When The Hollands! — a traveling four-piece family band — drove their 40-foot-long bus into Sisters about 14 months ago, they intended on staying for just a few weeks before setting off on an endless journey.
“We wanted to do Thanksgiving with the parents, and then we just figured that this is the new life," Craig Holland said in an interview on Christmas Eve. “We were going to go off and start touring."
One problem: No gigs. The family had been so busy picking up its life in Wisconsin and hitting the road indefinitely, “the business side of being musicians had really gone by the wayside," he said.
Getting rid of the house and possessions. Buying and working on the bus. Transitioning the kids into online school. Busy, busy, busy.
But, Holland said, “we hadn’t really booked a tour."
So a few weeks turned into a few months, and the Hollands — Craig and wife Jana, who are in their late 30s, plus daughter Graciana, 16, and son Banjo, 11 — settled into arts-friendly Sisters. They worked with a church. Graciana took art classes. They met their neighbors.
“The bus is a great ice-breaker," Jana said.
All the while, they worked on preparing the vehicle for its ultimate purpose: To carry this family full-time as they drive around the country to meet people, connect with communities and play their melodic and globally flavored folk music for an ever-growing network of fans.
Eleven months ago, they set out on their journey. More than 27,000 miles and a two-month stay in Australia later, they’re back in Central Oregon, and they’ll perform tonight at McMenamins Old St. Francis School in Bend (see “If you go").
To the stage, they’ll bring a bond, both familial and musical, tightened by the time they’ve spent together and the experiences they’ve shared.
“We’ve soaked in everywhere we’ve been: the personalities, the culture of the communities we’ve stayed in," Craig said. “It’s had an effect on all of us."
Jana calls the family’s lifestyle change “a paradigm shift" and says it would be a challenge to return to a more stationary life.
“It’s funny how once you make that paradigm shift, your brain really does say it’s not even possible to really go back. I would have to relearn life again to go back," she said. “To have our eyes opened and to begin to see the fruit of a life that’s for us more purposeful and more connected, it feels right."
Jana and Craig Holland met 13 years ago and were married six months later. Craig moved to the United States from Australia in 1997 for a “fresh start" and the opportunity to see American punk bands he loved, such as Warzone, Agnostic Front and Earth Crisis.
He landed in Chicago and began playing in a Celtic punk band.
Jana was living in Wisconsin at the time and was heavily into music, specifically the techno scene. She was a single mom with a corporate job and a big house that she opened to touring bands looking for a place to crash after a gig.
When Craig’s band ended up at her house, he was instantly drawn to the host.
“I guess he was sort of looking around my house, trying to figure out where the guy was in the pictures of me and Grace," Jana said.
They were married in early 2000 and moved to Australia for a year. Jana had begun making her own folky music, and Craig had essentially stopped playing to focus on earning money, and being a husband and father.
That disappointed Jana.
“I just couldn’t find room to do music," Craig said. “We just had such very different backgrounds musically, I didn’t know how to move into her world. It was like, ‘How do I play that kind of music when all I’ve known is this?’"
Jana jumps in: “Some couples have money issues or sex issues. We had this music handicap. It was so ridiculous. We’d get in huge fights over it."
Fast forward several years. Graciana began performing with her mom. Craig brought his guitar out of hiding. And Jana was working on her first album, fighting a nagging feeling that it shouldn’t just be her name on the cover.
“I thought, ‘If I’m going to launch this, I don’t want to launch it as myself. I want it to be the Hollands,’" she said.
And that’s when a family friend, musician Bruce Hecksel, encouraged Craig to not just be a bit player in Jana’s world, but to go all in on the band.
Which he did. And The Hollands! — the ! is part of the name — were born.
The band released its first album in 2009 and began touring outside its home town of Green Bay, Wis.
And they loved it.
“We experienced so much affirmation on the road. We were invited into so many beautiful places and met so many neat people," Jana said. “We recognized that we traveled well together. We always stayed in host homes so we had a deep sense of community while we were traveling.
“Venues were happy to have us and we made exactly what we needed," she continued. “When we got back, we had broken even, or maybe even had an extra hundred bucks."
