Art Collective Hool Studios Embodies the Collaborative Spirit of New Orleans

By Adin Charasz

Jack “Dutch” Allen Jr., Sam Davis, and Gabe Cohen set up their instruments in a small room. Amplifier cables and guitar picks clutter the floor. Cohen sits at the drum set in the corner of the room.

The three twenty-one-year-old men are members of New Orleans art collective Hool Studios. The group has gathered at the Uptown home of fellow Hool member and visual artist, Parker Bollinger, to prepare for an upcoming Halloween music festival that Allen organized, dubbed “Hooloween.” The festival was complete with other Hool-affiliated bands and solo musicians, as well as food and drink vendors. It was set to take place on October 30th in Cohen’s backyard.

Bollinger sits in the living room on his computer, preparing a color-block poster to advertise the event, which, according to him, takes inspiration from the visual design of “Where’s Waldo” books and video games like Pokémon.

Allen turns on the guitar amp, and a shockwave of electric noise fills the room. Davis flicks the low E string on the bass he’d borrowed from Allen, its deep tone permeating the air. Cohen begins to quickly pitter-patter on the snare drum with his scraped drumsticks, on which light brown wood glares through cracks in the black paint. Cohen perfects his timing more with each second.
Soft spoken as ever, Allen says, “Stray Dog.” The other two nod, smiling in enthusiastic agreement to play one of Allen’s originals.

Cohen taps his drumsticks together in quick rhythmic timing, and with each hollow impact he yells, “One! Two! Three!” He descends upon the kick drum and the ride cymbal in a swift 3/4-time signature. Allen’s blue Ibanez guitar screams in G major, then E flat. Davis underscores the wailing guitar with the silver bass, providing the powerful low frequencies of the root notes.

The introduction comes to a tight finish, and the room becomes silent for a beat. Allen takes a deep breath before unleashing the first line of the chorus. His voice is filled with depth and agency that are uncharacteristic of the restraint with which he speaks. As his pick makes contact with the guitar strings, he sings:

I feel like a stray dog in the winter / Looking for food, shelter, warmth, and love

In his senior year at Lusher High School in 2018, Allen pitched the idea for himself, Bollinger, Davis, and another friend and photographer, Nate Harwood, to start collaborating on their music and art. Bollinger, Davis, and Harwood filmed music videos for Allen and worked together on visual art. Allen and Davis made music together. They called their then small group Hool Studios. They took inspiration in part from the success of the band Brockhampton, wherein a group of musicians formed a boy band after responding to an “Artists Wanted” advertisement on an online Kanye West fan forum.

Hool was a term that Allen, Davis, Bollinger, and Harwood used frequently throughout high school. It was short for hooligan, which Allen incorporated into his stage name: Hooligan Dutch. He rocks long curly brown hair and a scruffy lumberjack beard. He can typically be found wearing a denim jacket with sewn-in patches from some of his favorite bands and inspirations, including Metallica and Phish.

“‘Hooligan’ is a way to show that I’m not too serious. I sing these hard, emotional songs, but I’m not doing it with a frown on my face,” said Allen. “And that sort of goes for all of us. I might make music about feeling alienated and sad, but I can see the brighter parts of it, you know? We’re making art. We’re having fun.”

As of now, Hool Studios is a platform for diverse independent artists to collaborate with each other to develop their skills and produce their art, whether it be musical, visual, or otherwise.

“Hool gave me a great avenue to make art. I can make album covers, posters, t-shirts, music videos for people in Hool, but I’m making it my own way. I can also make my own stuff and work with other artists to make it the best it can be. And that’s the whole point,” said Bollinger. He wore a hoodie with one blue sleeve and one purple––part of the Teddy Fresh collection of color-block clothing. “It’s just a lot of independent artists working together rather than everybody working for one thing. We each have our own means of expression, whether we make music or do visual design, or whatever––whether we just want to create art for fun, or we deal with our own issues and use art as an outlet. Usually it’s both.”
Allen, who works with the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra (GNOYO) and deftly plays ten instruments, including guitar, bass, drums, cello, and viola, has faced struggles in his schooling because he has autism, which he was unaware of until late in high school. He faced bullying by his peers and was misunderstood by his teachers, and he said that school was set up to prepare students for college rather than for life and interpersonal relationships.

“The Dutch we know was this confident but humble musical guide, and I remember he’d get made fun of for dumb shit. For being autistic,” said Davis.

“The way my dad described it to me one time…” Allen said, “he was like, ‘You know, we just kind of threw you in the water… and you came out pretty well.’ I’d say that’s about it. I was in the water, but, you know, I swam. I swam, I’ll tell you what.” He goes on, “That’s a large part of why my music deals with feelings of isolation. Being part of something creative like GNOYO or Hool really helps me.”

