When Dave Hollier spins records at a party, he plays stuff that’s all over the map. The Meters, The Knife, Boston, Bowie, Buck Owens. It could go very wrong. But it doesn’t. Finding the thread that leads from The Cars to The Beastie Boys to Van Halen to Prayers, he tells a long, beautiful, cross-cultural, multi-generational story. Hollier’s band King Ropes is doing much the same thing.
“Gravity and Friction”, King Ropes’ latest release, deals in contrasting attitudes and tonalities, reveling in the process of discovering the connections between dissimilar sounds and compositional instincts. This record is seemingly built from hundreds of spontaneous urges, all vying for dominant control and attention. But in the hands of King Ropes, these threads of volatile musical intuition and ingenuity are shaped into a ragged and compelling noise, one that favors innate inspiration over any sort of belabored correctness.
Hollier grew up in Montana, steeped in old school country and radio rock, then spent four years in Portland, OR where musical horizons were way broader. He moved to NY in the mid ‘80s and had his mind blown daily. Rappers were coming out of the Bronx. Dwight Yoakum came to play in the hip rock clubs. Salsa and Merenque were everywhere. The Beastie Boys were soaking up all this same stuff. Buying used records based on their covers alone and finding Cal Tjader, Lee Dorsey, Sly and Robbie. Hanging in L.E.S bars and clubs; Pyramid Club, Downtown Beirut, Holiday Cocktail Lounge, Danceteria, Save the Robots.
At Club Rub-a-Dub in Williamsburg, an underground dance party thrown in Hollier’s cabinet shop, he started playing records and trying to make some sense of how all this music might be connected. ZZ Top to Lee Dorsey, Brian Eno, to Patsy Cline and Talking Heads. (Maybe not in that order. But definitely in the same set).
Playing records led to playing music. And another underground social club offered the opportunity to expand on the kernel of an idea. The Brooklyn Rod and Gun Club was started on a whim with a couple friends. Beyond anyone’s expectations the club had a six year run, eventually hosting live music 5 nights a week. Hollier had a weekly gig that started as a “hootenanny” and evolved into the band Home for Wayward Drummers, playing 3-hour sets to gaggles of Williamsburg hipsters who wandered in off Kent Avenue. By learning hundreds of covers, Hollier developed an intuition about the intangible factors that make a song work or not, and became obsessed with writing his own.
He moved back west after years in Brooklyn and renamed his band King Ropes, borrowing a moniker from a western tack store in Wyoming. He wanted a name that tied his roots in the west to the amalgam of styles and influences of his current musical output - garage rock, roots rock, psych and country.
“I’ve been formed by a lot of different stuff,” he says. “It seems boring to me try to limit ourselves to a certain style or genre of music. I'm interested in the contrasts between urban and rural, eastern and western, sophisticated and raw, sweet and bludgeoning,” Hollier explains. “People think it’s weird, a kid growing up in Montana wanting to move to New York, but those two extremes define who I am, and I think that this music reflects that.”
Experimental in approach and execution, King Ropes blurs the lines between seemingly conflicting tones and aesthetics – the result of a life spent absorbing countless musical histories and the ways in which sounds and songs work. King Ropes incorporates the spark and genius of artists as varied as the Pixies, The Velvet Underground and Willie Nelson into a singular perspective without sacrificing the distinctiveness of those separate voices.
Recorded in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, the debut record from King Ropes, “Dirt,” released in 2017, found Hollier and the band working their way through roughed-up garage rock, psych illuminations and an unsentimental twang that would have felt right at home on a Wilco album. Their follow-up, the 2018 EP “Green Wolverine,” even more eclectic, was recorded in Bozeman and mixed in L.A. by Barry Conley (Stevie Ray Vaughan, L7, Black Label Society and Dwight Yoakam).
King Ropes’ new record, Gravity and Friction, slated for release July (??), was produced by Hollier and recorded, mixed, and Mastered by Chuck Goodwin at Sinik Sound in Bozeman, MT. The current band is composed of Hollier, drummer Jeff Jensen, (Henry + Isla) bassist Aaron Banfield, (Permafunk, and a solid songwriter in his own right), guitarist Ben Roth, (Oberhoffer, BOD), and cellist Sam Hollier (Hollier’s son, who plays in a huge variety of bands in New Orleans, ranging form Metal to Eastern European folk music). Enough of the band is Montana boys to ensure that tangents will never stray too far from that home soil, but a shitload of other influences at play leave plenty of opportunity for Hollier’s eclectic vision. By surrounding himself with such remarkable people (including his daughter Lucy, who has played viola and trombone on many of his recordings and occasionally lends her voice as well), Hollier has accumulated a group of artists whose penchant for musical eclecticism matches his own and whose nebulous musical ideologies play in perfect complement to Hollier’s.
Gravity and Friction’s 8 tracks build on the genre-less aesthetic that defines the band. From the rural shuffle and strings of opener, “Saint Peter,” to the twang and release of closing song “These Days,” the album explores a collection of transient melodies, dirge-like arrangements and wild guitar freak-outs – not to mention the sporadic detour into spoken word experimentalism and swampy psychobilly impulses.
The title track tromps and surges in a looping mass of atmospheric roots rock while “Mouthful of Bees” sounds like Crazy Horse tackling songs from Pavement’s “Slanted and Enchanted.” There’s little consideration given to adhering to a set framework, not that the band has ever been interested in such things (read: given a shit). The record feels detached from any sense of current fashion or trending production – it’s raw and unencumbered in its emotional timbre. Guided by Hollier, the music merges its disparate influences into an expansive and organically evolved sonic vision.
Despite the often loose and open nature of the music, the band never falters in its focus, never surrenders momentum to wallow in unnecessary tangents. When they do happen upon something that takes them off-track, it feels essential to the foundation of what they’re constructing. Hollier has spent decades learning how to manage the movements of dozens of musical filaments, and with Gravity and Friction, King Ropes is able to maintain a balance between the simmering pandemonium of their influences and the grounded realities of personal experiences which have irrevocably shaped them.