Thursday, October 29, 2020

Interview with Ben Fitts and Gabrielle Dana of War Honey by Dave Wolff

Interview with Ben Fitts and Gabrielle Dana of War Honey by Dave Wolff

War Honey’s latest demo “Racehorse” was recorded in quarantine and uploaded to Spotify and other streaming sites because you deemed it worth releasing. Can you tell the readers more about this?
Ben Fitts (Guitar, bass, production): The quarantine was a scary time for all of us, personally, professionally, and creatively. We had just come off a very well received show and felt like we were finally starting to make some waves in our local scene, just to see all of the gigs we were looking forward to get cancelled. But we felt strongly that this was time that wasn’t going to get taken away from us. Gaby and I are roommates, so the two of us recorded “Racehorse” ourselves in our Brooklyn apartment, using what mics and software we had available and tracking all the parts ourselves, including the instruments we don’t typically play for the band.

How sudden was the transition from playing a successful show and starting to receive notice to suddenly finding your shows were cancelled? How did you deal with the transition?
Gabrielle Dana (Vocals, keys, drum programming): Our last show was leap day and within two weeks all of our future shows were gone and we were quarantined to our apartment. Beginning to receive notice on Spotify was definitely bittersweet because the song came out when the quarantine was already in effect. While I couldn't be more grateful it's done so well, I can't help but wonder what doors it may have opened a pre-covid world. That being said, I'm excited to release music that will hopefully make this hard time a little better for the people that dig it.

Did War Honey always consist of you and Gaby or were you working with other musicians from the time the band started?
Ben: War Honey was started by Gaby and I, and we've been the constant members and creative force of the band, but we've been filled out the lineup with other musicians since the beginning, so we've always had drums and bass on our live performances. We currently have a great drummer named Vicky who joined up shortly before the quarantine started.

Did you have a vision in mind musically when you started the band, or did it develop naturally as you went along?
Gabrielle: Ben and I both love many different kinds of music but we bonded pretty early on over our love of indie. We knew from the get go it would be an indie driven project, but beyond that the sound did develop naturally as we got more in tune with each other.

What about the grittiness and independent spirit of indie music speaks to you? Do any of the other genres you listen to slip into your songs? What makes the band truly unique?
Ben: Prior to War Honey, my background was largely playing in hardcore and metal bands. My favorite indie rock bands have the same grit, angst, anti-authoritarianism, and radical spirit as my favorite punk and metal bands. However I’ve found that, at least right now, I prefer writing indie to punk or metal, as it’s largely much less strictly codified as a genre. As it’s less stylistically codified, I find myself having much more freedom to explore as both a songwriter and as a guitarist than I did in many of my previous bands. That being said, my time playing heavier music has certainly influenced my playing in War Honey. 
The songs aren’t strictly punk themselves, but I think they still have that hard-to-define punk mentality, and others have voiced that sentiment to me as well. Additionally, a lot of the slower tempos and somber attitudes that I like to write are influenced my love of doom metal, many of my tremolo-picked, atmosphere-oriented guitar leads are influenced by black metal, and our denser harmonic structures and abundance of chords is very much influenced by our mutual appreciation of jazz.

Given that the meaning of punk has changed countless times over the years, what would you say the meaning of punk is today, and what does it mean personally to you?
Ben: That’s a good question. I’d say since it took punk almost no time at all to evolve into a variety of styles that broke from the original template that defined punk, punk is now largely about such things as DIY mentality, counterculture, anti-authoritarianism and artistic authenticity than it is necessarily about palm-muted power chords and fast drum beats. There’s a lot of music that’s come out since punk has become more commercialized that’s maybe cosmetically similar in sound to old school, but not at all similar in spirit.

From your point of view, how much has punk changed the world for the better? Is there still a need for its anti-authoritarian/counterculture attitude today?
Ben: I think the punk movement has had a lot of influence for the better over the music industry, as well as over arts and culture in general. It really has it helped introduce several generations to the concept of DIY art-making, and the understanding that you can share what you have created without needing to rely on existing corporate infrastructures. So I’d say when in an America where everything is becoming increasingly corporate and capitalized, we need DIY art and counterculture more than ever.

Has DIY art and counterculture made an impact in the mainstream in any way, or has it remained in the underground as an inspiration to independent artists?
Gabrielle: I think DIY art has certainly influenced mainstream art and media, but the mainstream tends to reflect those influences back in a much commercially palatable way that doesn’t always reflect the true authenticity of those influences.

