With their funk-filled new album, ‘Scandalous’, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears are proving that you don’t need fancy synthesizers, Auto-tuned vocals, or obscure samples to make the masses shake their asses. Sometimes all you need is a good riff and a little bit of brass to kick up a “Party in the USA”, and that’s exactly what Lewis and his band of retro-rockers are doing with their newest batch of tunes. OurVinyl caught up with bassist Bill Stevenson at a truck stop as the band were leaving Washington DC en route to a radio show in New York City before the first night of a two gig stand at Brooklyn’s Bowery Ballroom.
Like thousands upon thousands of other musical acts looking to boost their public profile, the Honeybears recently performed at the infamous SXSW Music Festival, using the event to kick off the first big tour in support of their new album. Unlike the majority of those other acts, the band didn’t have to travel far as the event took place in their very own hometown of Austin, TX. While many regard the event as one of the most exciting weeks in the music industry each year, and one where the Honeybears themselves first captured a lot of attention in 2009, Stevenson and the rest of the ‘Bears would rather hibernate through the whole thing.
“It’s really stressful, there are too many people, it’s just a big cluster fuck,” the bassist explained. “Nobody really likes it. I suppose some people like it but I don’t know who those degenerates would be. I guess the people from out of town like it, but the people who live there all the time can’t stand it. It’s just draining, but you’ve got to do it. Both of our albums have come out around that time and it helps draw a lot of attention to the album release. It’s a lot of promotion, a lot of legwork, but it’s part of the strategy.”
While the group spends much of their year on the road, promoting their albums and bringing a touch of soul back to the heartland of America, touring demands can often interfere with any band’s ability to record and release new music. The Honeybears had to carefully fit the recording of ‘Scandalous’ alongside their rigorous touring schedule, forcing them to split the recording up into multiple sessions.
“We recorded the album in two parts, about a year ago. We did, like, five songs the first time and five more the second. It was two very separate times, two definite breaks from the road,” Stevenson recollected. Though the record is packed with the same uplifting horn punches and Lewis’ signature slurred singing style that made their debut LP a breakthrough, the general attitude of the album is much more relaxed due to the band’s willingness to expand upon their influences, including some founding forefathers of the blues.
“The party vibe of the first album was definitely an intentional thing, but not so much with this one,” the bassist revealed. “On songs like ‘Messin’,’ Joe’s been playing guitar and writing songs for years, and he’s been playing blues songs since before the first album, so it just seemed natural to us.”
In addition to the new album itself, the band also recorded a bonus EP featuring covers of some of their favorite artists including Buddy Guy, Robert Johnson, and more.
“It was cool, we did some live at a show in Georgia or South Carolina, somewhere like that,” explained Stevenson. “We did ‘Stop Breaking Down,’ an old traditional song, and ‘What Love Is’ by the Dead Boys. It shows our background, where we came from and what we can do. It’s all good material to start with.”
The Honeybears will be performing cuts from the new album to lucky fans across the States as they carry on their rigorous touring schedule, constantly traversing their way from one side of the nation to the other and frequently appearing at some of the biggest festivals in the country, including a stop at this year’s Coachella Festival in California.
“We’ll be gone for three weeks, then we’ve got like ten days off, and then we’re gone again,” the bassist acknowledged. “We’ve got a bunch of dates coming up, right through the summer, I’m not even sure of everything right now.”
What is certain is that the band will be making a stop at the Newport Music Hall in Columbus, OH this Friday night, a venue that they sold out on their last trek through the area and this show is expected to do the same. Though the Honeybears may have toned things down a bit with Scandalous, when it comes to the live show they never fail to bring in the funk.
Written by Alex Mosie