July 23, 2008

Shameless Revisionism: My Band Rocks #2: Honey White

Popular demand is a relative thing, but under the circumstances I think it can be humored right now, so this week—ta daaaShameless Revisionism comes early! Yeah, don't all applaud at once, but for this second installment of My Band Rocks-related writings, you get all Honey White all the time. No no, you can thank me later, really, and I'm only half-joking when I say that, because in all honesty, being part of a band like Honey White is probably the artistic high point of my creative life; at our best, Brian, Bryn, Bill and I make some great noise together.

Of course writing about a band's work doesn't really do it justice, especially if you're...in the band, but last week in the Mojo Wire entry I mentioned that in 2006, after playing in bands for ten years I'd been feeling a little anthologistic, or compilationary, or re-evaluatory, or whatever, and thought a little history was in order. Kind of like now. So with the model provided by NME and Uncut, I was off and running with a big old band-related writing project, which was only stopped by the impulse to write fiction.

Anyway, like last week, I've got album essays to show off, plus some extra bits of scrawl as a chaser, so let's begin in the fearful year of 2002 and just let the ego-validation continue, shall we?

The History Mix: Instant Gratification (May 4, 2006)
For some reason, the Honey White "History Mix" essays are a little more serious in tone than the Mojo Wire ones, which is kind of regrettable, because Honey White didn't really take ourselves so seriously (though we did take the music seriously!). Fortunately, this essay for the My Band Rocks E.P., our first studio recording, spends more time on the music than anything else:

