September 10, 2006

Performance Enhancement


Honey White displays a rapidly expanding sonic prescence on back-to-back live albums.

Anyone in a band will tell you that deep down, they don't feel like they're truly in a band if they don't play live. They might loathe the logistics of booking, travel, payment, and all the other crap that working bands endure on the road, but usually the time on stage makes up for that. Gigging bands form tighter bonds, and if those bonds hold for even a little while, playing live shows can be awesome.

Honey White defined ourselves right away as a formidable live act—one immediately different from what Bryn and I had accomplished (or didn't) in the Mojo Wire. We rehearsed weekly for most of 2002, so we were pretty much ready to gig anywhere—which we did, about once per month. Our first show was in downtown Santa Barbara (always inaccessible for the Mojos), it succeeded on all fronts, and things only got better from there. We did time in Isla Vista too—many of our earliest shows were backyard keggers, and we played three times at Giovanni's Pizza, so we endured our share of drunks and cops and random fuckery. It was all worth it, though, and thanks to these two self-produced live albums those wild eighteen months got thoroughly documented for posterity.

Since many of our earlier shows were free from the time constraints of a conventional club gig, we could compile a massive arsenal of songs for the 2002-2003 sets. The originals from our My Band Rocks E.P. alternated with sped-up Mojo Wire songs, two Bryn solo instrumentals, and some inspired cover choices like Jeff Buckley's "Lover, You Should've Come Over," Cracker's "Been Around The World," Neil Young's "Dead Man" theme, Johnny Cash's version of "Wayfaring Stranger," and the occasional Radiohead song done solo by Bryn. By the time we scored a gig on campus at UCSB, we could shuffle the sets at will, sometimes throwing them out altogether pre- or mid-show, but we always performed a good cross-section of our tunes, which is what I tried to display on these live albums.

Live and Unprofessional was assembled and released quickly—who knew if we'd get to do it again?—so it feels rushed but fresh. I recorded everything on the fly using my Roland VS-890 digital 8-track, capturing our 2002 shows in all their (mostly) open-aired, semi-organized glory. It's still surprising to hear how fast we meshed as a performing unit, and how streamlined and focused the shows became. The sound was consistent overall, too—Bryn's and Brian's straightforward guitar tones charged through each song, my bass sound was thick and creamy, and Bill's light, flexible drumming pushed and pulled rather than anchored us. Bryn's vocals soared above, and mine stretched around, everything else in the mix; with lots of room for each instrument, our live sound became huge when compressed on disc, a unique mix of snappy and epic.

The key ingredient was speed—usually more nervous excitement than chemical enhancement—but live takes are almost always faster than what's recorded in the studio anyway. Live and Unprofessional used power via accelerated tempos—not necessarily with overdriven guitars—and things rarely spun out of control. "So Cold" set a quick pace to start the album, and we raced through the next four songs (Mojo retreads all) at breakneck speed. Several other songs ramped things up later in the sequence, ("Windward Mark," "Unprofessional," and the exceptional "How Far Away"). The album closed with two behemoths: Bryn's "My Second Shipwreck" saga and my echo-bass propelled "Lightning Rod."

Epic Noise Now! followed only five months later, but it drew from a smaller group of gigs and showcased a slightly different vibe. Our 2003 shows moved inside, and the ambient crush of indoor air cramped our more epic impulses, but each performance still got better. Every song repeated from the previous disc saw improvement: "So Cold" and "Shivering Sand," pummeled heavily despite being tracked in mono, and both "Heart On A Platter" and "Mercy Rule" got tighter and cleaner. "You Let Me Fall" got leaner and meaner than its recorded version, and "Pisces Lullabye" almost became a power ballad. The disc also hinted at our next sonic phase, both on the "Distorchestra" freakout and dry-run takes of budding monsters like"Dead Man" and "Sweet Oblivion."

Everything sounded really good, and it was so much fun that I thought I could get away with leaving chatter on several songs to help convey the shows' buoyancy. I have no idea if it worked, but it's still hilarious to hear Live and Unprofessional open with Bryn declaring "we're called Honey White and we're gonna be playing 'til we get shut down!" (spoiler: we got shut down). Both he and I mouth off all over the album—about degenerating into a jam band, navigating I.V.'s vomit-filled streets, impressing girls in tight pants—but the casual hubris only goes over the top when we respond to the inevitable "you guys ROCK" from the crowd with "YES, I know" from Bryn and "it's pretty easy, actually" from me. We relaxed a bit on Epic Noise, keeping it to band introductions, cover credits, or buttering up Brian and Billy.

I revisit these recordings a lot, because they're fun listens, they contain tons of material, and they're great documents of our creative growth and performance skills. At the time I thought that justified releasing both in quick succession, because our studio E.P. My Band Rocks only showed a fraction of what we could do, making the live albums more than simple stopgaps. However, as amateur warts-and-all compilations (topped off by goofy Photoshop-filter cover art), they definitely carried the vibe of "minor release." They didn't come close to the quality of our studio recordings, and the exhaustive effort of self-producing these live albums after eighteen months of nonstop activity was one of many reasons we took a sudden hiatus in mid-2003, just as Epic Noise was released. True forward momentum would have to wait almost another year.

Play these albums:



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