The weather in the greater New York City area has definitely started to take a turn towards classic autumn: colder winds, rainy days, and of course, the ever-shortening amount of daily sunlight. Still, speaking to Honeyblood front woman, Stina Tweeddale, on a call from her home in Glasgow, it’s like talking to someone living in the seasonal future, as she enthusiastically describes her plans to put a fire on while drinking some hot tea. “Autumn is here [and] it’s totally my favorite [season!]” It’s good to hear Tweeddale in such bright spirits, as some brief vocal troubles had recently befallen her, putting a damper on some touring about the UK she and drummer, Cat Myers, had been doing into the beginning of this month. Thankfully, the two have had a respite of time at home before departing for their return to the states tomorrow, to start touring in Baltimore, MD next week.
A Fresh Batch of Honeyblood
It’s been close to two years since the crunch pop band crossed the pond in support of their eponymous debut (2014, FatCat Records) and in that span of time, Honeyblood has taken on more and more notice from music lovers and industry folk both. These progressions are clearly evident through the many acts with whom the pair have since toured – We Were Promised Jetpacks, Deap Vally, Courtney Barnett, and iconic rockers, the Foo Fighters, to name a few – and the increasing amount of places where Honeyblood’s tunes can be found taking a spin. The interesting flip side to this coin however, is that despite the expanding recognition and reception, Tweeddale expresses more commitment than ever to a mentality that is all about staying true to oneself and keeping on the path of one’s aspirations – no matter how many naysayers or how much negativity falls in the road.
“I am not an engineer or a producer. I have no idea how to do that so like, the demos I made were really basic and, then I was sending them, even before Cat had played on them or helped – like she’s so much better at recording stuff than me. So, before we even got to that point, a lot of music business people maybe didn’t understand what I was trying to do. And maybe I didn’t understand what I was trying to do cause that’s the whole point in being creative, isn’t it? It’s that you’re like, fumbling through this like, soup of ideas. When you have the first initial idea, a lot of people don’t have confidence in you.” She continues, “But they have like, this blind confidence in you because you’ve already released this other album and it was good and stuff so they’re like ‘Okay, well, we’ll see what happens.’ And a lot of songs that went on this new album, a lot of people turned around to me and said, ‘Ah, that’s not a very good song.’ Then when it came out in the end they were like, ‘Oh, that one I really like now!’ so I think you just have to be true to what you want to achieve and what keeps you going.”
Relating this philosophy to specifics from their last tour, Tweeddale gives highlight to the surprising nature of the shocked reactions from industry folk with regard to her and Myers’ decision to showcase more, rather than less, material from upcoming release, Babes Never Die (FatCat Records, 2016).
“I was reading some reviews [of our tour shows] and people were interviewing us and stuff and they were saying, ‘This is a really bold move that you’re making – playing all the new songs off your new album.’ And I was just like, ‘How is this a bold move? We just recorded a new album. We’re gonna release it. So, we should play the new songs, right?’ I just don’t get it! And then I started to doubt myself because [I thought], ‘Oh well maybe we should just play the old songs and be comfortable.’ And then I was like, ‘I don’t want to do that. So I’m not going to do that.’ I guess people expect you to stay in your comfort zone and I just can’t do that. I find that that just makes me bored. Kind of makes me kind of angry as well when people do that. In contrast, Tweeddale is all about embracing the unique experience her and Myers get to provide to listeners who attend their shows in anticipation of a new release. “I think it’s special to play to an intimate crowd and, for them to be the first people to hear the new songs. For me, that was the special gift that we were kind of doing because people had obviously been going out of their way to buy tickets to the gigs that sold out real quick.”
Making Music with Things That Go Bump in the Night
When it finally did come time for Babes Never Die to get laid down properly, it was James Dring (Blur, The Gorillaz, Jamie T.) who was tapped to sit in the producer’s chair and his combination of guidance, technical know-how and, stylistic signature brought both newness to Honeyblood’s sound and a precise display of the artistic concepts floating between Tweeddale’s ears.
