Asher Toback and Chayse Cope are So Honey, whose debut LP, ‘Hi, it’s Mom,’ takes voicemails from all walks of life (family, friends, robots, scammers, misdials, etc.), which they’ve collected since 2014, and overlays them on top of at times classical, jazzy, folky guitar riffs with other pedalled guitars bringing a tasteful scope of ambient and evocative textures. The feeling you get, hearing all these voicemails, is that of being let in on a secret conversation that transcends time and space. Even though we’ve all received such voicemails, there’s something about hearing a continuous stream of them in succession, with delectable guitars providing an emotional soundscape for them to cohere in, which puts one in a frame of mind to hear and think about these artefacts in a new and different light.
‘Tributaries’ bright acoustic fingerpicking guitar intro exudes contentment and peace in juxtaposition to the voicemails, ‘Hi Ash, this is Mom. Hey, I’m just checking in to see how you’re doing, and, just y’know, I love you and I miss you. So, checking in – call me when you can.’ Various versions of this voicemail are reiterated leaving the impression that the voicemail has gone and will almost certainly continue to go unanswered. At 0:46 there’s a brief panned pedalled guitar that recalls retro video games. At 2:35 the acoustic fingerpicking switches to strumming while ten seconds later a pedalled guitar with a tiny bit of distortion but fairly clean picks up the melody. The last 40 seconds of the song are voicemails of people saying variations on ‘goodbye’ interspersed with moments of silence that are just long enough to leave one believing that the song has ended, but it hasn’t!
‘Montana Laura’ opens with an airport phone attendant repeating the same spiel over and over again, but after a few attempts the attendant sighs in exasperation – he doesn’t mean a single word of what he’s saying. Guitars come in at 0:20 and it reminds me of all the times that I’ve been put on hold and had to listen to whatever music was playing (usually not good), but Toback and Cope are excellent guitarists and the movement and mood they produce creates an environment in which both the nostalgia and introspection of the voicemails are given their full capacity to unfurl. At 1:17 an electrified guitar run crescendos for a few seconds before fading away, which is but one example of the close attention and thoughtfulness that So Honey pays to the finer details of their songs, which so enhances them.
‘Posy’ starts with the warmth of chirping birds and guitar runs, but it doesn’t last for long when an off-putting woman says, ‘Hello, we have been trying to reach you. This call is officially a final notice from IRS. Internal Revenue Service. The reason of this call is to inform you that IRS is filing a lawsuit against you…’ Another, equally creepy, voice of a man chimes in with the same words. As soon as the voicemail begins, the guitar shifts to darker tones and a descending pattern. As on all the tracks, the guitar composition and performance is wildly creative, varied, and beautiful. Slow here, fast there; dark here, light there. The drums are a really nice touch, adding to the rising tension of the disturbing voicemails.
I highly recommend this! Mesmerizing from start to finish.
- How did you originally conceive of this project? Is there a musical precursor to your album that you drew inspiration from?
This album was conceived when I received the voicemail you hear at the beginning of Montana Laura. I worked at an Internet Service Provider at the time, and someone working at “Alternative Transport” tried to save an outgoing message on his phone, but somehow left it as a voicemail to my work phone. My mind was blown! I showed it to all my friends and everyone thought it was hilarious, and this gave me the idea of compiling a bunch of voicemails into an album. That was eight years ago.
2. This is a rather singular album and so we’re curious as to what So Honey has planned for the future? Will you continue along this trajectory of experimentation with voicemails or do something else entirely?
Well, we’ve used all the good voicemails we have, and after showing people these songs everyone has told me they’re reluctant to leave me any more voicemails, haha. So yes, I think we’ll want to explore other types of intimate found sounds. For example, I’ve bought used cassettes in the past which had wholesome home recordings and written songs with those. But, in general, people are constantly recording themselves these days, so I imagine we’ll be able to find something that fits our aesthetic.
