Wonder Women: Holly Montgomery
Holly Montgomery is currently signed to Blue Elan Records in Los Angeles, with her west coast band, Mustangs Of The West. She has been active in the DC Music Scene since 2011 after moving to the east coast from Los Angeles. Her current band is with Nashville guitarist, Buddy Speir, and Washington, D.C. drummer, Andy Hamburger. She won first place in the Rock Category of the 2017 UK Songwriting Contest, as well as the Gold 1st Place Award in the Rock Category of the Mid-Atlantic Songwriting Contest. While still in L.A., her band, Big Planet, was awarded Best Acoustic Band by the National Academy of Songwriters. She played with folk legend Dan Bern, with the all-girl modern country band The Mustangs, and with John Ford Coley and she recorded with Ice Cube. Holly opened for the Oscar-winning duo The Swell Season with folk singer Mark Dignam, and for Foreigner with Billy White Acre. Holly is the lead singer and plays bass, acoustic guitar, and piano on her albums.
She has released five studio albums and is currently working on number six. Her 2011 album Uncanny Valley was recorded with guitarist Randall Hall of Lynyrd Skynyrd fame, drummer and rock legend Aynsley Dunbar of Journey, Frank Zappa, David Bowie, and Jefferson Starship, Paul Bell, formerly of the Nighthawks, and well-known DC drummer Andy Hamburger.
Holly released her fifth studio album, Leaving Eden in May 2016, which featured many local legends including Buddy Speir, Dan Hovey, Mike Ault, and Andy Hamburger. Leaving Eden is getting airplay on several European stations, and was featured in the Huffington Post. She is currently working on recording her sixth album Sorry For Nothing, with an expected 2021 release date.
Who were your influences?
Too many to state, and I’m sure I’ll forget half of them! But when I was starting out, I was always drawn towards bass players who play for the song and play melodies that compliment the singer – Paul McCartney, Sting, John McVie, John Paul Jones, John Cowan, Chris Squire – but as I got older and took lessons and studied, I fell in love with other kinds of players that opened my eyes to a wider world of bass, such as Tony Levin and Rocco Prestia. I won a contest at Bass Centre in LA for 4 lessons with Rocco – lots of stories about that to tell!
What are you woodshedding right now?
The pandemic has both expanded and wreaked havoc on my practice routine! For the first 6-8 months, I just played hours of technique exercises and soloing over changes, just to keep my hands moving on the instrument once gigs abruptly stopped. I also transcribed and worked up a few of the songs off of Jethro Tull’s “Songs From The Wood” just to have to think fast and get outside your typical rock/blues playing. In about three months after the world has been open for a while, my answer to this question will be drastically different.
We usually hear about the downsides of being a female in the music industry. Let’s flip the script; do you see any benefits?
The biggest benefit is that sometimes you get the gig just because the person/band hiring you thinks it’s “cool” to have a female player on stage. I used to REALLY rebel against that idea, but at a certain point, I decided that being a musician was hard enough and that everyone should use any advantage they have in order to be able to play as much as they want to. Of course, the ugly underbelly of that sentiment is that there are people who won’t hire you just because they don’t want to be known as the band with “the female bass player”. To each his own. I do my best to “bring it” to every situation I play in so that nobody can or will say after playing with me that I got the gig just because I was a girl. Bring it. It’s ridiculous that we still need to even have this conversation.
How are you handling working through the pandemic? How has technology helped (or hindered) you? Any tips to share?
Technology has been awesome. For example, YouTube is an amazing and thorough resource, as I can play along with whomever I want. I can find any style to work on at any pace I choose.
Any current projects that you can tell us about?
I have three main projects right now. Because I had time to spare during the pandemic, I was able to finish my next HOLLY MONTGOMERY band/album, “Sorry For Nothing” which will be released later in 2021 – I look forward to being able to release news about that soon! I recorded it with the guys I’ve been playing with pretty steadily for the last 7-8 years (Buddy Speir and Andy Hamburger) and it’s a blend of styles and influences of all of us. It is very much a songwriter’s album though, and I focused more on vocals and textures for this group of songs.
