Interview: Folk N’ Roots Quintet Honey Cellar Discuss Climate-Conscious New Single ‘Dorma’

Music has always been a method used to spark change. This is what Chicago-based band Honey Cellar hopes to achieve with their newest single, “Dorma.”

The track is not just a song with a quality melodic feel, but a message that inspires listeners to make a difference. The folk n’ roots band aims to draw attention to the issue of climate change, doing so in a way that focuses not on politics. Instead, they use a story centered around the beauty of Earth, and reminisce on the simplicity of primitive times. 

The dynamic vocal duo of Cathrine Krol and Danny Connolly intertwine their sophisticated harmonies with Lucy Holden, Tariq Shihadah, and Joey Buttlar, who back the vocalists with mandolin, violin, and percussion. When the group is not recording or writing new music, they are often found playing at breweries or intimate venues around the Chicago area. 

The band has released one album prior in 2020, and this is the second single to be released in anticipation of their upcoming second album. 

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We got to ask Honey Cellar some questions to dig deeper into the inspiration and message of their latest single and more.

So how did y’all get together and form Honey Cellar?

Danny, Catherine, and Lucy — the founding members of the group — all met while attending Beloit College. At school, Danny and Catherine performed as the duo “Cat and Dan” while Lucy and Danny performed in Irish music groups and in the Chicago band Hydrangea Benison. In 2017, the three musicians finally formed a band together with a sound based on their love of folk, rock, and pop music. They quickly realized they needed a drummer and recruited Joey after he moved to Chicago in the fall. Joey and Lucy had met in college when they both played in the folk punk band Opus Dog. A few years later, they added guitarist, vocalist, and flutist Tariq Shihadah, another long-time friend and collaborator in the Chicago music scene. 

Is there a significant meaning or story behind the band name?

Why yes! We were struggling to find a space for a first ever photoshoot that was both free and interesting. We landed in the unfinished basement of Lucy’s childhood home, which was filled with cobwebs, dust, loose screws, and all sorts of oddities in jars and piles on the floors and walls.

Lucy’s father used to keep bees (with the beehives supporting 20,000 bees visible on their city rowhouse from the Chicago brown line train) and harvested their honey in the basement. He would tie hives to the ceiling fan, turn on the fan, and let it whip the honey into a big basin below. It was a very Dad-like contraption and, because of the sweet, sticky residue it had left on almost every surface, it inspired their photographer Mary Antar to come up with the band name “Honey Cellar.” 

How does living on the outskirts of Chicago influence your music and creative perspectives?

The music scene in Chicago is so rich. Everywhere you go, there’s music being made in every form or genre. It’s a very inspiring and encouraging scene that invites everyone to participate. In a general sense, it’s influenced our music and approach to pursuing music in that way. 

So your new single, “Dorma,” is officially out, and has some very important undertones of climate change and activism. Was there a specific moment or happening that triggered the writing of this song?

It’s hard to say. The first version of the lyrics (Lucy) came to me when I was driving home from practice filled with excitement over playing through the idea of the song with Danny for Joey. At that point, it was just a 3-part idea on mandolin and guitar. Joey said something like, “awesome, now it needs lyrics.” So I just started singing them to myself in the car.

I’ve been interested in anthropology for a long time and that was the first theme that came to mind- earth was old, we were new. The undertones of climate change and awe came in later after I’d looked up the word “Dorma,” and was reading lyrics to the aria “Nessun Dorma” in translation from Italian to English. The words that struck me were “None shall sleep, None shall sleep!” and “Vanish, o night! Set, stars! Set, stars!” These made me think of the span of the earth and human existence and of how fragile it all really is. The dinosaurs lived for millions of years, and then were basically (we think) wiped out in a single day.

As humans, we think we’re so powerful, so impenetrable, while really we’re setting up our own end by dumping fossil fuels into the atmosphere, which is slowly making the earth uninhabitable for us. So I was thinking of the last day — none shall sleep, none shall sleep — when even the night will vanish and the stars will set on us for the last time. As you can probably imagine, the original version of the lyrics were dark! But then Danny took them and rewrote them quite a bit to improve them, and shape them more around amazement at the cycles of the earth and wonder at our part in it. It made the song much more optimistic!

What was the process like for writing and recording the song, and where was it produced? 

This is the oldest song on our upcoming album. We’ve actually been performing it now for nearly three years! We wrote it when we were a 4-piece and arranged it as a band, with Danny and Catherine coming up with the vocal arrangement and Joey sculpting the powerful rhythm that drives the song. Drums were recorded by James Triechler — who also mixed the song — at Wave Upon Wave studio in Urbana. The rest of the instrumentation and vocals were recorded by our own Tariq Shihadah at Driftless Studios in Chicago. 

Do you typically write songs that are socially or politically charged like this one?

Not necessarily. We write songs based on what we’re feeling or thinking at the time. So our songs tend to have a mix of topics- love, relationships, family, life/death, etc. We will have another song coming out on the album that’s a little socially charged- “Come What May.” But still in a positive, uplifting way. We’re worried about the state of the world, but we’re hopeful! 

You mentioned how you wanted your listeners to take action after listening to the new single. What do you hope your audience will do after listening to “Dorma?”

We hope they’ll take a moment of the day to look around them and think about the earth around us, and all the wonderful things we take for granted. Maybe it will inspire them to do something for it, to act even in little ways. 

This single is the second release from your upcoming sophomore album. What else can you tell us about the new album?

This album has a massive scope! As we mentioned before, it spans a huge range of topics as well as instrumentation. Our first album featured a lot of songs we had written individually before coming together as a band. But all of the songs on this album were written when we were a band with the intention of performing them together.

Most of them were co written by two or three songwriters: Lucy, Catherine, and Danny. We also added more diverse arrangements to this album; the addition of our fifth member Tariq gives each song new depth in guitar, flute, or vocals. So our sound is a lot more developed, collaborative, and complex on this album, which we could not be more excited about. 

What is the most rewarding part of playing music together?

Getting to see everyone be creative. I love being in the room together when we’re developing a new song and creating our parts together, bouncing ideas off each other. We shine as musicians just as much when we’re performing as when we’re creating. 

Aside from the upcoming album, what are some other long or short term goals Honey Cellar may have?

In the short-term, we’re planning to tour the album nationally and bring our music to a lot of new cities we’ve never visited as a band. In the long-term, we have a lot of ideas for videos and other ventures.

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