Sunday, March 4, 2018

Electric Honey - Primtetime Garbage (Interview)

Electric Honey are releasing a new album on March 14th (Pi Day). It's called Primetime Garbage and its been pressed to vinyl at Third Man Records here in Detroit. The local quintet blend intricate art-pop, post-prog, new-wave and space-rock with baroque elements like violin, trumpet, ukulele and a mandolin. Power chords riff with urgent punk aggression into the sweet, sinewy glide of a bow sawing over strings. The vocals are emotive and contemplative, something like Costello-meets-Grohl, while the post-punk and aerodynamic riffs of something like the Pixies might attain headier sophistication of a Radiohead-esque atmosphere.  In fact, Electric Honey's knack, overall, is an atmosphere. It's atmospheric power-pop! It's grunge for the theater. It's new-wave from Neptune...

I caught up with each member of the band to ask about their development over the last five years. This is a tight-knit ensemble of dudes who have each been around the band-block a few times already so they know how to serve a song and how to serve each other's strengths. The album was mastered by Tim Smith at Soundscape Studios, and you can find more info here

photo by Brian Rozman

EH has been really busy the last couple of years... What have been some of the most fulfilling or aspects so far, as the band's steadily made its way onto the scene? 
Patrick: The relationships I've built with fellow musicians and fans around Detroit are the most important aspect to me. Without people to play on a bill with, people coming to shows, or people writing about music, bands end up staying in their comfort zone and never develop to their full potential. My wife Ann has always told me this and urged me to meet people and build relationships with other bands. You can't just be an outsider looking in and expect to get shows or hook up with other bands. You have to be involved. You have to tell your fans about other bands. You have to go to shows where you aren't playing. You can't mail it in. And to be honest, it's a lot of work when you already have a full-time job and countless other things going on in your life, but it's worth it!
Evan: Having the opportunity to be in the same room (occasionally) with such great musicians and friends, creating music that we really care about, has been rewarding in itself. Couple that with the community aspect of live music and the whole thing is awesome. 

I think this band's able to manifest an interesting kind of energy, prog, funk, art-pop, all in one... 
Chris:  Oddly enough I think having the violin caused a shift to a sound, with more angst and energy than on Vanadium. I love that we can get a little crazier on stage now because of that added energy!

What's the key to the chemistry? 
John: When we got started, our shared collective music history and roots going back to childhood meant we were already speaking the same language without saying a word.    Rehearsal and the collaborative song writing process has never been forced for us. There is something beautiful about being able to speak to each other in the middle of a song with a look, a raised brow, a lift of the guitar neck, or a divergent lick.    We speak to each other, during both rehearsal and live shows in a language that is universal and requires us to listen to each other or risk never being heard or understood.   Individually, each one of the guys are the best player at their position that I've ever encountered, so the challenge of keeping up with them pushes me to new limits, and it doesn't get better than that.      

So let's go back to when you guys first got into bands years' back in high school/college, or whenever...what are some of the ways Electric Honey is distinct-from, or, n-harmony with those lifelong influences? 
P: It's funny to think about high school. All I can relate to is the hall scene that dominated the suburbs in the early 2000s. It was catchy and it had some gnarly guitar work, but until I started listening to bands like Return to Forever, the Pixies, Stephen Malkmus, Built to Spill, Flaming Lips, and Talking Heads, most of what I wrote lacked substance and cleverness. When Electric Honey finally formed in 2012, we all had a lot more to bring to the table in that regard, and over the years, the parts that we wrote together reflected those influences. Whether it be Phish inspired bass-lines or Wilco-esque guitar licks, our style has morphed into a mixing pot of indie rock, americana, jazz, and punk. 
E: Though I feel I’ve grown a lot as a musician since high school, many of my biggest influences took root early on and made a huge lasting impact (see the majority of Pat’s litany above). I came to really know things I like from a band: thoughtful musicianship, interesting harmonic content, rich tone, production values, great songs! I didn’t know my own voice as a musician though. As we’ve become more focused on developing the sound of EH over the years, I’m learning to put those sensibilities into practice, and in that way the influences come through. I think we also influence each other a lot, which has contributed to this snowballing of energy we’ve experienced. 

Matt, John, what's your take on EH's progression over the last few years? 
MattWhen I joined up with Patrick and Evan, the music was a little more...artsy. In the sense that the technical difficulty was high, but the songs didn't really groove well. The music probably would have been better received in a coffee shop than a bar. You can hear some of that on Vanadium. It's good stuff, but a little more niche. Each song we've made since I joined has been a little more energetic, a little more in-your-face. I've put away the mallets for cymbal rolls and now I'm ride-crashing the chorus. Which of course is way more fun as a drummer. 
J:  I think the key to our maturing sound is layers of flavor, like a well made Ragu Bolognese.   We keep improving the recipe, but have started to hit upon a consistent blend and sound that is approaching magically delicious.  

