By Dave Schutz
“So I was thinking, for this article, the headline should say, ‘San Pedro is the only hallucinogen sanctioned by the Catholic Church,’” laughs Michael Kirkpatrick, guitarist, vocalist and founding member of The Holler!, referring to the potted cactus next to his couch.
The joke stems from a discussion about journalists using a band profile as a guise from which to run with their own ideas, and Kirkpatrick is suggesting – in jest – that I parlay this profile into a tract on drugs and society.
The point of the joke being that the band – also including Brad Poto (bass/vocals), Josh Vogeler (drums/vocals) and Brian Adams (guitar/vocals) – wants to make sure the use of the word “folkadelic” to describe themselves is understood properly.
“There are a lot of connotations that go along with that,” Kirkpatrick says. “A psychedelic state can be induced by anything. It has nothing to do with drugs.”
“I think what we’re trying to say with the name ‘folkadelic’ is that it’s folk music without boundaries,” Kirkpatrick says. “To me, psychedelic music isn’t like your San Francisco Bay Area ‘60s band, per se. It can mean anything. It means a lot. It means everything and nothing at the same time” he laughs.
“Nothing” in the sense that words are only what we make them to mean, but “everything” in the sense that the word folkadelic, as the band sees it, goes beyond just the style of music. The folk and psychedelic aspects are both key to all facets of the band, from songwriting, to live shows, to the celebrations organized by the band. Kirkpatrick has put together eight iterations of “Holler!ween,” an “archaic revival” that falls annually the week before Halloween.
The May 7 release show for their new album Gratitude coincides with their annual Beltane masquerade party (Beltane is a pagan holiday commemorating the mid-point between the spring equinox and summer solstice). These festivals are an important part of the band’s ethos.
“I believe that the way a community celebrates plays a huge role in defining that community” Kirkpatrick says. “Obviously, when you’re celebrating, I think that there’s a heightened vibration that borders on the edge of a spiritual experience. And when you start to feel that spiritual experience and everyone around you – at least by the looks on their face – might be going through the same thing, it makes the celebration more powerful.”
For The Holler!, that means inclusiveness in the form of dance troupes that have joined that party at previous events, as well as the participation of the audience.
“When I play music, I’m chasing something, and it’s the exchange of energy with the fellow musicians, because that’s really special” says Poto. “It becomes spiritual in a way. But then that energy, and especially with the crowd – you pass it to them, they amplify it and send it back. It becomes regenerative after a while.”
“Last night was one of those nights when the crowd was just giving it back to us. And you could just feel that exchange of energy” says Adams of the band’s FoCoMX gig at Bar SS.
Gratitude will be the first album as The Holler!, though Kirkpatrick has been operating under variations of the moniker for several years, releasing albums as Wildwood Holler! and HandPicked Holler! and changing the name as new members joined. The addition of Poto on bass, following the departure of previous bassist Josh Beard, spurred the new, shorter name.
The album was recorded in Kirkpatrick’s basement and mixed and mastered by Kris Smith at his Haus of Kraus studio. It’s a low-budget affair, but lacks none of the depth and richness of previous efforts. Though traditional Appalachian bluegrass structures and melodies play a role in The Holler!’s music, the band is hesitant to limit themselves with a “-grass” tag. True to the “folk music without boundaries” ethos, they incorporate a variety of elements, from Celtic and rock to a bit of reggae.
And while improvisatory nature of the live show occasionally goes into “jam” territory, the band holds to the folk ideal of keeping the lyrics central. Kirkpatrick characterizes The Holler! as “minstrels,” writing about contemporary issues, even politics, but in a way that leaves the door open to multiple interpretations.
Kirkpatrick cites “Bluejay” from Gratitude, summing the confluence of folk and psychedelic aspects embodied by the band.
“From the outsider’s perspective, you could look at this song and listen to the words and think, ‘Oh, this is a song about blowing up dams.’ But, you know, there are all sorts of dams out there. There are dams in your consciousness; in your own mode of operation that prevent you from experiencing things.”
The Holler! will celebrate the release of Gratitude – as well as Beltane – at The Mishawaka on May 7 with Constitution. Be sure to bring a mask and plenty of energy, and check out themishawaka.com for ticket information. To find out more about the band, go to thehollermusic.com.