A taste of honey – Melanie Smith photographs and interviews explosive alternative rock band Honey in Cornwall.
Currently nestling in the glorious sunny confines of Cornwall, the rock band Honey took some time out to engage in their first ever photoshoot and talk to Louder Than War’s photographer Melanie Smith.
The St Austell trio Honey consist of Sarah Marie Tyrrell (vocals, guitar) Ele Lucas (bass) & Sammy Downing (drums). They are part grunge / punk and they rock like a bitch, but are the sweetest of people in real life. Currently working on their debut album, and receiving some rave reviews in the press since appearing with other notable musicians on the Jeffrey Pierce Sessions compilation album. They are definitely on our radar for ones to watch out for.
Sarah: Honey are myself, Ele and Sammy. This line up of Honey is a couple of years old, but it has clicked on every level, and not just musically. We’re all pretty chilled, which is important because band life can sometimes get mental and stressful! We just love each other and have a good time. I was having trouble sleeping one night when I came up with the band name of Honey. I chose it because it’s short and sweet. No pun intended … I leave all punning to Sammy.
I started playing guitar when I was 15. I taught myself until I got to college and got lessons, did grades and all the rest of it. I met Ele (Bass) at science class in school; we’ve been friends for 12 years now. And I first met Sammy at a Honey gig before he joined. My first experience of Sammy was when he cleared everyone from the mosh pit so he could do ‘the worm’.
Would Ele and Sammy like to share a bit about themselves?
Ele: I was about 13 when I got interested in playing a musical instrument. I pestered my mum for a guitar and taught myself. I just became obsessed with wanting to play bass, and over 10 years later I’m still obsessed. I was so shy as a child, a lot of people wouldn’t believe that, but my mum took me to Stage Coach in Truro and then that was it, I’ve been performing ever since, lots of plays, short films, theatre groups, and college. I’ve just always loved plays, films and everything creative about it. I guess it all goes hand in hand with the whole performing music stuff, music has always been just as big a part of my life as films and plays, if not a bigger part and performing in a band gives me that buzz of adrenaline that is sooooo addictive.
Sammy: I’ve been playing drums for about 11 years. I got drum tuition in school for five years, spent all that time getting to know the instrument. Went into St Austell College to study music where I got my drum grades with LCM (London College of Music) and passed my grade 8 exams within a year of starting.
What bands you have been in before?
Sarah: Honey is my first band. I did some busking and open mics before and still do.
Ele: I played around with a few friends at school, but I’ve only been in one other band, who were called Ricks Rebels. The name did mean something at the time [laughs]. We were all friends from drama school and we liked the idea of being in a band. We started to get together, eat pizza, but somehow we ended up playing at lots of gigs and festivals. We did gigs in London and Bristol and did pretty well for young uns. After that I didn’t play for years and didn’t realise how much I missed it until I started playing in Honey.
Sammy: I got into my first band at 17, it was a cover band called Give It Some Dave and we gigged around Cornwall for about a year. After college I went to Truro uni and studied a foundation degree in music. I then joined a three piece folk band called E.S.P. I played Cajon (a six-sided, box-shaped percussion instrument) and sang in this. I joined honey in my first year of uni. My drumming influence for honey comes from the 90s band Primus. The drummer Tim Alexander’s style really grabbed me.
What is your favourite musical period and artists and best song ever?
Sarah: You can probably tell by listening to us that the era I’m most influenced by is the 90s. I love Nirvana, and Kurt Cobain, it’s why I took up guitar. But I also love old blues guys like Skip James, Howlin Wolf, Lightning’ Hopkins. And I love big voices like Tom Waits, Odetta, Brody Dalle and Dean Martin.
Best song ever?! I can’t answer that! One of my Desert Island Disc songs would be Smokestack Lightning by Howlin’ Wolf.
Ele: I don’t think I have a favourite musical period. I love all types of music, some more than others, but I have always listened to a variety of music from different periods. I was brought up on The Beatles and Santana which I still love. There was also a lot of classical music in my life when I was young, which was awesome. Getting into rock at about 11 was a big moment; it was when music became a consciously big part of my life. I love Slipknot, but also drum and bass like Sub Focus etc. I can never really quantify what I like, just songs that make you feel something so intense you can’t explain and for me I don’t necessarily know about all the bands or artists I like, but that feeling of listening to music is more important. I guess my most-loved bands are probably Korn, and Karnivool.
