Honeyed Harmonies, Succulent Strings: An Interview With Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle has been a band on our radar for a long while and over the course of listening, seeing and enjoying their always percussive, always knee-weak inducing harmonies and always fantastic performances (both recorded and live) we have been lucky enough to not just become fans,  but also friends of the trio.

The latest record from the band only further expands on their sound and influence. Expanding to awe inspiring depths that are cavernous and fully engulfing in the sonic displays they put forth like ‘Deep Blue Eyes’. The heartwrenching beauty of ‘Beautiful Pain’ and rollicking, infectious grit of ‘Watershed’, the band is fully exploring just how far their songs can go. Keeping their roots grounded in the importance of a well crafted song but experimenting with ideas and sonic textures that expand it all. The record, while it certainly delves into some new places, is at it’s core, a wonderful representation of what the band has done so well over the past few years. GIGANTIC harmonies, strings the delicately dance between the space that the other ebbs and flows from and a percussive landscape that grounds it all. Some sounds may be somewhat new, but as a whole we get to see a band taking what they know and do best and only adding a few new tools to their belt. Tools that further cement them as a band to keep an eye (and ear on) as they only develop more as artists and writers.

We were lucky to catch up with Holly, Chris and Ben to ask them a couple of questions about the new record and their process. 

Catacombs drops this week (October 5th). You can (and should) grab tickets to the release show (our dear friend Sam Moss opens) and pick up a hardcopy of this record or order one once it releases this Thursday


RLR: Lets go right for the throat. This record, sonically, is HUGE comparatively to some of the other recordings you guys have put out. It is far more a stretch away from “rootsy” and really gets into the rock end of the spectrum, even delving into what some might call experimental. I feel like live you guys have been building that for a little while now, even a little with mandolin-pedals on the last record. How did this progression as a band really adapt over the process of recording this album, or even before?

HM: We have always thought of ourselves as being a little bit experimental I think. Though we love the roots style and love to play (and do often play) acoustically we have also been steadily adding new and intricate sounds through Chris’ pedal board. It is that coupled with the fact that Ben studied drums at school and before. His style is versatile but there are a lot of strong feelings behind these songs which I think drove the more rock sound of our percussion. We still play more stripped down live (though for the record release shows we are adding a bassist and drummer) and have no plans at the moment of adding more members but for the record we wanted to give the songs what they seemed to call for and that meant a little more firepower. 



RLR: What did you guys use as a reference when heading in to record? Anything in particular within the same realm? How about just records you may have been listening to as you arranged?

CB: I’ve been listening to a lot of Andrew Bird and Wilco the past few years. I really admire the way that both artists can be very acoustic, or very rockin/plugged on any given song. The versatility of their styles and arrangement approaches helped inspire us to push the boundaries of what the 3 of us can accomplish artistically while still staying true to our identity as a band. 

RLR: I know that you hold Gillian Welch as a big influence. Thinking about expanding the sound, how important is it to keep the keen sense of songwriting and a bit of the roots in the music?…hard to stray too far with banjos and mandolins I suppose.

HM: We still write with storytelling and a lot of emotion in mind. I think if you saw us play the songs live it would not seem like too much of a deviation just more of an expansion on our style. Gillian Welch and our roots influences are still at the forefront of our inspiration but just as I realized I will never write songs quite like Gillian so too am I realizing we will likely not follow her entirely musically. That’s not a bad thing, we’re just different people and our combination of skills, interests and life experience may take us in many different directions. We’re not hanging up the banjo and mando any time soon (or ever more like haha) so we will always have a connection to that music in many ways but we have always been non traditional and will keep pushing the boundaries as long as it serves the songs we write. That being said we could just as easily flip back the opposite way on the next record and strip things down more. It all just depends and I hope people will follow us where our creative process goes. You wont see us stop playing acoustic shows, covering Gillian Welch or anything like that. 

RLR: The layering of voices and strings on this particular record is mindblowing to me. Harmonies have always been a strong suit for the band and the interplay of the banjo and mandolin and guitars never ceases to amaze me as a listener. How does arranging these songs work with you guys. Will someone typically come with a real basic structure and you just build and build? Do you have an idea of the melody lines you want as the songwriter and make suggestions?

