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).