September 12th, 2009 | Interviews

c taylor crothers

Download: The Honey Brothers “Demonstration”


(from the Demonstration EP available now from the Honey Brothers)

Yes, the dude on drums is the star of
Entourage. But the Honey Brothers are no Dogstar—they play genuinely lovely music (though no “Eleanor Rigby”) that incorporates ukulele and banjo into the mix without a drop of ‘aw shucks.’ They speak to Dan Collins in a backstage green room at the Bumbershoot’s Starbucks stage, within spitting distance of the Space Needle.

I know Ari plays the ukulele and Adrian plays drums. What do the rest of you play?
Andrew Vladeck: I play guitar, banjo, and mandolin mostly.
D.S.: I play guitar, mostly. Some keyboard.
Adrian Grenier: We all come out and do little cameos on different instruments.
You use traditional Americana instruments, but it’s not an old-timey act.
D.S.: I think that we’re doing things with traditional instruments that are pretty surprising.
Andrew Vladeck: We started off as just sort of an old folk act, playing traditional Americana music and playing it on ukulele mostly. While we all had different musical tastes, we learned how to use that and combine it with our more modern influences.
Do you get some inspiration from people like Emmett Miller and Ukelele Ike—the veterans of ukulele music?
Ari Gold: You know, I find a lot of the ukulele-specific music of the past to be a little too ‘aw shucks’ for me. I like Hawaiian ukulele that has more sensuality to it. There’s a line from George Formby to ‘Eleanor Rigby’ that doesn’t quite work for me. I’d rather go from Don Ho to the Honey Brothers.
Andrew Vladeck: A lot of times traditional musicians seem to apologize for the instruments they play. They think the ukulele is too sweet, so they make it jokey, or they think the banjo is too redneck, so they make it hokey. But they aren’t necessarily—they’re just really earnest powerful friction instruments to express feelings of joy.
Adrian Grenier: I’m sorry, but we do not apologize—we will not apologize for what we play!
Ari Gold: I mean, you look at a man like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, who’s like, you know…
I’m sorry—say that again?
Ari Gold: Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. I’m sure you’ve heard his rendition of ‘It’s a Wonderful World.’ It’s one of the great ukulele songs of the last ten or fifteen years, and he’s a Hawaiian musician who was able to really play the ukulele for pure soulfulness. No weakness! No Tiny Tim-ism. For me, I love it because they’re cheap so the entry level for anyone who wants to learn it is low, and it’s light and easy to carry so it’s great for travelers.
You guys have been described—or maybe it was self-description—as Hawaiian glam or folk glam. What’s the ‘glam’ part of your act?
Adrian Grenier: I think that’s the fun nature of how we see ourselves: in a carefree flamboyant raucous way.
Andrew Vladeck: Some of our songs are pretty theatrical.
The concept of the Honey Brothers is kind of theatrical. Why give yourselves those names?
Andrew Vladeck: Well, when we started as an old-time band, really, we wanted the freedom to create our own mythology. That was fun for us—to be something else. So it really hearkens back to that original creation. Now we’re a bit of an amalgam between what we were and what we’re trying to be, so the names are relevant but less so.
Steve Martin says the problem with movie and TV stars going into music is that some actors try to be rock stars first and rock musicians second. How do you avoid the trappings of that?
Adrian Grenier: I don’t really try, honestly! When the music isn’t playing, there’s a lot of anticipation and talk and gossip. But once the music starts, everything else just dissolves at the wayside and all you have is just the moment of music. And we kind of rely on that to get us through. And when people come see our shows or put on our CD, I think they’re with us!
Andrew Vladeck: The band has enhanced all of our lives in various ways. We’re able to bring our outside influences in, and when we go out and do our other projects, I think it only enhances it. If you’re a creative person, and you enjoy creating, it’s all the same whether it’s music, theater, the visual arts… It’s a way of living. So it’s not like one comes before the other.
But having a band with a famous director and actor in it is always going to affect how audiences perceive you. In the sixties, Don Grady, the actor from My Three Sons, actually wore a disguise to play incognito in the Yellow Balloon. Have you considered playing under a different name, to see if the crowd response is the same without the famous names?
Andrew Vladeck: When we started, none of us used our real names, so there was something in that. Now it’s real, and we take it as it comes.
Ari Gold: I’m actually proud of the dual career. I think it’s a sign of strength that all the Honey Brothers are multi-taskers.
Renaissance men?
Ari Gold: Renaissance fools. Jesters!
How do you compare to other same-name bands like the Donnas, the Ramones and the Traveling Wilburys?
Adrian Grenier: Well, we’re cuter than the Donnas, and definitely cuter than the Ramones…
Andrew Vladeck: In the Wilburys, everyone was a songwriter. Everyone comes from a different space, and that’s how this band came together. We were all doing various things, and we all realized that we had a good rapport with each other.
Would you ever cover ‘The Wilbury Twist?’
Andrew Vladeck: ‘The Peppermint Twist,’ maybe.
What is the most beautiful and wonderful song you’ve ever performed in your oeuvre?
Ari Gold: ‘Cocksucker Blues’ by the Rolling Stones. That’s the most judicious answer!
You guys have a song called ‘Coney Island Baby.’ Does the legacy of Lou Reed loom large over your music, being that you’re from New York?
Andrew Vladeck: That’s two separate questions, really. I mean, Lou Reed does and many of the New York art rock and punk rock and glam scenes do. We were just talking about Lou Reed today—how Sonny Honey [Dan Green] ran into him on an elevator and told him he liked his song, and Lou Reed ignored him. And then the other day when we were writing up one of our new songs that we’re going to play tonight called ‘New Attitude,’ I believe there was a direct reference—it was like, ‘You know, Lou Reed!’ And it was like, okay, we added that part.
Are you going to be recording new songs soon?
Andrew Vladeck: We plan on recording next month. We’re working with a producer, Malcolm Burns, who’s really great and has worked with a lot of our friends.
Are you excited about playing the Troubadour in a few days?
Adrian Grenier: I love the Troubadour! I’ve always wanted to play the Troubadour, but never had. They’ve got a great green room.
Tom Waits and Nickey Beat had a fight there in 1978. They locked everybody out and just had a brawl. If you could get in a fight with any musician in L.A., who would it be?
Adrian Grenier: Rufus Wainwright.
Do you think you’d win?
Adrian Grenier: Maybe it’s not to win.