Two bands that look back to classic rock for inspiration, Seattle-based Thunderpussy and the New York act Hollis Brown have hit the road together this summer in support of terrific new albums. Sylvia Massey (Tool, System of a Down, Red Hot Chili Peppers) produced Thunderpussy’s self-titled album that dropped last year. Hollis Brown’s latest effort, Ozone Park
, shows off the band’s sharp songwriting skills and draws from roots rock acts such as Tom Petty and Credence Clearwater Revival.
Hollis Brown drummer Andrew Zehnal, who grew up in Cleveland, and Thunderpussy guitarist Whitney Petty recently spoke to us about their respective bands in separate phone interviews.
The two groups perform with Time Cat at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 2, at the Grog Shop
in Cleveland Heights.
What do you consider your influences?
I think collectively we like American songwriters. We just like good songwriting. That’s kind of what we all love. That’s pretty much the reason we do it. Growing up in Cleveland, I absolutely listened to WMMS and Michael Stanley and all that stuff. Cleveland loves classic rock for sure. Led Zeppelin was a huge thing for me as a kid. Motley Crue came on, and they were cool too. I love those bands. Still do. Zeppelin is probably one of my favorite bands of all time.
[Singer] Molly [Sides] and I have similar influences. I’m definitely into classic rock, but I grew up listening to country in the early ’80s and ’90s. My first concert was Tanya Tucker, and I really love that music. My mom got me really into the Highwaymen. I had a softball coach that played me some Def Leppard. I was like, “What the hell is this? This is sweet.” I got into Aerosmith and Tom Petty and I got into the blues via Elmore James. All those things are a melting pot for what’s become Thunderpussy. I’m from Marietta, GA, and I moved to Seattle to be a deckhand. It was on the shortlist of things I wanted to try when I was a kid. I got a gig on a small passenger cruise ship. I was trying to come back to the Northwest. I had worked on trials in Eugene, and I fell in love with the landscape. It was so different fro the gentle rolling hills of Appalachia. I was like, “What are these volcanoes and these cliffs and these oceans?” I fell in love with Seattle. It’s a great city. There’s a statue for Jimi Hendrix in my neighborhood, and we just played at the Volunteer Park Amphitheatre where he played and at Washington Hall, where he also played. There’s a lot of history here.
Talk about how important it is to put on a high-energy live show.
We translate better live. It’s more of a visceral experience than our recorded music. We like to stretch out in certain places on tunes. We have some good soloists in the band. Jon [Bonilla] is a great guitar player. It’s nice to let him shine, and it adds to the whole show experience. You feed off the crowd and play the room. We’re the kind of band that can lean on our prowess as musicians and utilize that.
My thing with music has always been about the look and the mystique as much as the music. The blues and rock ’n’ roll lend themselves to that. I think they’re inseparable. You can’t play the blues without having some aura of mystique, and you can’t play rock ’n’ roll without the energy. Even when I was still listening to country and I got my first guitar but didn’t know how to play it yet, I jumped on the bed and looked into the mirror. I could care less about whether I could play it or not. I just wanted to get some moves down. We’re just animals when we get in front of an audience. You can’t get away from it. After our first show, we just knew it was magic.
Talk about your approach on your latest album. Did you try to do anything differently?
We wanted a more modern sound, and we wanted to trim the fat. I was listening to a lot of Tom Petty at that time. Incidentally, he passed away while we were in the studio, which is weird. I was listening to his production and the driving quality of the drums. It was really simple with less crash cymbals and less fills. I wanted to just drive it. That was the approach rhythmically from the drums. We wanted to add more modern synth sounds. We’ve been pegged as an Americana band, and that’s not really what we do. We wanted more of a now sound. We added synth sounds and more pop-minded overtones.
When you make your first record, some of the songs are five or 10 or 15 years old, so you have a very specific thing in mind for them. We had been searching for the right producer for over a year. We found Sylvia [Massey], and it just clicked. We had this specific vision for the record. We wanted to make a classic sounding record that had a vibe and as an album-oriented rock style record with different songs to take you different places. We had all these ideas. When we go in the studio, we’ll do a lot of writing in the studio on the spot and see what happens.
You’ve been known to throw a few cover songs into your sets. Anything you’ve got that’s ready to go for this tour?
We’ve been playing [the Jimi Hendrix tune “Castles Made of Sand”] lately. We have a bunch of them we can pull out. The Hendrix thing is something we can pull out. We do some Credence Clearwater Revival, which is rootsy American rock. We like that. We probably won’t pull that out on this tour. We’ll probably push the tunes that are on the record, especially the ones we like playing live.
Well, I hate to give anything away, but the first show of the tour was [Pearl Jam’s] Mike McCready’s inaugural Peak to Sky festival, and for that show, we learned a bunch of covers and got to play them with real rock stars, which was really cool. We took some things from that set, and let me just say that I’m a huge Aerosmith fan, so we’ll do some of that stuff.
Thunderpussy, Hollis Brown, Time Cat, 8:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588. Tickets: $12 ADV, $15 DOS, grogshop.gs
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