“Intimate is a good word to describe it”: An interview with HONNE

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In July, London-based electro-soul duo HONNE released Warm On A Cold Night, an exquisite compendium of heartfelt musings and engulfing melodies. Their sold-out tour of the nation to support it following a number of sojourns to festival stages across the world saw them take in the chilly sea breeze around The Haunt in Brighton on the first day of 2016’s darker nights. Shortly before the gig, The Edge and Surge Radio ventured backstage with James Hatcher and Andy Clutterbuck, taking shelter in Liv Dawson’s tour van to talk about the goings-on of their early musical inspirations, why remixing on the road still proves impractical, and their striking recent releases of a sensual ‘Good Together‘ video and ‘FHKD‘ adorned with Kill J’s whispers.

Hello HONNE!

Perfect unison: Hello!

How has life been this year? It’s seemed like quite a whirlwind.

James Hatcher: Yeah, it has been a bit crazy. It’s all built up – we were doing lots of festivals building up to our album release, and then we put Warm On A Cold Night out in July. Since then, it’s been full-on touring – we did six weeks in America, a couple of weeks here, and then Europe and Asia and here again. That takes us to the end of the year.

I had a little peek at your touring schedule – by my count, it looked like 20 festivals. Where’s been your favourite place to perform so far this year?

J: The other night for me in London at that hometown gig at the Roundhouse just felt really special. We pulled out all the stops.

Andy Clutterbuck: Yeah, that was good. We had a choir on stage, we had confetti, everything! It was wicked.

How did you two meet, and decided to start to make music together?

A: We met seven or maybe even eight years ago at university. James was the first person I met and vice versa. Within two or three days we were writing music together – it was a music uni that we went to, but it was a really quick turnaround. We worked on different bits and bobs over the years, but two years ago was when we properly set on making something a bit different.

When you started as HONNE, where were the main musical inspirations coming from?

J: For me, growing up I loved Michael Jackson, so there’s a bit of the Quincy Jones production and that kind of thing, but all sorts of stuff really.

A: Yeah, I’d say when we first started we were listening to a lot of James Blake and a band called Rhyewho’s two guys: one from LA (or I think he lives there now) and another guy from Scandinavia. I’m not really sure where they’re from, but it’s really good, very romantic music. Another band called Ink we were listening to a lot, who are two brothers from LA and it’s late night R&B. A mixture of all that stuff and the Michael Jackson influences from the past.

J: Also Jai Paul at the time as well, for production and trying stuff out.

How would you describe your live show for anyone that’s not yet seen it?

J: It’s different to a record. There, it’s quite chilled out and electronic, and we’ve tried to keep a lot of those elements, but we have a live band with an amazing drummer, a bass player, and a backing vocalist called Naomi. We just wanted to make the show come to life, because we could have quite easily done the laptop thing with just me and Andy, but we wanted to be a bit more of a show and performance, to fill up a bigger room, which hopefully we’ve done and you’ll agree tonight.

Something I really love about some of your songs is when there’s a female vocalist as well as I think it complements Andy’s voice really nicely. How did the new version of ‘FHKD’ with Kill J come around?

J: Yes, it’s the same for us.

A: We put the album out and ‘FHKD’ was probably one of our favourite tracks from it, but I personally never ever think something’s quite finished. If there was any song on our record that was screaming out for someone else to sing on it, it was that one. We tweaked the structure a bit and it wasn’t until recently that I heard of Kill J, but as soon as we heard her voice it was like “wow.” She’s got such a unique and interesting voice.

J: And great for the more electronic, dancey track. She’s got a really unique strength and cool voice for that.

A: We asked her to do it and she came up with a countermelody and it just worked really well.

You’ve also got the new ‘Good Together’ video out. What can you tell us about it?

A: If you go and watch it, just be prepared – it’s very, um…

J: Intimate.

A: Yeah, intimate is a good word to describe it. I’m not sure how it’s on YouTube to be honest.

J: Beware if you’re at work! Or with your parents.

I saw it had come out so I clicked the link in the office and got about 30 seconds in before I realised that I maybe shouldn’t watch it there.

J: We wanted to make a video where the message is just that love should always be celebrated between whoever it is – all different sexes, genders, races, everything. Hopefully that’s what we’ve put across.

That intimacy and inclusiveness is really a key part of your music. How do you think the reaction to the album has been over the last couple of months?

A: It’s been great. We’ve never ever put an album out ever. When we first did it, we wanted to do it every day – it was so nice.

J: It’s really exciting. Before it was out here it was already out in places like Japan and Korea because of the time difference so you start getting trickles of people in a few hours before. As soon as it was out, every minute there were a few people tweeting us. It feels really, really good.

How many songs did you write for the album or intend to go on it?

A: My key number is anywhere between 10 and 12 – not that many. The deluxe version of our album has got 16 tracks, but the real one is 12 songs.

J: We had about 30-plus songs to pick from.

A: Whittling it down to those few songs was the hardest part, but we did it and we still have some left over which might end up on another record or come out at some point.

I’d expect after someone’s released their first album that they would want to go and hide away for a little bit or tour, but you seem to have kept yourselves quite busy with remixes for other artists. Is it just a way of keeping yourselves occupied on the tour bus?

J: We just love doing that! Actually, it’s really annoying – I find my laptop on the tour bus just can’t cope because of the hard drive. I haven’t got a solid state one so it shakes and just stops every time. It’s just fun having something that you’re doing in the gaps and it’s a great opportunity to try loads of new stuff and different production ideas. The difference that it makes having somebody else’s voice on something is crazy – you think of it in a different way and there’s less pressure because it’s kind of your own work but you’re toying with someone else’s.

A: When we do it, we try and make a HONNE song with someone else’s vocal. It’s quite fun, and as James said, we just try out new bits of production that potentially we could end up using in some of our own music. It gives us a chance to experiment a bit.

How do you decide which tracks and artists to go for? It’s been quite an interesting mix – the Kiiara remix, for example, is something I never would have expected.

A: We love the original, so we just wanted to give it a go. So we did.

J: That didn’t really come from her, but often it’s people getting in touch with us. We did the one for JONES, who we’re really good friends with, because she’s been on our tracks and came to play with us in London the other day. Who else was there?

A: It’s just a mixture of stuff that we like. For JONES, the original version of her song ‘Indulge’ is really amazing – that’s why we first got in touch with her to sing on ‘No Place Like Home,’ the track of ours she sang on. We wrote a couple of songs on her album: ‘Melt’ and ‘Walk My Way.’

J: You can really tell as soon as you hear. All our tracks have prophets and stuff like that.

What’s the plan next? After all this touring comes to an end, will you then have a break and really enjoy the rest?

A: We’re touring up until December and then taking a week or two off. We need to start writing some new music, so that’s the next plan.

J: When we get back in December, we’ve said that we don’t want anything to be in the diary for those two weeks. We just want to be able to write our own music and get back into the swing of things.

Warm on a Cold Night by HONNE is available now. 

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Official email person, rambly music writer, and former Records Editor at The Edge. Often found playing pop music too loud on Surge Radio.

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