The California Honeydrops are for life’s sweeter moments.
A relaxing afternoon curled with your baby on the banks of a river? Slip into the group’s “A River’s Invitation.” The first rays of hope after a gloomy week? Blast “Brokedown” from your rooftops. Drunk off your rotten infidelities that have fermented into a new, exciting relationship? “When It Was Wrong” will keep you going all night long.
I wonder which one of its songs the effervescent, Bay Area R&B and Delta blues outfit would play for the moment it is living in right now? It is a question I should have posed to drummer Ben Malament when we exchanged emails last week, for life couldn’t be sweeter for the Honeydrops right now. 10 years removed from busking in BART stations and stringing together any show it could get, 2017 saw Johnny Bones (tenor sax/ clarinet), Lorenzo Loera (keyboards), Beau Bradbury (bass), Lech Wierzynski (vocalist/ multi-instrumentalist) and Malament go on another tour with blues queen Bonnie Raitt, hit the high seas on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, dazzle national and international festival crowds and go on a national tour in a bus. Oh yeah, and hometown heroes the Golden State Warriors are NBA champions again.
Though the group’s run of shows to close out 2017, which includes a stop at the beloved Crystal Bay Casino this Friday, Dec. 15, will not be featuring a dope new tour bus, Malament is still grateful for how far he and his friends have come.
“That’s something that keeps hitting me throughout the year. Like, the fact that we just did this amazing tour in a bus, a bus! Hitting great sold-out crowds across the country. That’s 10 years later from burning our own bootleg Garageband CD’s to hock in the subway stations to make our burrito and milkshake money for the day. It’s awesome. It’s pretty incredible. We’re very thankful,” Malament said.
So, where do Malament and crew go from here? Well, they’ve been working tirelessly behind the scenes and in between tours on scaling the next mountainous achievement of theirs: releasing a double album. Hopefully available sometime in 2018, Malament noted the albums will show how the group has both evolved as a studio band while still digging deeper into their musical roots.
“We had a lot of original music with a lot of different styles. Originally, it was to ‘showcase’ the fact that we like to dig into R&B music, stylistically from Curtis Mayfield to the old, old rootsy blues. Electric styles and acoustic styles. More produced. More raw. Lech wrote a ton of killer songs that range from traditional brass band sounds to something like Bobby Womack or Mavis Staples and beyond. We’re psyched to release the album, “Call It Home Volumes 1 & 2.” It was always in the plans, but we didn’t know if we were going to pull it off. But it’s on, baby,” Malament said.
Each album will run under an hour and features a number of guests, including Nick Otis, brother of Shuggie Otis. Malament noted that the musicians spent a lot of time crafting the songs beforehand to make sure they knew what they wanted out of them, as most songs were recorded live in one take onto tape. Wierzynski also was tasked with quality control and making sure the songs were hot right out of the frying pan, usually sitting in the studio booth and gauging the temperature while the others played.
As for the content of the album, the Honeydrops mined one of the most personal and deeply rich themes out there: home. As they explored all the different ways “home” could be seen, heard, felt or experienced, they naturally started wrestling with their own home, the Bay Area, and how it all related. Unfortunately, it seems the sweetness of living there has started to sour.
“There has always been the theme of ‘home’ and how one’s idea of home can change throughout living in that place. What does home look like? New people? New faces, places? Or can this big planet all be called home? We’ve been really affected here in the Bay Area, our own home, over the last 10 years. To put it bluntly, tech money and the desirability of living here has made it almost impossible to still afford to live here as a basic working musician or artist or human being making less than six figures. That changes the culture. The neighborhoods. We feel that. We’ve loved calling the Bay home, but man, it’s sad how hard it is to live here these days,” Malament said.
There isn’t a better way to combat sadness, though, than pure joy, which the Honeydrops plan on sharing when they ring in the New Year at UC Berkeley with a Planet Earth-themed extravaganza. It’s a homecoming of sorts for the band, which has spent most of the last couple of years away from the Bay Area, spreading its honey all over the world. Malament is excited for how the musicians are going to incorporate the theme with the show and is equally, if not more, stoked on how fans will run with it. Either way, it’s going to be one big party to celebrate both how far the band has come and where it is going. Nothing could be sweeter than that.
- The California Honeydrops
Opener: The Coffis Brothers
Red Room after-party: The Sextones
When: 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15
Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room
Tickets: $25 in advance or $30 on the day of the show