From the Bay Area to the world stage, The California Honeydrops have quickly become crowd favourites across the globe. The soul men will be returning to Aussie shores next year for the fourth year running to perform shows at Bluesfest, as well as a Melbourne sideshow, bringing with them their highly praised set full of spirited soul, blues, and jazzy grooves.
I caught up with drummer and co-founder Ben Malament to discuss their new album Call It Home Volumes 1 & 2, their unforgettable night supporting BB King, upcoming music videos, the great joys of busking and why he recommends every band in the world tries it.
Ahead of their return to Bluesfest next April, we caught up with the California Honeydrops’ Ben Malament to chat their new album, supporting BB King, and a whole lot more.
HAPPY: You’ve been announced to play Bluesfest for what will be the third year in a row. How does it feel to be back by popular demand?
BEN: Yeah, it’s a good one. We love the Aussie crowd. We love the vibe of the people. I love the weather out there, and I love the warmth. It’s quite an honour to be asked back for a third time, and we’re excited to do show outside of the festival in Melbourne, that’ll be really cool to do. All the international music at Bluesfest always gets me excited. I like discovering acts, honestly.
HAPPY: Great! We’re excited to have you guys back on Aussie shores. What do you like to get up to in your downtime while you’re over here?
BEN: The beach, the beach, the beach. That’s what we do when we go to the festival; the beach… and eat!
HAPPY: Totally understandable. So will you be bringing back the Bluesfest exclusive horn section from this year?
BEN: We aren’t completely sure on what exact form we’ll be appearing, the exact players that will be with us for the show, but whoever it’s going to be is going to be amazing, it’s going to be great.
HAPPY: You guys released your new album Call It Home Volumes 1 & 2 while you were at Bluesfest in April. Tell me about the writing and recording process of the album? Did you write any of the songs yourself?
BEN: Lech had a tonne of songs, and we basically ran them together in what we call ‘The Blues Cave’ in Oakland, California in the Bay Area, and we made our own demos and arranged the songs together with the band. Lech more or less had a lot of music, and he had all the lyrics mostly but then the arrangement of all the music came together with the band, figuring stuff out, how we wanted it to sound, and how we didn’t want it to sound. We then recorded it in three different studios around the bay area, between Oakland and San Francisco, mostly live on to tape. We were basically self-producing it as we were recording it making sure it all sounded great, and trying to do it in as least takes as possible, and get it cracking altogether live, and capture that energy.
HAPPY: Awesome. What’s your favourite track off the new record to play live?
BEN: Ohh, dang. To play live? That’s a tie to be honest. A straight tie, for real. Come Around might be my favourite track on the album, I just think it’s a really great Honeydrops song. To me it’s one of the songs that I feel like only we can really do, besides like a brass band, I’d love to hear an actual brass band version of the song, but that’s why it’s fun to play live because I have a brass band energy in my head while I’m playing it. But also the song Tell Me, which is the shuffle. When we’re on stage, thinking of a song to play someone might say “shuffle!” or “shuffle?” and it usually refers to that song. It’s really groovy and it’s super fun to play. It’s one of those things we could play for the entire set if we really wanted to.
HAPPY: Yeah, it’s a grooving one. How do you feel the music’s evolved over the years?
BEN: How do I feel it’s evolving? Well from when we started, we’ve been able to adapt better as a bigger band, because sometimes – as you’ve seen at Bluesfest – we might have two extra horns which is quite unusual for us because sometimes we might only have one extra horn or no extra horn, and just an extra percussionist. We’ve adapted. We went from a quartet that used a bass soul tub to being able to play all sizes of venues, and festivals with as many as an eight piece band, or even nine at some point probably. To be able to wean that in and still have a flowing energy of freedom within the arrangements and express our sounds to the best of our ability, to be able to do that and feel good about it and connect with the audience in a good way, that’s the way we’re growing and evolving. No matter how many bodies are on stage, just keeping the energy great and fresh, you know?
HAPPY: For sure. Do you guys busk at all anymore?
BEN: We do… we do a little bit of that. We play in the street every once and a while, not like we used to though. We used to be at home in Oakland and say “ok, Tuesday let’s get there at 11am to get our spot,” but nowadays if we’re travelling or if it’s outside of a show or something we’ll just go out into the street and have fun with it.
HAPPY: Nice, so what’s the greatest joy of busking for you?
BEN: It’s just very elemental… it’s kind of raw, and that raw feeling of playing right next to people with your instruments without relying on a stage, without relying on amplification, and just relying on the energy in that moment it’s not something you can get a lot these days especially at live shows. I’m talking about that from a musician’s perspective too, because you’re on stage, you’re mic’d up, and you’re playing for thousands of people, so to be able to walk off and be able to sing to people and yell just right up in their ear, just right up next to them, and have your body next to them… that’s a special experience, and I recommend every band in the world try it.
HAPPY: You guys reportedly supported BB King at some point. What was that like?
BEN: It was really special. It was at a winery in the Bay Area, it was great for me. I’d never seen him and we got to play with him and meet his band too, and that was really cool too, talking to the horn players and chatting about their history. BB kind of went from backstage to the stage… he wasn’t super social with us at that time, but it wasn’t very long before he passed away, and it was very special. It’s like what happened with Allen Toussaint… we were eating dinner next to him literally a month before he died, and his music is so special to us, and BB King’s music is so special to us, and it’s like all these artists who are so special to us, to be able to meet them and play with them in person, it just brings it so much closer to home. We were playing a show in Oakland when we heard that BB King had died, and we heard about it in between sets. We had a played a set and on the set break someone told us “did you hear BB King passed away?” So we went back onstage and the first thing we did was this blues, and Lech sang Sweet Little Angel or something like that, and it was a crazy experience. I’ll never forget it. We played that blues for BB, and it was like I wasn’t thinking at all, it was really one of those experiences where I felt like the band had no inhibitions, and it felt really great, and very connected.
HAPPY: That’s beautiful. So, what’s next for the Cali Honeydrops? Working on any new music or just going to be touring this record for a while?
BEN: We’re basking in the glory of our album for the moment because we really like it, and we think there are enough good songs for people to dig on for a while. We have several music videos coming out including an animated one for The Only Home I’ve Ever Known, and another video for Live Learn is coming out. There’s already a video for Call It Home which wasn’t out the last time we were in Australia. So we are just kind of working on playing, and we have songs we didn’t even know how to play live last time we were in Australia that were on the album that we’ll be playing next year. People have had a chance to listen to it, and we’ve had a chance to get our live versions of the songs feeling good, and so it’s cool that there will be plenty of songs to sing along to.
Catch The California Honeydrops live next April at any of the following dates:
Bluesfest – 18-22 April, 2019 – Byron Bay
Wednesday, 24th April 2019 – The Corner, Melbourne
More info here.