Honeytiger | photo by Katie Elkins | courtesy of the artist
Honeytiger is seasoned and self-assured on the new Brain on the Wall
Issac Clark and Josh Glauser, the two halves of the eclectic DIY rock project Honeytiger, have had quite the productive year. The previous season has seen them through the releases of a handful of singles (2017’s Tangerine and 2018’s Short Cut Loud Talkers), both of which have teased at an imminent full-length album as well as a maturation and development of the band’s sound. The final product is the culmination of lots of self-reflection between both Clark and Glauser which has seamlessly lent itself to a new level of comfort within the band. Brain On The Wall is an amalgam of experimentation and refinery.
Talking to Honeytiger about its creative process, I find that it is deceptively simple, which fits the duo’s sound and presence quite well. Imagine: Clark set up on the couch with an iPhone and guitar, taking down acoustic recordings to send over to Glauser, who will then find some sort of masterful drum beat to go along with the riffs before the two come together to perfect the track. Clark acknowledged that the final products of most of these songs are pretty similar to how they sounded at their conception, and for that, he thanks the fact that he and Glauser have progressively gotten better at knowing themselves and identifying what works for them quickly. Their writing style is deliberate in a sort of “go with what you know” way. They know that they’re a duo, that their strengths lie in vocals, guitar, and drums, and adding in any sound that they can’t play themselves live isn’t going to help them feel any more authentic. The emphasis is on making it known that these songs are wholly the product of two people playing two instruments. There’s no algorithm; it’s raw and relatable.
Clark’s vocals have undergone somewhat of an evocative transformation, pulling from Alex Turner’s croon circa Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. See “Dawdler” for a direct example, because the mood is spot-on in that track. Clark acknowledged that Arctic Monkeys are a huge inspiration for Honeytiger, and he was clearly hoping that the drama and emotion from each song was obviously reflected through how he sang them. Songs buried further back in the band’s discography have a self-described blasé vibe, though that could just be Clark coming from a place of self-criticism. He argues now that reaching for the perfect note and pitch isn’t as important as connecting with the listener on an intimate level, so this new tone is the result of an emotional breakthrough on the band’s part. Caring less about fan reaction and more about fan interaction is where it’s at.
As mentioned, Honeytiger is an integral group among Philly’s independent rock scene. They are predominately featured within the Good, How Are You circle of bands. Brain On The Wall is full of Easter eggs about the city, and having been lifelong residents of the area, making this album feel like it really belongs here was on top of the band’s to-do list. Clark went for a very on-the-nose approach when penning lyrics for tracks like “South Philly Summertime,” “Dawdler,” and “Point Breeze.” You won’t get the vision of sipping on a Kenzinger at The Sardine Bar unless it’s put right in front of you. He’s not a fan of vague songs about the “everyperson.” These songs are about us and about the shared experiences of living in this city, and if you pick up on them then it makes this album that much more special. Glauser emphasized the importance of Philly’s DIY scene, and how outwardly supportive the bands are of each other. There’s no competition, only space to succeed and room to grow. You can travel to any city and search for their underground scene, but there’s truly, truly nothing like coming home to the Philly skyline and knowing that it’s waiting to have you back.
While listening to Brain On The Wall front to back, there is a lot of apparent and intentional variety within the way the tracks feel. “Dawdler” and “Ultraviolet Buzzing Machine” are about as close to ballads as we get. “Point Breeze” is reminiscent of early angsty Honeytiger songs, and “I Quit” and “Piece of Cake” are very intricate and edgy, with lots of experimental vocals. Both Clark and Glauser agree that they have a hard time staying within the box, which has made defining Honeytiger’s sound a difficult endeavor. They definitely have the know-it-when-you-hear-it quality to their music, as well as moments of “that’s definitely not us” while writing. Brain On The Wall is the band’s first album that they’ve put together entirely from start to finish. 2016’s Half Clean was more the product of several tracks thrown together rather than a completely intentionally curated track listing. For that reason, they took their time putting this together and making sure each song really evokes some sort of overarching energy that listeners can grab onto. Their sound, to the core, is about authenticity and playing what feels natural to them, both separately and together. Their name is even indicative of this idea: a sort of nonsense pairing of two words, meshed together as one. Honeytiger.
This concept of two musicians playing only what they can play live for the sake of authenticity and palpability is one of the biggest factors that sets this band apart from others. Their sound is deceptively simple because of this, but it’s also very tight and refined because every move they make is intentional, filling only the space that they know they can fill. The dynamic this time around while recording was making sure the main focus was growing more comfortable as musicians in their own right as well as together. When you reach that sort of relationship with another person, the songs fall into place. While give-and-take is an enormous factor while working as a two piece, Honeytiger seems to have found that balance between doing too much and too little. Nothing feels forced, and nothing feels like it’s missing. One of their favorite compliments is “I can’t believe there’s only two of you!” And that’s true – if you didn’t know, you probably wouldn’t guess. But when you do know, you appreciate their work for more than just how it sounds.
I acknowledge that this is probably a loaded question, but I of course wanted to know which tracks stand out to both of them, and why. (My personal favorite, “Piece of Cake,” wasn’t actually one of them). It’s evident that this album is the one that both Clark and Glauser should be most proud of, and for Clark, “Dawdler” is the most special song. It’s the most personally revealing song the band has done when compared to past releases, and it’s the closest thing to a love song that he’s written for Honeytiger. The music captures a tenderness-intensity contrast to match the lyrics with how important the content was for him. Glauser makes a super pressing case for “Robot” because of his amazing vocal contributions. There’s about to be a power struggle if he’s featured on any more vocal tracks. The duo project becomes a solo project.
Because so many of these songs are intensely specific to moments that have happened to both Clark and Glauser as well as the telling of what it means to live in Philly, Clark revealed that a lyric in “South Philly Summertime” is both the mixture of a summer daydream and the observation of a real person: “Do you live in the idyl? Gardening in your patent leather loafers, please!” I’d like to meet them. This album is also the product of specificity: late-night basement recording sessions, Doritos, Nerds Rope, and “#1 stunner Sour Path Watermelons.” But this album also came about during some serious personal life events as well. Glauser got married and Isaac quit his job. Two sides of a coin that came together to create something incredibly personal and entirely too relatable.
The listener’s biggest takeaway from this new album should be this, if anything at all: find meaning in something wholly uncompromised, and hold onto what makes you feel at home. This is how I felt when I listened. This album puts me in Point Breeze, at a basement show, at a hole-in-the-wall bar. This album puts me in Philly.
Honeytiger is set to play Brain On The Wall entirely for the first time live at Boot & Saddle on Oct. 16, and they’ll be joined by The Vernes and Yeenar, both local acts. Tickets and more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.