Hollerado’s Record in a Bag is the perfect encapsulation of the band’s lasting legacy.
With Hollerado announcing earlier this year that they are calling it quits, music fans will lose not only a fantastic rock band but one that has earned a reputation for generosity and outspokenness. They have donated their van to a band that needed it. They spent money won from a battle of the bands to form the excellent Royal Mountain Records. If you asked, they would even send you a postcard when they toured outside of Canada (I got one when they were in China). Even when they “got big,” Hollerado never lost their kindness, and singer Menno Versteeg used the band’s bigger platform to speak up about important political issues.
Record in a Bag perfectly illustrates both Hollerado’s generous and outspoken nature. Originally released in 2009 as a free download and at shows (with a subsequent 2010 re-release), the record came in a Ziploc bag with confetti and mystery prizes. The packaging felt lovingly slapdash, and though the album is as carefree as the band itself, it is still a top-to-bottom great album. Hollerado has an ear for hooks and singalong choruses and for subtly subverting what rock and roll music can be.
I like to imagine the entirety of Record in a Bag is being performed and recorded in a bar. You hear bar audience noise in several songs, and the idea of crawling through some unknown small town in search of a drink is a recurring theme throughout the album. But let’s not forget that the first song of this near-perfect album is not even by the band at all. It’s a charming introduction to Hollerado’s lack of self-seriousness performed by someone named Sam Meyer, whose woozy guitar-picking style is as off-kilter as his descriptions of “Hollerado Land,” populated by places like “Alligator Pond” and “Hurricane House.”
Hollerado then takes the stage for the still-audible bar crowd, and it’s easy to see “Do the Doot Da Doot Doo” as a very catchy rock-and-roll nonsense song. The title is in the chorus, but the song is actually about the lack of prospects growing up in a small town—specifically Manotick, the Ottawa suburb where the members of Hollerado grew up. The album’s first single, “Juliette,” has an instantly memorable guitar line and is a celebration of an old woman who has recently died. The sunny “Walking on the Sea” seems to be about giving up. There are hidden undercurrents in many other songs, like the fantastic swipe at people who are religious when it suits them in “Got To Lose”: “And so the night was getting dirty and I begged the lord for mercy/And He said, ‘Oh, so now you wanna talk?’”
The first half of Record in a Bag is Hollerado at its rocking best. “Fake Drugs” has a really fun call-and-response chorus and is a song about getting high and doing stupid shit—only the song makes it clear that it is not fun. “What other option do I have?” Versteeg asks at the end of the chorus. There’s a great build-up of intensity from verse to chorus in “Americanarama,” a song that’s not so much a tribute to the United States as a repeated question: “Hey Philadelphia, where’d you go?”
If the first half is fun rock and roll, the back half is characterized by tenderness. The previously mentioned “Got To Lose” has a fantastic organ-backed intro where the band sings in harmony and there are some great vocal harmonies in the choruses, too; Versteeg sounds especially sentimental throughout “On My Own” as he sings of spending a potentially perfect day with someone; “Hard Love” sounds like a cowboy ballad meant to be sung right at sunset.
Record in a Bag opened in a bar, so it follows that it closes in that bar too. “What’s Everybody Running For” is the perfect marriage of its two sides of the album and sees Hollerado once more looking for a drink. There are some a cappella harmonies to introduce the song followed by three minutes of a propulsive rock and roll southern spiritual.
I have no doubt that many a beer has been purchased for Hollerado in their day, so allow me to lift my proverbial glass to them once more. Everyone who’s listened to or seen Hollerado live probably has a unique personal story. Versteeg agreed to give me an interview for my old blog before I was even old enough to go to bars; my cousin’s son is the “drummer” in their music video for “Eloise”. They’re more than a fun bar band if their ambitious 111 Songs record and endless support of fellow musicians is any indication. Their record-in-a-confetti-filled-Ziploc-bag is a perfect encapsulation of what makes them so great.