A bit Andy Kaufman, a little Orville Peck, a hint of Father John Misty, Dale Hollow possesses “a fascinating combination of performance and purveyed authenticity,” as the lifestyle magazine Mundane once posited, while also noting that “no other country music artist has ever claimed to be the best, except for Dale Hollow.”
Legend has it that Dale actually tried to trademark the phrase “The Country Music Superstar,” so every time someone like Luke Bryan, Loretta Lynn, Jessica Simpson or Darius Rucker attached that phrase to their names, Dale gets some cash.
And while Hollow can be purposely self-elevating, that seemingly tall tale is true. “I sent $150 to the copyright office…and I got denied instantly,” he says. “That’s why I use that parenthetical justification (trademark pending).”
A mysterious figure in the country music world, here’s what we do know: Hollow, who hails from Nashville and is named after the Kentucky reservoir, had an inauspicious start to his music career. The future country legend was just trying to pay off $35,000 in back taxes. “I was trying to get cash fast,” he admits. “One day, sitting in an internet cafe, I read this article that detailed how Luke Bryan was the most profitable artist in streaming. So I just thought, ‘I’ll do what he does.’”
Thankfully, that odd inspiration has led to some not-so-seriously good music. Dale’s new record, Hack of the Year, is a hoot, full of crooning, shuffling beats, yelps and plenty of self-effacing singalongs. “Don’t Wanna Do Anything” is a legit slacker anthem, while “I’m a Lover” serves as a rollickin’ love song with a hint of Roadhouse menace. Several moments here, including the title track and “Dead End Job,” possess a real sense of melancholy.
There’s also a stream of consciousness at work on the album, most notably with “Cowboys on TV,” a hootenanny take on listicle songs (akin to “It’s the End of the World As We Know It”). “It’s such a dumb idea,” says Hollow, almost proudly. “It started as a story about wanting to be a cowboy, and it ended up with me Google-ing performers who had played cowboys on screen and reading off the list. Maybe Google gets a co-write on that one.”
While there’s a bit of an arched eyebrow that comes along with some of Hollow’s work, the record itself and the live show are musically savvy. Credit there goes to Hollow’s partners in crime, The Long Con, featuring music vets Chris Winfree, Dalton Smith, Miranda McLaughlin and Nick Morelly. “My best talent is finding more talented and capable musicians,” says Dale.
Which doesn’t mean Hollow isn’t the focal point when it comes to the live setting. “There’s a lot of energy from me on stage — it’s a very kinetic show,” says Hollow. “There are a lot of jumps and kicks and unnecessary and unorthodox things. But it’s not frenetic that you can’t pay attention! Also, I’m 6’5” — throw on a cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, I’m pretty good at making myself look goofy. A tall guy with a hat on stage, that’s amusing.”
Dig a little deeper into Hack of the Year and you’ll find fun little details: The record features several verbal monologues (h/t to Ray Price’s honky tonk classic Night Life), some country music Easter eggs (including a Gary LaVox/Rascal Flatts shoutout) and even some influences from outside of the country music world. Including, surprise, Childish Gambino. Says Dale: “I love his sense of borderline unnecessary oversaturation of pop culture references” (and those are in abundance on Hack, be it Forrest Gump, Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow or NFTs).
Is it all an act? Hollow admits he’s appreciative of the genre while also taking “a bit of the piss out of the self-seriousness” of Americana and country music. That said, “We actually do have country music fans coming on board,” he says. “I’m just placing myself in the country music world in an unorthodox way. But I think you could be anyone who likes music and enjoy our show, whether you prefer Luke Bryan or Beach House.”
If you’ve made it this far and noticed that we’ve mentioned Luke Bryan three times, that’s on purpose. “I have a somewhat vague personal vendetta against Luke,” says Hollow. “He’s my arch nemesis. I’m punching up.” (We won’t spoil it here, but Hollow has met the country music chart-topper — but you’ll have to hear the whole story at his shows.)
But is the album title a bit, well, too bashful?
“If you think the record is good, it’s clever,” argues Hollow. “And if you think it’s bad, well, I can say I knew it was!”
And then he adds, quickly: “But I would never say that about my own record.”
3159 N Southport Ave
Chicago, IL 60657