Honeycomb is an eclectic collection of San Francisco musicians but they sound more like a family of sounds rolling around in one big, sticky, vibrating womb. The eight-piece features unique layered vocals – often reminiscent of the thick, booming quality of church choirs—with strings and vibes supplementing an intricate unison of folksy melody and warmth. Lead singer/songwriter Emily Ritz and fellow vocalists produce swoon-worthy tones that at times haunt, and as a whole the group work their instruments to carefully texturize their songs into a rich, living sound.
When we met with them at the Rickshaw Stop it quickly became obvious how amazingly in tune they appear to be, musically and otherwise—completing each others’ sentences, songs, and roaming curiosities. It’s refreshing to see a community of musicians so supportive of each other performing as one, and as their name would imply, the sweet result is collaborative effort of genuine musical symmetry.
You were all friends before forming, what made you guys decide to play together?
Emily: Kacey and I have been best friends forever, and I wanted female back up singers so I started getting all my ladies [together]. I invited Nate to play Sonya Cotton’s album release show because I knew he was wonderful from seeing him with Kacey…just sort of all these random ties that just fell together naturally.
I read somewhere that a bunch of you guys live together, is that still true?
What’s it like sharing creative space and personal space?
Emily: It’s crazy, I mean it can be really convenient and it also can be a little overwhelming sometimes.
Do you guys keep your musical stuff separate when you’re just at home or is it pretty mixed?
Kacey: There’s a little bleed but for the most part we all we create music together, we do a lot of things together, [but] have our own lives separately obviously. I wish there were more just like random musical experiences—you’d think there would be more—but we’re all really busy.
Emily: I’m a full time student and everybody has their own music project other than Honeycomb… it’s kinda crazy but I think it goes through different phases; sometimes we all have more free time and are spending a lot more time together and playing more music together, and other times it’s really trying to squeeze it in.
Would you say you guys have really similar musical aesthetics or are you guys meshing together a lot of different things that you wouldn’t normally do?
Emily: We all have a big range.
Kacey: But it’s definitely mashed up for sure, and I think that’s what makes it so unique, because we’re all coming in with different musical backgrounds and on our own would not make this kind of music.
What are some examples of those different backgrounds coming in to play?
Kacey: I think Emily has this organic sound that’s kind of all her own but maybe you can speak more about it. You kind of developed on your own just really intuitively—I’m coming more from of this like soulful background, and Nate’s coming from this more electronic, even classically trained kind of place.
Emily: Yeah half the band went to music school and half didn’t study it at all.
Kacey: It’s a nice balance of total experimental wackiness and then focus.
You’re talking about Emily’s organic sound; was there somewhere you picked that up or developed it further?
Emily: I started as a solo artist for a long time but whenever I made recordings I would add all these other vocals. I just like all the possibilities that voices can bring, I mean having other instruments is great but there’s something really unique and special and soulful—I mean religious people go to church and sing because all those voices put together can be really powerful.
Kacey: I know singing this song with my voice alone wouldn’t mean at all the same thing it’s adding to; it’s just a richness you that you can only achieve with multiple voices.
So when you guys are writing the songs does it start with just your vocals…
Emily: Up til now it’s sort of shifting but in the beginning I would have a song written, record them on Garage Band, and come up with some ideas but more and more as the songs get written everybody jumps in with ideas, and Kacey is amazing at arranging harmonies and really directs the girls in what harmony to sing.
Kacey: Emily will come with a pretty strong idea of what she wants but there’s tons of space for us to come in and build on top of it.
I noticed the human body, both internally and externally, going through metamorphoses and changes seem to be a recurring theme in the music, any specific reason behind it?
Emily: My visual art and my song writing is a means of self-exploration and it can be pretty self indulgent I guess but that is truly what I find useful. I guess thinking about my physicality allows me to express all parts of myself in my world.
Another thing I picked up on was an allusion to the sense of the rise and the decline. In general the whole idea is reflected in the music with the highs and lows in the harmonies, but is that a part of it that’s done consciously?
Emily: We find it really dynamic to have moments of almost nothingness, its like when you watch a film and you know a lot of sound and music can be powerful in the climax and you know when there’s no sound that can be just as powerful.
How do you find a balance between ambiance and action happening in the background?
Emily: Well I think all the songs have such different parts to them that some of them just naturally call for all the instruments going full force and being complicated and then other parts of it allow for everything to chill out.
Nate: I think we use our ears, we never really spend a lot of time calculating our parts. I remember when I first played with Emily and Andrew the first thing that we played sounded great, so we just listened to each other a lot.
Kacey: It’s intuitive, there’s so much emotion behind the music and the songwriting that you kind of just get swept up. There’s an intention I think set by all of us just knowing the tone of the music and the point of the music that we all want to deliver as truly as possible.
Andrew: The other instrumentalists are pretty mature in that we understand only want to play what really should be played, what really needs to be played. Like if Nate’s playing something I’m gonna think about what would work well with it but I’m also gonna think about if it works best on its own and let that be if it does, or try to come up with something where we’re all working off of each other.
You work on other projects too?
So what’s it like being really involved in another project?
Kacey: My main projects are honeycomb and my own, and I feel really fortunate to be supported in my own music and my own career on top of honeycomb.
Do you feel like you’re exploring two different parts of your musical self?
Kacey: Totally, and they both benefit one another as a songwriter, as an arranger, as a musician all around I’ve been challenged so much by playing with honeycomb but it feels really natural its like I’m part of a community these are the musicians that I’m drawn to and we’re just exploring different parts of ourselves
I saw a video where you were painting everyone’s faces, where does that tradition come from or why the face painting?
Emily: Because it’s such a large group it can be sort of tricky to be eight separate people and then come together on stage, but by getting to connect with everybody first [the face paint] sort of unifies us yet make us all unique.
Kacey: It’s like having a mask on—it kind of allows me to get into this zone, this “Honeycomb zone” where I’m performing and I am going kind of some place else that’s mysterious.
I have one more question for you guys if you guys could characterize your sound as a taste or a food what would it be?
Emily: Ooh that’s a good question (laughs). I would say like chocolate cake with strawberries, but with something spicy.
Kacey: Yeah like something sour, not bitter, but something tart.
Nate: To me it’s like pumpkin squash.
Kacey: Something really rich and decadent and gooey, but just some flavor that’s just kind of…
Kacey: Yeah tangy but just some little sour bit in there…maybe Andrew knows.
Emily: Yeah, if Honeycomb the music was a taste what would it be?
Andrew: Honey flavored ice-cream but with a blind fold on.
Okay, good answer.
Visit Honeycomb online for shows dates, new releases, and more.