed the affable frontman. “We usually try to follow through with them, especially if we promised to deliver them to fans. People paid to buy these songs. But to have any standards of quality for them, it takes time. It literally took two years to deliver on the project. Now that that’s finished, it feels really good. It was great practice for us to write this album. We learned a lot about what we want to do in a studio that’s for sure.”
That onslaught of creative writing proved to be a musically cathartic experience for the band, one that Menno says gave them a rare opportunity to explore personal musical passions they might not otherwise have had opportunity to explore.
“The part that I enjoyed, that we all enjoyed, was we were able to explore things that we may not have been able to get on a Hollerado record. I like 80s hard-core punk for example, bands like Black Flag or The Descendants, but I could never put a song like that on a Hollerado record. That’s not what we do. But because we had so much to write we were indulging those other interests. There’s a lot of electronic stuff on the record; Dean’s into electronic stuff. There’s a 12-minute song on there that’s really like a “cultish” chant. It was fun to have no rules.”
Does Menno ever see the band playing all 111 songs in one sitting, perhaps in a marathon charity concert?
“I never thought of that,” he laughs. “That’s over six hours of music. We could do it in a telethon type show, like a Springsteen concert. It would be really fun to play, but I can’t imagine trying to learn to play everything.”
What he is imagining these days is Hollerado releasing the record and it becoming the breakthrough album this group of Ottawa-based indie rockers has been hoping for. Their star has been steadily rising since these four friends – three who grew up on the same street in Manotick, Ontario – formed the band in 2007. Earning Juno nods for Best New Group and Video of The Year got them noticed but not much else. An extensive touring schedule that has seen Hollerado opening for the likes of Sum 41, Billy Talent and Arcade Fire at SXSW, NXNE, Pop Montreal and other festivals has earned them rave reviews as a kick-ass live band. Like many other bands have discovered, however, adulation on the road doesn’t always translate into money in the bank or truckloads of CD sales. That reality has Menno and his bandmates contemplating their options despite the overwhelming optimism surrounding the new record.
“It’s interesting to think about, that if you don’t get to that next level you may have to think about finding something else to do in life. We’re always going to play music. But you can’t sustain a touring schedule of over 200 days a year into your 40s and still be living at the poverty line. That’s pretty hard to sustain. At this point we’re doing what we love to do and it’s just like, there’s no arguing or fighting. We’re just happy to stand behind the music and be proud of it.”
The recording sessions in NYC find the band in great spirits, enjoying the long days in the studio with Canadian producer Gus van Go and having little time to enjoy the fabled night life in the Big Apple. That work schedule is fine with Menno, who says being in the studio isn’t exactly a tough daily gig to handle.
“It’s incredibly fun. I guess that’s why we can put up with the long hours recording. The days just fly by. We’ve all had a million jobs we hate, like when you’re moving bricks or bussing tables or working in a store. Then you’re just watching the clock. Here we show up and then suddenly we realize it’s been like 10 or 12 hours. We’re so lucky to really love what we do.”
Fans heading to the new Bell Tower Sanctuary venue in Fort Erie can expect to hear lots of new songs mixed into the performance; they can also expect to see a highly motivated frontman, thanks in part to some inspiration he recently received after watching an indie band Hollerado had signed to their label.
“I went to a show in New York last year, a band on our Royal Mountain label called White Reaper. We went to check them out their show; they’re just these young kids from Kentucky, a punk band. And it reminded me why I got into a band. They were so unpretentious, so joyful, so rockin’. It just gave me a good feeling. Sometimes your forget that when you’ve been touring for 10 years. Not every show is going to be the best time of your life. But it really it when you come down to it.”