Honey Train's Davis Wheatley on Delta Blues & a Workbook of Thoughts
When I first saw Honey Train live, I felt like I was in a time warp. Self-proclaimed purveyors of "freakbeat," it wasn't just because their psyched-out tracks are so good-old-fashioned-rock-'n'-roll-inspired -- they're just scummy and fuzzy enough to elicit hazy, space-travel feelings in a listener, whether that's to the mescaline melodies or garage bangers of the late '50s and '60s or to the future itself. They've got a little bit of The Squires in them, but their live performance and spirit seems drawn from the soul of Screamin' Jay Hawkins -- swim trunks under his cape, sipping laced lemonade on the shore. We spoke to guitarist/vocalist Davis Wheatley -- he of the quivery voice -- to find out what makes a Honey Train and their relationship with the local scene.
New Times: Tell me about how Honey Train came to fruition. What was everyone working on before, and how did you meet?
Davis Wheatley: I've known Leonard [Skillet] for about two years or so. He hopped on some drums the first day we met. I had a bunch of songs written and was trying to get a band goin'. Honey Train then became a duo as the songs started to unfold. We got together with a friend, Josh, who joined in on the low end. It was a good go for months, but he eventually split. Playing again as a two piece, Leonard and I kept at it -- working on new songs, playing gigs. About two months ago we asked our bud Dominic [Cederström-Bailey], who we've been jamming with, if he'd like to become the bass of Honey Train. We started the connection, which is currently taking new transformation to the sound our trio is seeking. As far as other regards to life: Leo works a 9 to 5-er, Dom plays in a cover band for head doe, and I stay focused on Honey Train and art. Other friends I've played with have moved away. We do a lot of "hanging around" shenanigans of the sorts. We also dig skateboarding.
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You just released a demo, and it's a long one. Can you tell me about the recording process for these songs, and what you're currently working on? Will all these demos make for a full-length, or will a select few be placed on an EP?
We wanted to have a demo out before this upcoming weekend when we go to Orlando and Gainsville. We'd been spending time figuring out all the little things over the past month in our warehouse, which is really just a sauna after five minutes. When you start the recording process there are so many hectic events going on with the sound and you sorta have to reel them in one by one; some of them you'll never know what to do with. Everything was recorded in one day and edited that night into the following morning. We've talked about recording on reel-to-reel with some friends, so that's the next step. We're definitely trying to get that in motion so we'll get the sound we've been looking for. All we wanted for now was to have something to give out, and something for people listen to. Eventually these tracks might end up on a full-length album, but for now, it's still a mystery as to what the format will be, considering the songs haven't been recorded to tape yet.
Okay--you've got a bunch of songs you need to transfer to tape, a whole catalog you're already working with. What about new songs? Are you currently playing and recording any new work?
We have a handful of new tunes that we're pulling together at the moment, but we're not yet thinking about releasing them at the moment. We have a unique plan to record and compose the new additions. However, they'll firstly be introduced at our upcoming shows. As of yesterday, four more tracks are in the works. Since the start, Honey Train's workbook of thoughts and ideas have always been fresh. Recording is second nature. Either our interface, phone or field recorder can always be found armed at our warehouse.
So recording's second nature for you guys. Tell me about your songwriting and recording process. What sort of field recordings do you get, who writes the songs, how do you all collaborate?
Once there is a new song underway, it is captured at our warehouse by the room recorder. The room recording is used to review how we're playing the tune and how the tune generally sounds. Before the warehouse, we had the same process happening at Leonard's and my place. These recordings are usually on the distorted side. The released recordings are produced off of live takes. Individual tracks are not recorded separately. The lead melodies emerge from Davis' writings. Harmonies, rhythm and additional melodies are a group endeavor.
What do you usually end up writing about? Do the lyrics follow the song or vice versa? You've got a pretty distinct way of singing.
Each song has its own process. Normally when a tune is coming along, it'll get stuck in my head until I've come up with poems. There were a few tunes where poems used had already been written and they worked out perfectly, though usually the melodies are thought of first. When I've finished writing a song I become very inspired; my head goes off and out comes more ideas. Maybe I'll get hung up on a topic or new sound I was using. Songwriting typically happens back-to-back before we get on to playing them.
I'm not sure where each of you, individually, are based, but I'd like to know about your relationship with the local 'scene' here. West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami are like a big family. Everyone here is very supportive of each other.
We're all living in areas which take 20 minutes to drive anywhere where anything is happening. We have friends and acquaintances following local music and the faces at shows are all too familiar. The variation of local subgenres is never a surprise. It seems what artists are getting at is to just be able to play wherever and whatever the hell is tight to them. So in a sensible way, it's very pure and raw, but on the other hand, it can get phony. Not everyone is trying to write up a catchy original tune. Some are trying to mesh in the scene by going for the 'oh-so-stellar' synth jumble and then call it a night (of button-pressing). I'm sure there are people who are truly extraordinary at that sort of thing, but when an act has been really thought through, to the point where it becomes organically perfect, is sheer excitement. When someone or some group can grasp a listener with their creativity and their ability to utilize all they can to create the fullest and pleasing of sounds--that's the point to attend music you truly enjoy.
Talking about influences can be dull, but I'd like to know what you guys listen to, what's influenced you, what you love...You've got a sound people like to describe as 1960s-inspired. Is that true?
There's a lot that influences us. Even things outside of music inspire us every day to create. It is true we are inspired by a lot of sounds from the 1960s, but we are into older music as well, such as delta blues, old time folk music, '50s rock 'n' roll. We'd like to have our own sound, blending influences to create something new and organic.
Honey Train. With Beach Day and Suede Dudes. 7 p.m. Friday, December 30 at Radio-Active Records, 845 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. No cover. Click here.
Honey Train. With the Vignettes, William Stull, the Gun Hoes, Suede Dudes, and New Coke, 7 p.m. Monday, January 2 at the Snooze Theatre, 798 10th St., Lake Park. Admission is $5. Call 561-842-7949.
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