Demo discs are strange animals. There are all sorts of unwritten rules involved about recording skill, number of songs, palpable hooks, smart (but not too smart) lyrics, professional composition, thorough presentation, and a myriad of other subjective attributes a band's demo must have in order to merely get a passing glance from someone who thinks their opinion matters. Even so, the least boring, most unique demo discs often sport amateur production value, tentative and unfocused artistic expression, and a limited range of musical proficiency. E.P. discs are weird too; once a relic of the vinyl era, they're often the standard first release by emerging indie groups. Not a single, not an album, but usually more of a bargain than either, an E.P. need not be encumbered by concepts or themes that are inevitably attached to albums, serving as unabashedly incomplete opening salvos in a band's never-ending war of forcing the world to pay attention to them.
The History Mix: Performance Enhancement (Sep. 10, 2006)
Honey White's live albums are certainly a mixed bag, but the fact that there are four of them speaks equally, I think, to the amount of good performances we had, as much as to my compulsive reflex of recording everything we did. Mashing together the first two (Live and Unprofessional and Epic Noise Now) into this essay puts them on more of a level playing field with the studio discs, which is fitting because even though they're the "best" of the self-produced stuff we've got, and have a unique and fun slapdash energy, they can't touch the professionally-made stuff. Anyway:
Unencumbered (at first) by the time constraints of a conventional club gig, Honey White steadily compiled a massive arsenal of songs for their 2002-2003 sets. The few originals from the new My Band Rocks E.P. alternated with jumpy, frantic versions of Bryn and Keir's best Mojo Wire tunes, plus two Bryn solo instrumentals, and spiced up with some unique cover choices, notably 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. The actual locations varied widely, from the usual backyard Isla Vista keg parties (and one outdoor carnival in Goleta) to smaller indoor venues in Isla Vista, Santa Barbara, and on campus at UCSB. The band adjusted the sets for each appearance, sometimes throwing them out altogether pre- or mid- show, but always managed to pull off a comprehensive showcase of their songs, and both these discs exemplify Honey White's wide range of material.
Some Reassembly Required (Aug. 15, 2006)
Not exactly an album essay; more like a warm-up for the "Performance Enhancement" one above, full of extra stuff I couldn't fit into that essay. It's basically a song-by-song commentary on one of Honey White's early accomplishments: easily re-working lots of older songs by other people for the sake of fattening our sets, and I liked the idea of describing how the songs grew and changed. It even got a bit gonzo for some:
One Last Hallelujah: The Mojo Wire played “Hallelujah” like a demented twin of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse: loud, pounding, and out of control. Honey White didn’t exactly tame this beast, but they did allow it a nice big space to roam around in. “Hallelujah” sprang to life when they released it live, bouncing along as all the other old Mojo songs, swinging furiously beneath Keir’s shouting vocals before Brian’s and then Bryn’s solos took it off on divergent trails of sonic safari. Post-2003, “Hallelujah” was revised to an ambient, moodier arrangement that better complimented the How Far is the Fall material, but that version has only seen a few performances. Definitive Take: 11/16/02 on Del Playa.
The History Mix: Feeling Gravity's Pull (Apr. 23, 2006)
I actually still like this essay a lot; I thought it was pretty clever in terms of describing what our full-length studio album was all about, which we didn't really think about while we were actually recording it. The whole time was such a great experience: driving like bastards for 500 miles to be on time for the studio appointments in San Francisco, rumbling the rafters when we got there, meeting and befriending our engineer Jon, and generally making the best music we'd ever made, and at the best possible time.
Some people are fearless in the face of the unknown. Some people long to test themselves against the most sublime experiences life will throw at them. Some people need to push every boundary, voraciously explore every avenue, and risk danger in order to feel alive. Honey White's full-length debut album How Far is the Fall is not about those people. Instead it revolves around the feeling of standing at life's cliffs and taking a long, hard, appraising look at every possible detail before making choices about anything. Paralyzed indecision and self-conscious over-analysis pervade almost every lyric of each song, and everything is blown up to newly epic proportions by a hazy, spacious void of sonic effects and instrumental textures. It's not the soundtrack to the rest of your life. It's the background noise for the time right before you have any idea what the rest of your life will bring.
The History Mix: Few and Far Between (Dec. 1, 2007)
Honey White's third and fourth live album (Saturated Songs and Deluge and Drought) are described in this one, and they couldn't be more different. What I like about them, though, is that they are the beginning and end pieces that sandwich the How Far is the Fall studio album, showing how we road-tested the songs before recording them, and then how they changed (mostly for the better) after the studio album's release. Play all three albums back to back to back, and you'd get a pretty good picture of Honey White's second, and best creative phase.
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 stage show to duplicate the intricate vagaries of a band run amok in the studio has often meant career suicide for countless rock bands, famous or otherwise. In Honey White’s case, however, the gaping hole where the idea of "career" was unceremoniously filled by "fun but expensive hobby" continued to let the music speak for itself even as practicality and logistics finally eclipsed the group's gig and rehearsal time. Their third and fourth live discs take up the baton where the first two left off, blotting indie-rock posterity with songs from the extended victory lap of live shows that supported their How Far is the Fall studio album. The tentative muddiness of Saturated Songs and the casual confidence of Deluge and Drought marked a complete progression of creativity from start to finish, informally presenting Honey White’s most adventurous music with ease.
Honey White Lyrics: Protracted Sagas of Paralysis (May 8, 2006)
This one matches the previous Mojo Wire lyrics piece, but of course it's a little newer, and with some exceptions, a little less verbose. The rambling analysis is still there, but I think it's a little less self-important about the whole thing—which is ironic, since I consider my Honey White lyrics a little more well-developed than my Mojo Wire tunes.
The Lightning Rod (December 2001): This lyric is the one that mercilessly gave me the most hell and was the hardest to finish. The actual music was composed in December 1997, and ended up on the second Mojo Wire album as "Under The Sun," but that lyric did not age well at all. We refused to give up the tune, cause it's good, but finding the right combination of lyrical point of view and attitude to go with such a huge, sweeping piece of music, and not come off as pretentious wankers was a tough thing to do. Basically, how do you write a clear, direct lyric to such an epic monster? It's a tough contradiction, and thematically it's probably still the most pretentious thing I've done, meshing several narratives into a complete whole (and I know that sounds like something Sting would say, but it can't be helped) that amounts to the last of the abandonment songs. The narrative is I vs. You yet again, and it's mostly a conflation of 1) getting kicked out of my dad's house at Christmas when I was 19, 2) every breakup I've ever had to go through, and 3) (warning- this is where things get pretentious)- concerning the expulsion of a certain angel from heaven after he decided to do his own thing. Seriously.
Introduction: Marring Posterity Forever (Sep. 10, 2006)
Yeah yeah, putting the intro at the end is weird, but that's when you're supposed to write it, after all. How will you know what to introduce if you haven't finished everything else yet? Anyway, this quickie was supposed to be the "foreword" to the band book project—the tortured logic explaining the whole thing. Luckily it's a lot less pretentious than that. Besides, looking back over three phases of the Mojo Wire and two more of Honey White (be thankful that I haven't written too much about the Low Tide stuff yet) definitely makes me ansty to play again. It'll happen.
So why write about it? Why bother? The historian in me says it’s because ten years have passed since that fateful day when Bryn called me to say that he and Adam had written “the best blues song ever!” with Kevin. The realist says I’m doing this because no one else will care enough to do it. They’re both right. The four bands I’ve played in (actually two, but the first had three lineups) kept me sane as far as balancing the other stupid inanities of life, like work, school, and busted relationships, though I think I might have driven them all insane at one point or another over time. So thanks to Bryn, Adam, Brian, Bill, Joe, Kevin, and Brandon for letting me be in their bands and putting up with my maniacal managerial failures and steadily less rudimentary bass playing. Hopefully all of this shit will continue to mar posterity forever with our unapologetically unprofessional, noisy fun. Thanks also to our friends and fans (and musicians and engineers) who supported all this by coming to shows, buying CDs, offering advice, and generally showing impressive reserves of patience. It was not wasted.
So...there will probably be a little hiatus in the revisionism for a week or so—for various reasons—but when we return, the craziest is yet to come before the end: two posts each for some political gonzo screeds and lots of unfinished, pre-"Weapon of Young Gods" fiction. Should be fun, so stay tuned.

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