Performing Saturday at Lincoln Hall in support of their latest release, MAD, I spoke with Honey and the 45s vocalist/guitarist Kristina Cottone about Jack Kerouac and direction as a theme, the difficulty of boiling down a wide range of musical influences on their latest EP and just what 2015 holds for the local quintet...
Performing in a local band looking to forge an identity can be difficult - in the general terms of finding/holding an audience while sustaining oneself - and in the more specific terms of carving out a unique musical niche that fosters and develops new material without sacrificing vision at the expense of pigeonholing covers.
It's that often all-encompassing experience - "a love/hate relationship with the desire to make art" - that Kristina Cottone says lies at the heart of the latest Honey and the 45s' effort MAD - even if it wasn't necessarily a concerted effort at first.
The EP's excellent title track layers bluesy guitar and bass over a jazz-laden drum track that cooks. Lyrically, it nods decidedly in the direction of passion through the eyes of Jack Kerouac and his ode to it in terms of his beloved "mad ones." In doing so, the track sets the tone for a stellar set of seven songs that seamlessly weaves genres like rock, soul, jazz and blues, ultimately telling the story of a passionate group that wants more than just success.
They want attentive eyes and ears on their original material. That's something that's more difficult than ever to achieve - but MAD is a musical statement that takes that chance and demands it. The key here is that the presence of so many different sounds and genres is never overbearing - they're carefully chosen and represent a band - with several new members - finding its sound. The stakes are high and they know it.
And despite the availability of almost twenty tracks from which to cull, the band went with seven - crafting a cohesive body of work that never strays from it's musical sounds or lyrical ideas. At under thirty minutes it's highly listenable in an era where the album itself can be a hard sell. With MAD, Honey and the 45s are successful on their own terms.
Gearing up for a show Saturday night at Lincoln Hall, I spoke with lyricist/vocalist/guitarist, Kristina Cottone about passion, life as an artist in 2015 and the work that went into putting out the first new Honey and the 45s release in two years...
Q. Let’s talk about the new album, MAD– your first in two years. Is this an all new batch of songs or have some of them been floating around for a while?
Kristina Cottone: A few of them have been floating around for a while, for a few years actually. It’s an EP. There’s seven songs – so it’s sort of a long EP or short album, one or the other. We’re just really, really excited to have new music. I think our sound is evolving and we have a few new members that have come along so they really brought along some of their own influences. So it’s certainly time.
We did a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for this album because we wanted our second big release to be at a professional studio and be at another level musically and sound wise. So we were very lucky in the support that we got. Our campaign was over-funded. And we actually went over the over-funded budget. So we used every penny.
Q. You mentioned wanting to record in a professional studio and I think the finished product reflects that it was because, in comparison to your last album, MAD has a very full sound. Can you speak a bit to the recording process for this project?
KC: We recorded at I.V. Lab Studios. Our engineer and kind of co-producer was Shane Hendrickson. It was self-produced but Shane certainly had a lot of influence while we were working with him so I think we consider him a co-producer now.
The process itself - I think we recorded for ten days but it was scattered over a few months. The first day, we went in and just did scratch tracks of all of the songs on the album. From there, we went in and filled things in and brought in some auxiliary players – really great keys player Julian Chin was on the album and a few horn players. Then we really just took most of our time with editing and with mixing. We started recording – I think our first day in the studio was June 1st – and then we wrapped in November. So we really took our time and wanted to do it right.
So, not that many days in the studio but spread over a long period of time with a lot of listening and reflecting in between the sessions.
Q. I feel like on this album there’s a real growth in terms of songwriting – the album, as a whole, really flows. Do you feel like that's the case and was it something you were aware of necessarily during those sessions?
KC: Absolutely. And, you know, I would say Honey and the 45s, over the last two years, I would say we’ve had at least fifteen to twenty new songs come in and out… And there’s seven on this album. So I think that not only were we writing together as a group - and learning to write together with the current five piece lineup - but [we were] also just being more selective when we were choosing the songs for the record. What fit the mood of the album? What fit the theme? And that’s exactly what we wanted: We wanted this album to feel more cohesive.
