—David Menconi, Down on Copperline
Since the early 1990s, twin brothers Michael and Mark Holland have been making music both together and apart under a variety of names, Jennyanykind, Jule Brown and Holland Brothers among them. And while they were playing loud blues-tinged alternative rock during their highest-profile early period (with Jennyanykind’s album “Revelater,” released on the major label Elektra Records in 1996), the Orange County duo recently achieved a new peak with their folksier side.
In their current guise as bluegrass/old-time/country blues songsters The Holland Brothers, they’ve made it onto one of the most acclaimed TV series in recent years. That’s “The Righteous Gemstones,” an exceedingly dark comedy series on HBO featuring a big-name cast of actors including Danny McBride, John Goodman, Eric Roberts and Walton Goggins portraying a televangelism clan as a literal den of iniquity.
Produced by Charleston-based Rough House Pictures, “The Righteous Gemstones” has used new Holland Brothers recordings as well as songs from their catalog in shows during all the show’s first three seasons. The brothers even appeared onscreen themselves in the third episode of 2019’s first season, as two-thirds of a bluegrass trio (accompanied by Billie Feather on bass) playing the hymnal “The Old Country Church” at a church picnic where mayhem breaks out. At the apex of the fight, “Gemstone” family patriarch Goodman throws a potato through a church steeple.
“The camera cuts to us looking up at the potato after it’s thrown,” Mark Holland says with a laugh. “I remember thinking when we got to do that, ‘This is great, an awesome one-off thing.’ But they’ve pulled us in to do more each year. We have this niche of bluegrass, country blues and old-time country music that fits their show really well.”
“Yeah, there just aren’t a lot of people doing this kind of old-timey acoustic music, and that’s what they need,” adds Michael Holland. “After we recorded that song, we asked who was playing the musicians. They said they had some actors lined up and we kind of jokingly asked, ‘Well, why don’t you have us do it?’ Everybody laughed, but a few days later they called and said we were in.”
This actually is not the only onscreen appearance for the Holland Brothers. They turned up in a 2021 episode of the Apple TV series “Dickinson,” dressed up as sailors and performing a sea shanty with singer Beth Ditto. They’ve also had music appear in soundtracks for films and shows including 2018’s “The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter,” 2015’s “The World Made Straight” and the FX network’s comedy series “Baskets.”
But “Gemstones” has been the Holland Brothers’ steadiest soundtrack gig. They first came to the attention of the show’s producers through a music supervisor who knew their music from Michael Holland’s 2003 solo album “Bootlegger’s Dreams.” The supervisor’s girlfriend gave him a copy years ago, and it led to the Hollands’ first song placements.
Their association with “Gemstones” producer Rough House has also led to what will be the first Holland Brothers album in quite some time, a three-disc vinyl box-set anthology of music from throughout their career, due out next year. They’re also hoping to get a call back for more music and maybe even appearances in the fourth season of the show, currently in production.
“We’ve heard from some casting directors interested in putting us in some movies and TV shows, too, so we hope to branch off into that,” says Mark. “But we’re not holding our breath. Music is still our bread and butter. Lofty aspirations aside, we’ll take what we can get.”
“It’s just another facet to the creative process,” says Michael. “We’ve been on-set a few times, and it’s cool to see how the whole thing gets made. So we’ll see where it goes. Why not?”
“The Righteous Gemstones” is available for streaming on HBO. The Holland Brothers’ next local performance is Nov. 9 at Lapin Bleu, 106A N. Graham St. in Chapel Hill. They’ll also play the “Beer and Banjos” series Nov. 21 at Raleigh Times.
>> 2019 Piedmont Laureate David Menconi’s next book, “Oh, Didn’t They Ramble: Rounder Records and the Transformation of American Roots Music,” was published in October 2023 by University of North Carolina Press.