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Artist Feature Interview

War Honey Steps Outside with ‘Last Woman Left at the Market’

After their first streak of live gigs got stalled by the global 2020 shutdown, Brooklyn-based indie outfit War Honey decided to get creative. Refusing to let the dissolution of their original rhythm section deter them from making a record, band leaders Gabrielle Dana (vocals) and Ben Fitts (lead guitar) worked on more material and recorded a series of songs in lockdown on an interface, recruiting their friend Victoria Smith to contribute the drum parts.

The result was War Honey’s first EP, Shard to Shatter, an eerie and corrosive collection of operatic polemics on war, sexual violence, and the destructive effects of capitalism. The record received an onslaught of praise from publications like Mad Indie Media, UNHNGD, and Here Comes the Flood, and was eventually picked up for distribution in 2021 by Handstand Records.

This month War Honey released their highly-anticipated follow up, The Last Woman Left at the Market, which the band has described as both a companion piece and an inverse of the previous record, tackling equally brutal subject matter while brightening up their sound to fit a live setting.

A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with lead singer Gabrielle Dana and guitarist Ben Fitts to discuss their thoughts on the current state of live music, being raised in the Bronx, and moving to a rural setting in Pennsylvania to work on their latest material.

What are each of your New York origin stories? 

Ben Fitts: We’re both from the city. We grew up in different boroughs originally. My parents moved to Riverdale in the North Bronx. We met at a local guitar school when we were teenagers, which is where we both work now. 

Gabrielle Dana: We also met our drummer at band camp. Our bassist is from Virginia and he came to New York a few years ago. Ben went to school in Massachusetts and I stayed in New York and went to Hunter and when he graduated he was looking for a place to stay and I was looking to fill a room, so that’s how we ended up living together. 

How did the band initially come together? 

Dana: I was in a band for five years that wasn’t going in the direction I wanted it to, and my fellow bandmates were not putting in the same effort I was. So I left that band and came to Ben and another friend of ours with this idea for a new project. We both wanted to do the indie thing, but neither of us were able to. Before that I had my other band and Ben was in a metal band out of college. 

You recorded your debut EP during the big 2020 shutdown. What did that experience teach you? 

Fitts: A lot. We had performed two of those tracks live and one of them was written during lockdown and the other was an ambient interlude that has never been performed live. At the time we were building stuff in the recording space, which gave me a really different perspective on rock band songs because a lot of what we recorded for the EP was stuff we could never recreate live. So it felt extremely insular and indicative of the conditions in which it was created. 

That’s very interesting. Can you name some examples? 

Fitts: It was just the two of us and our friend Victoria Smith on drums after we lost the initial lineup of the band in lockdown. Victoria had jammed with us maybe three days before the shutdown was announced. 

Dana: She didn’t have a recording setup at all. Ben and I had an interface and that was it. So she was essentially positioning her iPhone around the drum set to get a snare, a kick track and all of those dynamic drum sounds before we mixed it. 

You’ve described the new EP as both a companion piece and an inverse of the last one. How are both projects similar and how do they differ from one another? 

Dana: The first EP had a lot to do with politics, social change, and stuff like domestic violence and sexual assault. I think this second EP is more of a reflection of growth in the process. Some of the lyrics I had already written down a couple years ago. I think it’s also reflective of how we enact growth, change, and the systemic structures that prevent us from recognizing how these problems are created.

Fitts: The first EP was a selection of songs that weren’t tailored to a live setting. These new ones were songs we had played live a whole bunch, and we recorded it by live-tracking it. The first EP is a snapshot of where the band was at that particular time. This one is a companion piece because it shows the evolution of the band since emerging from lockdown. We’ve been playing shows again and we now have a more secure sense of identity. It was built around trying to capture that energy. As much as I love the first EP, we simply didn’t have that sense of unity as a band yet, so we weren’t really able to capture that energy yet.

Dana: We did the instrumental tracking in the studio and Ben did a lot of the lead overdubs at home. I tracked the vocals at home as well. 

Gabrielle, how long have you been singing? You sound like you came out of the womb singing operatic arias. 

Dana: [Laughs] Thank you! I was actually a very late talker. My parents hired a speech therapist when I was three and a lot of my first words were sung. I learned how to play drums at ten and started writing songs at the age of nine. I started training in opera when I was fourteen. 

What have you learned from opera training that you find useful today? 