Davis was born into a lower middle-class family in Uptown New Orleans. His parents were unmarried, but he described his childhood as “pretty standard for African American Baptists in New Orleans – very focused on religion and success in school.” Davis spoke in a deep timbre. “From the beginning, expectations did feel pretty high,” he said, “considering a lot of people in my family didn’t go to college, and it was expected of me to go and be the reverse. Also, religion was never really for me. It always felt strange to go to church, and one time, a pastor gave this crazy unnecessary speech about how if your father isn’t in your life, you’re pretty much bound to be gay. As a bisexual man, that hurt. That pastor and his wife babysat me; he knew me very well. That made it hurt more.”

In August of 2005, a five-year-old Davis left New Orleans with his mother for Texas, escaping Hurricane Katrina and leaving behind his father, who said he wanted to stay to watch the house; Davis believes his father only stayed behind to be away from him and his mother.

“My whole life,” Davis said, “I’d been telling my friends that my parents were just roommates… because it’s true. Like, they didn’t share affection.” Davis and his mother stayed in Texas for five years, “living in hotels and stuff, pretty much off the good mercy of people.” Davis developed an interest in photography and music, which eventually led him to befriend the original group and join Hool after returning to New Orleans. In high school, with Allen’s help producing beats, Davis found his footing in a combination of grunge and rap.

“A black grunge artist is not something you would usually see,” said Allen.

“Grunge music is generally seen as ‘white people music,’” said Davis. “I hate that racial divide of rap and rock. I want to break that divide, because the sound of those two genres blend really well, but the heaviness of their feelings also lets me express myself really well, whether I’m singing about my relationship with my dad, religion, or even comic books or video games.”

When Allen started college at Loyola University in New Orleans, he met Gabe Cohen through Bollinger, who lived on the same floor of a residence hall as Cohen at Tulane University. Cohen plays guitar, bass, and drums. He also writes his own music, for which he takes inspiration from the stories of James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, who didn’t start his music career until he was in his thirties, and Jeff Rosenstock, who Cohen admires for having been a truck driver and releasing all his music for free.

“He could have been living solely off his music, but he just wanted to release it for free and drive trucks,” Cohen said. “Those types of stories are the most inspiring to me.” Cohen held a love for music since he was very young, attending School of Rock in his home city of Palo Alto. As soon as Allen heard Cohen perform, he wanted Cohen to be a member of Hool. Cohen would be among the first members not originally from New Orleans. The group could befriend diverse musicians and visual artists from all over the country and welcome them into the collective thanks to the influx of students to Tulane and Loyola.

“I really just love the people in Hool,” said Cohen. “We’re all doing our own thing and helping each other out. And we get to work with each other if we want to do a live show and play each other’s music or feature on each other’s stuff. We get to throw festivals in our backyards. It’s really cool.”
In junior year of college, Allen inspired Davis to start learning how to play the bass and offered Davis his own bass to use for practice, production, and live shows. In addition to working together on their independent recorded music, Davis, Cohen, and Allen started their live band within Hool (accurately named Hool Live Band, though it’s a work in progress).

On the topic of collaboration, Allen said, “I love it. That’s how I want to make music. We all link up in the studios and help produce each other’s songs. It’s also fun when we play live, changing the songs up in ways we never would have thought of on our own, hearing rhythms we didn’t hear before, being able to add embellishments or accidentally do something that ends up sounding really cool.”

The group began rehearsing weekly. They played shows in Uptown venues like The Willow and Gasa Gasa in addition to hosting events at their houses, with Davis, Harwood, and Bollinger recording the shows and designing posters and merchandise. In 2020, Allen put out his first album, “Gasmask,” under the Hool Studios label. This was the first time the studio appeared on music streaming services. “I don’t want to sign a record deal a day in my life if it isn’t to myself,” said Allen.

Allen’s vision of Hool is rooted in embracing the heterogeneity of its members. “There are so many racial divides, there’s transphobia, homophobia, and socioeconomic disparities when it comes to art programs. I think music is for everyone––everyone should have access to those programs,” said Allen. “I think New Orleans is one of the only places where all these different people can come together and make something like Hool. We can play off each other’s stories real well and put that into the music and the art. It’s just different here. There’s a lot more connection when you’re making art in New Orleans.”

“The culture here in New Orleans for art is geared toward collaboration rather than competition,” Bollinger said.

“Creative groups show up all over. Hool, though, is definitely influenced by New Orleans culture,” said Cohen. “It’s so accepting and welcoming, and it’s all about collaboration to benefit each artist.”
Hool Studios continues to add members from New Orleans and beyond. Hool is affiliated with people of various upbringings, races, ethnicities, religions, and gender identities. They’ve developed working relationships with other rising bands and artists in the city to be on lineups for shows and festivals like Hooloween; these bands include indie band Shmoo and psychedelic rock band Sympathy Wizard, for which Cohen plays guitar.

Creative minds are constantly popping up in New Orleans in no small part due to the artistic values of the city and its penchant for diversity. Hool Studios recognizes these New Orleanian values and engages them to devise a platform for acceptance and collaboration.

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