Hell Yeah, Hopscotch: Mark Holland

Mark Holland

Donkey Jaw:  When did you first become interested in the Delta blues?

Mark Holland:  I have always enjoyed Delta and its cousin, country blues. Prior to 2000, it was kinda mixed in with all the styles I listened to. It wasn’t until I heard Charlie Patton on the cd Legends of the Blues singing Revenue Man Blues that I got the Patton bug.  I bought his box set Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues and I listened to nothing else for about a year, totally absorbing the style. He was known for his blues records, but he was more what you called a “songster” and I try to maintain that approach.  As a songster, you have to be ready to play multiple styles so I also do gospel, Piedmont blues, ballads, etc.

How has playing this kind of music changed your composition and/or writing style?

Before I got into Patton, everything was written in a very linear way. The songs had verses and choruses and everything had to tie-in and make sense. When you listen to Patton or other writers from that era, there are only verses and the verses don’t necessarily tie together. It increases the tension in the music as well as providing more freedom to create lyrically. It also has more of a poetic feel as the writer is not tied to time and space.

Recently, you’ve started to “dress the part” of a dapper bluesman. What sparked  that move?
I saw Howlin’ Wolf perform on film in a Newport Festival movie and he had on a white shirt and black tie. I stole his look. My friend Dean Wareham told me it gave me authority over the music, so that is probably what it is. I can do the same set in t-shirt and jeans, but it doesn’t go over the same way.

People who really love the blues aren’t always impressed with artists who haven’t
lived, breathed and always played within that genre. How do you make sure you get
it right?

It is impossible to please everyone. There are those who don’t consider it blues
unless you are an 80-year old black person. But, these people are the minority and I never find myself in front of them. I try to do what I like, keep one foot in the tradition, but put the other foot out there with modernity and especially originality which can get quickly lost when writing blues. Generally, I’ve found that if I think it is good, so do the people who come to see me.

Jennyanykind reunited last year. How did that come about and what’s different this time around?

Laura King from the now defunct Moaners and I put together a project to do a split 7”. We had a great time putting together a song. Jam Up and Jelly Tight was based on an expression we used to hear in Georgia when growing-up and spending time there with our grandparents. It was the first song Mike and I have written together, so that was nice. We also played a few cool shows. Unfortunately, the same thing that broke us up the first time has appeared again. I think we are now done for good. As the drummer, it is easy for me to do the gigs. But for Mike, the front man, it is more complicated and I think he just wants to move on and we are supportive of that. Mike and I actually have an act we do together at times called the Holland Bros. It is basically a show of Piedmont and Delta blues.

You guys played Americana before it was a “big thing.” Do you ever get any recognition for being a trailblazer?

Yes, we do. People will even try to cast it as a negative thing sometimes. However, no matter what the result, we always try to be original. It is much better to be an originator than an imitator. Even with blues, which so many people try to imitate, I feel like I am maintaining my originality in what I produce because that is one of my goals.

While you are making independent music now, you’ve seen both sides of the industry having been signed to Elektra in the nineties. What are some of the lessons you’ve taken away from each side of the fence?

For me, it all works best if I keep it in-house. Except for Revelator, the Elektra record Jennyanykind did, I always get my best results on record when I relax and record at my home. A large, big budget affair has never worked. Nor has being on a label or using an agent. The Internet has brought about tremendous freedom for artists of all types. Lots of things have changed, especially distribution and promotion. But, also, the more things change the more they stay the same. You still have to put on a good live show. That is where I make my bread. I don’t travel like I used to due to my wife and kids, but I get around enough to make a profit.

You are all over the place musically in the best of ways. Is there anything you want to try that you haven’t tried yet?

Everything I ingest goes into the grinder. Cartoons offer great song ideas, for example. I am working on writing some tunes to follow up my latest release, the Best Country Blues of Mark P. Holland. On my side burner are songs for a reggae record (I love Lee Perry) and a space odyssey. A lot of it are things that I get off on and get some laughs from, but will probably never release. It’s easy to translate blues stuff into a solo act. When I play I use a tambourine on my foot for percussion, a harmonica and slide guitar. A one-man-band, if you will, that works perfectly. To do the other stuff, I would have to get other people involved. I’m not sure I want that.

What’s your favorite part about playing Hopscotch?

I like meeting and seeing new bands. The promotion is great, too and being associated with a well-run, popular festival is always exciting. Grayson Currin and the rest of the festival folks really do a great job. I am also playing at the DNC a few days before
Hopscotch so it should be a great week.

Aside from your show, do you have any recommendations for folks to check out this year?

I plan to see Jesus and Mary Chain.I loved them growing up and I have never seen them live. I am also planning to see Phil Cook and his Feat. I have never seen him and hear our acts have similarities.

Mark Holland brings his roots grooves to Deep South Bar  on Saturday,  September. 8 at 7:00 p.m.

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