You've got an album coming out on Pi Day! Can you tell me about the overarching themes, concepts, and energies of 'Primetime Garbage.' Also, what inspired the title? 
P: Primetime Garbage is sort of a tribute to evening television programming and the lifestyles that people created around that schedule. The fact that people would wait an entire week to watch their favorite TV show or watch the evening news religiously is intriguing to me, mostly because of how simple it was. The news didn't have to cater to extremes because people would watch it regardless, but now, you could get two completely different accounts of the same event and based on your beliefs take one account as fact. The concept for me was nostalgic, but in a tainted sort of way. People tend to reminisce about how good things were or how simple things were, but they were viewing the world through rose-colored glasses (sorry for the cliche). A big theme of this record is to do what makes you happy, and to do it for yourself, unless it's immoral...Don't do immoral things...  
M:  Primetime Garbage is a declaration. It's an album that says 'this is who we are' as a band. It's the first album that's true to our musical influences and tastes. You can hear some Talking Heads, Foo Fighters and The White Stripes. Patrick came up with the name Primetime Garbage and had to sell it to the rest of us. I think it means something, but I can't be sure. 
P: (laughs at Matt) 
E: Musically I think we wanted to make an album that really comes at you with fresh ideas and bits of ear candy (and ear pi) from start to finish. In terms of lyrics and the title, I think it is about both the individual experience and some social commentary as well. Pat has a knack for leaving just enough room for interpretation to make you think. 
J:   Remember when 2 4 7 9 20 50 56 and 62 were your options?  It was either that or you could go outside and grind a stick in the gears of a boat crank or ride bikes until the street lights were on?  We have the unique ability to remember best the parts of our past that bring us joy and fill us with truth, family, and love.    As good as it was, it's not as good as it gets, and those skeletons on the cover art remind me to look forward to the future, get up and give a damn.    

Don't take this the wrong way - but the hooks and riffs you guys arrange are poppy! They're catchy! And yet, each tune always has its own atmosphere, and a bit of flavors, be it baroque-Americana, post-punk, or some indie-funk... Talk about what you guys enjoy most about the songwriting process and what's unique about your approach... 
P: Yeah, we try not to take ourselves too seriously, and we are not good enough as musicians to be pretentious, so we kind of settled on coming up with riffs that are fun to play but also delectable to the more music-minded folk. As far as our styles go, we really do try to make each song a bit different. Listening to this album will be like walking through different rooms of a house, or driving clockwise around the island of Maui (which has 8 climate zones) or tasting 8 different spices... I could do this all day. The best part about the process for me is the layers that we build when we're all together. I might come up with a riff and then Evan will completely change the mood of the song with something he adds. It's a really collaborative process that is quite addicting. 
M:  You have to give credit to Patrick for the songwriting. He does the heavy lifting. He'll record maybe 30 minutes of different ideas and send it over and say 'what do you think?' We'll all listen to it and find bits and pieces that get us excited and we'll run with it. Sometimes he'll just nail something, practically start to finish and we'll just fill it out. Each band member is coming from a very different headspace, so things kind of push and pull in different directions which gives us those different flavors. Into The Clouds is a good example of that. The goofy intro, the upbeat chorus, punky verses, then you have the bridge. Which is a wacky combination of baroque-y guitar work and a floor tom blasting 16th notes. Somehow it works.

What's the songwriting process like? 
C: When we “write” songs we just start playing random riffs and if something sticks we roll with it. What starts as a disorganized improv session will usually develop into our BEST songs. I think all the guys would agree with this. We just need to get the creative (and sometimes alcoholic) juices flowing and then we come up with our stuff.
E: Pat is so great at writing hooks, whether it is a lyric, melody, or instrumental part. We really get a head start because of that. As we collaborate to create additional parts, it’s really fun to watch and appreciate the musicianship in the band. For example, Matt will have some really spot-on detail in a drum part and if you ask him about it, he’ll say it was absolutely considered. Pat is right that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we do care a lot about making music, and it’s awesome to see each of us contribute to make something better than we could have done individually. 
J:   I'm excited at the range of people that have given us similar feedback - all walks of life, all different ages, and fans of a variety of genres can find something they like and that gives us a bigger Megaphone...see what I did there?

What was the recording experience like - because there's a lot in the mix: really distinctive/fuzzy guitars, punchy snares, violins! What was most challenging/rewarding about putting these songs together? 
M:  Our music is really geared towards live performance, but we love to record. Really love it. Like 'I may not go in to work today because we are going to record instead' love it. A few tracks were recorded at Soundscape (which is an awesome studio), but we typically do the recording ourselves. We've found a way to get really good sounds without having to pay for studio time. I think we ended up tracking at Soundscape almost as a test. Just to see if what we did stacked up. It did. Our recording process is kind of funny because scheduling is so tough. It's really patched together as each person finds time to go record. Patrick handles the mix, and he's always sneaking creative things in there. Every time he sends a new mix out, there's a new guitar part, new hand claps, it's fun to hear what he adds to the songs. Sometimes I feel like I have to reel him back in to make sure we are staying on point. It's a fun dynamic. I think the back and forth about mix ideas is my favorite part about recording.
C:  The recording experience is just another aspect of the fun. It’s not a run-of-the-mill recording experience especially for me. Pat and I would consistently work on the violin parts for the actual album as opposed to when we play live. I think this is because the violin just tends to be overpowered when we play shows, but in an already busy mix it can make things all mucky if it is too showy. So we always worked to take the parts I came up with for live shows and add refinement and some more musical depth to those parts. It is always just a creative effort and it’s always a good time.
E: The challenge is always everyone’s schedules, but we press on however we need to in order to communicate and get from point A to point B. By far the most rewarding thing is the way the recording process puts every aspect of a song under a microscope, forcing decisions to be made and helping us to elevate the songs. Fortunately these guys possess such great musicianship that it is a joy to hear what they come up with and discuss the direction of a song as we work out the parts. We can then take it back to the live performances and it makes us better and makes the songs more fun to play. 

Preorder Primteime Garage on vinyl here

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