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  • Hannah Conkin

Interview: "Dorma" - Honey Cellar

The instrumental portion at the beginning of your new single "Dorma" is really dynamic! You get that haunting yet alive feeling before the lyrics come in. What inspired this song?

Honey Cellar: Lucy - A lot of the time, my riffs come to me when I’m just playing around on the instrument, experimenting with new rhythms or melodies. That’s how the instrumental foundation for this song came about! As soon as I came up with it, I knew it was something special and was really excited to bring it to my bandmate, Danny. At that point, I didn’t have lyrics or a melody for it. I’ll often come up with something instrumental and then bring it to the group to build a song. When I played it for Danny, he started coming up with a harmony guitar part right away, and then we had a duet! I wrote the melody and first draft of the lyrics while driving home from practice one night, singing them to myself in the car. The lyrics were inspired in part by the name I’d made up for the song while it was just instrumental— “Dorma.” The word sounded like the feeling of the song and when I later looked it up, I saw it meant “to sleep” in Italian and I stumbled across the opera aria “Nessun Dorma.” I took inspiration from some of the lyrics of Nessun Dorma— “none shall sleep, none shall sleep… vanish, o night, set, stars!” These were so dramatic, they inspired the theme of the end of humanity. This original draft of the song explored humanity from our evolution to our end in some apocalyptic or potentially climate change-based scenario. Danny later rewrote these lyrics substantially to make the song mainly about evolution and the cycles of the earth. Needless to say, it was much more positive!

How did you all find each other and discover your unique sound as a group?

Honey Cellar: Catherine - Three of us met when we attended Beloit College. Danny and I had a duo called Cat + Dan and we hit up Coughy Haus, an on-campus bar, occasionally to sing originals and our light-hearted takes on famous cover songs (like "Let it Be" but where neither voice takes the melody). Meanwhile, Lucy and Danny played together in an Irish group and a rock band in Chicago. We all got connected officially when we all moved down to Chicago.

Joey - Because we all have different performance backgrounds and tastes, our sound came from trying out different combinations of styles and songs and seeing what worked for everyone. Like 'how traditional Irish can we go? How jazzy can we get? When can Catherine let loose on vocals?'. And this album is our answer to those questions.

You all have performed in a lot of places. What has been your most memorable performance?

Honey Cellar: Joey - Our tour last summer took us all throughout Illinois, from Urbana to Rockford with quite a few small towns in between, and every day on that tour is burned into my memory. I lost my wallet in Springfield and got sick halfway through, but in spite of that, it was so much fun. We played at shows at Groundhog Day gazebo, on Rock River, at a kombucha brewery, on the street, and on porches, and met so many wonderful people at each location. Catherine - I agree that the tour was super special because of the fact that it took place in smaller towns and we got to connect with the people that live in each place and learned more about our home state. What was interesting was connecting with people in each location as a transient presence (moving every day from town to town). That and camping throughout the experience left me with lots of warm memories.

How has living in Chicago influenced you all and your music?

Honey Cellar: Joey - Chicago has such a rich musical history in so many genres. I think it's influenced me to get out of my regular scene and experience as many different types of shows as I can. But for our music, working with so many stellar venues has pushed us to be more professional and prepared, and focused on bringing our best sounds to every show. Tariq has helped a lot in polishing our live sound and we're always talking gear with the bands we play with.

Lucy - I think we were also influenced by the different genres we were exposed to growing up or living in Chicago. For example, when I was a kid, I went to an Irish fest (which are all over the city) and discovered Irish dance. That led me to Irish music, which became an obsession for years and drew me back into playing music again. You can really hear this Irish/folk foundation in a lot of my songs. In more recent years, we’ve all been inspired by the wealth of music coming up in Chicago around us and just from going to see so many shows. That gives our music more depth as we cross-pollinate from different sounds.

You have a variety of instruments, such as the mandolin and violin, in your band. What drew you all to the instruments you play?

Honey Cellar: Joey - I tried violin, guitar, and vocals in my youth. It wasn't until middle school when my friends were starting a band and needed a drummer, that I found an instrument that clicked right away.

Lucy - When I was four, I was at the age where I wanted to copy everything my older sister did. She started taking piano lessons, so I wanted to start taking piano lessons. She started taking violin lessons, so I wanted to start taking violin lessons. Many years later, I wanted to pick up the mandolin because I was in an Irish group that already had so many fiddles and was looking for something different to add to the sound. We had a bouzouki player sometimes, and I loved the dense, rhythmic sound that added to the music and I thought mandolin would be an easy transition from violin because they have the same strings.

Catherine - I started learning bass because, well, we needed bass! I had limited experience as an instrumentalist prior to joining Honey Cellar and so writing all these songs and bass parts were very new territory for me. Since beginning to play bass, I have gained so much more appreciation for music that highlights bass more such as funk, soul & R&B.

What is your songwriting process like as a group?

Honey Cellar: Joey- For this album, Catherine and Lucy were bringing tons of song ideas to the band. Tariq and Danny would contribute as songwriters to finish the parts and lyrics, and we all came together on the arrangement. Some of these songs were totally picked apart, and now we barely recognize the first demos. So it's very collaborative, sometimes painstaking, but everyone feels like they've contributed something at the end of it all. Catherine - This process is even something that has evolved over time. Our first album was a much more clear cut order of operations in terms of songwriting. In some cases, a song would only have one songwriter (because many of the songs were written prior to Honey Cellar forming) or there’d be single sections that could be attributed to another songwriter. Now, everything is so deeply integrated, from the lyric writing to the melodies to the chords and arrangement that there’s not a way that we could say any song has just one songwriter attributable to it and it’s really a joint effort. Group songwriting is hard on the ego (needing to completely scrap sections sometimes) but it’s made us all better at it being challenged to find different ways to express the ideas we want to share.

Interviewed By Hannah Conkin



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