I am also the bass player in “Mustangs Of The West”, my LA-based country/Americana band signed to Blue Elan Records out of Los Angeles. Also, during the pandemic, two of my best girlfriends (Jenny Langer and Carly Harvey) who also are bandleaders and powerhouse vocalists, started a heavy vocal-oriented roots/blues group called “The Honey Larks”, and we’re doing a lot on in the mid-Atlantic right now as well.
Dream artist or band to collaborate with?
So many I could name, and for very different reasons! I think my band would be a great supporting act for Rival Sons, I love those guys and feel like my musical roots connect with much of what they do. As a bass player, I’d love to have played with Jethro Tull because it feels like a nonstop rock opera and I’d enjoy the challenge. If I could wave a magic wand and be the sideman/bassist for any band, I would include (but not limited to): Rolling Stones, Heart, Pearl Jam, Richard Thompson, Pretenders, Disturbed, Seal, Queen, Joan Jett, Soundgarden, Dolly Parton, Todd Rundgren… oh I could go on and on. I love all these people because these are the kinds of bands that 100% support the song and singer.
Important cause or issue that you support?
I adopted 3 kids from Kazakhstan when they were 9, 13, and 15 years old. I have advocated and supported older child adoption ever since, as far too few people will take a chance on the older children because they don’t stop to see the benefits and advantages of it. Adopting them was the greatest thing I ever did, and I feel that act by itself made my life mean something. So, every child having a home is a cause I will support for the rest of my life.
What would you want to change about the music industry?
IMHO, every single person involved in the industry should be freaking out right now over the inability of musicians to profit from the music they record. I feel like it should be focus #1 of anyone involved who wants to have a healthy music scene in this generation…as well as the next generation. Who is making the big $$$ off of Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, etc? Lots of people in the pipeline are making big bucks, but with the exception of the folks at the top, no one else is. I can’t think of another industry where the people making and providing the product free of charge make so little for their investment. A complete overhaul of how music is consumed and paid for needs to happen, and I’d like to have hope that that will change in my lifetime.
New artist (or new to you) that we should all know about?
I have such eclectic tastes. My fave new band (to me) of the last few years is London Grammar. I just love her voice and the space they create in their songs. A huge influence on me right now. Because of my collaboration with the Honey Larks, I’ve become a fan of Grace Potter – great vibe she has!
An early experience that shaped you as an artist now?
Both my parents were musicians; my father was a classical piano player and my mother a country singer/guitarist. I grew up wanting to be as good as one or both of them, so again a pretty eclectic background. When I was 14, I played keyboards in my older brother Bucky’s prog-rock band, Dorothy Boy, and I feel like that set my musical sights high for the rest of my life. I still love the stuff we did!
You know bassists are all about the gear. And I’m definitely a gear nerd. So I have to ask…any recent game-changing acquisitions to your toolkit?
Right now, I am between setups. I had decided before the pandemic that I wanted to overhaul my live rig and then things shut down. Right now I’m playing a combo of gear but need to explore new things – preferably gear that can handle a busy gig schedule and that is not too huge/heavy. Any/all advice is welcome!
What advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
My advice; absolutely do NOT play “music on the side” or go to school to learn something you can “fall back on”. If you’re hungry for it, do it NOW and don’t make excuses. And absolutely don’t do something all day long that drains your energy and creativity so that when you get home at night, all you do is crash. Adjust your expectations and standard of living so that you can pursue your dreams NOW. Also, and just as important, ALWAYS show up to your gig prepared, and don’t be a jerk. It’s hard enough to be a musician.
Brittany Frompovich is a highly regarded educator, clinician, blogger, and bassist who currently resides in the Washington DC/NOVA region. For more content from Brittany, check out her blog, her YouTube channel, and her Bandcamp site. She also offers handmade unisex music-themed jewelry through her Etsy store.