Dana: The style I was doing was Italian soprano. I had a teacher who knew my personality very well, so she would give me the most demented and fucked up subject matter to sing about. The technique I developed was very behind-the-eyes in tone; that dark and high-pitched tone that people like Florence Welch do is all rooted in opera, so that’s something that I’ve carried with me and have always taught my students as a vocal coach. I think fundamental vocal technique is essential for any genre in order to know what you’re capable of. 

I really loved “Forage for Porridge.” How did that song come about? 

Fitts: Our lease was up during the middle of the pandemic and it really didn’t make sense for us to go to Manhattan. So we rented a place in rural Pennsylvania. While we were out there I was listening to a lot of retro surf rock and garage rock — a lot of Dick Dale, the Monks, the Sonics — and then I started writing riffs that were reminiscent of that stuff. It’s funny too, because surf rock is normally associated with California beaches, yet something about Northeastern wilderness always makes me think of it! I wrote the riff to “Forage for Porridge” while we were out there and turned it into a song that would fit our aesthetic more. We’re both massive fans of Modest Mouse and the Pixies, because they use a lot of those riffs already, so those songs were nice templates to have. 

Dana: When we were out in Pennsylvania we got stuck in a strange residential complex. The land that we thought was going to be our own backyard was actually a shared space where all the neighbors were on top of one another. And I ended up bonding with this middle aged lady who told me all these of stories about her life. She was raised in rural Oregon under extremely rigid, conservative values. Hearing about all of the shit she had to put up with and the mistreatment she endured — something almost all women experience at some point in their lives — I heard all about how life had just taken advantage of this poor woman. She was the picture I had in my head when I named the EP Last Woman Left at the Market.

Are there any records you each loved as a child that you still love now? 

Dana: Oh god, there’s so many! My first show ever was Cheap Trick when I was four. My dad was obsessed with them. I’ve been to see them maybe 25 times in my life. I got into Modest Mouse pretty young. Every single thing they’ve ever put out is incredible. 

Fitts: My parents didn’t listen to much so I didn’t seriously get into music until middle school. The first group I ever really loved was the Ramones. A lot of that classic starter-kit punk — the Ramones, the Clash, New York Dolls — that’s probably the earliest music I’ve gotten into that’s held up quite well. 

Why is live music so important, especially now?  

Fitts: You really get to see the craft unfold right before you and connect with performers in a way that wouldn’t be possible just by listening to the record. Live music is inherently communal and extroverted while simply listening to music alone in a room with headphones is very personal and introverted. That’s the full experience of what music as an art form has to offer. Doing just one or the other as a creator or consumer isn’t getting the full picture. It’s like reading half of a novel and stopping at the halfway point every time. Live music is how I’ve met a majority of my friends. It gives smaller bands the reassurance that people are responding to what they’re doing and that their work has value.  

Dana: Live music is important for the evolution of the art form as well. As great as it is to get a track immortalized in the studio, live music is spontaneous, which makes it exciting. You’re never going to do the same thing twice. The DIY indie space is so important because it’s nice to know that you belong somewhere; a place you can go where you’ll always meet like-minded people. That’s just invaluable. 


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Categories
New Music Review

War Honey Release Critically-Acclaimed EP ‘Shard to Shatter’ on Vinyl

War Honey, the multi-hyphenate five-piece band from Brooklyn, have blown every other promising young band out of the water with their debut EP Shard to Shatter, and their most recent single “Skinless,” a rumination on the past, present, and future blurring together as a result of the mind-numbing monotony of the pandemic.

Shard to Shatter was digitally released in December 2020 and was physically released on vinyl today via Handstand Records. I gave it a listen for the first time this past week and all I can say is Man. Was I late to the party.

This EP is an unpredictable amalgamation of sprawling ambient slowcore jams and bluesy existential shoegaze psalms that were recorded during the most stringent Covid lockdown periods of 2020. The titular opening track immediately draws the listener in with its spaced-out echoing soundscapes. Frontwoman Gabrielle Dana’s haunting melodies evoke the soulful passion of Ella Fitzgerald and the darkly desperate warbles of Chelsea Wolfe, enveloping the listener in a ghostly rapture as she croons and belts the lyrics “Not one more inch of my skin/Not one more piece of dream/Not one more shard to shatter.” Ben Fitts’ weeping guitar solo at the end sounds like it’s been submerged under water, heavily drenched in reverb.

