Honey White kick-starts our alleged career with ease on the multifaceted My Band Rocks E.P.
Demo discs are strange animals. They’re tangled up with unwritten rules about recording skill, song sequence, palatable hooks, smart (but not too smart) lyrics, professional composition, and a million other subjective attributes. Demos without those things will allegedly never, ever get noticed by anyone whose opinion matters. And yet the least boring, most unique demos often sport amateur production value, tentative or unfocused aesthetics, and limited musical proficiency.
E.P. discs are weird too; a relic of the vinyl era, they’re often the first release by emerging indie groups. Not a single, not an album, but maybe more of a bargain than either, an E.P. needn’t be encumbered by concepts or themes inevitably attached to full albums. An E.P. is free to be the incomplete opening salvo in a band’s never-ending war to make people care. Honey White‘s first release, My Band Rocks, is both a demo and E.P., with all the benefits and drawbacks of both formats. However it also displayed more range and promise than we had any right to expect after only four months playing together, and that was down to all four band members.
When Bryn and I took a second plunge by forming another band after the Mojo Wire imploded, we gambled and scored big with bandmates. Our longtime friend Brian Wolff joined as second guitarist, we recruited jazz-trained, Colorado-seasoned punker Billy Fedderson on drums, and in no time we started jamming at Earl Arnold‘s Table Salt rehearsal space. We clicked immediately on both musical and personal levels, fusing our differing aesthetic tastes and playing styles into a deft, subtle expression of power. Thanks to our tiny Mojo Wire-era network of friends & fans, gig offers appeared within days, and Honey White played our first show only a month into the band’s existence.
All Skills, No Frills
We got really good really fast, but recording was a tougher nut to crack. I tried taping rehearsals, but soon got in over my head trying to improve on the low-fi Mojo Wire albums, so I enrolled in a studio course with local engineer Mark Anthony. I didn’t finish the course—turned out engineering wasn’t for me—but Mark offered to record our demo, and so we soon did just that at his home studio. It was the first time Bryn, Brian and I had ever recorded with a professional engineer, but thankfully he let us track most of the songs live, and we didn’t do many overdubs of anything we couldn’t replicate live. The result was minimalist in execution but also showed stylistic range, a big difference from the final Mojo Wire lineup that excelled at no-frills garage rock newly en vogue thanks to the Strokes and White Stripes.
The ruthlessly economic approach imposed by me and Bryn may or may not have been fashionable, but it was also absolutely necessary. We’d refined and strengthened the various Mojo songs in our set, going from competent to speedy, and that spilled over into how we played anything. Studio time was expensive, and we lacked the money for extensive exploring, so with few exceptions, we abandoned extraneous effects and complicated arrangements. If we did include something strange, like my echo-bass on “The Lighting Rod,” it became more agile than epic. Bryn and Brian mostly kept their guitar tones clean, and other than some subtle compression, Billy’s drums went down on tape clean too.
New Band, New Tunes
Another crucial decision was recording only new songs. It was important to establish Honey White’s identity on record, and since our sets were full of Mojo Wire songs, we thought any new recording should contain new songs. “New” in this case meant tunes not properly attempted or completed by the Mojo Wire; every song here except “Wayfaring Stranger” had been floated to the Mojos in some form, and either stalled or never started. For example, ”Unprofessional” would have fit comfortably on the final Mojo Wire album, but Honey White sped it up to a two-minute burst of gritty garage-rock on stage, galvanizing the rare tanking gig back to life. “Unprofessional” was a gutsy, forceful way to kick off our debut, and it basically became our theme song from then on.
And then there’s “The Lightning Rod,” an absolute beast and the short disc’s centerpiece. It wasn’t completely new, but Honey White transformed it from its original incarnation as the Mojo Wire’s plodding “Under the Sun” into a live showstopper and fan favorite. It’s a huge song, propelled by my echo-bass riffs and a precise yet frenzied drumming performance by Billy. The guitarists took a back seat as additional rhythm elements, but Bryn held his own on vocals. The lyric was a bloody four-year tooth pull, but became a crucial accomplishment for me and is still probably my best. It’s a preposterously multilayered rejection/revenge narrative that amplified the posturing denial of latter-day Mojo lyrics into delusional confidence
Bryn’s songwriting voice finally got some space too, first with sensitivity on “The Sandman,” then with power on “You Let Me Fall,” and finally with pathos on his arrangement of “Wayfaring Stranger.” A somber, jazzy ode to Morphine’s late frontman, “The Sandman” was completed at least two years previously but never became a Mojo Wire song. Likewise, “You Let Me Fall” was a bit older but didn’t see release until this E.P. either. “You Let Me Fall” had a biting lyric vilifying manipulative love, backed by Billy’s bravura drumming and a snarling lead riff from Brian. “Wayfaring Stranger” makes a fitting coda, ending the disc (and many a live show) with a haunting slice of history poured through a supple Honey White filter.
Go Forth And Conquer
At first, starting with a demo/E.P. felt incomplete and under-defined, but My Band Rocks got us immediate results on release, opening doors around town and earning us a surprising amount of positive recognition in the local music press. We hit several gig milestones that the Mojo Wire never came close to, like on-campus shows at UCSB, local TV appearances and club gigs in downtown Santa Barbara. That was all great, and we loved it, but the E.P. was still rough enough to make us even more determined to do a proper recording session. When that happened two years later, we finally accomplished what the songwriting and interplay on this debut had always promised: a good album we could proudly show off to everyone.
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