Falling Hollywood: Set for Success
You could call it folk rock, but if CSN is wine, Falling Hollywood is whiskey. You could call it pop punk, but if Green Day is menthol, Falling Hollywood is reds. You could call it cow punk, but if Jason and the Scorchers is bathtub gin, Falling Hollywood is PBR. You could call it rogue folk, but if the Pogues are a Guinness, Falling Hollywood is, well, still a PBR.
We've all been there. We've all been to parties where the next morning the table – that altar, that epicenter of the evening's festivities, be it coffee, kitchen, or patio – must receive its proper reckoning; still blanketed in the blurry haze of a last night that persisted well into sunrise, we reckon – we reckon with the awkward dirty bizarre absurd reality of what may or may not have transpired: the overflowing ashtrays, the cans of beer both full and empty, the assortment of random party favors, their containers, and their remnants, rotting right there.
We've all been there. Falling Hollywood's been there too. They learned early on that if the table is completely full of random useless party paraphernalia, there's no room for what others might bring to that table.
Like many local bands, they're young, and talented; unlike many young, talented local bands, they've reckoned with that table, clearing it of all debris, distraction, and disarray to focus on presenting an organized, obliging, and original style of music.
You could call it folk rock, but if CSN is wine, Falling Hollywood is whiskey. You could call it pop punk, but if Green Day is menthol, Falling Hollywood is reds. You could call it cow punk, but if Jason and the Scorchers is bathtub gin, Falling Hollywood is PBR. You could call it rogue folk, but if the Pogues are a Guinness, Falling Hollywood is, well, still a PBR. Think Incubus, slightly amped from their acoustic configuration, or the Avett Brothers without the whine and cheese. Falling Hollywood is all of these, and none of these – their looks, their licks, and their lyrics all perfectly capture that awkward dirty bizarre absurdity of reality that many people refuse to reckon with; that's why, for Falling Hollywood, the table is set – for success.
The Acoustical Acorn
Nick Taylor and Matt Flowers are cousins who have been best friends since they were in diapers and act like they probably will be until they are in diapers once again. Their contrasting looks and personalities belie their amity for each other –Nick's shorter, lighter in complexion, clean-cut, and businesslike but dreamy in demeanor; Matt's bigger, darker, scruffier, and has an energy that suggests a lot of seat-of-the-pants livin'.
Nobody played any instruments in Matt's house while he was growing up, but that acoustical acorn from whence many musicians sprout – the Beatles – had been already planted. "My mom loved the Beatles, so they were on constantly," he said. "My dad used to own the State Street Tavern, which is now the crooked i, so I used to go in there when I was little and watch all the bands play."
Despite the presence of solid music early on in Matt's life, some nameless, desperate, local alcoholic in the early '90s – maybe even you, reading this right now – probably had more to do with the sprouting shoots of Matt's musical growth than anything else. "There was this guitar that my dad bought from some dude at the bar – he was probably like, 'Dude, give me a couple bucks for this and I'll just end up spending it again right here.' So my dad picked it up for real cheap." Matt still has this guitar. "It's hanging on my wall, all busted up, it only has like four strings on it, the neck is bent…"
Likewise, Nick's family wasn't overly musical, but he too was exposed to good music at a young age by his parents. "They were '70s Edinboro [University of Pennsylvania] students, so it was Led Zeppelin, a lot of Peter Gabriel, Genesis, the Beatles – that was always playing at our house."
Again with the acoustical acorn. The Beatles pop up on almost everyone's list, however, Nick cited Matt's older sister, Mary, as an extremely important influence who persistently nurtured their musical roots. "When we were like 5 or 6 and all of our friends were buying N'Sync CDs, she was like, 'You guys are not listening to that crap.' So she gave us the Offspring, Green Day, and Sublime. That's what we grew up loving and what we played."
Matt agreed wholeheartedly. "My sister used to be really into punk rock…Operation Ivy, Green Day. She'd always give me these CDs, and we'd sit down and listen to them. She would make me go through and remember the names of the guys in the band."
Not long after, Nick and Matt started playing guitars and harmonizing with each other. "I think we called ourselves 'Vagrant Minds.' That was our first official band name," Matt laughed. "We started writing songs together, recording them on a microphone on a super-shitty computer program – I don't even know what was around when we were that young. Nick had a little keyboard and there was drum sounds on it, so we would hold the microphone to the keyboard speaker and 'play' the drums."
Those of us old enough to remember Microsoft products around the turn of the century think of "Soundrec.exe" as the primitive preinstalled audio application he's most likely referencing; but as things progressed with Vagrant Minds, their bleep-bloopy doot-dit drum beats became a little more serious. No longer saplings of the acoustical acorn, Nick and Matt grew more serious about building something solid out of the years of woodshedding they had behind them.
"I was watching this story on the news about this kid who called himself Jesse James Hollywood," Matt said. Jesse James Hollywood is a drug dealer who is currently serving a life sentence for the kidnapping and contract killing of a former associate in his narcotics operation. "I was talking to my older sister who lived in New York at the time, and she was like, 'That would be an awesome name for a band!'"
