Honey Beard - Going 'Superstellar' | An Interview
You know that feeling you get when you listen to an Artist or a Band, and wonder how the hell have they not gone stratospheric? This is always how I've felt about this duo. Their production chops twinned with their dark melodic lyrical content had me literally baited on a neon hook from their release of their 'Whispers of Light E.P' back in 2019. I then went on a journey to discover everything they had done before and since and now I find myself in a suspended state of constant 'reverie'..yeah I went there!
The band consists of Gary Conlon (from Irish origin) and Tom Bell. An award winning Electronic Synthwave pairing living in Toronto, Canada. The band have been creating music since 2012 drawing on early influences such as Depeche Mode, Gary Numan and The Doors. They've built up quite a reputation for their engaging live performances with edgy tracks that have shaken up the typical Synthwave norms. Their sound is all about balancing dark synths over bright thumping beats. Utterly enthralling, and very compelling!
With their new track release on the 24th July 'Black Skies' I thought it was about damn time I hunted these guys down and discovered a bit more about them. These pair don't suffer fools gladly and have a lot to say and make real use of any platform they're given, I love it! Take a look and see for yourselves.
Those who know you really well have a fair idea how the name Honey Beard came to be, for the benefit of others who’re just getting to know you gents, tell us a little bit of the story…
Gaz: Back in 2008 in Ireland I was in an alt rock back called ‘Artificial Flight’ where I'd sing a lot in falsetto. I'd regularly blow my voice so id live on throat suckers and honey. During this time I got laid off from my big job as the Irish economy crashed down around me. I went from a rising star in my career to a no-good-bum. Anyone who has been out of work will tell you if you don’t keep a routine you will end up messing your internal clock.
I spent a good few months drinking my severance cheque away till 5 in the morning and things weren’t looking good. Around this time the band was becoming a bit intense so I was always in poor health with sore throats but one morning I woke up (I had developed a big ginger beard at this point through my general self-negligence) with honey drenched into my beard I had tried to drink the whole bottle of honey in my drunken stupor. So it was at this point I realised I was at rock bottom, shaved my beard, got myself in order and ended up writing a song called Honey Beard. Then fast forward a few more years, Tom and I were looking for a band name and ‘Honey Beard’ was the name chosen. Not very Synthwave sounding but hey, its unique!
I think its fair to say that lyrically you lean a little on the dramatic melancholy style of delivery, which whatever your sensibilities is gorgeous to listen to, was it a conscious decision to bring your sound down that avenue or did you find yourselves gravitating towards it in a way?
Gaz: I guess I’m probably the reason we’re on the depressingly dark side of things. I can’t help it, it’s the most productive part of my brain, I guess deep down I’m probably very messed up but my day to day operating system generally runs on contentment, wonder and love. I’ve always been this way though, but lately I’ve become a lot more cynical at the world and recent events with lockdown and police brutality has compounded that view. Especially when you see one side deny any race or police issues exist and the other side virtuously culling any reasonable progress to tackle this backward view. I feel very let down by the human race and I find it hard to hope for the future.
Tom: Gaz is definitely the driving force behind the darkness. I’m very fond of the contrast between the happy/dancy beats layered with the depressing lyrics. I love the idea of someone happily dancing along and suddenly realizing the darkness they are grooving to. When needed, Gaz can do a great job of writing depressing lyrics while signing an upbeat and happy sounding vocal melody.
What would you say is the Honey Beard ethos?
Gaz: Generally speaking it would have been “Always try to factor in empathy and compassion into a situation where possible, or to at least try to understand the motivations of others, let that inform your decisions and actions.”
In terms of music our ethos is all about fostering ‘Community’, being cool, helping others, being genuine to other artists and never let it go to your head. Look for the best in people. I’ll never understand when music writers and artists shit on their own scene that gets my back up very quickly. It’s one of the reasons I love Forged in Neon, it’s a genuine resource for the community!
Tom: We try to be good participants and contributors to the scene. We are relative new-comers to Synthwave, and coming from the general Toronto music landscape we are in a unique position to understand how great the Synthwave scene is. The amount of shows we played outside the Synthwave sphere where the other acts on the bill would load in, leave, come back for their set, then leave again is unbelievable. Behaviour like that makes it near impossible to build a fully functional and supportive scene.
What is the creative process for you both like? How long would it take on average to lay down a track?
Gaz: I might get inspired by a song I hear, a soundtrack I heard or just a song in my head and I’ll get home, turn on the computer and started fucking around looking to replicate the sounds swirling between my ears. Other times I force myself to fuck around, it’s painful, but I’ve gotten some great songs out of necessity. Then there are times Tom and I sit down together, get very high and drunk, and then start writing together. Lately however I’ve been too distracted to write consistently.