“Even Sleep is Exhausting,” equally showcases Dana’s unrelenting passion and fury on the lingering traumas of sexual assault (“Invaders raging around my fortress/I don’t notice, I don’t notice.”) Her elongated vocal runs evoke the well-trodden vocal traditions of American soul against distinctly Western Gothic instrumentation by the band. Her ability to unwaveringly hold on to each note for an extended period of time is extraordinary.

The instrumental interlude “Psychopathic Performance Art,” is a terrifying intermission with cavernous psychedelic walls of sound. It sounds like the band is playing at a drug party in a lavish mansion shortly before descending into hell, ending with a sample of Tennessee reverend Jimmy Snow’s 1950s sermon where he claimed that rock ‘n roll was part of the devil’s plot to corrupt America’s youth.

On the final track “Landmine,” the vocal harmonies and guitar feedback cross-pollinate to create an almost suffocating sonic atmosphere. Rife with existential pandemic-wrought anxiety, Dana laments the gutted futures of generations to come whose oppressors use religion rationalize their behavior (“Oh what a cruel game/We all seem to hold to religion/It’s all just a scrimmage.”) It’s the perfect eulogy for a slowly decaying earth, an equally unsettling yet strangely comforting reminder of the impermanence of all forms of life.

Shard to Shatter is now available on vinyl via Handstand Records.


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Categories
Album Review Music

Pretty Sick Ventures Into Shoegaze Territory on New EP

Singer-songwriter, model, and bassist Sabrina Fuentes wears many hats. She started the NYC-based new age grunge band Pretty Sick when she was only thirteen, capturing the attention of audiences all around the globe with her darkly sardonic vocal range, dirty grunge-laced basslines, and songs about being caught up in toxic relationships, with heavy instrumental accompaniment from a multitude of rotating band members. This time she is joined by Wade Oates of the Virgins on guitar and Austin Williamson from Onyx Collective on drums.

Last year, Pretty Sick released their debut EP, Deep Divine, through the UK indie label Dirty Hit. Earlier this week, they released their follow-up EP, Come Down. And if Deep Divine was meant to encapsulate being caught up in the intoxicating rapture of self-destructive youth and toxic love, then Come Down represents the dreary hangover of the aftermath.

Fuentes’ uninhibited lead vocals, Wade Oates’ crisp, feedback-heavy guitar solos and Austin Williamson’s tom-heavy drum fills are guaranteed to grab every listener by the throat. Songs like “Bet My Blood” and “Devil in Me”—with their crunchy guitar solos and vocals that sound like they’ve been run through Courtney Love’s blender—are heavily contrasted with slower cuts where Fuentes emits these soft “ooohs” over pedal-heavy distortion.

“I have a real taste for pop music, and my songwriting style has a real pop music sensibility,” Fuentes said in a recent interview with Alternative Press. This is no more apparent than in the lead single, “Dumb,” an infectious earworm with a hook that is eerily similar to “Hanging Around” by the Cardigans.

Fuentes’ vocal range alternates between the airy, mystic coos of My Bloody Valentine’s Bilinda Butcher on “Pillbug” and “Bare,” the unrestrained trills of Babes in Toyland’s Kat Bjelland on “She,” and the grating screams of Mia Zapata from the Gits on “Self Control.” “Pillbug” could easily pass for a B-side off of My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything, which is the last thing I would have expected from a grunge band. And that only adds to the EP’s allure.

Come Down as a whole is an amalgamation of reflections on love lost, and what it’s like to grow up in New York—a laborious and emotionally-draining undertaking that both prepares you for the crushing weight of heartbreak and simultaneously leaves an even nastier bruise when a relationship doesn’t work out. And it sounds magnificent.

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Albums Dream Pop

My 8 Essential Dream Pop Picks

When people think of music scenes that originated in the ’90s, the ones that often come to mind are the boisterous and upfront alternative rock umbrellas known as britpop and grunge. But one specific genre that often gets overlooked is the wistfully psychedelic-infused effervescence known as dream pop, which usually overlaps with the effect-driven, droning sounds of shoegaze.

Dream pop, known for its faded vocals and gliding instrumentals, provided a tranquil alternative to the posturing male aggression that became synonymous with later alternative rock and post-grunge. My favorite dream pop records are the ones that concoct a sonic atmosphere that floats in between the states of sleeping and waking.

