Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Honey and the 45s -- "Got the Need" (2012)

And when I got an itch
You know I gotta scratch

2 or 3 lines is always on the lookout for promising young  recording artists.  I get a big kick out of getting to know up-and-coming musicians, and using my wildly popular blog to spread the word about their music.

Today, it's time to stoke up the star-maker machinery for Honey and the 45s, a Chicago band that released "Got the Need" on its first album (The Need) about six months ago.

It's not easy to categorize the group's sound.  Reviewers have characterized their performances as combining elements of funk, jazz, soul/R&B, Chicago-style blues and even country/rockabilly.  

Mark Twain once said, "If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes."  The same principle applies to Honey and the 45s: if you don't like one of their songs, just wait a few minutes -- the next song may be something entirely different.

The group's lead singer and primary lyricist, Kristina Cottone, is the daughter of a woman who was in my high school class.  The apple didn't fall far from the tree in this case -- Kristina is very talented and has oodles of personality, just like her mother.

Here's part one of my interview with Kristina Cottone.  The next 2 or 3 lines will feature part two of that interview:

2 or 3 lines:  Kristina, I did some research on you to prepare for this interview, and I learned that you are not just a musician -- you're also an actress, a painter, and a writer.  How much time do you currently devote to each of those endeavors?   

Kristina Cottone:  Too much time, and not enough.  I never seem to have the time for everything I want to do, although I'm getting better about prioritizing.  Currently music is getting the biggest piece of the pie.

2 or 3 lines:  So right now you're devoting more time and effort to music than acting, which has obviously been an important part of your life.

Kristina Cottone (center) in a 2012 production
of Eugene Ionesco's play, Rhinoceros
Kristina:  This will be the first season in 12 years that I won’t be in a play.  That was a very hard decision for me.  I love the theater and have spent most of my life in the theater.  But something with music is in the air, and so I’ve decided to focus on it more than acting for the time being. I am still the Marketing Director with Chicago's Organic Theater, and I am working to become a certified Michael Chekhov Technique teacher.  [NOTE:  Michael Chekhov (1891-1955) was a legendary actor and acting teacher, whose students included Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood, Yul Brynner, and Jack Palance.] 

2 or 3 lines:  What about your painting and writing?

Kristina:  Painting is primarily a relaxing hobby for me -- I haven’t actively tried to get in galleries or make a career out of it.  I just paint because I enjoy it.  As a writer, I have won a few small awards for my poetry, and I have many unfinished stories that I will finish someday.  I am currently in the middle of co-writing a play with my mother.

Kristina's painting, "Collide"
2 or 3 lines:  You've performed as a solo musician -- you even released a solo EP (The Meadows).  Tell me why you decided you wanted to be part of a group, and how Honey and the 45s got started.

Kristina:  That's a long and complicated story involving the many different people who are or were band members.  Let’s just say the group got started because some good friends wanted to make music together.  I had my solo work, but wanted to do something more, and I knew I wanted to work with another female.  Honey and the 45s began with me, Kim Kozel and Chris Kusek.  [NOTE:  Kim Kozel plays violin and saxophone and Chris Kusek is the group's drummer.  Both of them back up Kristina's lead vocals.]  Later we added more members and the group's sound evolved into what it is today.

2 or 3 lines:  There have been a lot of great groups that broke up due to disagreements over what musical direction they wanted to go in, or because certain members felt like second-class citizens whose songs and opinions were given short shrift by others in the group -- the Beatles and Traffic are a couple of examples that come to mind.  Five musical heads are certainly better than one, assuming that those five heads respect one another and are able to compromise.  You've had some turnover in Honey and the 45s -- do you feel like the current band members are all on the same page in terms of your musical vision for the group?

Kristina:  We are all confident this is the final lineup for Honey and the 45s, and couldn’t be happier about that.  Being in a band with people is just like being in a relationship.  There are disagreements about sound, different ways of working, schedule conflicts -- sometimes circumstances cause departures that we wish didn't have to happen.  For example, Max Benson was a great bassist and had a huge influence on our sound when he joined the group.  But he decided to move to Los Angeles, and we had to replace him.  Luckily for us, we bumped into the coolest and best bassist around, Sean Tatum.  Max and Sean worked together to ensure we had the smoothest transition possible.  I'm happy that we are still on fantastic terms with every former Honey and the 45s band member.  That’s the long and short of it. 

Honey and the 45s
2 or 3 lines:  The Honey and the 45s website identifies you as the group's primary lyricist.  Tell us a little about how you write a song.  How collaborative is the process with your fellow band members? 

