All my favourite bands break up too soon. Some dissolve and leave no trace they ever existed, others leave behind a body of work, be it that beguiling debut or just one crucial single that will go on to stand the test of time.
The reasons may be acrimonious, incongruous or ingenious. From the other side of the stage, you’re never quite certain how or why the story had to end, and as time passes, the significance fades. The little vinyl artefacts you hold in your hands becomes the band’s tombstone and testament. The death of the band doesn’t necessarily mean the death of the artist, so where do song-writers go when their outfits fall apart and they disappear from view? They must keep on writing, presumably because that’s all they’ve ever done and it’s what they do best, from the time they got a cheap guitar for Christmas to when they plumped up the cash for a real one. The songs have got to pile up, songs that were as good or as better than when they still had an outlet to perform them with. Looking through my record collection it makes me wonder where all these people are. Are they still writing songs? Do they pick up the guitar and when no-one is around bash out the chords to an old forgotten tune? It’s not anything I lose sleep over. You can’t get too precious about the past, but it’s a thought that occurs to me from time to time. Authors can come and go, write a book one year and never produce another for a decade, but you know that during those intervening years, they never stopped writing, so the same must be said for the song-writer.
Often, for a band to reform, you only the need the crucial ingredients, namely the song-writer and the song-singer, otherwise you’re fooling nobody. It’s not going to be the same. When I wrote about the Honeys for one of the first Secret History of Australian Music pieces, I had no idea that songwriters Bruce Begley and Grant Shanahan had been conspiring to persuade original Honeys vocalist Andrea Croft to lend them her voice, but not only that, had actually completed an album’s worth of material and were releasing it under the Honeys name after an absence of god knows how many years. On hearing this, I was quietly stunned. It wasn’t ground-breaking, earth-shattering news, but there were bound to be more than a handful of people out there who’s eyebrows momentarily raised at this knowledge. The Honeys were a band who were a little bit country, a little bit 60s pop, and equal parts rock and roll who produced a couple of unforgettable singles, a fine debut album, and a belated compilation that tied all the extraneous pieces together.
Star Baby was one of the quietly released highlights of 2007. A gorgeous mix of country-tinged rock and roll, it made short work of a long absence and found the three old friends from Perth creating what could confoundedly be seen as the definitive Honeys document. From the aching pop of opening track “Kiss Me Kate” to the chiming guitars of “In the Sun”, The Honeys sounded like they had just fallen back into the moment in time where we had left them. The sheer diversity in material and the obvious talent of the songwriters lends Star Baby its radiant beauty. “Veronica Says” and “I Couldn’t Win” (both songs co-written by Begley and Croft) highlight the softer side of the band, the latter being one of the most heartbreaking ballads put to song. Never content in just being a straight ahead guitar act, there’s always been an element of bar-band blues and country hiding behind those dazzling three minute pop songs. The Grant Shanahan sung “Always Worked the Railways” is a nice companion piece to Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” and the banjo-infused strum-along of “Lightning” is pure campfire country. A taste of the old Honeys is present on “Run Run”, a fun little number previously left languishing on the Ultimo compilation, now given a new lease on life. Listening to a record shouldn’t be this much fun and having Andrea Croft’s voice drifting out of my speakers again is never going to get old. “Star Baby” proves that time and distance count for nothing and some things are better late than never.
Via the power of the internet, and sheer perseverance on our part, we managed to corral one of the two men instrumental for the return of the Honeys, guitarist/singer/songwriter Bruce Begley, and quiz him about the release of one of the most unexpected and very welcome albums of last year. We put together a handful of questions, crossed our fingers, and this is what we got back.
There’s money to be made in the reformation scene, be it the Led Zeppelins or The Polices of the world, or in Australia, the Countdown packaged reformations reselling the 80s to those reminiscing their lost youth. The Honeys fit into neither of these categories, so where did the impetus begin to reclaim The Honeys name once more?
When we decided to record, there was no premeditated idea about being part of an 80’s revival movement. Andrea seemed to be the logical choice to record the songs; we could have called the project something different really but felt the songs had The Honeys sound.
