In late 2011 I had the opportunity to visit Philadelphia, PA for a week of catching up with old friends, hanging out with family, and longing for a stronger cup of coffee from my adopted hometown of Seattle, WA. Visiting where you grew up can be a very stressful experience as people who haven’t seen you in ages insist on seeing you, people you were close to are suddenly out-of-town, and you find yourself as the star of your very own version of the film Garden State. Fortunately I had the chance to sit down for lunch with an old friend, Shilough Hopwood, in a quaint little eatery in Doylestown, PA – he also happens to front a very special band called Honeychurch.
As we caught up, the years gone by seemed to melt away. We talked about past projects and the imminent release of the latest Honeychurch record. We had a laugh as it seemed something I’d written about the 2nd Honeychurch record, had spurred him and the band on to great things. You see – despite any friendships I make in the industry – I feel strongly that I owe it to myself and the artists to be honest (of course as with any opinions, you are free to disagree). I had written in my Amazon review “A vast improvement over the first Honeychurch cd (although that one is worth seeking out as well), but not quite a masterpiece – that is yet to come.” Shilough’s enthusiasm for his bands new material was infectious and he promised me “This next one is the one you are waiting for…”
He was absolutely right – the latest Honeychurch record, Will You Be There With Me is a stunning exploration of Americana displaying very strong melodies and at times presented with a more experimental feel. Shilough, Larissa, and company manage to write the best Neil Young song that Neil never wrote, better an original by The Softies, and write a beautiful lament that is the metal ballad hit that never was. I had a chance to catch up with Shilough recently and here’s a bit of what we talked about….
Jason’s Jukebox – I love your band’s name, Honeychurch. Can you give me the background of how you came up with the name?
Shilough Hopwood – it’s from a very old book … room w/ a view, written by e. m. forster in about 1908. the family was called honeychurch … lucy and freddy honeychurch were the kids, main characters.
JJ – I know you are a Beach Boys fanatic……what did you think of the reunion album / tour?
SH – the new album hasn’t done much for me so far. I love those guys but these days i’d rather listen to their classic records or else my friends in the explorer’s club doing their homage to classic beach boys. but … those early records and singles mean a lot to me.
JJ – I’d have to say I agree – kind of sad about that to be honest. What’s your favorite Beach Boys song then?
SH – I guess if I had to pick just one, maybe “kiss me baby” from the Beach Boys Today album
JJ – You are building quite a reputation for placing stunning cover songs on your records – how do you decide what songs to cover? Is there a ratio of originals to covers that you try to stick to?
SH – no there isn’t. but i do think that cover songs are disrespected these days. the classic early records by the beatles, the byrds, beach boys, flying burrito brothers were actually mostly composed of covers. go back and look. but the covers on our records, I should say, are carefully chosen. on each honeychurch record is a cover of an indie pop type song that I felt had huge potential as far as a brilliantly written song, but maybe not the best execution as far as the performance and recording on the original version.
JJ – What has been the strangest venue that you have played a gig at?
SH – we played a bookstore in Vermont one time, it was in a converted mill and had a brewery attached. that was pretty amazing. but the strangest was definitely when we played during the service at a jewish wedding. a friend asked us to do it and so we did. the band was actually on the stage with the bride and groom and cantor during the ceremony.
JJ – You cover a song (Roll River Roll) by the great early 70’s bandon your new record – as I understand it, your father was lead guitarist for Holy Moses (and before that Kangaroo). How was the vibe, emotionally, while laying down that track?
SH – it’s always pretty intense playing this song. I confess, it makes me think of my parents’ broken relationship and is a song filled with regret.
JJ – If you could only pick one Beatle…who would it be?
SH – well that’s difficult because I love them all and they all have their strengths. how can you imagine paul’s penny lane without john’s strawberry fields? but I just answered my question. short answer, I love george.
JJ – Rumor has it you may be involved in a side project that is completely different from Honeychurch….what can you tell me about these things?
SH – I actually have a couple of side projects going on now. I’m writing songs and playing lead guitar in an old-school heavy metal band called Evil-Merödach with Stefan Baker (who used to play in Honeychurch) and a few other guys. We’re doing original songs in the way of black sabbath, judas priest, iron maiden etc. playing some shows and beginning work on an album. while there’s obviously an element of fun to what we’re doing, we’re also trying to treat the genre with respect and write quality songs that we can be proud of. I haven’t practiced guitar this much since I was a teenager, very challenging. I’m also playing bass in a band that does kids’ music. And I’ve also been talking with alex & ivan from honeychurch about doing some shows playing old-time honky-tonk music, hank williams, george jones, merle haggard stuff. But I still have lots of ideas for honeychurch.
JJ – I know you started out recording your songs to limited edition cassette tapes. Will we ever see a Honeychurch “The Cassette Songs” release?
SH – I’ve thought about putting a track or two from the old twee/jangle-pop days of early honeychurch as a hidden track or bonus track, or something, on one of the CDs …. Haven’t done it yet obviously. but I’m thinking of putting together a Honeychurch “rarities” collection eventually, which could include some of those songs from my old home-made cassettes (which were influenced by the smiths, sarah records, and the sundays more than gram parsons or the band), as well as some demos, alternate mixes, and live recordings, maybe even some rehearsal recordings.
JJ – And finally…one last question. Coffee or beer?
SH – can I write in gin & tonic?
Honeychurch’s latest record, Will You Be There With Me, was released earlier this year. It was the record that kicked off this site and so it is only fitting that my interview with Shilough is the 50th piece. The record is an absolute masterpiece and I highly recommend that you pick up a copy (or download it legally). You can listen to songs and buy records by Honeychurch via their Bandcamp website located here. Shilough, Larissa, and company are creating emotionally complex songs that beg for a wider audience. You can follow their adventures on Facebook and catch them in concert here and there on the East Coast of the US. I’m looking forward to my next trip to Philly – if only to sit and have coffee with Shilough & Co. for an hour – a respite from the insanity. Play their new record all the way through and you’ll have the same opportunity.