Do you find it easy to incorporate doom and black metal with jazz, or does it require a certain amount of intensive work?
Ben: It’s not really a conscious thing with me. Even though I’d say we’re an indie rock band, I never deliberately set about trying to bring other styles into my playing and writing with War Honey. Rather my favorite things about styles that I love and sometimes play, such as the atmospheres of black metal and the harmonic structures of jazz, seep into my playing in this band too.

How well does adding atmosphere and harmonics work when it comes to giving War Honey their own sound? Would you say your band is instantly recognizable sound wise?
Gabrielle: The dense layers and spaciness are pretty essential to our sound. We try to make each song feel like its own dimension. As far as having an instantly recognizable sound, we certainly hope so!

How many different dimensions has the band explored since you started? How many more do you feel there are to visit in the future?
Ben: While we can always go to new places with our music, I think we’ve done a pretty decent job jumping around while still having a sound that can be recognized as our own, and I believe that our upcoming EP represents that. We experiment with different effects, tones, moods, atmospheres, harmonies, and all that other stuff that might constitute a dimension.

Describe the recording process you and Gaby underwent for “Racehorse” and the equipment you had to work with in your apartment. What additional instruments did you record with?
Ben: We recorded with just a single instrument mic and a single Shure vocal mic, attached to an interface plugged into laptop running Logic. I then recorded all the guitar and bass layers myself, while Gaby recorded all the vocal layers, the keyboards, and programmed the drums.

Is the new single getting more plays on Spotify since the quarantine began? Have you generally seen more traffic on bands’ streaming sites in the past nine months?
Ben: It actually was recorded and then released during the quarantine, so there's no way to know how it would've been before, but we have gotten a big uptick in attention across the board since the quarantine began.

What was “Racehorse” written about and what were the ideas you intended to convey through it while it was being composed?
Gabrielle: Racehorse is about the need for finding your own closure and moving on from difficulties in a healthy way, despite the actions of those around you. It also helped me fully realize my tendency to run from problems rather than face them and let go. You'll run yourself into the ground trying to be just enough ahead of what was always right there with you.

Was there any specific experience in life that inspired to you write the lyrics to the song? 
Gabrielle: The song wasn’t written about any one specific experience, it was instead the way I processed the realization that I fail to face my problems head on and end up running from them for longer than I otherwise would. Racehorse is a testament to acknowledging your negative feelings and finding your own closure from them.

Who designed the cover artwork for “Racehorse” and what inspired the artist? How was the cover intended to represent the single?
Ben: I actually made the cover art. I enjoy making visual art, but have next to no technical skills in the field, which is why I’ve gravitated towards collage as it has essentially no learning curve. The artwork for “Racehorse” was a collage I made with five pieces of art that were labeled for free commercial reuse and a piece of purple construction paper. 
I knew that I wanted to somehow incorporate a horse into the artwork due to the title of the song, and I really liked the apocalyptic connotations of the skeletal rider artwork I found. I then set that skeletal rider over four intentionally diverse and even conflicting backgrounds (New York City, a small rural American town, a bright desert, and a lush but dark forest) to highlight the concept one cannot run away from their problems, which is one of the central themes of the lyrics.

Are you self-taught when it comes to designing art, or do you have any professional training?
Ben: I’m entirely self-taught with visual art. I’ve never taken so much as a class on it since seventh grade.

Explain how you educated yourself at being an art designer and how it helped you create your own approach to being an artist.
Ben: In college a lot of my friends were visual artists, and would casually make art while we hung out in the dorms. I got a little inspired to try visual art by all the visual art around me, so I began making collage-style art pieces out of found images and abstract art out of different colored papers. My visual art is really about getting the most millage I can out of my very limited technical abilities while still making something I can be proud of.

How did you find Vicky, how did she get to display her drumming style to you and Gaby, and what made you decide your styles were compatible and you could work together?
Ben: Vicky and I actually went to high school together, although I don't believe we've ever played music together prior to her joining War Honey. We hadn't really stayed in touch since graduating, but I happened to see a video she shared on social media of her taking a pretty amazing drum solo just when we needed to find a new drummer. I reached out to her on the off chance that she was looking to join a band, and it turns out that she was!

How many other drummers were you considering working with before you happened to get into contact with Vicky? Did you try her out a few times before she officially joined?
Ben: Before Vicky, we had a great drummer named Robbie who played on our first demo released back in January, but Vicky was actually this first drummer we reached to after Robbie left the band. We jammed together with Vicky once right before the pandemic really started, but it went well enough that we didn't need any more convincing.