HM: Usually one person will come in with a fully formed song (has all the parts basically written musically and lyrically) and then through us learning it as a group the layering begins. Typically Chris and Ben will land on their harmonized parts in the first couple of play throughs and tweak things from there. I think the longer we play together the more intuitive and intricate we can make our parts.

RLR: I know on the last record Chris wore the hat of producer and also engineered a handful of the tunes on the record as well. Was there a similar shared experience between band and producer/engineer this time around or did you guys strictly stick to playing the parts and singing?

HM: There was a shared role on this record as well all though we had a tremendous amount of help from our friend (and fabulous engineer) Colin Flemming. It’s been difficult to do records this way and on the next one we really hope to mostly surrender the producer and engineer roles so that we can have a more relaxed and strictly creative role in making it. 



RLR: Beautiful Pain’ is one of the first singles off the album. That song absolutely wrecks me emotionally (and I mean that in an incredibly human and touching way). Everything about it is just so gorgeous. I feel like it would work with the big drums and harmonies as it does on the new album or just straight acoustic alone unamplified in a room. Ben, where does that song come from? And why are you trying to break my heart with these songs?

BB: Firstly – THANK YOU. So sweet of you. Without going down the wormhole too much on a weekday, the song is about my father, Dennis Burns. He passed in 2015. The apartment on the second floor of my childhood home was vacant in between tenants, so I brought a microphone up there to take advantage of the acoustics. I think it was the winter of 2016. It all pretty much came out in one go – lightning strike sort of thing. Funny how a change in environment – even acoustically/visually – can draw things out of you. That’s how most of them work, although it’s a pretty unsustainable writing process and it ultimately drives me to insanity. The song is a fragment of the multifaceted experience navigating this void, and if you don’t consider the cost of the guitar I wrote it on it was the cheapest therapy available at the time. I’m sorry if it breaks your heart Brian I’ll try to counteract it with a happy banger on the next record!

RLR: If each of you guys had to choose your favorite track from the record, what would it be an why?

HM: Beautiful Pain 100%. It’s one of the best songs Ben has ever written. It’s raw and emotionally charged yet has a very catchy and highly memorable chorus. Everyone can relate to the loss/anger/regret/nuanced and un nameable feelings it stirs up. I’ve played the song maybe hundreds of times at this point but it never feels any less fresh or impactful. 

CB: My favorite track from the record is Catacombs. It’s a good example of us stretching our limits artistically. I love that we are continuing to push the boundaries of our sound and find new and (hopefully) fresh ways to utilize and showcase string band instruments.  

BB: “Thick As Blood”. Much needed space amongst the sonic chaos. Holly McGarry, cutting you to the core as per usual. A deep track about family and relationships, she is after my heart with this one. Waiting for someone to do a club remix too, very exciting, very cool, very ready to dance.



RLR: “Watershed” is almost a straight indie rock tune. The drums are rock n’ roll and it leaves a lot of any sort of folk feel behind. I think it somewhat marks a newish mark on the road for you guys. Can we expect to see changes live, maybe with the addition of a drummer (instead of just Ben’s foot?)

HM: We will have a drummer just for our release shows at Passim but it’s not anything that would happen soon. We play the song as just the three of us and though it is still very rocking that gives it more of our usual feel. Watershed is the first song Chris has written in its entirety for the band and he has always been our resident rocker haha. He comes from a lot more rock influences than folk ones so it was only natural for that to come out a little more as we all developed more of an equal voice within the band. As of right now though (despite some of the heavy rock influences of the record) we are still our same weird non traditional (but we like traditional) not quite fitting in selves haha. 

RLR: What are you guys most excited about in terms of the new record and looking forward?

HM: We’re anxious to see what our fans and family think as it is a bit of a departure and we have not played a lot of the tunes live much as of yet. I’m excited to see which emerge as people’s favorites (I have a feeling Beautiful Pain will be one) and I hope it makes people interested in what we will make next. We plan on touring very heavily this year so I’d like to see this record help gain up more friends and fans around the country.