A sparse pool of Honey White gigs spawns two more self-produced live albums, Saturated Songs and Deluge and Drought.

Moody studio rock epics usually don’t go over well live, at least not without a killer stage presentation and plenty of smoke, mirrors, and playback. Forcing a live show to duplicate a band running amok in the studio has often spelled career suicide for countless rock groups. In Honey White’s case, though, the gaping hole between “career” and “expensively fun hobby” was where the music spoke for itself while logistics finally eclipsed our gig and rehearsal time. Our third and fourth live albums start where the previous two left off, blotting indie-rock posterity with songs from shows supporting our How Far is the Fall studio album. The two discs present our most adventurous music as a complete creative progression, from tentative muddiness on Saturated Songs to casual confidence on Deluge and Drought.

As our sonic vocabulary grew, we road-tested new material immediately. By early 2004 we’d dropped almost all the covers and Mojo Wire songs to make room for epic monsters like “Sweet Oblivion,” “Keep Moving,” and “Famous Last Words.” We used those songs to anchor most gigs, but threw in energetic bursts like “Unprofessional” to keep listeners on their toes. Our 2005 shows hit a more ideal dynamic while staying within the one-hour mark, with sets ebbing and flowing to suit each gig. Mid-tempo tunes like “Island Fever” and “Mercy Rule” met the audience halfway between the longer, slower songs and harder, faster stuff like “Bottlerocket” and Bryn’s new “Nightfall.” That pacing worked best when our bookings changed in size and space, with multiple appearances at theater-sized venues on our home turf in Santa Barbara and club-level shows farther away in Ventura and Los Angeles.

Gentlemen, Re-Start Your Engines

Saturated Songs documents how that began, with Bryn, Brian, Bill and I shaking off dust and working out the kinds of our recently-reassembled sonic identity. That was easier to do on familiar stages like Giovanni’s and the Wildcat Lounge, but cramped conditions and general mushy sound ended up spoiling most of our third live disc. The sets from those 2004 shows weren’t as tight as they’d get later. Our latent skills were still sharp, thanks to our original frequent rehearsals back in 2002, but after six months off we were definitely rusty. The songs didn’t flow together as well as we thought they should; many of our new songs still sounded undercooked, especially to bar crowds ready for drunken weirdness. Fresh tunes like “Let Go” and the jumpy “Sean Goes To Africa” pumped in new energy, but the massively murky leviathans dominated: “Sweet Oblivion,” “Keep Moving,” “Famous Last Words,” and an extended “Dead Man” cover. The My Band Rocks-era songs rounding out the compilation—”Unprofessional,” “Wayfaring Stranger,” “The Sandman” and Bryn’s solo take of “Lightning Rod”—barely hold their own in comparison.

At the time, I thought maybe another limited live CD-R would be the only way these songs saw release, so against my better judgment I rushed the process and put out Saturated Songs in June 2004. Unfortunately it proved a weak effort and the worst of Honey White’s self-produced live albums. What’s more, my timing was terrible; half the band was moving away from Santa Barbara and we’d surprisingly landed some studio time in San Francisco. We knew we couldn’t waste that time, because it was a great opportunity to capture our revitalized sound: a newly fused rhythm section topped off by experimental effects and soaring vocals. Since eight of the ten How Far is the Fall songs had already solidified on stage, we tracked most of the album live, taking care of basics and stretching each song to its own limit when overdubbing and mixing. Many bands are surprised to discover how different recording is from live shows, but we got expert help and successfully translated our cohesive stage sound to tape, enhancing each song later. We figured if they all began as organic, performance-based things, they’d always work well onstage, no matter what the album sounded like.

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Everything fell into place at the gigs recorded on Deluge and Drought, our fourth and best live album. We played a lot less in 2005-2006, hampered by time, space and the 40-hour work week—but since the gigs were rare, more people showed up at each one. Higher-profile venues with better acoustics made it much easier to record clearer, punchier takes and assured performances on my trusty Roland VS-890. I got better takes of all the tunes underserved by Saturated Songs, plus strong debut takes of “Island Fever,” “Blacking Out,” and “Nightfall.” Drastically different remakes of “Lightning Rod” and “One Last Hallelujah” also made the cut. Brian and Bryn usually replicated (and often emulated) their studio effects on the spot, embellishing everything from Bryn’s crunchy tremolo in “Let Go” and E-bow in “Famous Last Words” to Brian’s liquid textures on “Blacking Out” and stratospheric solos on “Island Fever” and “Sweet Oblivion.” Bill and I got to shine too; my minimal bass lines had more room to swagger, and Bill’s new snare drum punctuated everything like a gun shot.

Deluge was a big step up in composition, performance, and recording quality, so it was the first Honey White live album to get wide exposure. It may be amateur and self-produced, but I still listen to it all the time. While working on it, I was so stoked that I decided in addition to producing the normal 50-copy CD-R run just like previous live albums, I’d send it to all the web-based music stores alongside our studio releases. It even became, dubiously, our first disc of previously-released material because I’d already uploaded rough mixes of all our recorded shows to sites like the Live Music Archive. Sadly, none of that mattered enough, because what this album doesn’t show is how the prolonged stretches of downtime between gigs slowly let the air out of our ambition—the flip side to every achievement in the studio and on stage.

Over And Out

We all lived in different corners of California by 2005, so rehearsals were rare but still fun. However, booking gigs became a chore when we started getting squeezed and frustrated by the precipitous “next level” of the music business. We simply didn’t care about jumping through more hoops after enduring the logistical hurdles of that year. Lop-sided, pay-to-play gig contracts, ramped-up promotional requirements, fighting for space on the bill with five other bands, and a ton of other stressful decisions unrelated to musical creativity all seemed to suck the fun out of playing live. It finally sank in for me when I tried and failed to book us at a B.B. King’s in Universal City during March 2006. The production company was shoveling Hollywood bullshit on me and like a fool I thought it was worth it to play the gig. Brian was agreeable but Bryn demurred, and Billy even said “Keir, is this really how we want to do this? Because we don’t have to.” He was right, and so we played our final, low-profile gig five months later on our own terms.

By the time I completed Deluge and Drought and put it out in July 2007, we hadn’t played live for about a year. We hadn’t even rehearsed for two months—we did that for the last time in May, right before Brian moved to Washington DC for good. Deluge ended up being a strong statement to end our five-year run, because it took me a while to realize that even finishing it was only papering over what was becoming obvious: Honey White was done. I don’t know what’s next, but if and when we do start up our epic noise machine again, we have a ready-made template for how to do it well, thanks to the creative process captured on these two live albums. Thanks to all who joined us on the ride!

Play these albums:

Saturated Songs

Deluge and Drought