That experience planted the seed for how the Hollands have spent the past year. But it was what Jana calls “an interpersonal issue" in the family — essentially, Craig’s lingering “what-if?" feelings about an old flame that kept him from fully giving his heart to his wife — that fertilized the idea.
“We had hit a crossroads where it was either our family was going to blow up and we were all going to go our separate ways," Jana said, “or we were going to have to hunker down and really get into the heart of each other and reconcile."
You can hear that vibe — betrayal, disconnect, reconciliation — throughout the band’s second album, 2011’s “Ashes to Beauty." One song is called “Tears in my Heart." Another: “Bitter Honey, Sin and Bones, Lady Wisdom Lead Me Home."
On the road
In August of last year, the family was driving to Minnesota and looking on Craigslist for a bus to call home. They stumbled across one for sale right in their path, in Eau Claire, Wis. A man had purchased two buses from the Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps in Casper, Wyo., and needed to unload one.
The Hollands swung by, handed over $9,500, and drove off with a new home, which they’ve since named Celu’haven.
It’s relatively cozy for a bus, with well-stocked wooden bookshelves and art hanging on every open swath of wall. In the back are the bedrooms; Banjo keeps a drawer full of Legos near his bed, and Graciana has a picture of actor Taylor Lautner tacked above her pillow.
Celu’haven is not built for a Central Oregon winter, however. During their interview with The Bulletin, the Hollands repeatedly turned on the oven and opened it to warm their hands.
But it gets them where they need to be, and it’s big enough to hold their stuff, including Craig’s tools, so he can help out with their hosts’ projects when given the opportunity. In Bend, the bus is parked at the home of Josh Hart, the man in charge of the Operation Elf Box charity. The Hollands have been assisting Hart’s efforts since they arrived in early December.
“Music’s a part of our lives, but it doesn’t define us," Craig said. “So the other ways that we can serve ... are just as important as playing the music."
Jana concurs: “We’re community builders. That’s our heart. When you come to our concert, we’re going to invite you to sing along. We’re going to bring out instruments. It’s just about sharing that moment of unity."
Of course, there is such a thing as too much unity, especially among immediate family. Graciana, a multi-instrumentalist who has written a murder ballad for the band’s next album, says she has enjoyed the past year “in the big picture." She misses her friends in Wisconsin, but has made others across the country. She is thankful for Facebook and Skype and said Australia was an “amazing" experience.
“There’s definitely ups and downs, like being so close to your family all the time," she said. “It gets annoying, but it’s also good because we work things out faster."
Banjo, the band’s percussionist, is a bundle of energy; during the interview he turned a sheet of construction paper into a hat, and then a boat. He called his life “fun" but said he likes “normal school" more than homeschool, “because in homeschool you have to stay with your parents the whole time."
On the other hand, he’s been known to turn a pile of parts into a flashlight with new buddies in Iowa.
“It’s like the icing on the cake when we’re given the privilege of playing music," Jana said.
Before the Hollands returned to Central Oregon, they stopped in Portland for three days to record their third album. This time, the theme is not betrayal or reconciliation, but, says Jana, “the story of common man" and the commonalities of us all.
“We’ve met so many amazing people along the way that are just really doing some awesome things," she said. “They’re just beautiful."
And Craig believes those people see something beautiful in his family’s lifestyle, too.
“People’s generosity along the way has been mind-blowing," he said. “I think part of it is that they’re seeing us pursuing a dream that I think is in all of us. Not everyone necessarily wants to go travel in a bus, but this idea of doing something crazy as a family — of setting a goal and doing it — I think that taps into something in a lot of people."
And if there’s a larger life lesson to be taken from the Hollands’ unconventional ways, it’s that pursuing a dream — or doing something crazy as a family or whatever you want to call it — may be the key to unlocking the day-to-day gridlock we all face, Jana said.
“We’re trying to communicate (the importance of) recognizing whatever system is in your life (that’s keeping you from) connecting. And if that is happening, to recognize that you can do something about that," she said.
“You don’t have to keep swimming that way."