Listening to Honyock feels like walking through a post-war home that hasn’t been redecorated since 1975. Here, smoke-stained curtains obscure a hazy sun and a floral couch faces a stern stone fireplace. And, here, a dusty electric organ rests against a wood-paneled wall where, in any other house, a flat screen might sit. But while sitting at the formica table beside a rattling, honey-colored Frigidaire, this home feels familiar, comfortable. This transportive power of Honyock’s music, though, is no serendipitous accident. Indeed, their first full-length El Castillo, produced by David Vandervelde (Father John Misty, Jay Bennett), seems like the outcome of some cosmic strategy—of fate, or something similar.
Like the best bands that take cues from the past—Wilco and Dr. Dog, Whitney and Kevin Morby—Honyock combines the aesthetic of this era with songwriting that’s as distinctive as it is memorable. “Patron” for example, features a dusty, retro aesthetic—a sun-faded roadside hotel, a cactus’s long shadow. It’s hard not to hear Elvis Costello or Roy Orbison in this opening track. At the same time, though, neither artist could have written this personal, pensive song. “It kind of came out of this persistent pattern in my life of being intimate with drug abuse and drug abusers,” Spencer says. “Those people can be the sweetest friends you’ve ever met, but they disappear a lot too. You have this duel emotion of ‘I would do anything to help you’ while admonishing them for their own lack of will.”
It’s this thoughtful approach that attracted the attention of veteran musician David Vandervelde, who would end up producing El Castillo. “We were recording our canon of material, like 30 or so songs, onto four-track cassette tape and dubbing over it in GarageBand,” Spencer says. These demo’s were passed around until they, by chance, ended up in Vandervelde’s hands.
As soon as he heard the demos, Vandervelde offered to record the full-length with Honyock—and at New Monkey Studio, which Elliott Smith owned and recorded at in the years before he died. “Yeah, this record we spent two years trying to record we re-recorded in, like, five days,” Mason laughs. Vandervelde was able to transform the band’s lo-fi intentions into something more authentic, more honest, more real. “He really took us under his wing. We learned a lot about how to make a real record, very quickly,” Spencer says.
But it’s also the byproduct of brothers, two of which happen to be blood related, and their desire to play music together. Of spirits kindred even before they became friends, of the right people in the right place at the right time—of more than mere coincidence. El Castillo is the puzzle whose pieces fit together too seamlessly, too magical to disregard, and the proof is in the music—these songs that swirl the personal with the universal, that stack the past against the present, that evoke time and place and mood and memory, and that make us feel silly for believing in fate.