These are my eight essential dream pop records that I would recommend to all listeners.

  1. Cocteau Twins – Garlands

No band captures the essence of dreams better than the Cocteau Twins. Their most popular records, Blue Bell Knoll and Heaven Or Las Vegas, had Liz Fraser’s signature operatic vocals overlapping with Robin Guthrie’s elaborate and effect-laden guitar loops. But I always appreciate hearing her voice when it’s more upfront than the instruments. The title track, “Garlands,” showcases Fraser’s dreamy vocal abilities at the forefront fully and clearly.

2. Mazzy Star – She Hangs Brightly

Whenever I hear Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star’s hypnotic vocals, I always feel like I’m being transported to an alternate universe or practicing witchcraft in the backwoods of my home town. The infectious psych/garage-esque track “Ghost Highway,” and the intervals and sliding guitar manipulation on songs like “She Hangs Brightly,” and “I’m Sailin'” are equally as captivating as Sandoval’s crooning voice. And the harmonic strings and organs throughout the record are just as intoxicating.

3. Mojave 3 – Ask Me Tomorrow

Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead of the popular shoegaze band, Slowdive, reformed as Mojave 3 in 1995 alongside Ian McCutcheon, Simon Rowe, and Alan Forrester. Their debut record, Ask Me Tomorrow, conjures up a dreamy, melancholic haze.

The album is riddled with sweeping harmonies and lazy-slide guitar leads on tracks like “Love Songs on The Radio” and “Tomorrow’s Taken.” An incredible highlight of the sound change is having Goswell’s gorgeous vocals at the forefront of multiple songs, no longer obscured by effects or distortion like they were on Slowdive records.

4. Julee Cruise – Floating Into The Night

You may know Julee Cruise as the singer who provided the gloomy and airy soundtrack to the David Lynch series, Twin Peaks. Her entire discography is worth getting lost in, but her critically-acclaimed 1989 debut, Floating Into The Night, is undoubtedly her magnum opus. With gliding instrumentals and Cruise’s ethereal vocal performance on songs like “Falling,” “Floating,” and “The Nightingale,” the album really lives up to its name, putting listeners in a state of floating around in weightless bliss.

5. A.R. Kane – 69

While many people look to The Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain as the arbiters of dream pop and shoegaze, A.R. Kane are largely considered to be the unsung heroes that launched dream pop into a proper movement. The duo, made up of Alex Ayuli and Rudy Tambala, released their debut album, 69, in 1988. With heavy feedback and dubs on songs like, “Baby Milk Snatcher,” the album blends elements of dream pop, psych rock, funk, and even post-punk. Their following record, i, is also worth checking out.

6. Lush – Gala

Before My Bloody Valentine, Chapterhouse, and Slowdive, the band Lush was at the forefront of early shoegaze and dream pop soundscapes. Gala is a combination of the band’s first three EPs. Critic Andy Kellman described them as able “to veer from violent and edgy noise breaks to pop effervescence.”

The cracked soprano vocals from front-woman Miki Berenyi are largely obscured by echoing guitar feedback on the slower dreampop cuts like “Sunbathing,” and “Scarlet.” But on more aggressive rock songs like “Bitter,” she’s much more upfront with her delivery, which stands in stark contrast to her more restrained approach to singing on lighter cuts. The lo-fi production is another massive part of the record’s charm.

7. Galaxie 500 – Today

Galaxie 500’s mystical debut, Today, is one of my all-time favorite slowcore albums. Each song, especially the dreamy opener, “Flowers,” and the fuzzed-out “Tugboat,” remain sonically grounded with Dean Wareham’s upper-register vocals completely gliding across his lilting guitar leads and Naomi Yang’s textured basslines, all of which are soaking in reverb.

8. Broadcast – Tender Buttons

What is so remarkable about this particular Broadcast album is the fact that it was made after the departure of several band members, leaving only vocalist Trish Keenan and bassist James Cargill to work as a duo. But that didn’t stop them from making their most iconic record of all time.

Blending elements of psych pop, avant pop, and experimental space age electronica, Tender Buttons hits every nerve with static shock, drum machines, and crunchy synths on tracks like “I Found The F,” and “Corporeal.” The non-conventional instrumentation beautifully blends with Keenan’s serene vocals. It is also very difficult not to weep whenever the languid ballad “Tears In The Typing Pool” plays.