With words, I need the song to be more or less complete with my melody idea all worked out. Then after listening to the song a million times, I tend to have a rough idea of what it’s going to be about and then begin writing words down. Typically I’ll get the words down in one go, never use more than a page or two. I have a concept map that ties songs to other albums so I might consult that if it makes sense to.
Tom: The start to finish process of a track could take months. Usually, we will individually have a period of massive productivity. We will end up with a pile of unfinished songs. We sit with those for a while until we choose a collection of tracks to take to the next level. We will finish of the basic structure, then Gaz will sit with them to fine-tune the vocal parts. Once the vocals are down, we will reconvene and add the final touches.
If there was one thing you would change about the Music Industry what would it be? Why?
Gaz: There is a lot I would change about the music industry, too much to write in an interview so I’ll just speak to this particular music scene. There is very little I’d change, it’s a wonderful little pocket of the music landscape, we should always remember how good we have it and I make myself remember that every time I get frustrated! But what I don’t understand (and this applies to all genres and scenes) is why some “opinion makers” are revered so much, I guess it’s the appeal of their readership volume or playlist follows, but that’s all the power they have, they’re nothing more than a talking head with nice penmanship, some even just got lucky because they happen to be the first to write about the scene or came up with an artist that is a bigger act now.
Maybe 26 years of being in music scenes has me jaded but these folks are NOT special, they don’t know any better or have the all answers and they are definitely not better than you, they’re just fans like the rest of us. They should be enjoyed like everyone else who contributes to the scene but, at the same time, should never be put on a pedestal. And Why? Well giving power to non-creators who have dissenting opinions on actual creators can end up gate-keeping a music scene for all the wrong reasons. I’ve always clashed with gatekeepers and cliques (of artists and fans alike), its self-aggrandising behaviour that serves no one else but the egos of the people we perceive to be above us.
Tom: Right now, we are both really looking forward to being able to perform live again. With the amount of venues closing due to COVID, we are a little concerned about what live music will look like in a post-COVID world. Our hopes is that the masses will be reinvigorated to get out and support local acts... as great as all the live streaming events have been, they can’t compete with a live show.
Since signing to Retro Reverb Records your sound has grown exponentially, how do you feel it has developed over time since Thousand Million Things in 2015?
Gaz: Honey Beard has been going since 2012 but I’ve been writing guitar based music since 1994. During the economic crash in 2008 I began experimenting with synth sounds which became the main sound of Honey Beard after a short deviation into alt folk music. So as a song writer, I’ve always been moving across genres. Retro Reverb Records was a conscious effort to move our sound firmly into the synthwave / retro 80’s genre. We wrote Thousand Million Things after watching Drive in 2010, then we evolved that sound with a more Depeche Mode spirit with our album Dreamless Sleep in 2017, progressing the sound a little more with the Reverie EP in 2018.
We had no idea Synthwave existed until our song ‘Reverie’, with its more dreamy 80’s sound, began getting picked up by folks within the scene. It was through discovering Andy Last’s ‘Beyond Synth’ that we began to realise there was a larger synth music scene out there and it was everything we wanted to be a part of. Signing with Retro Reverb Records was a way for us to evolve our sound again, pivoting it into the more retro style of the genre. Before then, our careers were driven by the Toronto Music Scene which, in terms of Synthpop, is really up its own arse crack and quite cliquey. We didn’t enjoy trudging through that silly hipster landscape (and we don’t kiss ass) so we found ourselves here, and for the most part we’re pretty happy! Shout out to Cole and Alex of RRR for all their support ( maybe we don’t mind kissing their Sicilian derrières).
Tom: I believe that all of our releases have had their own unique feel but still have the stench of Honey Beard all over them. For our latest release (Whispers of Light) we really tried to up our production skills which I believe lead to the sounds we created. Funnily enough, I think sonically, “Thousand Million Things” and “Whispers of Light” are the two most similar to each other. The guys at RRR have been great. They are always available provide guidance and feedback, but ultimately leave the creative control in our hands.
Is there anyone you both are listening to right now that you’d love to collaborate with? Why?
Gaz: Two collabs we hope to make happen soon would be with US3R (from Seattle) and XYLE (From Toronto), both are extraordinary artists we were lucky to play with in Toronto before COVID shut everything down!
We have never collaborated with anyone before, so were a little hesitant to reach out to our peers. We understand some of the larger acts charge money which doesn’t float our boat, it would have to be an equally enthusiastic endeavour. But there are so many out there, even within our RRR label, the talent there is quite amazing and a little intimidating.
