Two years in the making, HONNE’s Warm On A Cold Night finally saw its release back in July. Which is at least 12 months later than promised when I’d first interviewed the pair back in 2014. This extra wait for the album has fundamentally been time well spent. “It’s so nice to get it out, and be able to have a full body of work out there.” Andy Clutterbuck, the duo’s singer tells me. “Now when we do a gig, everyone there knows all the words.” Using the first song they ever put out on Soundcloud as a title track, the album continues the duo’s agenda to present us with a rich range of emotions which seem only to emerge after night-fall.
Thematically filled with hope, love and longing, Clutterbuck and producer James Hatch’s 12 tracks seem to all manifest themselves at that brief moment when passion bursts into life. Equally at home sound-tracking softly whispered sweet-nothings or a neon-bathed drive through a towering cityscape, these are songs that exude romance and possibility. “It’s a real mixture of old and new, but we feel like we’ve got a whole piece of work which is continuous. They all work together really well, so it takes people on a kind of journey. That’s what we always wanted to do.” Musically, this release feels richly layered without being too confrontational or confused. Production flourishes drift in and out, contributing rather than dominating from within the mix. Amidst the slickness and overt sensuality, they manage to retain enough self-knowing to keep it sounding classy.
Meeting at university, and bonding over their West Country background, the pair shared a love of Japanese culture and electronic music. After a few years they started producing something which was complex, but retained great writing as a foundation. “What we love is when you can strip a song back to just a vocal or piano and there’s still a song there at the core. That’s James and I’s blueprint really. Some electronic musicians don’t have the ability to do that unfortunately.” Overall they bring a vibrant melding of timeless R&B and electro-soul, but the new album has unveiled an unheard funkier side to HONNE. “It’s partly James. When he was growing up, one of his biggest idols, in fact one of the first gigs he went to was Michael Jackson. Me as well really. Going on family holidays it would always be one of the things blasting out of the radio when we were driving somewhere.”
The HONNE sound evolved from the nocturnal production times forced upon the pair by their day jobs. Both working as music teachers, they collaborated via email in the evenings. The popularity of their partnership has seen them both take up music full time, leaving the days free for production. But a work-round has developed to retain the nocturnal feel of the music. “I’ve got very thick curtains… Sometimes I’ll get out of bed in the morning and intentionally not open any curtains. It sounds awful, and it is kind of awful – not having any light. But it puts you in the zone.” They continue to write separately, despite living only two minutes’ walk from each other. It’s the continuation of a solitary working routine that creates something rather personal, sensuous and beautiful.
Soon HONNE will head off around Europe, then onto dates in Japan and South Korea. The latter marking the band’s growing popularity in Asia with a pair of back-to-back shows at a 2,000 capacity venue. “I’m not entirely sure what’s going on,” he laughs. “I’m not complaining though! It’s going to be a lot of fun. I can’t wait to show James and the rest of the band Japan at night-time with all the lights and people.” Clutterbuck does concede touring must take precedence over recording for now, due to the considerable success the band are starting to enjoy. “It’s weird. It’s all taking off internationally in a way we’d never really expected.” They’ve just returned from the US, and are preparing to head back over for the second leg of that tour. Then comes a full UK excursion, which will see them come to Brighton’s The Haunt on Sun 30 Oct.
I’d previously spoken to the pair as they were enjoying a series of shows with label-mate Kwabs. Back then the HONNE live show was still something of a developing novelty. Two years on and the line-up remains as it was: a drummer, bassist and backing vocalist giving the show a dynamic far beyond two guys simply drawing beautiful music from their laptops. “It’s always a learning process. You’re always working out how you can do things better. Not that our first gigs were awful, but now we’ve stepped it up a notch. We love playing live, because the songs really come alive.”
HONNE come to The Haunt on Sun 30 Oct, as part of their UK tour. Their album Warm On A Cold Night is available now, via Atlantic Records.