Holly Taormina rushes into the quaint side room set behind the bar at The Orchard Tavern where her bandmates are waiting to order lunch.
“Words cannot describe how much I hate driving a car,” she exclaims through clinched teeth, as she takes her seat. The Holly to Holly & Evan can be as tempestuous as the energy she exhibits on stage. Especially if she’s caught behind someone driving too slowly. “I have no tolerance or patience for people who don’t know how to put their foot on the gas pedal.”
Between raising a family, logging in 40-plus hours at the U.S. Postal Service where she works, and the precious little time spent with the band, Taormina is a woman with places to go and too much in her way. It’s a feeling shared by the rest of the band. There are obstacles standing in the way, and they’re itching to move past. A local radio station continues to play a single the band released a few years ago. It’s the only one they have. Despite having enough songs to cut a CD, finding the money and time to get together to record is a challenge in itself — something to which all bands juggling day jobs can relate.
“It’s one of those things we want to get to,” said Evan Conway. “It’s tough to get everybody together to get this thing out. It’s been like that for a while.” As with most bands, musicians juggle their time between the day jobs that pay the bills, and the nightlife that satiates their dreams to play music. No one is living off music alone. Except, maybe, Josh Greenberg, the band’s sax player. He’s a retired music teacher.
“Josh plays with, I don’t know how many different bands, a good number of them. That goes into figuring out when we can play. But, Bob [Morris, the band’s drummer] also plays in a number of different bands. Holly has a job that she works six days a week, [with] overnights…”
Around the table, there is a sense of family. Greenberg helps Taormina’s daughter out with picking from the tavern’s menu. Once the food arrives, everyone gives Morris a hard time for stealing a chicken finger from Taormina’s son. The band’s been together for more than five years. In the case of Morris and Conway, they’ve played together since the two were in high school more than a decade ago. So, when everyone mentions Taormina’s demanding job schedule, it’s all out of respect. On top of her obligations as a mother of two and her pursuit of a supervisor’s position at the post office, she continues to write songs. Some of which, Greenberg describes as “hip-hop” in origin. A description she greets with a smile, though she jokes, her songs sound like that because she’s angry.
“I think the insane work schedule that Holly works has created this situation over the past year, where we play fewer performances, but we knock ‘em dead,” said Greenberg. “I think there is something that is just beginning to change. With Holly being the songwriter, and with Holly and Evan being the music arrangers. I think the music is brilliant. It’s meaningful, it’s original and it absolutely deserves to get out there.”
Holly and Evan is a self-described “blues based Alt Rock” band that’s “tinged with jazz and soul.” The band’s Facebook page lists off Skip James and Robert Johnson among its influences, old-school blues performers with no earthly ties to the Capital District. Johnson died in Mississippi in 1938 at the age of 27. His life story was the inspiration behind the 1986 Ralph Macchio film “Crossroads.” Legend says he sold his soul to the devil. A gifted guitar player, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Conway, too, is a gifted guitar player. His father, Ed, said he has the unnatural ability to pick up a song by ear and play it. As a kid, he’d play before gatherings at the Hibernian Hall. His first taste at playing in front of a crowd.
“I think this band is poised to have a product and a presence, there’s no doubt about it,” said Greenberg. “I think the live performances have just come alive. I think Holly’s performances are phenomenal. I think all of us are performing at a very high level. We know the material. We’ve been playing together for a number of years, so it’s very intuitive. And, we just absolutely have a great time playing.”
The band works without the aid of a manager to book gigs or maintain social media channels. Some of those duties fall on Evan’s mother, Kathy. Nonetheless, it’s Evan’s responsibility to update Facebook. He admits, months can go by between posts. Despite the relative quiet internet chatter, the band has gained a larger audience. Gigs outside the Tri-City area have been more frequent, including a near regular appearance at The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Mass. The inn, that dates back before the American Revolution, has hosted Leonard Cohen and James Taylor.
Taormina believes it’s the band’s penchant for original work, instead of a “jukebox full of covers,” the audience appreciates most. She believes musicians are artists, and should obligate themselves to not just the instrument they play, but to apply thought towards stage presence.
“That’s what really bothers me about music nowadays,” said Taormina. “I mean, I look at The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, and I look at them as artwork. The way they dressed and the way they performed. Nowadays it’s just plastic. Not to put anybody down. It’s just not visually stimulating. It doesn’t do anything for me visually or mentally. The clothes, you know? Fashion and music, it all goes together. Nobody is grasping that now.”
[A scornful stare.] “It’s like watching a play. Like a high school play,” said Taormina. “Not to put her down. It’s great for her, but I miss the seriousness of it. I took my kids to see 21 Pilots at the Times Union [Center]. They were unbelievable. One of the best shows I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen a lot of shows. … Two people on stage. The set was all art. He did a backflip off the drum platform. They lifted the drum platform, and he played the drums on top of the audience. The coolest thing I’ve ever seen. There’s a band that is innovative, and thinking, and trying to get people to think. That’s important. We can do it on a small-scale. I mean, it’s as simple as thinking about what I’m going to wear before I walk on the stage. It’s how I’m going to do my hair.”
This weekend Holly and Evan play the main stage at Albany’s Tulip Fest. That, too, shows another evolution to the band’s growing popularity. It will be the band’s second time at the annual Mother’s Day festival. Its first appearance was relegated to the local stage.
“We’re getting to that point,” said Greenberg. “So, I think that somebody’s got to come along and produce it. Somebody’s got to come in and take care of that business. Promotion. Promotion. Promotion. It would have to be somebody who is willing to invest a lot….”
“Someone willing to work with four cranky people,” said Evan.
As Greenberg said, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Things are beginning to open up for a band juggling daytime obligations with nighttime dreams. Short of making a deal with the devil, Evan said there’s always a need to strive towards the big picture.
“You have to have the big picture goal,” said Evan. “You have to have that picture where you’re sitting on the beach in Tahiti in the middle of winter. To say, I can afford anything I want. You’ve got that dream.”
“I don’t even care about that,” said Taormina. “I just want my Grammy.”
This article was originally published by The Spot 518. is property of Spotlight Newspapers in Albany, N.Y., and appears as a special to NYS Music. TheSpot518 and NYS Music work in partnership to provide readers with in-depth coverage on the local music scene in the Capital District and New York state, respectively. For more, visit TheSpot518.com.