In a recent article written in the Guardian, the author puts forward the argument that ‘rock’s future is female.’ The piece focused primarily on the Californian experimental-indie, all-female group Warpaint, but mention was also given to artists such as Cate Le Bon, Haim, Savages, and St Vincent. Whether one believes that the rise of female rock-stars/bands is an occurrence alongside as opposed to above and beyond that of their male counterparts, it is impossible to argue against the fact that full-female outfits are indeed becoming more and more recognised and successful. Even those with male inclusion, such as White Lung, Perfect Pussy, and Speedy Ortiz, have been dominated by their female commandeers, and garnered critical appraisal for their inventive, provocative and thoroughly engaging output.
However, the article in question was focusing on groups which contained no men. In the article, Emily Kokal, singer/guitarist for Warpaint, noted how the exclusion of men was not something which was planned for the sake of an image, but came about due to ‘a feel thing’, which the band encountered upon hiring Stella Mozgawa on drums. A similar story can be told when discussing the formation of Honeyblood. Comprised of Stina Tweeddale on vocals and guitar and Shone McVicar on drums, who were both in otherwise boy-bands previously, the two had known each other beforehand, but decided to give it a go together when their respective groups split. Stina explained in an interview with The Skinny how her previous band ‘were like my brothers-but you’re always the girl in the band. It seems me and Shona were both in the same boat.’ The ‘feel’ had obviously become a thing for the two-piece, and so Honeyblood stormed ahead. Flash forward a few years, and the band have ended up here, with their debut, self-titled LP. Armed with nothing, but a guitar and a drum-kit, Tweeddale and McVicar have collected a set of tunes, which despite a need for some tweaks here and there, assure those waiting that if the trajectory the article mentioned above does indeed take place, then Honeyblood are firmly on-board for the ride.
The anticipation built up for Honeyblood was garnered largely via the release of excellent singles “Bud” and “Killer Bangs,” both of which featured killer B-sides, with “Kissing On You,” the other side to “Bud,” getting its own NME coverage. The band had also managed to build up a sense of excitement in their local area via a series of their own guerrilla organised shows at venues such as The Old Hairdressers in Glasgow, before being spotted by Brighton’s FatCat Records and subsequently signing a record deal. Tours with bands such as Palma Violets, Sleigh Bells, and more recently Courtney Barnett and We Were Promised Jetpacks, have meant expectations for the debut, initially scheduled for released in May, have reached boiling point. Thankfully, it is largely worth the wait.
Ever since the initial tinny recording-from-a-bathroom of their Thrift Shop EP back in 2012, Honeyblood have delivered their music in an endearing DIY format, with the ‘bittersweet garage-pop,’ as Tweeddale describes their sound, both loveable and defiant (hence matching the paradox in their name, though Tweeddale explains how this was founded under slightly more extreme circumstances. And so, upon delving into the knowing arms of Peter Katis (Interpol, Frightened Rabbit, The National) in order to record their debut LP, it was to be a period of held breath to see how their sound would, if at all, be altered. Thankfully, Honeyblood retains the feel of the band’s earlier singles, with all the grit and raw aesthetics to be found in full. Opener “Fall Forever” boasts charm and confidence right from Tweeddale’s house-show distortion through to McVicar’s simple, concussive drumbeats. “Killer Bangs,” a track written by Tweeddale for her beloved partner-in-crime, was released prior to the record, but loses none of its adrenaline-fueled immediacy upon repeated listens. Catchy, but pumped enough to provoke a reaction from its audience, the trip to America for the ten-day recording stint with Katis last November certainly didn’t change the way the band approached their sound, which is encouraging to see. The only tracks which emerged with a tweak are “Spare Key,” which has thankfully been cleaned up since the Thrift Shop version, and “Bud,” which has had an acoustic guitar replace the original distortion and some higher backing vocals included. Even so, the change has worked to give a softer, tenderer dynamic to the song, especially the second verse, where all but Tweeddale’s vocals and the guitar are temporarily put to one side. Thankfully, the charged fuzz which was so integral to Honeyblood’s sound certainly hasn’t been deserted, and the production has captured that perfectly.
