Lips Like Sugar

Honeycut sweetens soul-pop

Much like Stonesthrow in Los Angeles, San Francisco's Quannum Projects is sailing into uncharted waters with its current releases. Both labels were once thought of as primarily all about hip hop — albeit pushing the envelope on the avant-garde tip. Now, with releases from Georgia Anne Muldrow (Stonesthrow) and Berkeley's Honeycut (Quannum), a much broader picture is emerging, and it's one drenched in lush '60s pop melodies and string orchestration, '70s soul, and even dark '80s songwriting.

Although Honeycut releases its debut CD The Day I Turned to Glass Sept. 26th, the band's members have made their individual marks as players in the Bay Area and beyond. Charismatic singer Bart Davenport fronted the modern rock act Lovemakers throughout the '90s and appeared on DJ Greyboy's Soul Mosaic LP as well as creating numerous solo and side projects. Tony Sevener is the veteran drummer from Maverick alt rock signee Summercamp, and Parisian-born bandleader and producer/keyboardist R.V. Salters' resume includes sessions with Femi Kuti, Blackalicious, and Lifesavas.

The trio met in Berkeley through a mutual friend in '03 and began jamming together. "If you're fully into your bandmates as artists, then it's easy to leave the ego behind," says Salters. "Bart, Tony, and myself all come from pretty different musical backgrounds, so there were choices that had to be made often about song direction — we weren't following a recipe."

After fleshing out the Honeycut sound — a sort of blues/rock amalgamation with a whole lot of heartfelt soul — Chief Xcel from Blackalicious heard a few songs and championed the demo to his label, Quannum, who signed the Honeycut last year. The band crafted an album that honored its influences (the Beatles, Sly Stone, Bowie, Stevie Wonder) but still moved forward into something new. Davenport croons with the attitude of Mick Jagger mixed with the smooth style of Pharrell, while the sophisticated song structures belie a youthful playfulness not too far below the surface.

"I think the best homage you can pay to your masters is by building on top of what they did, even if it's just at your own little level," says Salters. "To do that, you have to be ready to be [irreverent], otherwise you're going to sound like a pale copy of your idols." And so Salters began producing and arranging, coaxing a full band's worth of sounds out of a few unlikely machines: "I love vintage keyboards, like the Clavinet or the Roland SH-101 — keyboards that bite back," he explains. "You turn them on and they're alive." He also mastered the art of sampling, and manipulating snippets of songs on his laptop. "Once you figure out how to do [that], it's like having an entire band at your disposal; but not just any band, a band with the exact sonic aesthetic that you're looking for and with the grit of vinyl."

The finished debut includes the mellow folk-rock of "Butter Room" and the foot-stomping "Exodus Honey." Live 105 is already eating up the first single, "Shadows" — a falsetto rocker full of strings and guitars — and the lads are ready to take it on the road for a fall tour with labelmates Tommy Guerrero and Curumin.

"(We) all come from the stage. That's where we learned our respective craft. So taking those songs out of the lab is a real blast for us," says Salters. "We play everything truly live — Tony plays the beats on his MPC with his fingers, tapping the pads like they're drums. I play the Clavinet, Fender-Rhodes, and ASR-10 Sampler. Bart sings and plays the harmonica, and we have a bass player join us."

No tricks, just some hot licks, and a lot of fun to catch live.

 
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