Matt liked the idea, but didn't want their new band name to exude such shady criminal connotations. "When I was driving home, I was thinking and I had the 'Hollywood' thing in my head. I've always been interested in assonance and alliteration and how words sound together, despite their meaning. So I was rolling around words in my head, going over and over it, and 'Falling Hollywood' just popped into my head, and I thought it had a cool vibe, and we could do different kinds of music with this. But then I started thinking, 'What the hell does this even mean?'"
What, indeed. In spite of the fact that "Sub-Hollywood" or "Following Mary" would have worked, they just don't have the assonance and ambiguity of "Falling Hollywood," which is important to them. Like it or not, names – be they band, business, or brethren – can constrain and liberate, command and prohibit, inhibit and empower. Matt elaborated on his decision to choose a name that would neither direct nor restrict.
"In my head, I wanted it to be almost the opposite of the Hollywood elite. There's this pop culture thing kind of happening, and it's so glamorous, and everything's makeup and everything's Photoshop and all this shit, and I think I liked the idea of this underground culture happening. It's like we're underneath Hollywood. We're this different crowd, and this different kind of people – a little bit dirtier than this Hollywood glitz. And this works with us. We're very rugged, broken down, loud but still evoking emotion, but it turned in to everything I wanted it to."
As Nick and Matt continued to develop and grow musically during high school, they decided that this flat, empty tableau they'd created had two solid legs of support, but needed two more. "We went through a handful of bassists and drummers, and there was no energy there whatsoever," Matt said. "And then we met Bill." He paused, contemplatively. "Bill was playing drums for us in the beginning, and his set – there was a hole in the bottom of the snare, nothing was tuned right. It was just ridiculous."
Nick said it sounded like "playing on trash cans."
Like Nick and Matt, Bill Frackowiak doesn't come from an overly musical family. His parents weren't musicians and none of his siblings are especially musical, although there was always music in his home. "They liked Huey Lewis and the News, so I've known for a long time that it's hip to be square," he deadpanned. Stocky and serious, usually wearing Wayfarers, it's sometimes hard to tell if Bill is being serious or if he's playing you like a drum. But with Huey Lewis as his acoustical acorn, Bill probably also knew that the heart of rock 'n' roll was still beating, so he understandably revolted and grew about as far from Huey Lewis as one can grow.
"It started off with Green Day; I bought 'Dookie' when I was 13, and after that I started getting into that kind of thing, punk rock and stuff like that," he said. "One of my first albums was 'All Killer No Filler' by Sum 41, and from there it just kind of progressed. The more I met people, the more doors opened up; then, when I was 13, I went down to my cousin's graduation party. He was in a band called the East Coast Avengers. I saw his band play at this graduation party, and I was just like, 'That is so sweet! I wanna do that!'"
During high school, Bill started playing drums, and after meeting Nick in an algebra class, he brought aforementioned piece of shit drum kit to one of Nick and Matt's practices.
"It was a Rockwood; I think they also made RVs and trailers and things like that," he laughed, and opined that perhaps manufacturing drum kits was probably not Rockwood's strong suit.
Matt continued. "But there was good energy there. I knew Bill was going to be in the band, but the drums weren't exactly what we wanted them to be. But he'd always be jamming on the bass, and I played bass on a few songs but I was playing it with a pick and I was like, 'This isn't how a bass should be played.' So he just goes at the thing, and he's like an animal, tearing this bass up, and I'm like, 'Dude, why are you even playing drums?! You are a fantastic bassist.'"
During the summer of 2008, Nick, Matt, and Bill grew closer both personally and musically. "We did a lot of bonding that summer – cementing our relationships and our lineup. We went everywhere and did everything together," Bill said. Nevertheless, that endless golden summer was not all lakes of whiskey and cigarette trees.
"That summer we really started playing a lot, writing a ton of songs, but all those songs were turning out very 'Punk,'" Matt said. "I could feel that Pop-Punk thing going out of style, and I didn't like it anymore, and all of us were just not feeling it. So, freshman and sophomore year of college, I thought, 'Why don't we get into more of this folky tone? I think it has more energy, the set would be so much more broken down, we wouldn't have to carry all this heavy shit on stage.'"
Nick pinpointed the moment Falling Hollywood settled on their current direction of growth. "I think the turning point was that show down at Presque Isle Coffeehouse [in early 2011]," he said. "We couldn't bring all of our equipment. It was like two electric guitars, two big half-stacks. We said, 'Why don't we just play an acoustic version of our stuff, and see how it goes?'"
"We just got this awesome response, for the least amount of equipment we could possibly bring with us," Matt continued. "When you have very little, you have to make the most of it. You have to push that emotion out of it. You have to play your guitar so hard that it sounds like there's extra percussion behind it."
Nick agreed with his cousin. "We got such a good response, we just ran with it, and I think that was the start of the current sound."
That third solid leg of support was finally in place with Bill on the bass, but Falling Hollywood still needed some drums to reinforce their rapidly changing sound.
