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BYT Interviews: Honeyblood
July 23, 2014 | 12:00PM

“We were just looking back at photos that we took in the States before,” Honeyblood singer and guitarist Stina Tweeddale says. “It feels like it was so long ago.”

It was actually just four months ago that Honeyblood was stateside, touring with countrymen and Fat Cat Records labelmates We Were Promised Jetpacks. But it’s been a hectic year for the the Scottish duo: SXSW, a tour with Courtney Barnett, and most recently – and prominently – the release of Tweeddale and drummer Shona McVicar’s self-titled debut.

Honeyblood was laid to tape at Tarquin Studios, the home studio of producer Peter Katis, a soundman who’s recorded some of the last dozen year’s most iconic rock records: Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights, The National’s Alligator and Boxer, and several from Scotland’s biggest exports – Frightened Rabbit, We Were Promised Jetpacks, and The Twilight Sad.

And while Honeyblood is making music with at least half the personnel of those bands, you wouldn’t necessarily know that from listening to the record: Honeyblood is a collection of loud and reverberating songs, a brash mix of biting kiss-offs and bittersweet odes. The music nicks from across the spectrum – early 90s alt-rock, indie pop, pop punk, surf rock – and is draped around hooks uniformly infectious and breezy.

On the day we spoke, Tweeddale was in Glasgow, preparing to perform some songs for Scottish television. “Shona will come and shout at me if I’m taking too long,” Tweeddale warns, not sounding too daunted about the encroaching spotlight.

Honeyblood plays Hudson River Park tonight with Teenage Fanclub and Saint Rich – as past of its free River Rocks series – and Washington’s DC9 next Wednesday.  Honeyblood is out now on Fat Cat Records.

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The record is out in less than a few weeks. You’ve got some tours ahead of you. How are you feeling?

Considering the whole time that we’ve waited for this to happen, two weeks doesn’t seem like it’s enough time now. I’m kind like, “Ummm, maybe we’ll just wait a wee bit longer?” [Laughs]

But it’s so exciting. It feels like we’re finally getting to do what we wanted to do, which is release the album. We’ve had it recorded for six or seven months now. We’ve heard these songs a million times, so it’ll be good to show them to the world. But once it’s out there, it’s out there. You can’t take it back, can you? [Laughs]

We have our first headline tour too. We’ve always been a support band. That’s kind of a bit scary, but it’s also a great thing. Hopefully we’ll be playing to people who know our music.  We haven’t really experienced that so much.

What have been some of the highlights of the year? I saw you went to Harry Potter World.

There have been so many fun times. Going to Harry Potter World was definitely one of them. Shona was the smallest person there. We went a group of, like, fifteen-year-old kids on a school trip from Spain, and Shona was the smallest one. Shona turned around like, “We’re probably the oldest people here and the shortest.” [Laughs]

We got to go to the States with our friends We Were Promised Jetpacks. That was incredible. They’re on our label. Being able to tour with your friends is pretty special.

Playing SXSW, we technically did four shows in one day, which was hardcore, but it was totally worth it. There’s an energy you don’t get from playing just one.

Obviously, playing with Courtney Barnett was great as well. They’re so fun. I think we had one proper day off that we spent together. It was their tour manager’s birthday, and we sat and ate cake in the park.

And we just came back from the Netherlands, which was amazing. We were there with our friends TRAAMS, who are also on our label. We ended up sitting on a beach, drinking beers, and watching bands. You can’t really get any better than that.

How did you come to work with Peter Katis?

He actually got in touch with us. He has a good relationship with Fat Cat. He’s recorded a lot of their bands. He did Twilight Sad’s first album. He mixed quite a few records for We Were Promised Jetpacks. He mixed the new PAWS record.

Fat Cat was putting out feelers, seeing who maybe would want to produce our record, and he was like, “I want to do it!” Obviously, we’re massive fans of what he’s recorded – like the National and Interpol and Frightened Rabbit – so we were a bit starstruck. We were like, “Uh, what? We’re going to America? To record with Peter Katis? And he says that’s cool?” [Laughs] I think until we got on the plane, we didn’t realize what we were in for.

He’s a lovely man. We just felt really at home. We actually lived in his house for two weeks. There were only ten days of recording, which was pretty brutal, since we had technically thirteen songs to record. But Peter has the most calming influence on people. He’s done it before, you know? He’s very experienced in recording. He just knew exactly what stages we were going through. Throughout the whole process, he was like, “You’ll be fine!” [Laughs] He really was the perfect choice for us. And the fact that he wanted to work with us was in itself really humbling.

Did you have a pretty clear idea of what you wanted the songs to sound like going to the studio?

We spoke a lot to Peter before we got to America. We sent some demos that we recorded in our practice room, which was just us playing the songs live. Everything was recorded live – drums, guitars, vocals. We just thrashed it out, the same way we would play a show. In our mind, that’s what we wanted to capture on the record – the live show. But also we wanted to make the songs sound as good as we could.

