Hollow Bill Poets & Neckties Album Art: Jenny Schneck
A Conversation with Hollow Bill Lead Singer/Songwriter Mike Dorrance
Made up of Mike Dorrance (vocals, guitar), Keith Brown (bass) and Andy Schoenauer (percussion, guitar, vocals), Madison-based bar band trio Hollow Bill has one of the most wide-ranging, break-your-heart and rock-your-soul sounds you’ll ever hear around town.
And, as their debut album Poets & Neckties (streaming now) proves, they also have the wide-ranging talent to back that sound up.
After unveiling Poets & Neckties last Friday, and ahead of two live gigs already booked this summer, Max Ink sat down with singer/songwriter Mike Dorrance to chat about the new record, his songwriting process, being a father and how the band can’t wait to play the new album live.
Max Ink: Congratulations on the new album, man! And what a debut album it is. How did the process start? Did you already have original songs laying around?
Mike Dorrance: Well, with COVID, there were a bunch of gigs we were planning on playing that we obviously didn’t get the chance to play. We had a few originals that we had been writing a while back. We started with 4 songs and were originally going to just do an EP.
Then, we couldn’t decide which 4 to include and said “Hey, if we had two more, we’d be closer to an album.” Then we had six and said the same thing.
Did that until we had 10. We really kind of expanded in real-time and knocked out a brand new album.
Maximum Ink: Nicely done. So, where did you guys record?
MD: My wife’s Uncle - and Andrew’s Uncle - let us kind of crash his basement. We started recording down there last August.
Uncle Ed, as he’s called. Great guy. Great sort of character in a bunch of people’s lives, and he’s known as Uncle Ed by pretty much everyone who knows him.
He produced it, we used his equipment. We actually set up the equipment on the back of a folded ping pong table (laughs) with foam padding on the back.
But we were very naive with all the technicalities and process so it was really awesome to have him in the captain’s chair and lead us.
We’re incredibly grateful for him.
MI: Well, like I said, it’s a great album. Really. And collectively it conveys all the ground you guys cover with your sound. For readers who haven’t heard it yet, which songs on Poets & Neckties do you think are most representative of that breadth?
MD: Whew. That’s tough. Songwriting is a selfish process for me. And I write as all of these emotions are kind of stirring inside of me. So, it’s hard to pick!
But I’d have to say “Ode to Ingram” and “Cowboy Bill.” From there, I’d let the rest of the guys pick whatever.
MI: I love “Hurley”! Tell us a bit about why you’d pick those two.
MD: I think that those two kind of do the best job of blurring the lines between the “Poets” and the “Neckties” - where the different versions of ourselves kind of overlap a bit. Yeah we can have a rowdy good time with you with Cowboy Bill, but then we can also tone it down and connect on a deeper level such as with Ingram. It’s how Andrew, Keith and I get along too… we have a good time, but there’s a deeper connection and we want that to come through in the music, too.
Cowboy Bill is really just a bunch of true anecdotes strung together from various characters I’ve either known or heard of - so these little short stories of everyday folks come together to create a larger than life character that we all want to hang out with, but aren’t quite sure we could keep up with…
MI: How about “Ode to Ingram”?
MD: “Ode to Ingram” has a more serious and personal touch to it - there’s just so much I want to say, so many memories I want to honor, all with an urge to share it with whoever wants to listen.
So while it started as a song inspired by the late country artist, Gram Parsons, it’s really become an ode to something or someone different each time we play it - and I really like the idea of it being something shared with the listener… hopefully it evokes some sort of reminiscence for the listener.
MI: I love that, man. It reminds me of the Pearl Jam classic “Yellow Ledbetter” which doesn’t have official lyrics and is performed differently every time it’s played live.
MD: Oh, wow. I love that song. Didn’t know that.
MI: Yeah, and I think you’re exactly right. It kind of gives the music, the art, an immortal sense, to live on and evolve with the listener. So, looking at the album collectively, are there any overarching themes that tie the songs or record together?
MD: Overall the theme, summed up by the title, is the duality or multiple versions of ourselves that are mostly kept separate but sometimes overlap; the professional part of us, the daydreamer, the weekender, etc. The album tries to fit itself somewhere between all these different versions, juggling all the highs and lows of everyday life… sometimes exciting, sometimes mundane but no less important.
That being said, it’s probably a bit looser than I’d like to admit. Keith actually quelled my fear and mentioned how lots of debut albums have a bunch of different themes because they’ve been created over time - life perspectives have changed.
So, some of these themes have stretched over several years. But overall, my songwriting has always been storytelling-esque. I have a hard time writing anything other than a story.
MI: There are some great whimsical, saloon songs on the record, and then some get heavy.
MD: For me, as a songwriter writing about life experiences, you know, the morbidity of life can creep in pretty easily. A lot of my fears creep into my songwriting.
Each song you could picture some guy in a chair telling a story or a tall tale or how he lived. That essence of nostalgia in the way that people reminisce.
MI: The points you bring up about life and perspective changing are interesting. You became a father since you started your musical career. How has that impacted your songwriting?
MD: Yeah, my oldest, Marty, was born in 2017, when we started our first band. Before kids, by nature I was kind of a high-strung person, you know? I’d have a million thoughts running through my head and would kind of recede and internalize things.
When you add children to that mix, the highs are higher and the lows get lower. Yet, you have to keep it as even keel as possible.
Fatherhood makes you worry about things you never thought you would. You care so much about this little creature; the selflessness really is so true.
But the biggest thing is you start taking what you’re doing more seriously because you realize they’re going to have it after you’re gone.
MI: Like legacy. These songs you’re writing will live on after you.
MD: Yeah, exactly. And if I could hand down my passion and love for music to my kids, that would be worth every minute we’ve spent on this album or in a band in general. I know Andrew would say the same - his boys, Charlie and Ted I think are our biggest fans, no joke.
But, objectively carving out the time to create is hard (laughs). You kind of learn to multitask and keep your brain open for creative inspiration while you butter waffles and change the diapers.
Every day is an adventure but it lends itself to inspiration.
MI: That’s beautiful, man. I’m getting married this fall and THAT’S changing my perspective a ton. Can’t imagine what fatherhood does. So, the album is now out! What’s the focus now?
MD: The next step will be to support the album and songs live, as safely and efficiently as possible. It sounds huge in the studio - how do we recreate that sound live?
But playing live is ultimately what we want to do. That’s what we’re all about. So, we want to get back to practicing and just playing music live. Play shows.
This summer we’re going to gig out as much as we can. Keith would cringe if we didn’t (laughs) so I’ll give him his bone and gig all summer through fall.
But then we actually already have 10-15 songs ready for another album. So we’ll take the winter time to hibernate in the studio.
MI: Well there you go. Another album coming! (laughs) Thanks for taking the time, man. Anything else you’d want to add?
MD: Well, as always, there’s just a TON of people to thank. But, Hollow Bill, this band, we’re a collective unit. I wouldn’t be anywhere without those guys.
But from here, like Tom Petty, we’ll be just running down that dream one day at a time.
Hollow Bill’s debut album Poets & Neckties is currently streaming on all major platforms including Spotify and Apple Music.
Catch them live on Max Ink Radio (92.7FM) on Saturday, June 19, and at the Bur Oak (formerly The Winnebago) on Saturday, July 10.
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