Eclectic Honeybabe steps out

In the age of the internet, infinite playlists, and musical abundance, an increasing number of bands are embodying head-scratching combinations of styles and sounds that span genres, geography, and history.

Honeybabe is a perfect example of this phenomenon going very right. The five-man band combine sun-showered punk with fuzzy, psychedelic rock, sugary vocals, and textured, temperamental songs that are friendly even at their gloomiest.

In advance of their Saturday performance at the Pig & Whiskey, Metro Times met all five members at Hybrid Moments, their practice space in Corktown — a conversation that was as off-the-wall and goofy as one might imagine when wrangling five bandmates, not to mention long-time friends, together in a room.

It begins, naturally, with introductions. Each person named the instruments they play, adding on additional titles like "motivational speaker" and "back up dancer." "I try to be the guru," Matthew McBrien offers, and then immediately abandons. "Actually, I'm the least spiritual one."

All five members, who are all 24-years-old, have been playing together for more than a decade.

Danny Despard, Drew Bartosik, and McBrien went to Berkley High School, while Austin Keith and Michael La Bella attended Shrine Catholic High School in Royal Oak. There was some crossover, with McBrien playing music with Keith and LaBella from an early age.

"Mine and Drew's band would play against theirs in Battle of the Bands. There's still some animosity to this day," Despard jokes.

The two groups, Despard and Bartosik, and La Bella, McBrien, and Keith toiled away in other bands until they joined forces as Honeybabe in 2013.

"It happened naturally," Keith says of the merging. "There were spaces in our musical development that needed filling, and there were some talented dudes that filled them."

Since then, the band has pounded the pavement, frequently performing at venues like the Old Miami, PJ's Lager House, and the Loving Touch. They will go on a short stint of East Coast tour dates the week before Pig & Whiskey, which will be their first time performing outside of Michigan. "We've become a pretty self-sufficient band," Keith says. "We've been around the block, so to speak. Where once we were desperate to play gigs, we're now offered enough to not need to search as much. We've worked hard over the years and paid our dues, and it's nice to see that work pay off."

They've also found their groove as a band that rotates around three vocalists: La Bella, McBrien, and Bartosik. "It's a three-headed dragon singing," Despard says. "Whoever's song it is, that person will probably be the main singer, and then the other two guys will help them out, and then it rotates."

"I always write my lyrics very personal," La Bella says. "There's sad stuff, dealing with death and personal loss. But it's also mixed with happy stuff. Whatever I write, I at least hope that someone can relate to it."

"I don't have too much lyrical content for Honeybabe so far," Bartosik says, "but for me, a lot of it comes back to nature and cycles of things. Past, present, and future are themes that I notice myself running into. Experiencing things and growing through them. Shedding skin."

These approaches will coalesce with their upcoming album, slated for a late 2017 release. The band explains the ways in which their sound has evolved since their 2014 full-length album Creatures of Circumstance and their 2016 EP Velvet Glum.

"It's going to be different," Despard says of the album. "We've got tracks that are seven minutes long."

"It's going to be less lo-fi than our old stuff — crisper," La Bella adds. "I would also say there's more harmonies. There's some stuff that's really pop-y, like verse, chorus, verse, chorus, 'radio friendly,' you could say. Then there is stuff that is totally experimental."

"I think the best thing to describe it would be elusive," Bartosik says.

Keith agrees. "Just when you think you have your finger on the button, you don't."

When discussing their individual influences, La Bella, whose effusive falsetto can be heard on many of their tracks, was quickly dubbed the Brian Wilson of the group for his vocal harmonies. Despard names Radiohead and the Who as top influences, and Keith mentions Death Grips and drone metal band Sunn O))), the latter of which McBrien enthusiastically agrees.

"Sunn O))) is a huge one," McBrien says. "It doesn't shine through in our music, but we saw them about a year ago and there's really nothing like it. It's very meditative."

"I love weird shit, you know?" he continues. "I love experimental music. I love gospel music from the '30s, I like black metal, I like jazz. A little bit of everything. If you're only listening to one genre you're missing everything."

"Right now, I can see that Matt's sound in the songs that we play right now is more '80s," Bartosik says about McBrien. "But then he also has stuff that's balls-to-the-wall punk."

"If we bring anything to the table, it's that we all have similar music tastes, but we bring a lot of different sounds and put them all together," La Bella says.

"At some point we felt like it was a curse," Keith adds. "Like 'Oh god, how are we going to smash all of this into one box? What's our style? What's our voice?" But at some point we were like, "Maybe this is it. Maybe this is just how we do it."

Honeybabe performs at Pig & Whiskey on Saturday, July 15; East Troy Street between the WAB and Emory, Ferndale.

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