“For us, we’re transforming a little bit so we’re not that sort of straight up garage rock duo anymore. We have elements of electronic music now and I think [James] kind of bridges that gap really. Although, it’s very subtle. We wanted it to be super subtle, you know? But every song has got – mostly every song has got like – a synth part in it now. Whereas before, it was like an underlying bass line or whatever but there was no actual melodic part but now there is.” Tweeddale continues, explaining how Dring’s tact as producer helped make the sonic transformation feel less like an alarming leap. “I think [James] is really good at hearing those things and making it sound natural – like they’re supposed to go together.”
Over the course of their time in the studio, Dring’s role unfolded more parallel to Honeyblood as opposed to standing at lead in front. “[James] is really a good collaborator, rather than a producer who tells you what to do [or,] what your guitar should sound like. He just asked questions all the time and I never felt like we were in a position where any of our ideas were stupid, [meaning] how difficult it was to explain them. Cause I am so bad. I’m like, ‘I want it to sound like a whoosh sound or like a squiggly sound.’ and he says, ‘Yep, okay, can totally do that!’ Like, I just know what it sounds like in my head but to have a producer who is very patient with you is important as well.” Beyond just excelling in guiding Honeyblood sonically, Dring also fell right in sync with Tweeddale’s ideal of not giving up and not worrying about what people have to say about one’s aspirations. “[James] fought in my corner on some of the [songs] that people didn’t like. He was like, ‘I like this song! I think it’s the best one!’ So instantly he gets extra points for that too.”
Getting the notes, sounds, and effects just right is one thing but the intangible, spooky aesthetic of Babes Never Die was something Honeyblood needed no instruction manual to integrate. The mill 90 minutes outside of Glasgow where Tweeddale and Myers sequestered to for four days, was like a treasure trove of all things creepy and disturbing, simultaneously frightening and exhilarating for Tweeddale, who is a “sucker for creepy stuff.”
“It’s on AirBNB,” she shares. “You can still go there! I looked it up the other day and thought, ‘Oh maybe people will want to go there and see where we wrote the album!’ I already kind of knew the album was going down this creepy road because we had already written [the title track] and “Love is a Disease.” …I knew [the mill] was going to be creepy but not THAT creepy. It had an outhouse that was unlocked one day and then locked the other day and we were like, ‘What the fuck!’ We went in,” Tweeddale continues, “and it had like – I kid you not, I’m not making this up – an old Victorian dentist’s chair, with a tray filled with dentist equipment from the Victorian era. If that’s not creepy, I don’t know what is!”
This passion for the scary might be new to the band’s discography but it’s no stranger between Tweeddale and Myers, the latter of whom is all too familiar with her band mate’s thought processes. “Cat is always laughing at me because – especially when we go to America – I’m like, ‘This is the start of “Final Destination.” We’re gonna die.’ And she’s like, ‘If we’re in a movie, the drummer dies first so you don’t even have to worry!’.”
Sanity, Songwriting, and (not so) Secret Surprises
Speaking of worry, that’s one thing that Tweeddale makes a point not to go back to doing, despite it nearly consuming her mind in the beginning stages of creating for Babes Never Die. Giving herself permission to let go makes the end results feel all the more pure and genuine to what makes Honeyblood one-of-a-kind.
“A lot of people who write their own songs write for their own sanity,” she explains.“Like ‘Babes’ is literally a song about not listening to what people tell you and just believing in doing – like, you’re going to get crucified no matter what you do so just be true to yourself. Everyone’s going to tell you no. Everyone’s going to tell you that’s a bad idea. But as long as you stick by your guns and it’s what you believe. That’s what that song is about in essence. When I wrote that, I realized that I could write the whole album that way.”
Additional fresh elements audiences can look forward to, include “a collection of bass notes, beeps [and] hand claps,” as Myers often describes Honeyblood’s steadily less secret, secret new third member, Sebastian. Of course, what about when the live show is long over? Well, there are plenty of sonic easter eggs and interesting ideas hanging about to give Babes Never Die loads of replay value beyond its conceptual transformations.“I wanted to create this idea of changing voices so all the voices at the beginning of [the intro track] are my voice. But, we pitch shifted them and made it so it was sort of like a witchy spell that was being cast – like a sort of charm. That’s what I was trying to go for.” She continues with an even more “what will be, will be” creative example in recent single, “Seahearts.” “There’s a couple of songs where I was like, ‘I’m just gonna play random notes over the song.’ Like on “Seahearts,” I just played random stuff along with it and it sounds like what I call “drunk piano,” which is kind of what that part of the song is about anyway so it kind of fitted really well.”
