MODERN-DAY MOUNTAIN MANBy James Mayfield
His music is described as folk, Appalachian, bluegrass, and sometimes even "reggae grass" and "jam grass." But whatever you want to call it, it works. Because it's Michael Holland.
Though he's been making music since he was eight years old, Michael Holland hasn't exactly reached household-name status … yet. But it's not for lack of talent or work ethic on his part. The 37-year-old North Carolina-based singer-songwriter possesses both qualities in spades.
From 1992 to 2003, Holland fronted Jennyanykind, an alternative-rock-based quartet that saw the release of eight albums. After the band's breakup, Holland pursued a solo career and his own take on what would be folk music to some, Appalachian to others - a melting pot of bluegrass and acoustic guitar-based tunes that came together in 2004 with his debut Bootlegger's Dreams and gained momentum on last year's follow-up Tomorrows American Treasures.
The latter features a combination of six-string strums, banjo picks, fiddle, organ, upright bass, and a mandolin, courtesy of the Chapel Hill outfit known as Big Fat Gap Bluegrass, which assists Holland in bringing into the modern age what Flatt and Scruggs, Charlie Poole, and the Carter Family brought down from the mountain.
Holland cites Miles Davis and his album In a Silent Way as a major influence on his recent material. "[In a Silent Way] was a very cinematic record," he says. "They just played, and [Davis] would take passages that he liked and edit them together. We would play for 10 minutes and roll through all these chord changes, and then I would go back and just pick one little 10-second loop that I thought really summed up the idea or sounded good."
After self-producing both of his solo records, Holland is working with an outside producer for his next album, something he hasn't done since Jennyanykind's 1996 Elektra release Revelater. "I want to move forward with the kind of feel that we went with on Tomorrows American Treasures - which, basically, was no feel. It happened very improvisationally. But I want to hand over the engineering reins to somebody else," he explains.
With 12 tracks already complete (working titles include "I Remember Leslie Riddle" and "Train Called Locomotive Dreams"), Holland is well on his way to completing his third record in as many years. Next month he can be found at the GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance in Trumansburg, New York (July 20 to 23).