An Interview With THE CALIFORNIA HONEYDROPS on Their Latest Album, “A River’s Invitation”, Playing at Burning Man and More!
Posted On 21 Oct 2015
Tag: 5280 Magazine, A River's Invitation, AEA, All Access, All Access Music, Allen Toussaint, Artist Interview, B.B. King, Beau Bradbury, Beaverstock, Ben Malament, Blues Cave, Buddy Guy, Burning Man, Charlie Hunter, Denver, Dr. John, High Sierra, Jacob LaCally, Johnny Bones, Lech Wierzynski, Lorenzo Loera, Louis Armstrong, Monterey Jazz, Nansamba Ssensalo, Oakland, Oregon County Fair, Outside Lands, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, San Francisco, SF Weekly, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Soul Tub, The Blues Cruise, The California Honeydrops, The Filmore, The Lowrider Band, The Tennessee Chocolate Drops, War, Weezer
The California Honeydrops got their start busking on the streets of the San Francisco Bay Area, where they quickly developed a passionate local following that has continued to grow over the course of nonstop American and European touring. They have played featured slots at such festivals as Monterey Jazz, High Sierra and Outside Lands, and toured in support of artists including B.B. King, Dr. John, Buddy Guy and Allen Toussaint.
More like parties than traditional concerts, their shows feature extensive off-stage jamming and crowd interaction. “The whole point is to erase the boundaries between the crowd and us,” Wierzynski says. “We don’t make setlists. We want requests. We want crowd involvement, to make people become a part of the whole thing by dancing along, singing, picking the songs and generally coming out of their shells.”
Produced by the band and recorded in front-man and founding member Lech Wierzynski’s living room (which the band has long referred to as the Blues Cave), their latest collection, A River’s Invitation is intended to capture The Honeydrops’ relaxed, raw sound. In addition to Wierzynski (lead vocal, trumpet, guitar)—who SF Weekly calls “a force to be reckoned with” and about whom Denver’s 5280 Magazine raves, “is among the most charismatic performers touring today”—the five-piece consists of co-founder Ben Malament (drums, washboard, percussion), Johnny Bones (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Lorenzo Loera (keys, melodica) and Beau Bradbury (bass, percussion).
Drawing on musical influences as diverse as Bay Area R&B, funk, Southern soul, Delta blues, New Orleans second-line, gospel and psychedelic groove, The Honeydrops’ roots lie in Wierzynski’s childhood in Poland where he soaked up the sounds of contraband American recordings by the likes of Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong. Later, as a first-generation immigrant to the U.S. and child of political refugees, he assimilated himself by devouring American rock & roll, soul, jazz and hip-hop recordings. His musical immersion continued at Oberlin College and then in Oakland’s club scene, where he honed his distinctive vocal and performance style and his songwriting chops.
Learn more about the California Honeydrops in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! How’s the summer been for you all? How excited are you to head to Australia this fall?
This summer has been full of some of the best festival shows we’ve played and has brought us to so many new, amazing places. From Soul Tub jams in the grassy fields of Oregon Country Fair, to Ice Climbing, Rafting and Glacier Hiking in Alaska. It’s been insane. And we can’t wait to see what Australia brings. It will be the first time for everyone.
How was Burning Man this year? The California Honeydrops have been playing at a ton of festivals this year! What are some favorite memories from those shows? What about a favorite festival?
Burning Man was definitely special. It was also a first for the band and it was so different from anything we’ve been to. It was so huge and so hot and dusty, but also crazy fun and free-spirited. We really let loose. Glow paint and all. Uhhh..man. A ton of festivals is right! It’s hard to pin down the best moments, but we just played this small family-run festival in Templeton, CA called Beaverstock. It was great because the people running it were cool. It was a small, nice vibe and really the best part was the after party with the campers. We just played drums and horns and yelled Sir Mix-A-Lot and Weezer songs late into the warm starry night. Haha. It was awesome.