All the same, working out processes in private or in the studio is one thing but playing live, which Myers and Tweeddale are about to do a whole lot of, is another story. After testing waters with a new live set during their UK circuit, a revamping of the duo’s already intense sound is about to hit US stages. Nevertheless, there’s no loss of realness to Honeyblood’s live approach.“To watch Cat play the bass lines and the drums,” Tweeddale says, “I think a lot of people will think it’s a backing track but there is no backing track whatsoever. We do not play with a backing track.”
A Very Honeyblood Halloween
The whirlwind tour Myers and Tweeddale are tackling while here in the U.S. is going to be intense for sure . However, unlike past visits to the states, the Scottish rockers will have a bit of extra time on their hands.
“We never usually get that much time off when we tour the states, which I find really unfortunate because it’s so different from home. But we actually have the weekend off so I’m going to go and do crazy tourism shit cause I’ve not done that. I’ve done a few things in New York…” She pauses before going on. “Oh this is so embarrassing but, the two tours I’m contemplating, are the Ghostbusters one and the Gossip Girl one because I’m a huge Gossip Girl fan [but] I think if I go on the Gossip Girl tour Cat will be like, ‘I’m not coming with you,’ because she hates that stuff.”
“Everyone’s going to tell you no. Everyone’s going to tell you that’s a bad idea. But as long as you stick by your guns and it’s what you believe. That’s what [“Babes Never Die”] is about.” – Stina Tweeddale
Elaborating on this list of potential plans, Tweeddale’s excitement about being in the US during Halloween is undeniable – from the vibe of the day down to her enthusiasm for America’s more intense love of candy. “We’re off in Minneapolis so we thought that we’d go to Prince’s house because it’s open to the public now so we’re gonna do that on Halloween. Maybe we’ll do some like, you call it, Trick or Treating? Do you call it ‘Guising? I don’t know if it’s a Scottish or a British term but in Scotland you call it ‘Guising.” Continuing, Tweeddale illuminates the differences between Halloween at home and abroad. “I always find that Americans take [Halloween] way more seriously than [in Scotland.] At home it’s like, an excuse to go out until four in the morning, get trashed. [And] you guys have obviously got better candy than we do as well. Like, British candy is so crap.”
Laughing while attempting to argue the contrary, (UK Cadbury forever!) Tweeddale goes into detail about why the US’s interpretation of sweets is more to her liking. “I like the sort of weird chocolate that you have. Cause it’s not chocolate! To me, it’s like, weird candy chocolate.” Still, despite highlighting America’s unique recipe for chocolate, Tweeddale admits to having a soft spot for a different kind of Halloween treat. “I like those aniseed balls. I’m into all fire and gobstopper stuff. They’re just these aniseed candies and you suck on them for ages and they’re fiery. They burn you. It’s so good.”
Whether or not Honeyblood find tricks or treats on this tour is anyone’s guess. However, there’s something charmingly fitting about Tweeddale’s love of all things hot and spicy, since this Scottish duo is only continuing to light up any and all places they play, with a fiery individuality channeled into this dark and eerie album and it definitely doesn’t look to burn out anytime soon.
Babes Never Die comes out through FatCat Records on 28 October 2016 in the US and 4 November 2016 in the UK.
See Honeyblood live at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn, NY on 26 October 2016.
Full list of US tour dates is below.
Honeyblood US Tour Dates
24 October Metro Gallery Baltimore, MD Tickets
25 October Ortlieb’s Philadelphia, PA Tickets
26 October Baby’s All Right Brooklyn, NY Tickets
28 October Downstairs Chicago, IL Tickets
30 October 7th St Entry Minneapolis, MN Tickets
03 November Barboza Seattle, WA Tickets
04 November Bunk Bar Portland, OR Tickets
06 November The Chapel San Francisco, CA Tickets
07 November The Echo Los Angeles, CA Tickets
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