Back with their first new music since 2015, I spoke with Kristina Cottone and Jon Gould of local blues/soul/rock and roll quintet Honey & The 45s about recording the new EP Speak, taking control of their sales and distribution and much more...
With the 2015 release of the MAD EP, Honey & The 45s addressed both passion (through the eyes of Jack Kerouac) and the love/hate relationship that comes with creating art as they sought to move beyond the expectations that often accompany the journey of a local band, demanding eyes and ears on their original music.
With the new Speak EP, the group's bluesy, soulful roots are on full display, as beautifully crafted horn arrangements embellish four terrific new original tracks like "Be Here Now."
Authenticity is a theme on Speak which moves beyond the idea of passion to explore relationships that desire a bit more. And, as the band takes control of all aspects of the creative process, from home recording to self-distribution, there are some parallels to be found in both the personal and professional.
"It’s exciting for us to kind of take the reins of the project," said guitarist and lead vocalist Kristina Cottone. "And the whole kind of theme of the new music anyway is about authenticity and speaking up and kind of taking control. So it all goes together."
The empowering batch of new songs is also timely. Local rapper Pinqy Ring guests on the title track and sets her sights directly on a President who's bragged of committing assault. Addressing what's happening in the world was a natural step for Honey & The 45s as they push forward with Speak.
"I think it’s always an important part of an artist’s responsibility to speak out in universal ways about what’s going on but also leaving it open enough for people to have their own interpretations," said Cottone. "Thematically, I think it’s all things that really effect everybody but it impacts us too," continued lead guitarist and vocalist Jon Gould.
Fresh off a JBTV performance (which airs Sunday morning January 7th at 1AM on WJYS TV), I spoke with Cottone and Gould about recording the new EP Speak, addressing the world in song and much more as Honey & The 45s gear up for a show Friday, January 5th at Lincoln Hall. A lightly edited transcript of that phone conversation follows below...
Q. Kristina, you and I last spoke about two years ago following the release of the MAD album. Aside from new music, what’s new?
Kristina Cottone: So we have a few new members. We have a new drummer, Dave Brandwein. And we have Sonya Major who plays keys.
Q. You mentioned to me in an email that the goal this time around is to kind of take control of your sales instead of doing a distribution package. What has that diving into an even more independent approach been like this time around?
Kristina: It’s exciting for us to kind of take the reins of the project. And the whole kind of theme of the new music anyway is about authenticity and speaking up and kind of taking control. So it all goes together.
It’s been exciting but it’s also challenging to do your own promotion work and all of that. But it’s important. We like to learn and to grow. So it’s important for us to take control and figure out all the aspects of the industry.
Q. You mentioned authenticity. And in a press release you guys have described these songs as being about “exploring the desire for connection and authenticity in relationships.” The words “empowering” and “timely” were also used. What made you want to take the songwriting process in that direction?
Kristina: The songs on this EP – there’s only four of them – we wanted to do a short EP and we want to release music more frequently for our listeners. But we really only went through six or seven songs and we landed on these songs because they were just kind of striking chords with all of us. And they kind of set the overall theme of the title track which is "Speak."
Q. Pinqy Ring guests on “Speak” and she certainly aims some pointed barbs in the direction of a pretty obvious character, that being our President. How did that collaboration come about and what was it like working with her?
Jon Gould: We have no idea what you’re talking about!
Kristina: [It] was a chance meeting for me. I was riding in an Uber and my Uber driver was this rapper named Pinqy Ring. And she performs all over Chicago.
The band had been playing around with [the idea of] bringing in a rapper. I immediately looked her up after the ride and she was just amazing.
We had some chords that were floating around and on a plane ride home I started writing lyrics to the song and realized this would be the perfect song to have a rapper in on. She just brought it to a whole new level.
And the rest of the songs kind of folded in after that.
Q. When you use the word “timely” to describe the record, and you’ve got a section like that in “Speak,” how important was it to address what’s going on in the world on this EP?
Kristina: I think it’s always an important part of an artist’s responsibility to speak out in universal ways about what’s going on but also leaving it open enough for people to have their own interpretations.
Sonya's song “Open Up Your Heart,” there’s some direct references to not building a wall and all sorts of things. But I think it’s the skill of a good songwriter, and good musicianship, to comment on things but also leave things open for interpretation. Sonya Major is our newest member and she brought that song in and it just fit in really nicely with the rest of the songs and the theme of the album.
