Hollow creates an ideal soundtrack to the doom scroll

The explosive post-hardcore quartet will celebrate the release of its new EP with a concert at Dirty Dungarees on Friday, Jan. 27.
Hollow bandmates (left to right) James Garcia, Reed Mathews, Danny Lemmon and Nathan Gepper
Hollow bandmates (left to right) James Garcia, Reed Mathews, Danny Lemmon and Nathan GepperCourtesy the band

Hollow emerged from the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, at a time when a revitalized Black lives matter movement first gripped the country, and the anger, indignation and sense of deep injustice dredged up by these societal shakeups resonates throughout the quartet’s new self-titled EP.

Surrounded by angular guitars that slice like falling guillotine blades, singer/shouter James Garcia lashes out at everything from the capitalist system that treats workers like fodder (“Morbid Consortium”) to the media coverage of the protests that unfolded in the wake of Minneapolis police murdering George Floyd (“FTP”), where a handful of broken storefronts were treated more harshly by some news organizations than the systems that led to the uprising.

“Broken windows are not violence!” Garcia howls amid a volley of drums and brambles of brawling guitar, a sentiment that calls to mind statements made by Sole Classics owner Dionte Johnson, whose Short North boutique was looted during the protests. “If my business has to get broken into for police reform to happen, so be it,” he said in a 2020 interview with Columbus Alive.

“The cause is greater than any piece of property,” said Garcia, who will join bandmates Reed Matthews, Danny Lemmon and Nathan Gepper for an EP release concert at Dirty Dungarees on Friday, Jan. 27. “The mainstream media, the police, our government, they want you to focus on damaged goods and not the millions of people who are suffering needlessly every single day. … Yeah, a broken window, that’s violence. But cutting off Medicare or food stamps because politicians want to use quote-unquote ‘entitlements’ as a bargaining chip, or to strip that away so they can add more to the military budget, that’s not violence. It’s pretty sickening, honestly.”

“FTP” emerged in the hours after Garcia attended the May 2020 protests in downtown Columbus, during which he was pepper sprayed and shot in the leg with a wooden bullet. “And I’m definitely not looking for sympathy; I think it was more of a uniting moment for us all,” he said. “I think we were all like, ‘Holy cow. Fascism is real and it’s marching down the street at us right now. And I went home and wrote ‘FTP’ based on my experience, and about how we’ve let this get this far, and how we’ve let down a lot of our brothers and sisters of all races and ethnicities.”

In Hollow’s songs, Garcia frequently deploys words like shrapnel, barking out poetic phrases constructed of syllables every bit as angular and pointed as the guitars, singing: “Bankrupted biosome corrupted protoplasm”; Your sedation tactic/Laced lactic acid attack”; “Pornographic byproduct genocide fully televised.” 

And yet, there’s never confusing the singer’s targets, cries of “loading bodies into the shuttle bay” conjuring the image of workers boarding buses and trains that will deposit them outside of nondescript office buildings and chain restaurants – bit players in an economic machine who are struggling to eke out a living as the powerful stockpile wealth.

“I don’t think we use the word ‘capitalism’ once in any of our songs, but you can almost immediately glean from the words that we’re talking about alienation and starvation … and oppression, depression and societal collapse,” Garcia said. “The lyrics often convey how I’m feeling in a more abstract way. … I like using words as brushstrokes, where it makes you feel something. Or where thoughts are taking shape instinctively in your mind that you can almost latch onto, rather than me just coming out and blatantly saying, ‘Government bad.’”

Musically, Hollow borrows liberally from the post-hardcore scene, and in the course of our conversation Garcia name-checks bands such as At the Drive-In, the Blood Brothers, These Arms Are Snakes and Fugazi, among others. In the past, Garcia said he shied from embracing these influences, explaining that “we’d always had sensitivities about sounding too much like our icons.” The singer said he finally learned to overcome these hesitations in undertaking a recording challenge with a roommate as a means of staving off boredom early in the pandemic.

“We started all of these studio experiments like, ‘Okay, we’re going to create this band for one song, and it’s going to be this one vibe,’” Garcia said. “So, for one, we wanted to make a song that was ripping off Interpol. Then with another it was an ’80s-sounding industrial-pop song. And then we did one [post-hardcore song] we ended up calling Hollow, and that song was ‘Morbid Consortium.’”

“And that was kind of a turning point for me, personally, just having the freedom to be like, you know what? I like these sounds and these songs,” continued Garcia, who credited the developing dynamics in Hollow’s music to a natural tension that exists between the players, and in particular with fellow guitarist/vocalist Danny Lemmon.

The push-and-pull in Hollow’s music is ideally suited to this era, with the EP unfolding as an ideal companion to the internet doom scroll. For me, many of the music’s varied targets calcified as I listened to the songs on repeat while browsing Twitter in mid-January.

“They pick their proteins straight from the marrow,” Garcia yelled as I read one story about Iowa Republicans proposing a bill that would forbid food stamp recipients from purchasing fresh meat. “Turn run and hide/Follow Truth Department,” he barked as I scanned a second about legislators across the country taking steps to ban books centered on marginalized communities.

“That’s definitely what I’m aiming for,” Garcia said, and laughed. “To be a soundtrack to the absolute horror that is every day on the news.”

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