You’ve supported a ton of incredible artists on tour. What’s been a favorite musician to tour with and why that one in particular?
We haven’t toured with him….YET, but Charlie Hunter actually just supported US at our album release show at The Fillmore, SF. Yeah, crazy, right? We played a little on his set and vice versa. Man! What a pleasure and honor! One of the greatest, grooviest talents you can check out today. He’s a great hang and loves to play!
Can you describe what fans can expect from one of your shows?
Lately, when we have the opportunity, we just play as long as we can. No breaks. We talk to the audience for requests (we don’t make set lists), but we just try to keep the wheels greased, the dance floor moving, and really just an all around special night out for the folks kind enough to give us their money. We make it worth the ticket price for sure. We’ve also been working in more and more brand new original tunes!
How did this group first get started? How did you come up with your name? What other names were you considering?
Lech, myself, and our friend Nansamba Ssensalo started the band in the street with the tub bass aka The Soul Tub, trumpet, guitar, washboard, and voices. We were more of a jug band back then, even though the repertoire still included Blues and Soul tunes. So Lech came up with the name based off the early 20th century string and country blues group called The Tennessee Chocolate Drops. I’ll have to ask what other names were considered….
Why do you think you all work so well together? How have the band dynamics changed through the years?
We always try to have fun. And we try our best to support each other on stage to make the songs come alive and to make the best possible version of each song for each audience we play for. This is not a band where you can just “show up, play the gig, and leave”. We take care to make each night and really each song special. It keeps it fun for us! Lech has gotten better and better at leading the band into a show that’s fun and musically diverse. The band has changed a lot over the years. But that principle of being there, in the moment, every night to make the best live music we can has never changed. Did that sound corny? Well….it’s true.
How is your fourth studio album, “A River’s Invitation” different then your previous collections?
“A River’s Invitation” really flows great as a whole album. I am personally really proud of this album. We definitely explored some different styles, like playing rocksteady rhythms and weird combos of new orleans, blues, and Caribbean styles with our own flavor. But I think we were able to get our live magic captured on this one. It’s pretty sparse, and even a bit “raw”, but a lot of stuff was tracked live (like vocals together on one mic) and I think it’s the first time we were able to get our unique feels and natural blend as a band on wax. My god the vinyl sounds DELICIOUS!
Why did you decide to record this album in Lech’s living room aka the Blues Cave? What is the sound quality like in that room?
The familiar setting and the lower cost of home recording helped relieve a lot of pressure that an expensive, timed session in a fancy studio can bring. The whole point was to make our own space and our own time so we can capture that natural blend of the band. It gave us the room to experiment until we could really find out what was working and what was not. With a good engineer and some good mics (Thank you Jacob LaCally and AEA ribbon mics) you can make almost ANY room sound good these days!
What musicians have consistently inspired you and the band? Who would you love to work with in the future?
We tend to listen to and draw inspiration from the older musicians. Last fall on The Blues Cruise we got to hang with “The Lowrider Band” who are ACTUALLY the REAL original members of the band WAR. (The band currently touring as “WAR” is owned by their lawyer and manager.) Those guys still sound amazing! Some REAL soul and funk. And the fact that they are still making this awesome music together, as a band, getting the sound that only those guys can get together, was really inspiring to see and hear. We look forward to working with them again soon. Look out next summer!
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope listeners take away from your songs?
Wow. I suppose one can take away a message of freedom. Freedom to love what you do. Freedom to be who you want to be. Act how you want to act. Freedom and Respect! To Respect and pay homage to the artists and leaders who paved the way for us to be here. Recognizing the lineage and traditions that have lead to the music we get to make today, playing the stages we get to play. A lot of hard working people gave us the roads that continue to take us all over the world, to the some of the greatest experiences we can ever hope for with some of the greatest people we could hope to meet and call family. That’s where our music comes from. Yeah. Life is crazy.