Besides the three of you, who else did you recruit to complete the band’s live lineup? How often did you get to perform before the coronavirus pandemic?
Gabrielle: We only actually got to play two live shows as War Honey before Covid, though we had quite a few that were planned and cancelled. Since Covid we’ve recruited our friend and roommate David to play bass and we’re hoping to play as many live shows as we can.

How badly did you suspect Covid would affect Brooklyn music when it hit the US? Looking back, have there been any efforts on the part of bands and clubs to salvage it?
Gabrielle: I did not in my wildest dreams expect Covid to affect anything as badly as it did. That being said, I’ve found so much solace in the resilience of the musical community. The transition from live shows to live streams was basically seamless, and I’ve been extremely lucky to be involved in the DIY scene in Brooklyn which has remained an incredibly supportive community. It is sad to know that so many great venues have been shut down, but I really do hope we’ll see a resurgence in them after all this.

Many bands have been live streaming performances over the past year. Do you see War Honey playing some shows to stream over the internet in the coming months?
Gabrielle: I definitely see us live streaming some shows in the near future. We live with the rest of our lineup in a building with a great roof, so we’d love to make use of that.

How much more do you see people watching live performance streams since January? In a way does this help bands increase their fan base in other parts of the country and other countries?
Ben: There was definitely a bigger boom of people watching live-streamed earlier in the pandemic, but I’d say that the medium has now found a broader audience than it had before the start of all this. People definitely seem to be finding new bands through live-streaming, I know I have.

What bands do you know of that have streamed their performances the most consistently? How many new bands have you discovered streaming on Youtube?
Gabrielle: I don’t know about Youtube, but I’ve loved keeping up with Sean Bonnet of AJJ’s Live From Quarantine on Instagram. I think he does it on Youtube as well.

How many episodes of Live From Quarantine are available for streaming? What bands have been featured on this show and why would you recommend people view it?
Gabrielle: I’m not sure how many episodes were made, but Sean Bonnette made one every day for a while during the beginning of the quarantine. There were no other bands on it however, it was just him performing solo sets. 

The South Park Pandemic Special aired recently and is available for free streaming on the show’s official site. Since it aired it has caused some controversy in the media. What is your view of this show if you’ve seen it?
Ben: I have seen it, but I wasn’t aware of any controversy. South Park has put out more conventionally offensive episodes without much incident to speak of, so I’m little surprised to hear that this one has landed them in hot water. Over all, I’d say I’m a pretty big fan of the show to the point that it’s been a minor influence on my fiction writing, but it’s had its share of missteps along the way, including a pretty consistent mishandling of trans issues.

Besides South Park, are there other television programs you find value in?
Ben: Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Monty Python’s Flying Circus have probably influenced my fiction about as much as some of my favorite novelists. However, my favorite show on TV now is What We Do In The Shadows. 

How much new material has the band managed to write and compose in the midst of the pandemic? When do you think you’d be able to start working on it and recording? Do you have your own studio equipment to work with?
Ben: A fair amount actually. We started off being very creatively productive, writing and workshopping songs almost every day. However as the monotony of quarantine began to really set in, it became a bit harder to keep creating without continued stimulation, and the rate of new songs began to slow down, although it’s worth noting that it never stopped altogether. We have some mics and an interface, but I’m unsure exactly when we’ll turn our sights on the next batch of recordings. Our upcoming EP, Shard To Shatter, is coming out on December 1, so until then I’m pretty focused on just that. If had to guess, mid-2021 mid see another EP from us, but please don’t hold me to that.

In what ways is Shard to Shatter another step forward for War Honey, in musical and lyrical terms? Name the songs you recorded for it and explain what they have to offer new listeners. Are you seeking label distribution or do you intend to distribute it independently?
Gabrielle: I feel the EP is a lyrical step forward because it’s intended to take a firm political stance and hopefully contribute toward positive change, where as “Racehorse” was simply a song about my personal experiences. The title track surrounds sexual assault and domestic violence, Landmine is an anti-capitalism protest song, and Even Sleep is Exhausting stresses the need for urgent change all around. Ben: Speaking musically, we really upped our game with such things as orchestration and layering on the EP. When we performed the songs live we’re stuck what we’re capable of doing in the moment, but when recording we were able to add multiple layers of interacting guitar, keys, and vocals, although we chose to still keep the rhythm section relatively minimal. As a result, we’ve been able to create a denser, more harmonically driven sound than we’ve been able to achieve live or on either of our demos. This is EP is going to be self-released, although we are interested in seeking label distribution for future releases.

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