[ Big thanks to Rick Tupica for the following extensive interview... Check out the original -- plus tons of other great interviews! -- over at his boss Turn It Down blog. ]
"Imagine listening to old Northern Soul 45’s on a battery operated portable record player while viewing a kaleidoscope in a lavender grove," is how lead singer and bassist Justin Angelo Morey describes his New Jersey-based psychedelic garage band, The Black Hollies. After spending his formative teenage years listening to Brit Pop, collecting old rock and soul 45s and tuning into WFMU, Morey honed those influences into his own ’60s inspired band in 2004. Since then, the band has evolved into a polished, pop-inspired unit with traces of sitar. Recently The Black Hollies played SXSW and are wrapping up their tour across the United States... For an almost complete history, and the story behind the chocolate factory, read the below interview with Morey.
How did the Black Hollies form? How long have you been together?
Around the month of July in the year 2004, we were all hanging out together in Jon’s old attic. There was an old turntable located next to a bookshelf that contained books on all sorts of subjects. We would mostly spend time listening to old ’60s soul 45s and while reading books on mysticism, art, geography and spiritual enlightenment. I guess we were trying to pick up puzzle pieces of our lives while discovering new mediums to express our ideas. I suggested trying to write similar music to the others and eventually we pulled the power plug of the record player out of the wall socket and turned ourselves on.
What is your home town like?
My home town is Jersey City, New Jersey. I was born in the Margaret Hague Ward of the old Medical Center over on Montgomery Street. We resided in the Greenville section where I was exposed to all sorts of cultures, art and music. The neighborhood was a pretty rough area and presently is even rougher. The chances of being jumped while walking home from school were very high. When I was in the eighth grade, I can vividly recall always walking my first girlfriend home at night with a tool called a ’Cat’s Paw,’ (it’s usually associated with general contractors and an eighth grader trying to protect not only himself but his pretty girlfriend) in my coat pocket just in case we ran into any trouble. Fortunately we never had the need to employ such a defense mechanism.
What part of the city do you live in?
Presently, I live in the downtown area of Jersey City. There are still rough sections, but the number of young professionals now calling it home has been inspiring real estate agencies to increase rents all around. Developers are taking advantage of the new settlers by filling in holes with massive luxury condo buildings. The city has been diluted and the PATH stations are overcrowded. On a positive note, I’m no longer called, ’The Beatles’ as much. I guess that by the time they get to me, they’ve already said that more than a dozen times and just get to the point. "Brotha’ can you hook another brotha’ up with some bread?" If I’ve got a dollar I can spare, I hook them up. I believe that one day it will come back to me when I need it.
What first got you digging rock-n-roll music? What bands did you like back in high school?
"Throughout high school, I was absorbing what was going on all around me. I had discovered WFMU a couple of years prior to high school and would look forward to Bill Kelly’s radio program on Sunday afternoons. I had no idea that the records he was playing were considered ’Garage Rock.’ I simply liked the way they sounded. Also, every Saturday afternoon on this public radio station over in Newark, NJ there was this DJ Felix Hernandez, who’s still going strong, that would spin old ’60s soul music."
Were you a big soul records collector back then?
I wasn’t a collector of rare soul at this point in my life, nor did I know how to classify this genre. I simply liked the songs he would play. In high school, the whole Sub Pop, Touch and Go, SST, Amphetamine Reptile catalogs mixed with old Funk 45’s -- mixed with The Happy Mondays, Blur, Stone Roses, My Bloody Valentine, that is what my friends and I were listening to mostly. Usually we would venture over to Hoboken and purchase all of these new discoveries at a record shop called Pier Platters, R.I.P... Another record store called Stan’s Record Shop was my favorite place to escape reality and listen and learn about rare soul music, which still exists today, (it has) tons of old soul records worth checking out when visiting Jersey City. It was a block away from my high school. We would stop by there on our way to the bus stop and dig in the record bins for old 45s."
Did you see any good rock shows back then?