In tracks like ‘Through the Dancefloor’ from the Album ‘Dreamless Sleep’ and ‘Superstellar’ from the Debut album ‘Thousand Million Things’ you can most certainly hear musical inspirations such as Jim Morrison and Dave Gahan in their delivery which is sublime, who else have been musical influences to you both during your lifetime as musicians?
Gaz: Jean-Michelle Jarre has always been in my life thanks to my Dad. Sometimes, depending on the album he was listening to, when I was in the car by myself id get a little freaked out because the music was so alien and cerebral, I found it a little scary at times (I was very young). Abba was another fabulous gift my Mum gave me growing up (Dancing Queen is a top 10 song for me). But in the past bands like Tool, Metallica, Nirvana, A Perfect Circle, Deftones, Interpol, Joy Division and Massive Attack filled my budding young ears. Lately its LCD Soundsystem, M83, Papertwin, Empathy Test, Trick Mist and Jamie XX ticking me over. But the big artists that have permanent residency in my creative loins is The Doors, Pink Floyd and Gary Numan.
Tom: My dad was a massive Beatles fan, so I spent many hours listening to their entire discography. I love the way that they evolved as a band and as musicians over the 10 or so years they were active. I think evolution is critical for musical creativity.
What’s a day off for Honey Beard like?
Gaz: Depends on the day and time of year, but now its video games, reading and eating crap food and/or drinking myself stupid inside my apartment on the weekends with my wife Niamh and my cat Penny. Before COVID it would have been playing Aussie Rules Football with my team the Toronto Dingos FC, going to the gym, going to the local arcade with the Synthfam, going to local gigs and drinking myself stupid with friends.
Tom: I’m usually hanging with the family. I have three year old twins who keep me busy and entertained. About once a month Gaz and I will put aside a night to go on a deep dive into music (our own, and others), we won’t always get something written but they usually result in a few good seedlings.
The soon to be new single release ‘Black Skies’ on the 24th July is a fantastic track and certainly a little different if unmistakably Honey Beard, tell us the inspiration behind the track.
Gaz: This was actually written just before COVID hit, it’s about the encroaching darkness that fills my mind’s eye with cynicism and hopelessness. When COVID hit and I began fleshing out the lyrics and creating the music video the song just made more and more sense, in fact it became more acute in its meaning to me because I was watching all this harrowing shit unfold on TV so this song aptly became a soundtrack to that. It’s a subtly angry song, bubbling with visceral rage and when the breakdown hits I imagine myself nuking the earth from orbit and then slamming my ship into the surface of the moon, or strangling a God with my own mortal hands.
In your entire discography to date which track are you most proud of and why?
Gaz: That’s a really hard one. Usually my latest song is my favourite song but I'm pretty proud of Like a Fire, Dreamless Sleep, Reverie and the not so popular ‘The Stream’ from our 2017 album.
Tom: I’m very proud of “Oh My Friend”. Out of all of our tracks, this one seems to produce the most emotional responses from listeners. Knowing that something we created has the ability to connect with people on such a deep level is truly humbling
If you could open for any Synth musician on this spinning rock who would it be and why?
Gaz: Anyone that’s willing to party after the show is someone worth opening for! We supported FM Attack in Ireland last year which was quite brilliant! Shawn is a great guy to have a pint with, would definitely do that again! A Betamaxx show would be a good time too! Would love to play with Von Kaiser actually, enjoyed their streaming sets and love their sound. A New York show with Bunny X would be really cool, Italio Disco is something we don’t write but thoroughly enjoy, we would be dancing all through their set. Oh yeah!! Would love to open for Empathy Test in England, phenomenal band! Some of the folks on the RRR label would be awesome to play with too. If we’re speaking larger acts, it would have to be Gary Numan or Depeche Mode!!!
What’s next on the Honey Beard horizon as for the rest of 2020 into 2021, any gig news or new releases to share?
Gaz: We missed out on Artefaktor 4 Live festival in London in April and we’re supposed to play Neon Retro Fest in August so this year has truly fucking sucked for us in terms of live shows, thankfully we didn’t have a full tour booked like so many others. Maybe we might get to do them again next year. We are certainly up for travelling anywhere around the world to play (Toronto sucks for Synthwave shows, maybe Outland will come back and let us play?)
We should have had an album out in May but COVID took care of that, so maybe we might have an album out later this year, we certainly would like to launch it live here in Toronto and have RRR sell it on vinyl.
Any inspirational message to your fans?
We see you and we appreciate you!
Support the guys where you can via the following links:
New single out on the 24th July via: https://retroreverbrecords.bandcamp.com/
☆☆☆☆☆ See the Video on FORGED IN NEON under Spotlight ☆☆☆☆☆