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It's 2020. You don't remember what the sun looks like. You don't know what day it is. You probably need a hug.
Insert HONNE's new mixtape, 'No Song Without You'. Although the critically-acclaimed electro-soul duo has collaborated with the likes of Ty Dolla $ign, SG Lewis, and Whethan, this latest release sees them strip it back with acoustic guitars and a soft psychedelic sound. The result is a deeply intimate yet effortlessly carefree collection of 14 songs that offer a much-needed dose of blissful nostalgia and soulful optimism.
By Haley Killam
How has it been releasing a record during quarantine?
Andy: It’s been interesting. We’re just trying to navigate our lives through everything that’s going on. We take it one day at a time. It’s probably made us think more creatively in many ways to get our music out there because we can’t tour obviously.
James: It feels like more than ever we’ve been interacting with our fan base online. Really different from the previous albums in that. On the previous albums, we spoke online to promote and then went and did gigs to interact. There’s been a real focus on interacting with people properly rather than asking them to listen to stuff. It’s been really fun because of that.
Your past collaborations and remixes range from artists like BTS and Whethan to Tom Misch and Temper Trap. No Song Without You has a more acoustic and intimate sound than your past records. What inspired you to strip it back on the NSWY mixtape?
Andy: Our first album, Warm On a Cold Night was a bit more chilled out and then when we wrote Love Me|Love Me Not we wanted to pick it all up and make the drums more, not in your face, but more upbeat and I think I, not missed the previous sound, but there was somewhere in the middle that we hadn’t yet explored. I think its mixture of that but we always want to try a more Beatles-y style of music because we grew up from what our parents listened to like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin.
James: Yeah, we’re both guitarists to start with, that’s our main instrument even though Honne is very synth-led.
Andy: Yeah so that’s never really come up before and we wanted to show that. Then with everything going on, the fact that we had to finish the mixtape separately under quarantine affected the music and how it came out. Maybe that’s why it’s slightly more chilled out than the last record.
Your last album, “Love Me/Love Me Not”, had a heavy hip hop influence and saw you working with producers like Nana Rogues (Drake, Passionfruit). What were your influences on “No Song Without You”?
James: It’s partly a change in the kind of music we were listening to. We were listening to a lot of Whitney, Clairo, Beabadoobee… stuff that has more raw elements to it. Did I answer that?
Andy: Yeah, nothing to add.
How did you come to work with Pomo (Anderson Paak, Mac Miller)?
Andy: We’ve always been aware of Pomo and knew he was a great producer and wanted to work with him just off the back of what he’s done previously. We met him for the first time in Indonesia while we were playing the same festival there so we had a chat but nothing really came of that. Then by coincidence, we were in LA in January and had a session with Dame Funk and he popped out to go somewhere, maybe the toilet, I don’t know, and he came back into our studio and said, “Oh Pomo is out there!” And we were like “Ohh, is he really?” So by complete coincidence, we ran into him and on that day we had a chat with him and asked if he wanted to get in a room and write some music and he said yes! And we’re so glad it came up. We wrote “No Song Without You” with him and it’s probably one of my favorite sessions we’ve ever had.
James: Yeah, definitely.
Andy: It was so natural and everything just came really easy.
James: He’s very funny as well!
You’ve described your 1st album “Warm On A Cold Night” as "daytime” and 2nd album “Love Me|Love Me Not” as “nighttime”. How do you want fans to ingest this album?
James: Ha, in lockdown!
Andy: Yeah, lockdown really.
James: Rather than day or night, it’s kind of come at the right time for people who need a bit of comfort and some escapism and time to take their mind out to stop them from thinking about what’s going on. It’s been an intense few months for everyone I think. A lot of people have said they’ve listened to a lot of the music before going to bed and it helps them calm down so that’s nice to hear. Particularly a song called “Smile More Smile More Smile More”, it’s kind of like a mantra of good advice that we’ve written for ourselves to… I don’t know what I’m saying anymore… advice for ourselves to live a good life?
This concept of duality permeates through not only your music but your identity has a band. What does this mean to you guys and how does it influence your music? Where does NSWY fit into that?
Andy: It all stemmed from “Honne” which comes from a Japanese word that means “true feelings” and when we started releasing music we did it through Tatemae Recordings which was the other half of that Japanese word which means what you show out to, yeah, to Honne… I’m not explaining this well at all…
James: You’ll get there, come on.
Andy: “Honne” is what you keep on the inside and Tatemae is what you actually give out to the world even though you might feel differently on the inside. So we’ve always had that aspect of 2 halves I guess. And then Love Me|Love Me Not was an album of 2 halves.
James: With No Song Without You, I think it’s more personal than ever before. Part of the reason we wanted it to be a mixtape, although it’s basically an album, let’s be real, is that it feels like a mixtape that when you’re young and have a crush on a girl, you’d made a little CD or cassette and put loads of songs that make you think about them on it and that’s what this felt like to us. The first track is called “Dear P” which is what Andy’s recent wife… wait no, that makes it sound like she’s dead… haha! But that song is dedicated to her.
Andy: I think the last mixtape I made actually was for her about 12 years ago so this is the next one.
How did you show her that song for the first time?
Andy: So “Dear P” was kind of a prelude to “No Song Without You” so I sent her that whilst we were out in LA a few days after we had written it. She responded very positively.
While we’re on the topic of romance… describe your perfect quarantine date.
James: Ohh… gin and tonic.
James: With slices of grapefruit.
Andy: Oh! Interesting.
James: It’s good guys.
Andy: Oh, a little tip for gin and tonic! I normally use lemon. A lot of people use lime but no, I use lemon. Rub the lemon around the rim of the drink.
Wow, this is really fancy.
Andy: Then squeeze the lemon in as well. Anyway, sorry James.
James: And I think, cooking some food while we’re in lockdown. We’re making a flatbread with some hummus and what’s that stuff?
Andy: Baba Ganoush?
James: Baba Ganoush! We’ll have a salad with lime and cumin and that’s all you need. And falafel.
Andy: And we’ll be sitting at the dinner table, not in front of the TV, no phones allowed. Sorry, this sounds very strict!
Okay, wait so are you guys on this date together? Is that what’s happening?
Andy and James: Yes!
James: The girlfriends are busy. Perfect night!
What’s your desert island record?
Andy: I’m going to say Bon Iver, the self-titled album.
James: Mine would probably be Emma, Forever Ago. Or just the longest Motown compilation album you could find. A 40-track Motown compilation.
Okay, this is my last obscure question. If you could describe the mixtape as a color, what color would it be?
Andy: Oh! On the cover, there’s quite a lot of… I was going to say pastel-y but…it’s not is it?
James: No, it isn’t… but it does feel a bit pastel-y doesn’t it? All pastel colors. Can we say that?
Once concerts resume, what song off the mixtape are you most excited to play live?
Andy: I just can’t wait to play NSWY and Free Love.
James: Free Love, yeah.
What can we expect from you next?
Andy: We’re actually back in the studio finishing up a few loose ends.
James: Some acoustic versions and that kind of stuff as well. We also have a few songs from when we are in LA that didn’t quite fit with NSWY so we’ve kind of already determined where we might go for the next vibe so that’s a nice position to be in. Usually, there's year-long experimenting and pain where you’re like, what’s this going to be? What does this sound like? But we’re lucky we’ve got a starting point.