“When I was younger, I listened to a lot of country music, a lot of hair metal, and I was in a shoegaze band in the early 2010s, so I love Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, and Cocteau Twins. We joke that Honey Harper is ‘bootgaze,’” says Will Fussell, frontman of Honey Harper, who are about to kick off more than two months of dates opening for fiddle-extraordinaire Amanda Shires, whose tastes also tend to expand well beyond the realm of Americana (According to her Twitter, she’s a fan of Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins, and Sonic Youth, in addition to PHILTHY favorites Bully and Margaret Glaspy.)
However, during a recent phone chat with Will Fussell, he does admit that he still loves a lot of classic country: “What I’ve been bumping in the van is a whole lot of George Strait.” We’re chatting during a brief break from tour rehearsals with Honey Harper’s touring band, who have likely spent recent weeks learning and perfecting live renditions of the songs from Honey Harper & The Infinite Sky, the band’s second LP and follow-up to 2020’s Starmaker, which they’ve characterized as, “celestial cosmic country.” The sophomore album is due October 28th, courtesy of ATO Records, and includes a handful of players with which you are likely already familiar: longtime bassist and contributing writer Mick Mayer; pianist John Carroll Kirby, known for his work with Solange and Blood Orange; Spoon keyboardist Alex Fischel; Drugdealer (and former TOPS) guitarist Jackson MacIntosh; pedal-steel player Connor Gallaher (Black Lips, Calexico); TOPS drummer Riley Fleck; and Honey Harper co-founder and Fussell’s wife, Alana Pagnutti.
These dates with Amanda Shires kick off tonight in Asheville, North Carolina, and will be Fussell’s first time playing live in two-and-a-half years. The tour includes a stop next Wednesday, September 14th, at The Music Hall at World Café Live. While the band on the upcoming LP won’t be that that joins Fussell on the road, he assures me that they are a great band from Atlanta (his hometown), and tells us that those of us who are catching the first half of the tour will get an extra special show: “I’ve got a full band for Philly – they’re doing the first half of the tour – and it’s gonna be a bit more Rock N’ Roll than I’ve done in the past.”
In addition to getting to share Honey Harper’s latest sounds, Fussell tells me that he’s just happy to be on the road in general: “There’s so many cities I haven’t played yet, especially as Honey Harper, like this’ll be my first-time playing Philly… I’m really excited for Variety Playhouse in Atlanta. That’s the place I grew up going to in middle school and high school and seeing all my favorite bands.” He also tells me that he’s beyond psyched to play alongside Amanda Shires every night: “We’re big, big fans of her music and so excited to play for her fans, and get to see people who are really passionate about good songwriting, which I think is who her fans are.”
Two weeks ago Honey Harper released “Broken Token,” a Southern rock jam and the lead single off of Honey Harper & The Infinite Sky. As previously promised, the track rocks and rollicks more than the majority of the band’s debut, but without losing the group’s original charm. However, Fussell tells me that the process behind making the two albums was quite different: “They’re kind of like light years different. Starmaker took two years to make… Infinite Sky was done in two weeks, live to tape.” He also tells me that recent life experiences have shaped the content and tone of the sophomore album: “We’ve gone through a lot over the last two years. We had some major life events happening to me and Alana, my wife… Family members’ loss, pain, my wife being pregnant and having a miscarriage, although now we have a beautiful baby boy…” He also expresses his thankfulness for the place he currently calls home: “We’re just grateful to be living in Canada and having access to free healthcare and free healthcare for women.”
In addition to personal tribulations and triumphs, Fussell tells me that Honey Harper & The Infinite Sky was also inspired by cultural theory, and can serve as a commentary on the very notion of Americana music itself: “We wanted to make an Americana record and do things that were essentially Americana, but Americana has always been about authenticity and we wanted to do something that questioned that,” going on to cite Baudrillard’s simulacra, “the simulation that we live in,” and the fact that, “nothing is real.” And although Honey Harper are currently focused on touring – with plans to go to Europe soon – when I ask Fussell what else is in the works for the near future, he hints that there’s something in the works that could be nearly as intriguing as hyperreal Americana: “I’m working on some pop country stuff that I can’t talk about, and I have some weird stuff I’m working on that I also can’t talk about, but the two words I can give you are ‘computer country.’”
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