Artists - Blues Rock and Roots

Hollis Brown

Queens borders Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx as one of the five boroughs in New York and boasts an incredibly rich musical heritage. It was during the late-90s when, whilst at High School, the paths of Mike Montali and Jonathan Bonilla would occasionally cross through basement Jams in Greenwich Village and sporadic get-togethers when the two would talk about who was the better guitarist in the recent Grunge explosion.

It wasn’t until later, during their college years in the mid-00s that the two decided to return to New York to start a band seriously. It was then that they turned Jonathans’ father’s garage, - in their home in the Ozone Park neighborhood, Queens - in to a jam/rehearsal space.  There the seeds were sewn as they painted the room into a psychedelic haven and bonded over David Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’, Velvet Underground’s ‘Loaded’ and Frank Zappa’s The Mothers of Inventions’ ‘Freak Out’.

Their first show came in 2009 at the legendary Greenwich Village bar Don Hill’s – which had hosted the likes of Blondie, Iggy Pop, Green Day and one of the earliest shows from The Strokes. They ran around the stage 100mph and played to 5 people in the audience, but that was the catalyst for Montali (vocals/guitar) and Bonilla (lead guitar).

What began with Sunday nights’ playing to 5 people, led them to Monday night slots, then Tuesdays, Wednesdays, then they’d start to sell a few tickets and would get the coveted weekend slots.  Once they built up a following in New York, they moved into Philadelphia and then Boston, building up a fan base through getting on the road and travelling non-stop.

“What this band has, is a lot of heart,” says Montali. “Lots of people have the romantic notion of joining a band, but when it comes to the grinding, they drop like flies,” he continues. “But the people we have in the band now, every single person makes the bands’ sound.”

They released their debut album Ride on the Train in 2013, followed by 3 Shots in 2015, along with a Record Store Day tribute to the Velvet Underground's LOADED album (2014),following a Lou Reed benefit concert in New York and then the 2016 Cluster of Pearls EP. 

The group has toured extensively in the U.S. and Europe several times, as both a headliner and supporting the likes of Citizen Cope, Counting Crows, Jackie Greene, Jesse Malin, the Zombies, Toots & The Maytals and many more.  Life on the road has brought with it experiences and memories that fuel creativity. They’ve hit the highs of being asked by Adam Duritz himself to join the Counting Crows on an extensive 3 month tour which saw them play Stadiums and Amphitheater’s across the country including the stunning Red Rocks Amphitheater.  “You play the first song and your hand is shaking man, it doesn’t feel real,” remembers Bonilla. They’ve played in the Hollywood Hills and did an eventful 30 hour roundtrip from New York to New Orleans to play with The Zombies in The House of Blues that resulted in a roadside breakdown, the band staying overnight in a 1 bedroom flat, a trip to the hospital, getting lost in the rain and a chance meeting with Allen Toussaint.

Their first trip to Europe in 2013 consisted of a handful of shows in the Netherlands and Germany, which saw their merchandise confiscated by customs and any profit they were making on the tour. Montali remembers it fondly saying, “It was a fucking awesome trip, you feel alive when you do stuff like that, it’s what drives us.” So much so, they’ve been back and forth to Europe several times since, each time converting more on each trip. During a show in Newcastle, UK, they even had a fan propose to their fiancé from the stage and during their NYC Hollis Brown Holiday Jam they were also joined on stage by DMC for a rendition of the classic Run-DMC song ‘Walk This Way’ in December 2018.

The journey has seen them pick up the attention of David Crosby, Nils Lofgren (E Street Band) and even had a brief encounter with the actor Eric Roberts in California. You would have heard their music in films such as "Bad Country," starring Willem Dafoe and Matt Dillon and on TV series such as Showtime's "Shameless," DirecTV's "Kingdom" and MTV's "Real World." Also their music has been featured in the worldwide trailer for “The Founder” starring Michael Keaton along with the Winter 2018 John Varvatos runway show and online campaign. 

After a few line-up changes over the last 10 years, the band have recorded the album with the same group of musicians for the first time following 3 Shots and now Ozone Park - Mike Montali (Vocals/Guitar),  Jonathan Bonilla (Guitar) , Adam Bock (Keys), Andrew Zehnal (Drums) and it sees their at the most creative they’ve ever been.

A lyrically self-reflective record, Montali explains; “the last record was a social conscience story telling record, but on this one, I felt like it was more based on relationships, people to people.”

In 2018 they announced they signed to Mascot Label Group, home to; Joe Bonamassa, Black Stone Cherry, George Benson, Beth Hart, Monster Truck and Gov’t Mule. Their first album on the label, Ozone Park was recorded at Unity Gain Studios in Fort Meyers, Fla. The songs cover plenty of musical ground; they weave together in a cohesive, dynamically exciting ride that ranges from the soulful buoyancy of "Blood From a Stone" and "Stubborn Man" to the ringing Americana guitars of the Jesse Malin cover "She Don't Love Me Now," the funky flavor of "Go For It" and the fuzzy hard rock of "Bad Mistakes." It represents care and craft, and a diversity Montali credits to his own musical roots. 

"Growing up in Queens I fell in love with all different types of music," he recalls. "We had hip-hop, we had funk music, we had rock 'n' roll music, and we had singer-songwriters. Everybody in the band loves all those things, so it's nice to try and incorporate all those things. We're really open.

Making the record once again with producer Adam Landry (Deer Tick, Rayland Baxter, Nikki Lane, Vanessa Carlton), the band enjoyed plenty of opportunity for rewarding musical adventures. Some of it had to do with the recording process itself, mixing analog and digital technologies as well as the sound of four musicians -- Montali, Bonilla, Bock and Zehnal -- playing together in one room. "We did a lot of pre-production and did the album pretty quick -- eight days, recorded and mixed," Montali says. "We did some sampling, some 808 digital drums on some of the songs and synth stuff we weren't doing before, just to make the sound current. But if it's a great song it's always a great song, no matter how you dress them up."

Talking further about the writing process behind the new album, Bonilla says, “A big influence on this record was it’s the first time we’ve written a record when we’ve played big venues such as stadiums, amphitheater’s and festivals. So it’s written in a way of ‘how is this gonna sound in places bigger than a rock club?”

Montali and his mates are also proud of "the real band sound" they achieved on Ozone Park. "My favorite thing about bands is if you take one member out, it changes," he explains. "If you look at Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, and the Ramones -- each member brings his own power. I think we got to that place on this record; if you take one member out of our group, it wouldn't have been the same record. We really developed how these songs would sound with just the four of us before we even went into the studio." 

“As an artist, you need to try and keep hitting new ground” Montali says. “That’s this band, from hole in the wall venues to Red Rocks.”