Jon: Anything in our world that effects a great number of people – and I know that everybody kind of reacts to what effects them in different ways and, in our case, we just try to do it the clearest and be the best representative musical interpretation, or what was making us feel individually as a collective. Lots of people do it in different ways – you can get angry about it, you can yell about it, you can whatever about it.
Thematically, I think it’s all things that really effect everybody but it impacts us too.
Q. I love the horn arrangements on Speak. Particularly on "Be Here Now." Jon, I know you wrote those arrangements. What were you going for when you were putting those sections together for this EP?
Jon: Putting together any type of auxiliary instruments, or sort of add-on things - whether it’s horns or strings - just because you have every sort of possibility at your disposal, I’m always afraid of doing way too much. It’s just, I guess, the writing fear is being way too over the top with it.
So this is the first time that we had a pretty diverse horn section. We had three different instruments playing. We’ve had horns in the group before but, as far as the approach to all of these songs, it was just something to kind of, not necessarily elevate them – because I think that the songs, with or without horns or auxiliary instruments, would still be strong – but just to try and support them.
This is going to sound kind of dumb but [the goal was] having all of these instruments be present without taking away from the overall effect of the song. More of the foundation, or of the mortar rather, than I guess the building itself.
Q. Can you guys kind of take me through the writing process of “Be Here Now?”
Kristina: I came up with kind of just the riff originally – “the sun is setting, colors fading” – but that’s all I really had in my mind. Then it came together as a group song. Some of the other ones, we sort of worked on our parts outside of the band and kind of brought them together and the songs sort of came to life. But that one was something really developed with all of us sort of working together which makes it really cool, kind of a standout.
Jon: Definitely with that one it was, like Kristina was saying, she kind of brought in sound on that vocal riff and we all sort of played around with it. James [Auwarter] sort of carved out a bass line that was hidden real well [during mastering]. There’s not a ton of things that I guess changed about the song. It was more arrangement wise.
Q. Where did you guys record? How long was that process?
Kristina: Speaking to taking control of everything, we actually recorded the entire EP in our bassist, Sean Tatum, who’s not here, he had a recording studio which is now a staging location but it went under the name of Zenergy Recording Studios. Dave Brandwein, our drummer, does some recording and we recorded some with him. And then we went through a series of different mixing engineers and mastering engineers that we’re friendly with.
Going forward, we plan to work on new material with Mama’s House Productions engineer, Dan Silberman.
Q. What kind of an impact do you think that had on the finished product - that idea of recording in a home studio which I’m guessing may have meant less in the way of strict deadlines?
Jon: In a way it definitely did because our last album that we had done before this one… It definitely always takes longer than you think. But this didn’t take us too long. It was a very come in, lay down parts and it was a really, really simple process. Because time and money and meeting deadlines and everything. So I think that we were maybe a little more relaxed a bit.
Not that we weren’t up against a schedule. But, like Kristina was saying before, like with developing the song “Be Here Now,” we actually had a little bit more of the opportunity to kind of cultivate ideas more in the studio rather than being completely prepared in what we were going to play. We were prepared but not with exactly every idea.
Kristina: There was an element of fluidity to the whole process which was really nice. Especially because it’s been a long time since we released any other music and we wanted to get it right. Especially being two years since our last release.
But now that we’re back in the rhythm of things, we’re going to try to release some singles more frequently and we’re excited about that as well.
Kristina: We’re selling it exclusively on our Bandcamp right now. We might expand the distribution later on. But for now we want to really get a good inventory and see how many sales we’re getting, where we’re getting them, and that’s going to inform where we’re going to set up some tours and all sorts of things. So Bandcamp for now.
We did not do any crowdfunding this time around. We did for the MAD album which is kind of why we had tighter deadlines. It was very helpful but we really wanted to produce this one ourselves and not ask too much of our fans.
- Jim Ryan ( @RadioJimRyan )
(Details on Friday's Honey & The 45s show at Lincoln Hall below)
Honey & The 45s
Friday, January 5, 2018
Also performing: Scotch The Filmmaker, Element, Neon Creek
Tickets: $10 in advance, $15 at the door
Click HERE to purchase tickets