My friend Ed and I have talked often about how the Rolling Stones have been able to tour for almost fifty years largely on the backs of four albums: Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup, Let It Bleed, and Sticky Fingers. It’s a testament to the remarkable body of work these albums represent. The material that hasn’t received as much attention live comes from the albums that preceded these. 1965’s Aftermath is perhaps the most overlooked, and I’m not sure why.
When it was released, Aftermath quickly became a critics’ darling, often compared favorably to the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. In fact, some reviews found Aftermath to be more creative and daring. It was the first Rolling Stones record to not include any cover songs, but instead was filled with original material. This period in the band’s history was prolific enough that the UK version contained four more tracks than the US release and included the hits, “Out of Time” and “Mother’s Little Helper.”
But what really set this record apart was the contributions of Brian Jones, who brought world instruments to the music. His addition of instruments like marimba, dulcimer, and Japanese koto make these songs glisten and provide a cosmic kind of fidelity that feels fresh and organic. The genius of Aftermath is that all of Jones’ well-documented musicianship comes forward in remarkably nuanced contributions. They add a level of sophistication and style that proved the Rolling Stones to be much more than just a modern-day blues act. Aftermath required fans and critics alike to regard them creatively amongst peers like the Beatles and the Beach Boys.
It may have taken some time, but Aftermath will now receive the kind of attention it rightly deserves. New York City-based rock band Hollis Brown is releasing In the Aftermath, a wire-to-wire cover of the US version of the record, and the result is a rock moment that sounds like it might have been recorded alongside 1976’s Black and Blue. Their take is reverent and robust. Songs have more body than the original versions, and this is helped along by the decision to forego the exotic instruments that had long been the album’s watermark. This is a rock record in keeping with Hollis Brown’s original material and it follows the band’s well-celebrated cover of the Velvet Underground’s 1971 album Loaded.Hollis Brown, In the Aftermath album cover.
We spoke with Hollis Brown front man Michael Montali about how the project came to be, what their approach was in tackling such an iconic piece of rock, and what he and the band hope this record in the end just might accomplish.
Ray Chelstowski: How did you first get introduced to Aftermath?
Michael Montali: A couple of things. Aftermath was one the of the records, like Loaded, that we turned to when we started the band. We were trying to figure out who we wanted to be, how to write songs, and all of that. It’s one of their earlier records and it’s filled with a lot of backside material that isn’t part of their mainstream, best-known songs. So that was part of the appeal. Some of the other Stones stuff starts to sound like karaoke because it is so well-known. Also, the open tuning technique that Keith Richards started using makes that music difficult to pull off. So, this music is good because it leans on the blues, it’s got standard tuning, and it has a similar aesthetic to what we do with our original music.
RC: You cover the US version of the record. Did you ever consider tackling the UK version, which is a bit larger and includes tracks like “Out of Time” and “Paint it Black?”
MM: We did. We had a conversation about which version we should do, and we settled on the US version mostly because we’re an American band. Also, maybe because it didn’t have as many tunes to have to get down in the short amount of time that we did this in (laughs)! And like I said the UK version has more better-known tunes and we wanted to shy away from covering their biggest songs. The US version shows that the Stones have another side to their catalogue that’s blues-based.
RC: The final product, like the Velvet’s tribute album Gets Loaded, is exceptional. Do you have other albums in mind that you might want to cover in the future?
MM: You’re 100 percent right. We always joked about it after the Velvet Underground project that this would be a pretty cool concept, to do [a cover of a complete album] every couple of years, [or] just do one for Record Store Day or between albums. We actually have a list of the ones that we would like to do. We’ve had it for some time. It includes Ziggy Stardust, (David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars); Led Zeppelin IV was up there for a while; maybe a Beatles record? This is a list of those records we really loved when we were starting out and we always said we would cover, but we never really got around to it because of touring and making our own music.
But, during the pandemic we were doing these private outdoor concerts. We are really fortunate to have a fan base that can support us in that way. These concerts had very small audiences for obvious reasons, and someone asked if they could hire us to do an album in full. They asked us to do (Elton John’s) Tumbleweed Connection. We said, “well, you know, we’re a guitar band…”
So, we suggested that we pick the album, and started talking amongst ourselves. Based on our set up, the bluesy-ness of the tunes, the vibe we were having, and [in] not being able to really get rehearsal spaces or get together all that much, we picked Aftermath. We did the show, and afterward, decided to record it. We booked a studio for a day and ran it all live, a couple takes each, and that’s the record.
RC: Both Gets Loaded and In the Aftermath have a similar fidelity to their sound. How did you approach these projects?
MM: Well, they were both recorded in the same room in the same way. We set up to record live and started from track one and moved track by track to 11. We just did it that way. It’s a similar approach to how we did Loaded. We worked with Don DiLego at his Velvet Elk studios in the Poconos (in New York), and we had it mixed down in Fort Myers, Florida. Don is great because he knows how to work his room and he makes things very easy. He just captures what the people are playing.
RC: I think what really sets Aftermath apart from earlier Stones records is the addition of exotic instruments that Brian Jones weaved into the arrangements.
MM: I agree. I think that Brian Jones opened the record up by bringing in world instruments, especially on songs like “Lady Jane.” It made things more interesting given the time it was released. But we wanted to approach the record from our perspective and how we play live. That kind of gave it a more 1970s Stones flair, like Some Girls or Goats Head Soup. We didn’t want to replicate it. We’re a five-piece band so we decided to just play it and make it our own. Today I think that the Stones would approach Aftermath as more of an organic rock record, especially since the person who was bringing in those [other] influences isn’t there anymore.
Brian Jones was the only guy at the time who could play the Robert Johnson-style blues guitar. Obviously, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck would start popping up a few years later, but he was the original blues-rock guitar guy in England. I don’t think he necessarily gets as much credit as he deserves because it was a short-lived moment and he had personal issues that overshadowed everything. But Brian Jones was a beast. He should get a lot more credit than he does, especially for taking that band from just being a blues band to having a pop sensibility that probably got them out of the clubs.
RC: You play with the opening arrangement on “Under My Thumb” to where the band kind of stumbles into the groove. It was a creative way of shuffling the expectations we all have toward one of the band’s most popular songs.
MM: A lot of that has to do with the fact that we wanted to track it all live in one day. And a song like that is so iconic that if we opened the way the original does with the marimbas, it would have just been a carbon copy, and not really worth listening to. We just tried to approach it our own way, and that’s the best we got (laughs).
I have been looking at their current set lists on tour and just think it’s insane how much material they created. So, the back wall of a band like that is not easy to stumble into unless you’re really hungry for it, and we were. We’ve always been music heads, fans of rock and roll music, and we came at this with a completely different perspective than 1965 London. Hopefully some folks will get turned on to it and learn that the Stones are more than just “Brown Sugar.”
RC: Have you received any feedback from the Rolling Stones regarding the record?
MM: We reached out to their publishing side, just to get the clearance. We got an OK to make sure that when we put this out, we didn’t get blocked or have stuff taken down. But we haven’t heard from anyone on the creative side. We’re hoping for a Tweet one of these days. But nothing yet. That would be amazing. Part of the reason we did this because these people are our heroes. They influenced and changed our lives, and we want to make sure that people have the chance to appreciate this music that is somewhat buried.
Header image of Hollis Brown courtesy of Nick Karp.