It’s not easy to make a name in a music scene as large as Chicago’s. With so many talented bands, solid music and a strong lineup simply aren’t enough to push through the noise. On top of delivering unique works, a band needs dedicated members who are constantly pushing boundaries, an important quality that members of Honey & the 45s know all too well.
Five years and three albums later, drummer Dave Brandwein, lead vocalist Kristina Cottone, guitarist Jon Gould, keyboardist Sonya Major and bassist Sean Tatum are continuing to find success in their blend of R&B, soul and rock with their latest EP Speak, a collection of four empowering songs exploring connection and authentic relationships.
Listen Live and Local: Each album from Honey & the 45s shows evolution and direction. What was the inspiration for Speak?
Kristina Cottone: The whole idea behind the EP kind of started with a chance connection I had with an Uber driver who turned out to be this really talented rapper based in Chicago. Her name is Pinqy Ring. I brought her into the studio [to record the song “Speak”] and the whole thing just kind of clicked and set the tone for the rest of the album. I think the EP is about exploring authentic relationships, whether things have political undertones or not. We definitely took our time with this EP. We made the decision as a band to take some time off gigging which has been positive and [made] us feel like we’re ready to start gigging and play more often. We experimented with maybe seven or eight songs over the course of a year and a half. We tried several different versions of several songs and we landed on these four for the EP with the idea that we would have shorter EPs and release more frequently. I think the EP is about having a voice and [for] our fans, people who have stood by us even when we’ve taken a break. We’re like, “We’re here. We’re back and we’re going to be sticking around for a while.”
LLL: Are there any songs on the EP that stand out to each of you?
Sean Tatum: For me, the track that molds and blends well with the remaining three is “Open Up Your Heart.” Even though it meshes well with the other three, it gives a proper glimpse to what may happen with future recordings. For me, that was pretty exciting.
Cottone: It’s very interesting because there’s a variety of sounds that are happening across all the songs, but the horn lines really connected the album. John wrote the horn arrangements for this album and we had really talented horn players come in and record. When I heard the horn lines in “”Be Here Now”, that song took on a whole new level. I think the idea of being in the moment, speaking up, taking a look around at what’s going on, it’s just a fluid way of looking at the album. To me, after hearing the horns, I think that song is actually one of my favorites
Dave Brandwein: They’re all very different but they all sound like they have a [connecting] line. The first thing that we did was lay down the drums. So, my part was first and then I got to just listen to everything as it came together. The way I heard the songs first and the way that they ended up, it’s really interesting how different and yet how similar they are. They all really fit together but there’s something kind of cool for each one, at least for the person who got to sit back and listen to everybody else’s parts.
Jon Gould: I [think the EP] is a good mix of individual and collaborative effort. I think on this last EP we got to do a lot of things that we weren’t able to do before. We had horns on our last album but this time we got a whole horn section and everyone played really well. We also had Sonya on keys, which is something we’ve had on albums, but not as a member. Everybody just played so well and everything was so strong. As far as a song, I think “Be Here Now”. Not that you’re going to say you don’t like your own songs or your own work, I love every one of these songs, but that was the one that kind of ended up being my favorite in the end.
LLL: Kristina, Sean and John, the three of you have been playing together since the beginning and you’ve recently added Dave and Soyna. What’s the band’s new dynamic like?
Sonya Major: This was my first time really sitting in with the band. I’m the newer addition and it’s been great.
Tatum: The dynamic is great. There are several members of the band that have outside things whether it’s teaching or it’s other performance aspects like recording studio sessions. It keeps those individuals fresh and they come in with quite a bit of new ideas because they’re constantly out there playing or teaching. Other bands [can be brought down by that], but for whatever reason, that doesn’t really happen [in this band] and I think that’s just a testament to everybody’s commitment to this project and the commitment to individuals within the project.
Gould: I don’t think we have the tyrant or the dictator or anything like that. I wish one of us was the real trouble and if anybody tells me it’s me, then I’ve been really blocking that out. We all have a lot of respect for each other and in anything, you’re not going to work with people you don’t like working with or who’s just not a good person. I think that having a lot of mutual respect and honesty gets you really far. If somebody has a strong idea, whether it’s about the music itself or production or booking shows, everybody has open ears. Maintaining openness helps the band.
LLL: Honey & the 45s has been around since 2012. In a scene like Chicago’s, that’s quite a long time. What has kept the band motivated and successful over the years?
Tatum: I think it comes down to one thing. Each individual, they have faith in what we are doing. They have faith in this project. I think that’s what sets us apart from some other bands that have a short shelf life of one to three years or so. Beyond that, I would assume we all like each other.
Cottone: I think what has been so fulfilling about this project is there’s a desire to learn and grow. No one in this project is afraid of evolving, and this happens when you’re working with really creative people who aren’t afraid of learning and growing. We’re cool with experimenting with different sounds. We’re cool seeing where different paths lead, and you can hear that in the progression of our albums and even in some of the new material we’ve been working on. I feel like in order to be successful, you have to be willing to learn and grow and second guess things and be honest with each other about what’s working and what’s not.
Gould: We’ve been really lucky with the folks who have been fans of ours for a while and it’s pretty cool. There’s a group of people who stick out, who aren’t just our families and really close friends and significant others. That’s a big measure of our success, just having fans who want to come back and listen.
Cottone: And the fans don’t let us off the hook either. We have people in St. Louis who are like, “Okay, you have a new EP. When are we going to see you?” That helps. The fans are dictating in a way, us putting things out and staying together and traveling.
Brandwein: Another thing that is kind of cool, Chicago is an interesting city in terms of music scenes and the really high percentage of bills that get put together where the bands are very different from each other. I play with a lot of different bands and I get to see a lot of the different pockets and one of the reasons this band seems to work so well is it kind of fits on any bill. It can be a rock show, or a blues show, or a jazz show or an R&B show. It all works. That’s something you can’t say for a lot of bands.
Cottone: We use to be afraid of that, but we seem to be embracing it more and more. We kind of float between genres and I think that’s part of what makes us unique. We can draw people from different wheelhouses in. I think it was when we were being interviewed in 2012 by Jesse Mendez and he goes, “Would you guys ever do hip-hop?” and we’re like “I don’t know.” I mean, that was really far from us at the time and here we are, we have a rapper on our single.
LLL: It’s been two and a half years since Honey & the 45s has released any materials. Now that Speak is complete, is the band working on any other projects?
Cottone: We are definitely interested in making a music video. We’re actually talking to a few people about that and we might be more hands-on in that process and do some of it ourselves, but that’s still to be determined at this point. We’re going to be hitting the road again, even though it’s coming up on the winter. We have a fan base in St. Louis and we want to visit there. In the spring we’re looking to book some solid mini-tours. We met a few people at our JBTV gig, which was a live taping we did for the release and we met some people from Holland, Michigan so we’re going to be doing some mini-tours there. I think we are proud and we’re excited to continue making music. Finally, after taking the break, we feel like we’re in the groove and have decided to keep putting out more and more material.
Honey & the 45s next show will be on December 9th at Red Line Tap. The night will also include performances by Local Motive and The Underhill Family Orchestra