Despite working in the chocolate industry, Justin Angelo Morey has never seen Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Either version. He's never quite had the time to get around to it, but he will soon. He promises. That the longtime chocolate factory employee has ignored his profession's finest cinematic representation can be blamed on the attention Morey's instead given to his band, the Black Hollies.
In a sea of rock 'n' roll revisionists, the Black Hollies stand head, shoulders, and moptops above the rest of the pack. Less of an ode to the bygone era of 45s and Beatle boots, Morey & Co. act as a masterfully refined extension of the finest moments in '60s rock, complete with syrupy pop hooks and sweeping rock arrangements. Softly Towards the Light, their third long-player, is still new to store shelves, but it feels like a greatest hits collection—not from a band, from an entire decade—where every single song feels as fresh and relevant today as it would had it been unearthed for a Nuggets compilation. The swirling cotton candy psych-pop of "Don't Be Afraid to Ask" could be culled from the Strawberry Alarm Clock collection, while "Gloomy Monday Morning" and "When You're Not There" share a carefree simplicity with iconic acts like the Zombies and the Turtles.
Morey is the product of a "really rough neighborhood" in Jersey City (when people insult the Garden State—its pollution, crime, the inadequacies of living in New York City's shadow, the Nets—they're usually referring specifically to Jersey City). He was raised in a household where the sounds of Stax and Motown reigned supreme. His mother "played a lot of Yardbirds, the Kinks, and the Beatles," Morey explains, before adding, "then I went into my rebellion phase, where I was listening to punk rock."
Rebelling from his parent's music on instinct, Morey eventually joined ranks among the stomping and stammering post-punkers—and confirmed David Yow obsessives—in Rye Coalition. An unlikely fit given their current leanings, Morey and a pair of fellow future Black Hollies members (guitarists Jon Gonnelli and Herbert Joseph Wiley V) played a major role in the Jersey band's decade-plus run of staggering rock 'n' roll that featured a collaboration with Karp, cleaning up their sound to appease a major label, and hunkering down in a recording studio with the band's number-one fan, Dave Grohl. But when the sun finally set on Rye Coalition, Morey & Co. found themselves back where they began—in love with vintage rock 'n' roll.
The entire Black Hollies lineup shares another love just as unified as their commitment to creating music—collecting music. Less record collectors than hoarders, the band has seriously pondered outfitting their tour vehicle with a record player, so long drives can be soundtracked by spinning 45s.
The Black Hollies' hardwired DIY punk-rock past keeps the band on the road the better part of the year, which ultimately means less time at home slinging chocolate for Morey. Although, if he has his way, there just might be an eventual collaboration between his day job and his music: "We originally intended on making a chocolate 45. It would be a solid piece of chocolate that looked like a 45, with a label that said 'Black Hollies,' and maybe a song title. We were going to send them out, but then realized that people would maybe get the wrong impression when the chocolate pieces arrived broken."