As we all know, however, no matter how many effects or various degrees of distortion can be chucked onto a track, it is the song underneath the rubble which gives it substance. Tweeddale has cited as influences from bands such as The Breeders and Hole, as well as artists including PJ Harvey, and so she is well aware of the importance of genuinely good compositions amid the noise. Now where Honeyblood doesn’t have the same strength in terms of lyrical capabilities as records such as To Bring You My Love, what it does have is the love for tracks which are full of life and character, with the band giving a wholehearted, distorted punch in the gob with each song. “Super Rat” bears no victims with its up-front, scathing attack on someone Tweeddale lovingly described more recently as a ‘total prick‘. It doesn’t offer various layers of interpretation, or require hours of deduction. What it is instead is a beacon of defiance on Honeyblood’s behalf, and alongside its straightforward progressions and drumbeat, exhibits a showcase in how to efficiently present one’s feelings. The refrain ‘I will hate you forever’ and the closing ‘you really do disgust me’ leave nothing for the imagination, but are spat with such venom and assurance that it bears no effect on their impact. “No Spare Key” details the experiences of a paranoid boyfriend, with the paradox of ‘I know what love is/and that’s why I never got any sleep last night’ alongside ‘I am yours until you don’t want me’ effectively, but again simply, getting to the point at the heart of the track. The simplicity is not so much due to their existence as a two-piece, which is insignificant as they certainly don’t struggle to fill a sound. It is more due to Honeyblood’s lack of a need for excess, and largely successful deployment of the fact that more doesn’t necessarily mean better.
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Honeyblood at times feels like a band still in transition, namely on “Biro,” one of the band’s older songs, and “Joey.” “Biro” uses the analogy of us literally writing our own history, with the chorus explaining how ‘all the pain you’ve been through/will be the making of you.’ Unfortunately, it comes across as unimaginative as it sounds, and the raw, live aesthetic which gives these tracks such vigour means that when the lyrics have little to engage with, the only thing to distract is the haze of Tweeddale’s guitar and McVicar’s drums. Live, it will easily pass due to the fuzz it spews, but on record, it doesn’t offer much else. ‘You don’t know what’s good for you’ Tweeddale instructs on “Joey,” with a flat sense of engagement and interest in her subject. A shell of a nice song remains, with the character unfortunately sucked out of what is a good track instrumentally. It is on moments such as these where Honeyblood do need to try and formulate something a bit different, where their two-piece garage-pop becomes just a little samey. The spark seems to desert the eyes of Honeyblood, and in its place is a look rather more vacant and lost.
All that said, for the most part the fire in Honeyblood’s music is very much alive. The emphasis put on their full sound despite the lack of a bass-player and only existing as a two-piece is misplaced, and slightly takes away from the fact that they are a good band regardless of the number of members. The reputation they built up live meant they were deserved of sets at festivals such as T In The Park and Brighton’s Great Escape, and their successful translation of those tracks performed onto record will surely provide them with the credit they deserve. The accolade awarded Honeyblood as ‘an accomplished and delightfully fierce record’ on their own website is not totally misplaced, as the combination of a nature both fiery and beautiful is rewarding. Tweeddale perhaps describes the composites, which make up the band’s character best when she sings on “Braid Burn Valley” ‘another fucking bruise/this one just like a rose.’
Honeyblood is not quite the energy-fuelled ride of adrenaline and force the band is capable of producing, but it establishes them as an important component of the new tide of female rock-bands emerging. Whether this evolves into the future of rock, we shall have to wait and see. What is more certain is that Honeyblood have the right to take this record forward with a sense of pride, and hopefully grapple with their growing status as one of Britain’s most hopeful young bands. I’m just hoping that expectation won’t be one to come back and haunt them.