Peter’s really good at adding little things, and having these great ideas to make the songs standout. We would record everything live – drums and guitar, just played in a room together. Afterwards, we would sit with Peter and say, “Hey, maybe we should add in this” or “Maybe we should play a different guitar on top of this.” We would gradually build up the songs that way.

A lot of the ideas for harmony came then. Obviously, we don’t do a lot of that live, but in my head I always heard them. I just think the songs sound so much fuller and lusher when there are more vocals. I wish I had a whole choir, but I don’t, so when I’m in the studio, I just do it myself. [Laughs] Some of it is Shona too. She’s a shy singer, but when she does sing, it sounds cool.

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What’s your connection with Shona like?

It was so natural to begin with. We just instantly knew what we wanted to do. It wasn’t a conscious thing, either. When we started, we said we would add a bass player. We always thought we would have other people, mostly because I wanted more singers in the band. But as time went on, we didn’t find anyone who could gel with us as well as we gelled, so it didn’t happen, which I’m not really sad about now. Subconsciously, we started to make the songs sound fuller by the way that we play – we make a bigger sound.

Were there any other power duos you looked to?

When we started, we thought it was so weird that it was just drums and guitar. We always thought it was strange. We thought, “Do we sound weird? Does it sound not good?” We both felt odd.

You know that band Blood Red Shoes? We take them as an inspiration as a duo. They sound really good. And obviously the White Stripes – we get that a lot. To be honest, we don’t sound anything like the White Stripes, but they’re a phenomenal duo, so its nice when people say it. There’s a new British band called Royal Blood – we saw them a couple of months ago, and they’re fantastic.  Again, they’re different from us, but we’re big fans.

There’s a great duo over here, Wye Oak, whose drummer plays his set with one hand and keyboards with the other.

Shona can do that, but she’s keeping that for the second album. She’s on that already. It’s true!  She has a little keyboard.

I think it’s really quite difficult. It looks so testing for the drummer. Another duo that I’m actually a big fan of and we got to support is Giant Drag. Their drummer played with a keyboard, and when I used to watch him play, I would think, “Oh my god, he looks like he’s stressing out so bad.” [Laughs] But it’s cool. It’s impressive.

There are some biting and pointed songs on the record. Were they written with anyone in particular in mind?

A lot of the songs are written from personal experience. A lot of them are written for my friends, or from my friends’ point of view. The only one that’s not is “Choker”. “Choker” is written about a short story. That’s not autographical or biographical.

A song like “Super Rat” was written as a joke for a friend – to cheer her up. It was about her situation. There’s nothing better than screaming as loud as you can when you’re really pissed off. It written as a laugh, but then we were like, “That actually sounds pretty good. Can we get away with singing, ‘I will hate you forever’? Is that ok?” And we were like, “Fuck it. We’ll just do it.  It doesn’t matter.” That’s how that song came about.

There’s nothing wrong with unleashing your anger, especially through music. The kind of music we play – scrappier songs played fast and loud, especially loud – needs lyrics to carry in with that.

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Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Edinburgh, which is about an hour away from Glasgow. It’s the capitol city. It’s much more expensive and has a lot less music in it. I struggled when I was younger to find music that I wanted to go and see live. That’s why I moved to Glasgow. Everyone does. It used to be really difficult to make music and see live bands without being in Glasgow.

I think it’s getting better now. Aberdeen and Dundee have really thriving music scenes. Edinburgh is still pretty bleak, though, unfortunately. It has some amazing venues and some really creative people, but Glasgow always trumps it when it comes music. There’s just a lot more going on.

But now spend all of our time in London. [Laughs] We just travel all the time now. Maybe we should move to London.

As a kid and teenager in Edinburgh, was there any sense of pride in Scottish bands?

When I was a kid, Shirley Manson was a massive icon, and her being from Glagow was huge. There was Belle & Sebastian as well. Even recently, Frightened Rabbit have done phenomenally well, and they started out playing the same places that we did. There are a lot of amazing bands that come out of Scotland, and they’re different from your other UK bands. The variety of bands that comes out of Scotland is a lot more diverse.

English bands have a very polished, well-calibrated sharpness to them, whereas most Scottish bands tend to come off a little more… regular. They don’t seem to be putting on airs.

The first time we ever went down to London to play some showcases, I felt so out of place and so different. In Glasgow, people don’t care about image and what scene you’re part of – you can play whatever music you like and look however you like. In London, everyone was just much cooler. They looked cool and played cooler music. Shona and I were like, “Why are we here? We don’t fit in here at all.”

That’s what “Killer Bangs “ is about. When I first went to London, I was by myself – Shona wasn’t there – and I saw all of these girls with very cool haircuts.

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