Andrea has quite a strong and rich voice, and it’s a shame after the demise of Catherine Wheel that she basically went to ground. What has she been doing, and yourself, in the intervening years? I have a Snow Leopards album around here, so on your side, this much I know…
Andrea pretty much moved back to Perth and tried her hand at other things including a nursery business. I think she lost interest in music which is a pity because her voice is incredibly special. She is fantastic live at the moment and is singing better than ever. We are planning a tour to Queensland later this year so you can see and hear for yourselves. It may be with the whole band or just Andrea and myself as a duo with perhaps some local players.
What precipitated the Honeys to break up in the first place? After the release of “Gone Away” and “The Man Who Was Through With the World” it seemed the band had begun to pick up some serious momentum. Both singles showed the band refining their sound, moving away from the obvious country tinge of Goddess, and the songs collected on the Ultimo collection were a hidden treasure trove of surprises and obvious singles material. It all seemed a little premature.
The band members had other things going on in their lives which unfortunately overtook their availability for The Honeys. (Ed: I wanted dirt, not diplomacy!)
It’s interesting to note you revisit one of the old Honeys tracks “Run Run” for Star Baby. Was there any reason behind this choice? Reconnecting the past with the present?
Yes because Billy Baxter loves it so much so we did it for him. Grant really wanted “Run Run” to be on the album and as I already had so many of my songs on the album you have to give and take to be fair when there is more than one songwriter in the band.
Of those unreleased tracks that later appeared on Ultimo (and those not used by you in the Snow Leopards) one of the standout numbers is “I Dreamed Last Night”. If there’s any particular song that captures the strength of the song-writing, the musicianship and Andrea’s voice, it’s that song. What are some of your favourite Honeys tracks?
I’m glad you like “I Dreamed Last Night”. It’s one of my favourites too. I would really like to re-record many of our early songs with an orchestra or bigger production or use a famous producer to do some work on them. Of the current songs I’m particularly fond of “Star Baby”, “Kiss Me Kate” and “I Couldn’t Win”. Though that changes all the time, we’ve done a new film clip for “Kate” and have a new one on the way for “Star Baby”.
The song selection on Star Baby is something of a delight, with each of you contributing and collaborating as songwriters. Was there much collaboration on the material in the studio or were yourself and Grant Shanahan stockpiling songs for the right moment?
Andrea contributed quite a few lyrics to my songs. Grant and myself don’t usually collaborate in the songwriting process. Grant is a fairly private person and tends to write that way, although we both offered musical ideas on each others songs during the recording process, terms of arrangements and so forth. We recorded the album over about twelve months. It was a lengthy process with Andrea being based in Perth and Grant and myself working on it mainly on weekends. The backing tracks were recorded without her being there and a lot of it was guesswork, its amazing it turned out so well. I know Andrea’s singing range and we tested the keys of the songs during a Xmas visit to Perth. Our session drummer Paul Dunn really had no idea about how it would sound until he heard the finished product and was amazed. At the time he had to put up with Grant and myself singing falsetto guide vocals.
Looking back on the finished output, how do you feel? Were you surprised with the results? Do you think there will be a chance to record a follow-up to Star Baby?
I feel that we have put together a beautiful album that we are all proud of. I wouldn’t say that we were surprised with the results of the recording, we were excited about it. Regarding a follow up to Star Baby, that is a little premature at this stage as we are only beginning to get on the road and really push the album — it will be a long process but it was a long process in writing and recording the album. We feel that there is so much potential in the future of Star Baby in many of the songs both locally and internationally and we want to take time to do it properly. We are however writing for future releases at the same time which we will inform you about a little later down the track.
Since the recording and release of Star Baby you’ve been out playing live shows. How did it feel being out there on stage together once more, presumably playing songs you haven’t played together in 16 years?
It felt fairly natural being on stage again together. The preparation for first show at The Vanguard in Sydney was very tight considering our limitations on getting together and rehearsing. Due to the fact that Andrea lives on the other side of the country, no one knew how it would be once we were out on stage but it all came together naturally. We used Lloyd Ghi on drums who was incidentally the very first drummer that we jammed with in Perth before we left for Sydney to start our future as The Honeys. Performing many of the old songs felt just like riding a bike.