The writing process was very collaborative and you can really hear each member’s influence, in my opinion, on the record which is very cool.
Q. Speaking of influences… Obviously, there’s a lot of different sounds that go into your band’s overall sound – in terms of instrumentation with violin and sax augmenting the more typical guitar/bass/drum thing – but also in terms of musical ground covered with elements of rock, soul, funk, blues etc. all manifesting themselves on MAD. Are you guys coming from a lot of different places or is there kind of a shared vision - and is that difficult to juggle?
KC: John [Gould], our lead guitarist, [is] just so fantastic, really tasteful. If you need him to lay it down thick, he will. Or if you want him to play a beautiful, light jazzy riff, he can. He and our drummer [Jarad Kleinstein] – who’s an excellent musician, who’s our newest member – they both came from the Roosevelt Jazz Conservatory. Really great jazz musicians. But they also have a love of soul and Motown. And John, in particular, has a real love of rock and roll which I can hear more and more in the guitar that he’s bringing in. And then as far as blues, Sean Tatum, our bassist, brings a lot of that influence in. I think that’s where some of those influences come.
Then you have Kim and I. I love jazz singers and so does [vocalist/violinist/saxophone player] Kim [Kozel]. I love blues music. Kim, who used to sing in an all-girl a cappella group, can find these incredible harmonies that you never would think would exist. She’s got that and plays the saxophone. She even had a pop a cappella group. So you’ve got some of that influence. I come from a singer-songrwriter, folk, roots background – even a little bluegrass in my earlier stuff (Our newest album doesn’t really have much bluegrass influence).
But, yeah, we all kind of come from different backgrounds and have been influenced by a lot of different genres. So hopefully the sound that we all are together is bringing those influences together in a new and great way… That’s what we hope for anyway.
Q. I’ve heard you say the theme of the new album centers around direction – how so?
KC: The theme is direction – finding direction. It applies to the band because we’re really trying to get back to following the right path and being an original project. We sort of went off and we were doing some cover gigs, trying to earn cash, and also we were trying to expand out into the suburbs. When you play in the suburbs you play bar gigs and bar gigs want covers. So we kind of fell into the trap of where we were playing all the time but we weren’t playing our original music. So we really decided to re-evaluate things and it all just kind of tied into the theme. It wasn’t necessarily planned. But as the album was coming together, we really thought, “Wow. This really is getting back to the conversations we’re having within the group about being true to yourself and following the right path and trying to make it.”
“Mad,” the theme song, or the title track, was inspired by the Jack Kerouac quote which is, of course, about the “mad ones” following their passion. So it all kind of ties in in that way. “Mad” the song itself is, in a sense, a love/hate relationship with the desire to make art - because it’s all consuming. It’s also a very hard, very difficult path to follow. So it’s kind of a love/hate relationship with being an artist and what that really means.
Q. It's got to be difficult to avoid some of those stereotypes. Keeping "direction" in mind as a theme, would you say Honey and The 45s is headed in a new one in 2015?
KC: We are starting to notice a lot more buzz around our band in the city, in Chicago, which is so great. We’re so grateful and excited about that. We’re playing at some of the venues that we’ve been dreaming about for a long time. We just had our [MAD] release show at the Metro. We’re playing Lincoln Hall [this Saturday].
I think that our goal as an original project this year is we’re really working on some licensing opportunities. We’re going to send our new music out as much as possible, get as many reviews as possible and just try to have a real strategy about which shows we’re choosing. We’re hoping to open for some national acts that come through Chicago. In the spring we plan on hitting the road. We do a lot of regional touring – St. Louis, Madison, Milwaukee – we’re gonna do all of that again, of course, in the spring once the weather is better. We’re also hoping to expand and go on a few longer tours this summer. That’s our goal.
- Jim Ryan (@RadioJimRyan)
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(Details on Saturday's Honey & the 45s show at Lincoln Hall below)
Honey & The 45s
Saturday, January 10, 2015
Also performing: Jordan Engelhardt, Redfield, Leonum
Tickets: $10 ($12 at the door)
Click HERE to purchase tickets