Hollie Hiller woke up one mid-October morning focused on going to the job site for a hard day’s work. The 20-year-old Franklin County native, a carpenter by trade, was preparing for a marathon session of hanging drywall.
Before her head hit the pillow later that night, she had joined three area musicians and was a member of Mocking Bird Hill, a brand new progressive country music band that just signed a two-year recording contract with CMG Records in Nashville.
The way it happened puts a new twist on being in the right place at the right time.
Bass guitarist David Batts of West Frankfort was eating supper at Miranda’s On Main in his hometown and was discussing a musical crisis. With drummer Jason Marlow and lead guitarist Jeff Arview, there was a tremendous nucleus in place for a terrific band. All that was missing was a lead singer.
A waitress overheard the dilemma and said knew an outstanding female vocalist who could provide an instant solution. Her good friend — Hiller — is a karaoke queen with killer chops. She passed Hiller’s cell number on to Batts, who arranged for an audition at 45 Cal Records in West Frankfort later that same night. Hiller passed with flying colors.
She was invited to join the band the next day, after a demo from the session received positive feedback from a music executive in Nashville.
“It all happened so fast,” Hiller said, taking a break from pounding nails Tuesday. “A friend of mine overheard them talking one day and I was in the band the next. I’ve never been in a band before, but I sing karaoke all the time. I’m really looking forward to this challenge.”
Bands and singers can play the local honky tonk circuit for years without the courage to voyage to Nashville, the hub of the country music universe. Hiller and her new band makes make the trek south in less than a week.
“I have an established contact with an independent label in Nashville. They knew we had a quality band, but needed a lead vocalist,” Batts said. “When I sent them Hollie’s demo, they were excited and wanted to hear more.”
Adopting the name Mocking Bird Hill from a sign on a rustic barn they used for a photo shoot, the band journeyed to Nashville on Oct. 25 to perform live for Steven Riley, CEO of CMG Records.
Riley listened intently as Hiller shined brightly on a couple tracks, then offered the group a two-year contract, which they quickly signed.
“It was pretty cool,” says Hiller, who lists Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood as her biggest influences. Until inking the record deal, her biggest musical accomplishment had been winning a seventh-grade talent contest.
Everyone in the group is a songwriter, Hiller said.
“I write songs all the time,” she said. “I’ve got this pink notebook I take with me everywhere I go. You never know when an idea for a song is going to hit you. You have to write it down before it gets away.”
Hiller said she composed an entire song, “Fishin’,” in just 20 minutes while sitting in her car. The next day, the band spent a couple hours adding instrumentation.
“We are going down Friday and Saturday to lay down tracks and vocals for four original songs in Nashville,” Batts said. “We are going to record 12 songs. The best four songs will be released to radio and will be accompanied with videos. The label is paying for everything. We have no out of pocket expense. This is a great deal. We kind of just fell into it.”
The record deal is a welcome distraction and an inspirational project for Hiller, who tragically experienced the unexpected death of her six-month old daughter, Bellah, in early October.
Mocking Bird Hill will be performing at 8 p.m. Nov. 16 and 17 at Jokers Den in Benton and at 9 p.m. Dec. 8 at Mad-die’s Pub & Grub in Johnston City.
VINCE HOFFARD can be reached at 618-658-9095 or firstname.lastname@example.org.