I never really know what to say when people ask me for my favourite song and I sometimes get strange looks when I say Message In A Bottle by The Police, but it is one of my favourite songs of all time
Sammy: I would have to say my favourite musical period was the 80s, I’m a big fan of massive hair, screaming vocals and men in platform shoes.
Do you have other interests or hobbies outside of music and if so what are they?
Sarah: When I’m not doing Honey stuff, I love photography especially film photography. I started horse riding two years ago. I love it even after getting bucked off, knocked out and a fractured elbow. Mares!
Ele: I love watching films, reading books and listening to music. I try and surf, but I’m pretty terrible. I love the sea though and just being out in it.
Sammy: umm smoking bud!
How do you start to write a song, lyrics or music first? – is it a team effort or do one of you write the lyrics?
Sarah: I usually come up with a guitar riff first. Even though our songs sound like they were written in five minutes I usually spend days, weeks or months finishing it. Then I take it to the guys in practice and it goes from there. Recently Ele has written a song of her own in the same way. It’s the best way for me to work as I’m not great at jamming or collaborating.
What inspires your lyrics, are they taken from personal experiences? And what was the first song you ever wrote?
Sarah: I write all my lyrics and yes they are personal. But I try to hide it all in poetry and metaphors and try not to be too obvious. But hopefully people get the vibe and can relate. I literally have no idea what the first song I wrote was. Probably some upset, Hole-inspired embarrassment!
Talk us through a favourite HONEY songs, which you are most proud of and why?
Sarah: I’m most lyrically proud of the song Coffin Womb which will be on our album. It’s about unrequited love I guess. And my favourite line from it is ‘The wind in my sail is your sigh’.
Ele: I guess it would have to be Black Teeth, I just love playing the bass line to it especially live and the vibe we get when we play it is awesome, it’s all about the vibe.
Sammy: ‘Love Sick, Sick Love’ has always been one of my favourites to play. I’ve always felt the drum pattern leads this song and creates a badass feel. There’s always been a lot of love for that tune.
You have a track on the album The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project: Axels & Sockets (released back in May) with a cover of Thunderhead – the album had a superstar line up. How did this come about and why the track chosen?
Sarah: Axels and Sockets came about thanks to Kris Needs who saw us live while he was living in Cornwall. He told us we reminded him of the Gun Club and gave us a stack of Jeffrey CDs. We locked into the energy of Thunderhead. Man I wish I’d wrote that! We are so chuffed to be on this album alongside heroes like Iggy Pop, Mark Lanegan and Debbie Harry. Huge thanks to Kris for getting us on it.
The five track EP Suckle released last May got rave reviews in the media, who did the artwork for the cover and what was the theme behind this.
Sarah: I drew it in pencil and my brother edited it in Lightroom. I wanted a model to pose with a husky puppy but couldn’t find any volunteers. Strange! The image is a take on feral children growing with wolves, it’s just inverted.
When can we expect an album and do you have a title and songs prepared?
Sarah: We go into the studio in two weeks with John Cornfield to record our debut album. I’m toying with some album names. I like ‘Sit on the Sound and Wriggle Around’! Really excited to record these songs and get them out there. You can expect it towards the end of Summer, probably September, but no release date just yet.
Unfortunately I recently missed your storming gig down in Penzance. How would you describe your live performances?
Sarah: Our live shows are really what it’s all about. Two minutes before a gig I can be exhausted, under slept, hungry, lethargic and then as soon as the first song kicks in I’m energised, exultant, excited. I love being on stage with Ele and Sammy and I love singing my songs.
Ele: I guess I’d have to say energetic maybe a bit crazy. I like to throw myself around, I just can’t help it, and even if I feel shitty when we start playing and the vibe is there I can’t help but just go with it. I keep giving myself whiplash! That’s no fun the next day but when I wake up and can’t move my neck I know it’s been a good gig.
Sammy: Sweet, edgy and very, very satisfying.
I believe the favourite crowd pleaser that you sing live is Dumb Girl Plague, can you explain the appeal and the songs meaning?
