Chicago and the suburbs are fortunate to have a music scene built on the rich sounds of soul. Fans can find it smoldering in our legendary blues, driving our rock, influencing our hip-hop.
With a modern twist on that retro soul sound, the five-piece Hollyy burst from Elgin three years ago, transporting listeners to the heyday of soul’s growth into the mainstream. This week, the band is releasing two new singles diving into that vibe.
“We all liked that kind of old-school music. We love watching old music documentaries or listening to old records and stuff like that,” said Brandon Couture, guitarist for the band. “I personally grew up on Chicago blues like Muddy Waters. My mom loves Stevie Ray Vaughan and all sorts of different stuff. So I think all of us have that background.”
Growing up in Elgin together, Couture and Tanner Bednar started their musical journey working with what they knew — “blues, soul, old-school rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. Joined in high school by Rafe Soto, they used their influences to branch off from what many of their contemporaries were doing.
“My friends introduced me to most of the music that I’m most inspired by, which I’m pretty fortunate for,” said Bednar, the man who brings the retro sound alive behind the mic. “Between Brandon and our other friends that we grew up with on the block, they showed me blues and soul music when I was 11 years old, and I never looked back. Also classic rock and all that. And then you form your own stuff. Find your roots, and then you grow from there.”
With college friend Pete Giere (from Minnesota) joining on keys and Hanover Park bassist Dom Zeier (also the band’s resident sound engineering expert) rounding out the group, the band locked in its current lineup in 2018.
“That was a really important time,” Couture said. “Being such a young band, we really spent that whole year and a half learning how each other plays, sharing interests, sharing influences.”
Hollyy used that to reach new fans, building a following with an earnest approach to much-celebrated genres as the band played gigs all over the Chicago area.
“Like any band, you need to form your identity, and it takes a while and is a pretty humbling experience,” Bednar said. “You’re playing whatever dive bar you can at first, and you’re playing to your roommate and your friends, maybe your parents, and that’s just how it is. And you love it because all you want to do is play music. But at the same time your eyes are always on something bigger.”
For Hollyy, a show at Chicago’s Chop Shop showed band members they were on the right path.
“That’s when we realized there are a lot of people who are into this and that we can put on a good show,” Giere said. “For me, I really think that’s when we came to full fruition in terms of figuring out how to play with one another, in figuring out how to weave the mix and tell the story.”
As with many area bands, 2020 forced Hollyy to figure out a new direction. Coming off a period during which they sold out Schubas, won a battle of the bands at Sleeping Village and opened for a nearly sold-out show at Lincoln Hall, their plans for 2021 were thwarted by the pandemic.
“It was like a cold shower,” Couture joked.
Hollyy moved ahead with a more SEO-friendly rebranding of the band (from the spelling Holly,) early last year just as concerns about the virus were growing, and by the time shutdowns started band members were looking at putting new music out to their fans.
“This wasn’t timed or planned by any means,” Bednar said. “But we switched our name to our double-Y and simultaneously started to release music right when millions of people only had to sit in front of their computers.”
Using much of this gig-free time for promotion, the band played some outdoor livestream shows in the summer, released performance videos shot at Fort Knox Studios by Max Williams and Wale Sanni, and a soon-to-be-released AudioTree performance, all the while working on original music with Toronto friend and producer Nixon Boyd.
But now in 2021, they’re looking ahead. Hollyy’s two new singles — “Hesitate” and “Sailing” — will be out on major platforms Friday with an upcoming vinyl release and a large-scale livestream in the works.
Bednar said they are drawn to the old A-side/B-side record releases popular in the past. “And since we play retro music,” he said, “it’s been an allure to us.”