3. Tell us about your writing process! What came first, the voicemails or the music? It’s striking how beautiful and heartfelt the guitars are in contrast to the general uneasiness and heaviness of the voicemails. Was this a consciously intentional decision or did it happen of its own accord?
Surprisingly, we wrote these without any intention of putting voicemails on them! At one point we had six or so instrumental songs which we didn’t know what to do with, and also didn’t feel like they needed lyrics or a melody. It then struck me that, after collecting these voicemails for years, this could finally be the project where I could incorporate them. After a few experiments of putting voicemails on the songs it somehow felt right. So yes, it definitely happened by accident!
4. Tell us about your gear / general set up! Guitars, pedals, amps, and anything / everything else.
Gear, the most fun part! So the foundation of the music is two acoustic guitars: Asher on a Gypsy jazz steel string and Chayse on a classical guitar. We then overdubbed with a T-model Nash electric guitar and went pretty crazy with the guitar pedals. The pedals which produced the most distinctive effects were, my babies, the Chase Bliss Blooper and the Red Panda Particle. We then added more typical reverb, distortion, & chorus effects with the Empress Reverb, Fulltone OCD, and Fairfield Circuitry’s Shallow Water respectively. Finally, lots of tape machines were used to add character to the sounds. So, assorted handheld dictaphones and a TASCAM Portastudio 424.
5. Did your family / friends have any qualms about being put out into the big bad world that is Spotify where they would all be heard by any number of people?
Thankfully and surprisingly no. We asked everyone who made it in the album, and they were all okay with it. Also, for extra anonymity, I removed all the parts of the voicemail where people used their full names. So, you may hear that someone’s name is Asher, but not Asher Toback, etc.
6. Were there many unused voicemails? If you were collecting them for 8 years there must have been a ton! Can you give an estimate / number? And can you describe the experience of sifting and sorting through all that audio? Was it tortuous, heavenly, or none/all of the above?
Ohhhh geez, yes, there were many many unused voicemails. Too many. Even the voicemails we ended up using, I had to trim them down to fit into the song sections and was forced to remove many charming parts. I would say there are probably over 350 voicemails between Chayse and I that we had access to, and around 100 made it or so. Maybe more if you consider all the robot voices that come in at the end of Posy. The process of sifting through the voicemails was first sorting them into the people who left them, i.e. these are all from my mom, my brother, robots asking about the IRS, robots trying to sell me stuff, misdials, butt dials, etc. Then, I listen through each of those categories and see if I can find any interesting patterns or narratives. For example, my brother and my dad always say what time it is when they leave a voicemail, so when I picked up on that I incorporated it into a song. It was very tortuous and exhausting. I would say, for every 10 seconds of voicemail audio, at least an hour went into curating it and finding a narrative arc for it.
7. How do you find long-distance collaboration? Pros / cons? Do you ever work together in-person?
Long-distance collaboration has been harder, and we have to be very intentional to keep projects moving along. We wrote all the songs when we lived in Portland together, but all the studio recording, mixing, and mastering took place long-distance. Ultimately, it’s worth it though, as we’re very aligned in taste and we each have a lot of respect for each other.
8. What’s the origins story of So Honey?
We both were playing an open mic in Portland. Chase played a cover of a Department of Eagles song, a side project of the guitarist from Grizzly Bear, and Asher let him know how much he dug the song. The rest is history.
9. Tell us about your musical history / training background?
Neither of us have a formal musical training background, and are just self-taught. Asher started playing guitar in high-school, and took two jazz guitar classes at a community college, but that’s it. With enough cover songs and experimentation you can get anywhere you want to go.
10. Can you talk about the track ‘Dumb Idea’? You gave this single voicemail a whole track to itself and it is a fantastically funny voicemail.
This was a voice memo my friend left me to capture an idea for a joke he had. He’s an actor and puts on independent theatre shows, and he just recorded this stream of consciousness into my phone. I think the bulk of the joke is that the dog in the movie “I Am Legend” should win an award for best supporting actor, haha.
Be sure to listen / buy Hi, it’s Mom by So Honey on Bandcamp or stream it on Spotify.
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