Honey White kick-starts their career with ease on the multifaceted My Band Rocks E.P.
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.
Honey White's first release, My Band Rocks, is both a demo and E.P., and though it is hobbled by the expectations and characteristics of both those formats, it also displays, under the circumstances, a surprising range and promise for such a quickly-made disc by a band that was at that point only four months old. When Bryn and Keir DuBois decided to take a second plunge and form another band after pulling the plug on the Mojo Wire in late 2001, they already knew what they would be playing (a few new originals, a few favorite covers, and their best Mojo songs), and who would be helping them (guitarist Brian Wolff, already a longtime friend). However, Keir soon found himself in over his head while recording new songs and enrolled in a studio course with local engineer Mark Anthony to glean some much-needed technical expertise. Meanwhile, drummer Billy Fedderson, newly returned to the area from Colorado, answered the brothers' ad seeking a drummer and agreed to meet and jam with Bryn, Keir, and Brian at Earl Arnold's downtown Table Salt rehearsal space.
Much to everyone's surprise, the four players clicked quickly on a musical and personal level, and despite their different aesthetic backgrounds and tastes, the new band was soon able to build what they had in common into a deft, subtle expression of power that defined Honey White's early sound. Miraculously, gig offers appeared almost immediately, and Honey White played their first show only a month into their existence. Another consequence of their early promise was a recording offer from Mark Anthony, and the band shortly found themselves in the studio making their first professional release.
The resulting My Band Rocks E.P. ended up using minimalism to show Honey White’s range at the beginning of their career. The final Mojo Wire lineup excelled at the sort of no-frills, basic guitar tones coming into vogue once again on the national level via garage bands like the Strokes and White Stripes, but Honey White's economic approach on My Band Rocks was more a matter of necessity than fashion. The band had refined and strengthened their presentations of the various Mojo songs that remained in the live set based on a desire to simply play the songs with competency, then ease, then speed. They now applied this approach when recording, though without adding parts that were not already native to the songs' live versions. Studio time was expensive, and the band didn't yet have the resources to indulge or explore on that scale. With a few exceptions, extraneous effects and relatively complicated arrangements were not involved in this process. When Honey White did toss on something strange, such as the echo-bass on "Lightning Rod", it was usually in the service of a dexterous sort of power that hinted at rather than blatantly displayed the group's penchant for the epic.
A decision to record only new songs was made fairly early on. "New" in this case meaning songs not properly attempted or completed by the Mojo Wire, for every song except "Wayfaring Stranger" had been floated to the Mojos and either stalled or never really got going. "Unprofessional", for instance, would have suited the last Mojo lineup fine, but in Honey White it became a constant standby, a two-minute burst of gritty garage-rock often sped up to near-punk tempos when played live, galvanizing the rare tanking gig back to life. The band seemed to adopt it as their unofficial theme song after a while, and Keir's couplet of "forget about the pressure and the fear/we can’t afford to waste another year" was certainly a pep talk of sorts. While the studio take doesn't quite do it justice, "Unprofessional" is still a gutsy, forceful way to kick off a debut release.
"The Lightning Rod" ups the ante immediately and exponentially as an unashamedly huge five-minute tour de force, propelled by Keir's echo-bass riffs and a unique, skillfully frenzied drumming performance by Billy. The guitarists took a back seat as additional rhythm elements, but Bryn delivered a worthy vocal take that held its own against the massive instrumental backdrop. The lyric, a four-year-toothpull that rewrote the Mojo Wire song "Under The Sun", was worth every drop of blood it took out of Keir, who managed to extract a preposterously multilayered rejection/revenge narrative that he has since named his best work. The closing lines, "tonight the town's electric, and I’m a lightning rod/and I can take a shock as well as any son of God" exemplify the whole, amplifying the posturing denial of latter-day Mojo Wire songs into an almost delusional self-assurance in the face of doom. Easily the centerpiece of the short disc, "The Lightning Rod" soon became a live showstopper and fan favorite to boot.
Bryn's songwriting voice finally got to reassert itself on the rest of My Band Rocks, first with sensitivity on "The Sandman", then with power on "You Let Me Fall", and finally with a dash of historical depth and pathos from his arrangement of the traditional "Wayfairng Stranger". Billy was attracted to the two quieter numbers right away, and urged their inclusion in the band’s sets. "The Sandman", Bryn's somberly jazzy ode to the late frontman of Morphine, was completed at least two years previously but never became a Mojo Wire song. Likewise, "You Let Me Fall" was a bit older, though still unused by the Mojos; a virulent, biting lyric vilifying manipulative love, the composition was helped into full flower by another bravura piece of drumming from Billy, shifting between a single- and double-timed power waltz tempo, and topped off by a sly, snarling lead guitar riff from Brian. "Wayfaring Stranger" becomes a fitting coda, ending the disc (and many a live show) with a haunting slice of ageless balladry poured through a swinging, supple Honey White filter.
My Band Rocks gained Honey White immediate results upon release, opening doors locally and earning the band a surprising amount of positive recognition at live shows and in the Santa Barbara music press. The disc had range, but just enough; working under de facto direction of the DuBois brothers and their agenda of economy and leftover Mojo-isms, Honey White knew the demo/E.P. would be undefined and incomplete to a certain degree, but they knew how much more could be accomplished in a longer, proper recording session, where the promise of their songwriting and interplay on their debut release would ultimately be realized.
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