There were plenty of bands to see at an all ages venue on Rivington called ABC NO-RIO. We used to take the PATH into the city and walk all the way down Houston and see all of these punk and hardcore bands. Trying to find our way back home in the dark and cold winter nights was scary as hell; always a story to tell the classmates on miserable Monday mornings. Everything was rather routine until one evening when I was invited to come out to see a show at a place called the Scrap Bar in New York City. I still can not recall how we managed to get into this show because we were quite young. The first band was alright but not really my thing. The second band however, changed my life forever. I never viewed or listened to music the same after this spiritual awakening. The Nation Of Ulysses absolutely blew my mind and there simply hasn’t been another experience like that ever since. I will forever be in debt for what they provided me that night. Thank you, Nation Of Ulysses.
There is obviously some ’60s influence, but what are some other kinds of music you dig?
Obviously I really love ’60s freakbeat sounds, but I’ve grown obsessed with rare soul. It started a couple of years ago as an appreciation but now I’m powerless when it comes to it. I have no discipline and when I hear a certain song that makes the hair on my arms raise, there’s no other choice but to try and find a copy for myself. Considering the fact that the past couple of months the rent has been paid late, it’s probably not a good thing to be on the hunt for certain records. The other members of the band are into ’60s freak beat and ’60s soul music as well but, unlike me, they appreciate other music. For example, Wiley is a massive Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Noel ("Silent Morning" fame) fan. Jon absolutely loves Spacemen 3 and The Small Faces. Nick really digs The Rolling Stones and Neil Young.
The Black Hollies are on tour right now, how have those shows been so far?
All of the shows we’ve played so far have been both interesting and thoroughly entertaining for us all. You really never know what kind of scenario you’re getting yourself into prior to setting foot inside of any venue. Rituals have become a part of our daily routine. Jon and Nick have entered a secret competition that tests driving endurance. We’re talking like all state versus all county, or something along those lines. Regardless, Wiley and I don’t really fully understand what they’re trying to do but we’re certain that something is going on. Wiley begins our day with positive affirmations regarding life. When the distance to the next city exceeds eight hours of driving, Wiley may see to it that we get additional reading. Running out of gear sends us into panic mode so naturally we’ll begin to withdraw into our little worlds until we receive gifts from fans at the venue. That’s always a pleasant surprise and we’re more than grateful. SXSW was fantastic for us because our friends from home, The Nouvellas, flew into town. We managed to go bowling together one evening. What a great way to spend your evening off.
What are you up to when you’re not playing music?
When not playing music, I’m most likely going to be found at my day job over at Al Richard’s Chocolates. I am a molding production coordinator over there. Believe it or not, I manage to come up with some solid song foundations while working. I usually have to stop what I’m doing and grab a scrap piece of paper and do my best to find a working pen before the idea turns to raspberry jelly filling. When I’m not tempering chocolate for semi-solid molded items for Al Richard’s, I’m probably at home cooking. I truly enjoy cooking food while listening to my records. My past dinner guests will probably warn you ahead of time to eat something before you pop over because you’re probably going to be served at 10PM. "Okay, I apologize for detaining you all but my dishes speak for themselves and I’m rather confident that they were worth the wait. Besides, the records and the wine were fabulous."
What are some bands that you’d recommend to a friend?
Nouvellas, The Above, Beauty Ray (Wiley’s upcoming solo project), and The Beatles.
What records does the band have available? Anything new in the works?
Currently we have our first LP, Crimson Reflections and we have our latest LP, Casting Shadows. We have them both on vinyl as well as CD format. Our first single, "Tell Me What You Want" and our split release with The Dansettes are both available (Ernest Jenning Record Co.). Currently we do not have copies of our new "Paisley Pattern Ground" b/w "(Hold Tight) Go Out Of Your Mind" single (Dead Flowers/Vibratone) as the sleeves were printed wrong by the manufacturer — we hope to have them any day now.
What is the best and worst part of being a rock band?
Best part is performing your set to the fans and turning new people on to your sounds; especially when you’re able to gain people who immediately dismissed you prior to witnessing a live performance.
Worst part is that some people think its tough having one wife, you try having three husbands. For example: Four members and one hotel room. That means two grown men to a bed each night. Each member is so paranoid at the possibility of nocturnal dry humping occurring that you never obtain a good night’s rest.
What is a goal the band hopes to reach someday?
The Black Hollies are:
Justin Angelo Morey - Vocals, Bass
Herbert Joseph Wiley V - Guitar, Vocals
Jon Gonnelli - Guitar, Vocals
Nicholas Ferrante - Drums