Kristina:  Often a song idea starts for me with a word, a line, or a concept that I think of in the middle of the night, or maybe in the shower.  Usually it starts with a melody as well.  Sometimes I write the whole thing before I present it to the rest of the band.  Other times Kim and I will riff on ideas for a chorus so we can work out harmonies and rhythm -- there's a lot of singing on car rides -- and then we present what we've come up with to the rest of the band and say, “Let’s make this happen!”  I’d say the atmosphere is very collaborative when we are working on a song.  We all respect each other’s ideas and opinions very much.  We have immense trust in one another’s artistic integrity. 

2 or 3 lines:  It sounds like the process is more informal and ad hoc than formal and intellectual.  

Kristina:  I only know a minimal amount of music theory.  Part of that is by choice.  I regret not knowing more theory when my band jams -- most of them have had extensive formal music training.  At the same time, not knowing theory has enabled me to be more creative.  Sometimes I’ll play a song for my band and Jon -- our lead guitarist -- will say “Wow!  That’s so interesting . . . you went from A to B" -- he'll insert the appropriate musical jargon, of course -- "which doesn’t make sense, but I like it!”  

Kristina Cottone
2 or 3 lines:  I understand that you filled up a notebook with song lyrics when you were in 6th grade.  What inspired you to do that?  Can you give us an example of your 6th-grade lyrics?

Kristina:  Yes, this is true!  I’m not exactly sure what inspired me to start writing songs . . . maybe my mom’s songwriting, maybe teenage hormones?  I needed a release, and I found it through songwriting.  But I will never reveal my 6th-grade lyrics!  I’ve probably written over 1000 songs in my life.  You know what?  I'd say 980-plus are total garbage.  People always say “I wish I could write songs.”  They can!  They can write songs, they just have to accept that most of them are going to be bad.  Especially in the beginning.  With that said, I have used bits and pieces of lyrics I wrote five or even ten years ago in my new songs.  Just because a song as a whole is bad doesn’t mean every part of it is bad. 

2 or 3 lines:  Let's talk specifically about the Honey and the 45s song that we're featuring today -- "Got The Need."  Tell us how that song came to be.

Kristina:  I initially wrote the lyrics and melody to "Got the Need."  But almost all our former and current members contributed to that song -- including the talented Andrew Culhane and Kevin Roy Kramer, who were our lead guitarist and bass player at the time the song was written.  When Jon Gould and Max Benson replaced them, the arrangement and chording changed and evolved into what you hear on the album.  A lot of different hands helped to shape "Got The Need," but the live version is a direct reflection of our current lineup -- me, Kim, Chris, Jon, and our newest member, the fabulous bassist Sean Tatum, whose first day as the band's bassist was the day we filmed the music video for the song. 

From the "Got the Need" video shoot
2 or 3 lines:  What was the genesis of "Got the Need"?  What were you trying to say in that song? 

Kristina:  The chorus came first.  Although some of the lyrics seem to be about singer's need to maintain her freedom in a relationship, to me what the song is really about is the need to perform.  The need to be free and expressive and wild as an artist!  

2 or 3 lines:  You obviously enjoy performing -- whether as a musician or an actress.  There's nothing like being on stage in front of a live audience -- that's a feeling money can't buy.  But I'm sure that being a performer can be very frustrating at times.  Do you ever get discouraged?

Kristina:  It’s hard to be an artist and have people constantly saying, “But what do you REALLY do?”   It’s obnoxious and disrespectful.  The amount of work that goes into these art forms is insane!  Theatre, music and art are all underappreciated in society, but are extremely valuable and necessary to forming a progressive and coherent culture.  Audiences are disappearing from more and more theatre groups, arts funding is drying up . . . and more people get up and move to the next room when there is live music at a restaurant!  I think people’s attention spans are disappearing with technology.  The need to constantly be electronically connected is actually disconnecting everyone.  We tried to capture that in the video -- the need for art and life and freedom to express yourself.  I think we succeeded. 

2 or 3 lines:  That's a great segue, Kristina, so let's watch the "Got the Need" video.  But before we do, one final question.  Your mother -- whom I went to high school with -- makes a brief appearance at about 2:20 of that video.  Was she unhappy that you didn't give her a bigger role?

Kristina:  [Laughs.]  No, nothing of the sort.  She was very happy with her cameo.

In the next 2 or 3 lines, we'll continue our conversation with Kristina Cottone of Honey and the 45s.  But now it's time to listen to "Got the Need":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

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