by Caleb Calhoun
Photos by Libby Gamble
It’s my first California Honeydrops show and I’m on the rail. Lech Wierzynski and I are having a competitive jump off as he finishes out the last few minutes of their second song, and the crowd is already fully engaged. This seven-piece from Oakland is blowing some minds in this room tonight as they blend street style music from all over the world into a hardly-definable, high-energy dance party. Not bad for a couple of Oberlin College (and conservatory) misfits.
“Going from a garage to a school like that, (Oberlin College) with a conservatory and all, you learn a lot of techniques for what to do,” founding member Ben Malament chuckles, “and even more of what not to do. I think we were able to pick up that a lot of the music we loved wasn’t given priority in the conservatory and this was a good way to say fuck you to that turned-up-nose attitude towards music.”
Tonight Malament is playing his regular drum kit, a few steps forward from the jug band he and Lech fearlessly played in the shadow of the conservatory in college. But even after ten years of touring, their roots aren’t lost on them. A few songs in Malament leaves the kit and heads out with his washboard, old bottle caps taped to his fingers, for a couple foot stompers.
Honestly though, watching them switch instruments throughout, and seeing the amount of fun they are having, I get the impression that if you deprived Malament, Wierzynski, and the rest of this band of everything except for sticks and stones, they would still find a way to make music that you just have to shake your hips to.
“I love when you can feel that energy from the back wall to the stage and you look at someone else on stage and can tell that they are feeling it too,” he had told me before the show. “That is all I want to do as a drummer: to make people dance.”
Oh, that all of us could be accomplishing our goals on such a fantastic level. And it’s not just live that this is happening. They recently released a double album, Call it Home, one that will get your hips moving in the living room, kitchen, or traffic jam if you give it a listen.
Born from ten years of experience as a band playing everywhere from street corners to The Bowery Ballroom in NYC, Call it Home is their most mature project to date. Straying even further away from any sort of baseline the record is true musical multiculturalism. The Honeydrops also took a different approach to recording for this one, choosing to do most of the tracks live, which is to say, with most of the musicians together playing the song at the same time.
“The goal was to get more of a live sound, so we would record together at the The Blues Cave and demo songs and sounds and then hit the studio and get as great a sound as possible,” Malament had explained.
The resulting double-LP is about as aptly named as it could be. You can almost see Oakland through their eyes as they come home from a long stretch on the road, you can almost feel the mix of emotions as they drive through their neighborhood and see new houses and gas stations and car dealerships and coffee shops that hadn’t been there when they left.
The theme of “Home” runs through the album from the first song and title track Call it Home to the last song, Starr Child. I can feel Malament’s attachment most though when he speaks of The Only Home I’ve Ever Known.
“It’s reflective of the beauty of the whole planet, of our home, which is influenced by us being able to see so many places,” which, in turn, is reflective of the life Malament has lived. Between a deeply musical upbringing, his time at Oberlin, working as a busker, and now touring internationally, he is a frequent flyer of experience based influences.
“My father Bruce Malament was a musician who moved to LA after leaving the University of Miami and was friends with people like Jaco Pastorius and Chuck Silverman. They were examples to me not only as musicians but as friends. They gave me values that I try to implement not only in my music but in my interactions with the other band members.”
From there it was off to Oberlin, but even while noticing pitfalls he hoped his future bands would avoid, he continued to learn from those that were willing to teach.
“There is no right way to learn, if you are a student of anything than you are open to the learning process,” Malament had explained. While there, despite his outsider status, he was deeply influenced by faculty stalwarts Wendall Logan and Billy Hart.
Now it’s bus tours and big old jet airliners taking him from city to city while he sleeps that are pushing that experience, and, judging by the 600 plus patrons here at The Salvage Station on a Thursday night, the things that are influencing Ben Malament and The California Honeydrops are now influencing countless people that are listening to and watching them play.
At the end of the day, it’s that influence that keeps the band going. It’s that ability to connect with someone, to lock eyes and souls for a few notes, that keeps their music and their daily life fresh.
“We are playing on stage,” Malament concludes, “but the scene is on the ground. We hope that you leave with all of the bad stuff sweated out and the good stuff filling you up.”