Sarah: Dumb Girl Plague was written when I was quite young. That angry energy is from feeling out of place and ugly in amongst a world where beauty rules I guess. It’s just a feeling of someone, or something having control over you which was my situation during my teen years.
One gig you described on your Facebook as “a dream line up” when you supported the great rock ‘n’ roll band The Computers in Truro. What was this experience like?
Sarah: The Computers gig was a dream line-up, simply because they rock so hard. Plus all our friends were on the bill, Moriaty and Pirate copy. It was like the old days of ‘B-Side’. It was held at a venue which has sadly ended, where we all used to play, which was run by the lovely Liam Jolly. We had some sick nights there and this was just like it used to be.
What are your personal favourite songs to perform live, and do you perform any cover songs?
Sarah: My favourite song to play live is Black Teeth. It’s dark, kinda slow, groovy and heavy. It’s sick. And yes we do some covers – Thunderhead obviously, Touch Me I’m Sick by Mudhoney and Iggy and the Stooges I Wanna Be Your Dog. They’re all fun to play.
What is the music scene like in Cornwall – where can we find the best new bands if we come to visit? (Any tips for good bands to watch out for – besides yourself of course?)
Sarah: The music scene in Cornwall is alive and well and very eclectic. The only problem is the lack of venues for bands. I want to shout out The Studio Bar, Penzance and The New Inn, Tywardreath for supporting live bands. If you’re looking to watch music in Cornwall or a band looking to play here give them a shout. Cornwall has a thriving acoustic scene too if that’s your vibe. Bands to watch here if you want an amazing night out are Moriaty, The Sum Of, The Eyelids, Backbeat Soundsystem, King Creature and Grip Like Vice to name a few.
Do you think coming from Cornwall has been a help or hindrance to your foray into the music business?
Sarah: Coming from Cornwall probably does hinder you from progressing far in the music business. I guess you need to be in London. Cornwall has some of the highest unemployment rates, highest house prices, highest water rates and lowest wages in the country. Yet it is a magic amazing place and will always be home. I’d rather chill here and make music – for now at least!
What are the ambitions for the band, what do you hope to achieve in the future?
Sarah: I just want to write better songs, record more albums and play live. A goal of mine is to do a little tour abroad. I’d love to take Honey to Italy or Germany. And the USA would be so cool. Who knows?
Ele: The best thing about being in Honey is playing music with my best friends. We have so much fun doing it and it feels so good when people come and say they like what we are doing and wanna buy a CD. I just want the fun to continue. It would be a lie if I said I didn’t want to make something of the band, everyone who enjoys playing music would love to get paid enough to do it so that they didn’t have to go to work 45 hours a week. Plus make the good times never end and if you don’t have dreams that are unattainable then you can’t keep pushing to be the best you can be. People liking what we do is the most important thing. It’s all about meeting awesome new people and having the time of our lives!
Sammy: Fame and fortune… nahh just up for the good times making music.
When can we expect to see Honey play live again?
Sarah: We’ll be coming to Nottingham on Halloween for a gig so catch us there if you can.
Where can people find information on the band, and buy your music?
And finally if you could support any band on tour who might you choose, and what extravagant requests might you have on your rider?
Sarah: Who would I tour with? That’s a good question! I would love to support Brody Dalle. She is a goddess of badassery and inspirational. My rider would have lots of Cornish ale and have loads of greyhounds backstage that I can pet. They’re my favourite dog!
Ele: Oooh I don’t know there are so many people that I love and respect their music and would be a dream come true to support. Sarah and I always laugh about how we would love to support Brody Dalle, which would be unreal, the styles would work together as well. I keep joking at the minute that I would only need one thing on a rider. If I could have anything, it would be a physio! I am happy to drink tap water but I keep fuckin myself up (especially my neck) throwing myself around on stage that I would kill for a massage before and after gigs
Sammy: The band I would most like to go on tour with would have to be Primus. I think it’s best if I don’t say what I would have on my rider.
Words and photos by Melanie Smith. More work by Melanie on Louder Than War can be found at her author’s archive. Her portfolio, meanwhile, can be found here: mudkissphotography.co.uk.