On the verge of making it onto sexy-time mix-tapes across the nation, Honne are on a mission to create unique music. Heaps of classic British soul pervades their sound, accompanied by a confident futuristic edge.
The Honne songwriting-style is distinctive, each track evolving and becoming increasingly layered, with velvety vocals sitting solidly at their core. They’re the cream of a renewed resurgence in UK soul. Smooth vocals, treated and produced like any other instrument, meld with gentle keys and programmed drums.
Honne, or Andy and James if you meet them, met at university in Guildford, a little over seven years ago. Just three days later they started making music together. As a concept Honne started 18 months back, the culmination of several years of experimentation and refinement. “We settled on a sound that was very special,” Andy tells me. We’re sitting on a bright day, just outside Brighton’s Komedia. The pair is in good spirits, waiting to sound check before the evenings support slot with fellow soul-provider Kwabs.
Their live shows are growing in scale, despite their lack of an album. There are a few festivals in the UK and France, with solo live shows dotted around Europe. “I actually quite enjoy getting stuck in,” says Andy. The live set-up differs from stage to stage; the duo is joined by at least a drummer and bass player, with the live set occasionally swelling to six or seven performers.
This week they play The Great Escape festival, their appearance reflecting the expanding breadth of talent showcased by the event. Over three days, at scores of established and pop-up venues across Brighton & Hove, it features genres as disparate as soul, bass music, folk and electronica. But the pair is dismissive of allying with any established genre. “Rather than pigeonholing it stylistically, we like to describe it with words like sensual and warm,” says Andy. “It’s the sort of thing you might listen to on a late night drive. It creates a feeling,” James chimes in.
Doing tidy business through sites like SoundCloud and Hype Machine, the pair muse it’s almost better their music gets out to the people in this manner, rather than being sold through more traditional platforms. The Internet directly affects the writing process as well. Their methodology is unusual, but a formula becoming increasingly common. “I tend to start on the music myself. I then send Andy a track, which he’ll sing over. Then we come together at the end.” Some compositions even start just as a title. It’s small surprise for a band taking atmospherics as seriously as any other component of their songs. “It’s mildly conceptual,” laughs James. “With each track we try and have a particular feeling.”
There remains more than a nod to the decadence of mid-80s British soul, but Honne display an almost timeless sentimentality. The keen melodies conjure images of late night journeys, smoky bars and neon-lit cityscapes. This is music full of passion and intrigue. Inevitably surrounding the band are the (almost benchmark) comparisons to artists like James Blake and Frank Ocean. The similarities lie not in the sound, but in the scope of influences. Like these established artists, Andy and James fuse disparate styles together in a bid to create something rather beautiful. Their inspirations truly lean towards eclectic electronic artists like Apparat and Modeselektor, although you’d be troubled to trace contiguous influences through the Honne repertoire. “I like the fact people don’t say: ‘that’s a rip-off!’” smiles Andy. “That’s something we wanted to achieve.”
There is more new material coming, as well as perfecting existing tracks the pair are getting ready to release a debut album next year. “It’s nice to not be in a rush about it,” Andy smiles. This will see release on Tatemae, the pair’s own imprint via Atlantic Records. This new music label takes its title from a Japanese term, describing the emotions people allow themselves to present to the world. In a similar vein, the word Honne describes the feelings we keep to ourselves and those we trust.
It later turns out there’s a proper reason for the ever-present nocturnal feel pervading Honne tracks. Working as music teachers doesn’t leave an abundance of time for the duo’s own compositions. As a result many of their recording sessions can last late into the night. “It’s always dark, so what can we do?” laughs James.
Honne play Brighton’s Komedia at 11:30pm on Fri 15 May, as part of The Great Escape