As the three firmly set legs, acorns transitioning from saplings branching out to sturdy oaks laying thick roots, Nick, Matt, and Bill still knew they needed a solid foundation to complete their sound and to continue flourishing. That foundation would come from the garden of musicians they already knew.
"At the very end of high school, I met Brad," Matt said, his wry grin hiding a tall tale not suitable for printing in a family publication such as this one. "We were both working at the mall. He had a semester abroad in Prague, and he came back, and he was just grizzly as shit. Beard down to here, hair on his shoulders, and I was just like 'Who the F is this guy?'"
This guy was Brad Triana, who hails from north and east of Erie, in North East. Like the three already established the legs of Falling Hollywood table, Brad was not raised in a musical home, however, once he was tall enough to reach the knobs on the radio, he quickly found that his acoustical acorn was the Beatles. Tall, lean, and bearded, Brad doesn't look or act like anyone else in the band – he seems moderately detached, and content to enjoy whichever particular moment he's currently experiencing. Drawn to drums in order to quiet his self-identified "nervous tendencies," Brad's first real musical experience was playing the snare drum in fifth-grade concert band, which still influences his work with Falling Hollywood even today. "It's funny how I pulled from that," he said. "There's a lot of snare and rolls, and it's interesting to try to work that into the mix."
As Matt and Brad casually discussed everything but work at work, Brad mentioned that he played drums. Coincidentally, at that time Falling Hollywood was looking for a new drummer who did not play on trashcans, so one night, they called him over to join them.
"It was a little stressful. It was a little intimidating. I had never played in a band before, only jammed with a few people, mostly just playing by myself with headphones," Brad said. "But it was surprisingly smooth – it just clicked from the beginning. It was just a lot of fun. That's what kept me coming back."
I have a theory that the drummer's often the quiet, contemplative one in any band, a theory that Brad unknowingly reinforces. Thoughtful and honest, he's upfront and realistic about his role in Falling Hollywood. "I try to simplify as much as possible. I try to bring energy to the set," he said. "The music I play with the band is not too technical; it's just a lot of emotion, pounding away on the drums."
Bill, Nick, and Matt finally had their drummer, the fourth solid leg of support they'd been lacking for so long. Brad's integration into the musical family that is Falling Hollywood was fast and smooth, and as they all gained increased appreciation of shared interests, they soon discovered that they shared one more common interest – Brad's currently dating the influential Mary.
Table = Set
After gigging around Erie and quickly becoming a local favorite, Falling Hollywood released their debut album, "Set the Table," less than a month ago.
"Bill actually came up with the name, and everybody dug it a lot; the words sound nice together, and for me, it kind of had this connotation of being like a band of brothers, a family," Matt said of the title.
Nick provided some insight on the scope of the recording process; it was such a big project, he said, that they decided to have someone else do it so they could focus more on their playing. Brad expressed similar thoughts.
"It was really awesome to go down to the studio. Everything was legit," Brad said. "Previously, we had some really good results recording in a basement, [where they recorded demos] so it was cool letting someone take control of everything. It was a lot smoother and more efficient."
That "someone" Nick and Brad were talking about was the highly-respected Mr. Smalls in Pittsburgh. "We chose Mr. Smalls because they have this great big room where we can all play together and have that vibe. It was rough though, because a lot of times we'd have to drive down to Pittsburgh, play there until like 1 in the morning, and then drive back completely exhausted. It took a good two months to get that done, but it was a tiring process."
The result is a stunning 14-song album that's generated rave reviews. The beautiful and sophisticated interplay between the lonesome yet comforting, polished yet raw vocals of Nick and Matt demonstrate a subtle mastery of an oft-overlooked craft; if Falling Hollywood's vocals were brown party liquor, they wouldn't be Wild Turkey 101, but they wouldn't be American honey, either. Throughout the album's varied vocal approaches, I taste droplets of Midnight Oil, hold the Peter Garrett, garnished with some Social Distortion and stirred up by the Strokes. Bill and Brad work together to give each track a solid, grounded bottom; Bill's booming basslines nicely accentuate Brad's steady, shuffling percussive gait. The stories they weave with this lyrical cocktail are wistful without being whiny – whiskey, women, and weapons are common themes, fostering a connection with listeners almost immediately by providing them with a moving depth and mental maturity not usually found in a debut effort by a relatively inexperienced band.
With the release of "Set the Table," Falling Hollywood now has everything they need to attract the attention they as performers have earned; the album is something people can take away, in their hands; they can share the gospel of Falling Hollywood's sonically scintillating awkward dirty bizarre absurd take on reality and as they do, you'll see a lot more of these guys around Erie, and beyond. That's why, right now, in this place, this time, and this moment, after several reckonings, some refinishing, some misfits, and some shims here and there, Falling Hollywood's table is set – for success.
Be sure to check out Vaillancourt's Web Exclusive later this week at www.ErieReader.com, featuring excluisive and rare performance videos of Falling Hollywood from 2011. Their debut album, "Set the Table," is available at www.cdbaby.com/cd/fallinghollywood2 or on iTunes.