By Alex HudsonPartway through a phone conversation with Hollerado singer/guitarist Menno Versteeg, I tell him that his band is uncool.
I don't mean this an insult — I'm simply pointing out that the power-pop group from Manotick, ON, doesn't seem to follow blogosphere trends — and the frontman's response is elated. "I'm going to take that as the biggest compliment," he gushes. "We've never been cool. I've never been cool. I wasn't cool in high school. I wasn't cool in elementary school. None of us have been. Music is a way to overcome that."
When Versteeg founded Hollerado along with childhood friends Dean Baxter (bass), Jake Boyd (drums) and Nixon Boyd (guitar), their shamelessly un-hip pop-rock sound meant that their attempts to court labels were unsuccessful. The tide began to turn, however, after they self-released their debut album, Record in a Bag, in 2009. The group earned attention for their high-concept tours — including trips through China and South America, and a memorable "Meet the Mayor Tour" — and they won a staggering $250,000 in an Ottawa battle of the bands contest.
These successes meant that by the time they got around to album number two, record labels were eager. "All those same labels who said no, before they even listened to what we made, they were like, 'Let's talk about a record deal,'" Versteeg says, exasperated. "They hadn't even listened to the new album. I was like, 'Really, you're going to be that transparent? No. We're not doing it.'"
Rather than play along with the fickle industry, the band opted to self-release their sophomore album, White Paint, through their own Royal Mountain Records. It finds Hollerado sticking to their guns by packing their songs with instantly hummable choruses and six-string riffs aplenty. "Desire" sweetens its romantic cynicism with bubblegum melodies, while "So It Goes" is a blur of adrenalized punk rhythms and shout-along hooks.
Although these songs don't represent a huge departure from Hollerado's past work, White Paint is a more intricately wrought and emotionally complex record than the feel-good Record in a Bag. This is particularly noticeable in Versteeg's macrocosmic lyrics, which include existential musings on the apocalypse and a reflection on Earth's lonely place in the universe. So, is this an older, wiser Hollerado?
"I'm definitely older," Versteeg observes wryly. "You can't argue with that one. That is an empirical fact.
"A lot of things happened between the recording of this album and the last one," he continues. "You get older and have a lot of experiences. You make a lot of mistakes, especially around the age that I was. Those are prime mistake-making years." The 33-year old singer notes that recent life changes have included the death of his grandfather, and getting married.
Having knocked it out of the park with White Paint, the guys of Hollerado will continue to forge their own quirky path. "We're really in this for the journey," Versteeg reflects. "We're not in this for an end game. I don't see one. Success is not a word that happens in the future. Success is being able to see a new place. A free trip to China to play music? Success, in my books."