Hard Rock Contest Proves to be a 'Hollow' Victory

Morristown-based rockers The Hollow won regional Hard Rock Cafe battle of the bands; may compete in London.

By Liz Alterman

When members of the modern rock band The Hollow decided to compete for a chance to open for Bon Jovi at the 2011 Hard Rock Calling festival in London's Hyde Park, they never expected to make it as far as they have.

The band, who has been playing together for the past four years, won the regional battle of the bands at the Times Square Hard Rock Cafe on March 12, moving one step closer to performing on the main stage for the 50,000-70,ooo-person crowd.

Steve Babula, the band's 30-year-old bassist, said the group heard about the contest on 95.5 WPLJ just one week before the deadline.

"They were asking bands to send in their CD," Babula said. "We felt it was a longshot but we went through the whole submission process—everything from completing application forms to making sure everybody has passports in case we win.

"We had to submit two of our original songs and after we submitted everything, we heard from them a week later," he said. "Out of hundreds, they picked us and all four bands competed last week."

The four-member band had just under three weeks to get its act together. Preparing for the show included learning one Bon Jovi song—a battle of the bands requirement. Selecting a song was a challenge for the band whose singer, James Vilade, is a Grateful Dead fan and drummer, Kevin Barry, enjoys heavy metal.

"We picked one of the newer songs, called 'Have a Nice Day' from 2005," Babula said. "We were trying to be strategic about it. We figured everyone else would pick the classics and we wanted to differentiate ourselves. It fit better with our style. We wanted to play up our strengths."

The Hollow's strategy paid off and they are now one of 16 bands from the East Coast region who will be judged by industry insiders.

"They video-taped our performance and a panel of industry judges will decide which bands go to London," the rocker-by-night-art-director-by-day said. "Two will be from the U.S. and two will be from other parts of the world.

"It's been a blast," Babula said. "We went in so excited just to be there and not even thinking that we'd make it past that round but we did and now we're even more excited to get to the next round."

But Babula said they can't take all the credit for how far they've gotten and a big "thank you" goes out to the band's loyal fans.

"Part of the judging at the event was that they gaged the crowd reaction," he said. "We put on a good live show that gets people moving. Every time we come up with a song we ask, 'Is this gonna get people out of their seats?' We want them to feel the energy we're putting out.

"We tried to get as many people as we could to come out and see us," Babula said. "We had such a great crowd and that really pushed us over the edge a little bit and we're super grateful for that."

Coming up with the music is a collaborative effort for the band who released a self-titled album, which they wrote, recorded and produced in Babula's own recording studio. The band also filmed the video for the album's single "Run Away" in Morristown.

"I've been teaching myself the ropes for a long time and taking classes," the self-made producer said. "I kind of got to use the band as my own guinea pig for my learning experience on the engineering side. What was great about it is it was free, we didn't have to pay anybody by the hour. We could spend a long time writing and recording."

Should they make it to the three-day festival, which also includes Stevie Nicks and Rod Stewart, The Hollow is not daunted by the idea of opening for the New Jersey-born rock icon or the thought of the immense crowd. Though they've played a variety of smaller-venues around the tri-state area, the group had a glimpse of the big time when they opened for the Marshall Tucker Band to a sell-out crowd at the Starland Ballroom, in Sayreville, Middlesex County.

"There's a big difference from playing a small club for 50 of our friends," Babula said. "Once we got a taste of the bigger venues, that's where we'd like to get."

The band members, who are all in their early 30s, began playing in their teens. "We've all been doing it most of our lives," said Babula. "It's just something we never stopped doing and now we can't stop. It's (winning the regionals) encouraging because we put a lot of work into it and we're finally starting to see a lot of reaction to it. We do it cause we love it. We just have it in us and we want to do it and, hopefully, we'll get to the next level. Not giving up is a big part of it.

"At this point we're just your average guys who've taken music seriously and pushing the band thing as far as we can and hoping something breaks," he said.

The Hollow takes its name from a section of town the bandmates remember their parents warning them about while growing up.

"Our drummer came up with it years ago," Babula said. "There was a section of Morristown that was not supposed to be such a great area and his parents used to say 'Don't go near the Hollow!' Well, we're bringing back The Hollow one way or another. We just thought, 'It was a catchy name. We're from here. Let's go with it.'"

For more information about the band and their upcoming shows, visit http://www.thehollowband.com/ or http://www.facebook.com/#!/thehollowband

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