Honeydogs – When the Levys break
That’s a sentiment the Honeydogs appreciate. They’re quick to deflect any suggestion that Seen A Ghost might represent anything more than an update of the band’s musical state. They clearly want no part of being attached to a “movement” or positioned as the torchbearers for the Minnesota music scene. Their interest lies in making music they like, and if there’s a larger audience for that, so be it.
The prospects of a larger audience, in fact, look rather promising. The opening track, “Rumor Has It”, is the kind of song one can easily imagine hearing on the radio several times a day. And it’s not a song taken out of context for the sole purpose of garnering airplay; rather, it’s indicative of Adam Levy’s innate ability to write songs that lure listeners in with a hook and have them singing along by the end of the first chorus. He cites such varying influences as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Clash, Johnny Cash, Burt Bacharach, and his favorite, Elvis Costello. From those diverse sources, he’s developed a sense of melody and chord structure that lulls you into a false sense of familiarity, then knocks you over with a bridge or chorus that you’re least expecting.
Seen A Ghost has 14 songs, three of which appeared on their previous records. The label felt strongly that these songs, (“I Miss You” and “Those Things Are Hers” from the self-titled record and “Your Blue Door” from Everything, I Bet You) deserved a much wider audience than they had received to date. Particularly in the case of “Those Things Are Hers”, perhaps the crown jewel of Levy’s relationship confessionals, it’s an argument that holds water.
As Adam speaks on the subject, though, it’s clearly a concession the band is still trying to get comfortable with. “I look at each of the records as a snapshot of where the band was at a given time, and while I wouldn’t want to go back there, I’m also not embarrassed about anything we’ve put out there,” he says. “The label felt these songs needed to be included. There was a lot of really strong material that didn’t make it on the record, and my first instinct was that we’d have to sacrifice three spaces that could have been used for something new.
“As a band, we talked a little about it; you know, it’s nice to make a record and have new stuff that seems to hold together. Reluctantly, we went into the studio to do those songs [again], but I think the way that we approached them was kind of within the shape and scope of the newer songs, so when I listen now, I feel like, ‘Yeah, that works.’ And in a way it’s nice: These are songs I wrote a long time ago and they still hold up.”
“At the end of the day,” adds Norton, “the compromise was fine, because we still play those songs live. I think they are still real listenable and I agree with Adam, they sit on the record nice.”
On perhaps a more important front — choosing a producer — Debris was remarkably hands-off when it came to making the final call. After talking to more than a dozen prospective producers, the band hadn’t found a perfect match. Perhaps surprisingly, the label gave them the green light to produce the project themselves. As they had done with Everything, I Bet You, they collaborated with Tom Herbers (Gear Daddies, Magnolias); the result is a record that is neither weighed down nor diluted by production.
The first half of the record is dominated by the kinds of hooks and melodies that are most likely to get the Honeydogs played on the radio. In addition to “Rumor Has It” (which will be the first single), both “John Brown” and “I Miss You” could easily fit in to the playlists of various formats. But the second half of the album is arguably the most satisfying, particularly to anyone who has ever witnessed the abandon of the band’s live shows. Out of the ashes of the easygoing, acoustic-oriented title track rises the thundering drum riff of “Twitch”, and suddenly the band is squarely in your face, daring you to redline the stereo. As Levy launches into a blistering tirade on the next track, “Cut Me Loose, Napoleon”, the walls begin dripping with aggression. And just when your neighbors are pounding on the door, begging for mercy, he scrapes together the remains of his anger to rail against the injustice of a 7-year-old girl left to fend for herself night after night on “Donna’s 7”. When the storm has passed, calm and optimism are restored with “Mainline”, a brilliant country shuffle. Much like the afterglow of a great party, the penultimate track “Sweet Pea” suspends time ever so briefly, allowing for recollection of the album’s most memorable moments before a lush, string-filled reprise of the title track closes out the proceedings.
The band is preparing for extensive touring this fall, given the increased demands that come with a major-label recording. Although they’ve always hit the road hard, the sense of adventure has given way to a more experienced perspective. “Now when we go out, we really want to make it count. We want to get as much done as we can and then get back home,” Norton explains. “We know the travel comes with the job, but at a certain point you do crave some semblance of a normal life.”
As Adam Levy ponders the opportunity that lies before them, he can’t help but look back. “We’ve gone through some really miserable, tough times together, where it didn’t seem like there was a light at the end of the tunnel,” he says. “You wonder, ‘Am I just doing this for my own vanity, or can I really make a living doing this?’ I just want to have a career making records. I don’t think any of us had any idea it was going to get this far. But I feel like it’s just not that much to ask to be able to keep making records.”
Not too much at all.
Dave Kirby is a recovering musician and a freelance writer in the Twin Cities area.