When you ask Andy and James (no surnames necessary) to describe the musical aesthetic of HONNE, the bandmates don't struggle to find the right words. "We always like to think that you can imagine yourself driving late at night with the windows down, warm summer breeze coming in," Andy says slowly. "With a loved one," James chimes in. " A bit romantic... Hot and steamy," adds Andy.
We have been crushing on the London-based duo ever since their song "Warm on a Cold Night" crept into the cracks of our hearts and heated them up. To our dismay, both lads are taken but that doesn't mean we can't appreciate sources of their inspiration. For Valentine's Day, we premiered HONNE's music video for "Woman," a tender tune that is generally about caring for someone.
Before they headed down to Austin to steal the hearts of everyone at SXSW, we kicked back with the guys and had them dish on what they've been cooking up in the studio and on modern-day romance. Read their thoughts, below.
How did you both get into music?
Andy: It started really young for both of us, I think. I just remember going back to being in primary school and having a real interest in instruments. I started learning guitar at an early age, and also started writing songs, as well. They were probably pretty terrible when I was younger. But it’s just something I’ve always wanted to do. And you’re the same, aren’t you?
James: Yeah I think I had piano lessons when I was younger but when I was about 11 or 12, I remember I picked up the guitar for the first time and got completely obsessed with it. From that moment, I was like “I wanna be in bands. This is what I’m gonna do.” I didn’t want to go to uni and study and everything. It’s weird. I think that’s the age, maybe, when you start to get obsessed with something long term and you really get going with that.
A: It sounds a bit weird, but at school, if you played guitar, it was just another interest that people could latch onto. So it was quite nice to do that and have people go, “Oh, wow, you can play that song, that’s cool.”
When you were growing up, were you listening to a lot of R&B music, since you make electro soul kind of stuff?
J: You couldn’t really escape it when we were teenagers in England.In the ‘90s, it was huge.
A: Yeah, it was a mixture. In my house, I’ve got two sisters, and they both listen to stuff, and then my parents also listen to different stuff. So growing up, my music taste was quite eclectic. But there was definitely a lot of ‘90s R&B floating around at school and that sort of stuff.
J: I guess we were both into quite a mixture of stuff, weren’t we?
A: When we first met, the kind of electronic side of things has come from, I guess, bands like Radiohead and their more electronic stuff. And you got me into Moderat and Modeselektor and that kind of stuff. They’re like German electronic artists, and they’re really really cool.
How did you guys meet? I read that you met in school, but how did you become friends and collaborators?
J: It was all quite sudden. We just met on the first day of university. We were just in the dinner queue at the same time, and we just started chatting and within a couple of days we were writing music together. That was six or seven years ago now. I think that’s why this has worked so well—because we know each other inside out, and what makes each other tick or makes each other annoyed. Writing music, I’ll know whether an idea that I come up with is something that Andy’s gonna be interested in.
A: In terms of how we do it, in the writing process, it’s normally a separate thing. Because we’ve known each other for so long, we know what works and what doesn’t. We can afford to be apart when we’re writing. So James will quite often come up with music, and I’ll do lyrics and melodies, and it’s all separate until the very end when we get together and finish the track up. It works quite well just because we can be really productive and be working on various things at the same time.
How long were you guys working on Gone Are the Days? Because I know you had the two EPs that came out before.
A: It’s like a mini album, I guess.
J: Yeah, it’s more like an extended EP.
A: How long were we working on it?
J: We’ve had those songs for quite a while, didn’t we?
A: Yeah. So, “No Place Like Home,” that’s an interesting one in that it was written between London and Tokyo; I was in Tokyo at the time and the lyrics kind of referenced that. But yeah, another example of us writing tracks when we’re apart. And then we did some late-night versions of just James and I on the piano and vocals, and some of the other tracks that we’ve previously released but just a different thing.
J: People seem to really like them [the tracks] when they’re stripped back. I think a lot of the focus is on, as much as we do loads of production and everything, a lot of it is on the actual song, just the chords, and the melody, and the harmony, and all. It’s nice that people can enjoy them like that, as well.
What is one of your favorite songs that you’ve created so far?
J: I think “Warm on a Cold Night” for me. It just came really, really naturally and took one or two days in total. We wrote the chords together on that, I think. I sent the music to Andy and he sang on it. It was basically done the same day.
A: Yeah, it was really easy.
J: Live, people seem to really connect with it, and the lyrics are a bit special.
A: I really like—it’s not been released yet, but we’ve got a song coming out when our album will be out—it’s called “Good Together.” We got a 10-piece choir for it. Normally we record everything at home in our piano room in our houses. But this time, we got the opportunity to go into a real recording studio and record a really cool choir. It sounds really great.
What are your crowds usually like? I mean, I’m sure it varies depending on what city you’re in. But are people kind of chill and feeling it, or do they actually dance?
A: Generally speaking, people are quite up for it. We never really see it, but our sound man always gets in the back, and in front of him are a lot of couples grinding. So he has a good time. At our last show, straight away we played the first chord and people were up on shoulders—it’s really cool. It’s great to see.
J: Last time we were in America people went nuts from before we even went onstage.
How many people do you have for your live setup?
A: So when we do live [shows], we’ve got a full band, and along with me and James, we’ve got a drummer, a bass player, and sometimes two backing vocalists as well. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do. We didn’t want to just play the songs exactly how they were on record.
J: We didn’t want to press play on a laptop and jam along with it.
A: We want it to be a live experience, and something people couldn’t get just by listening to us. I think we’ve achieved it. It’s pretty good.
Since your songs are so romantic, what advice would you give to the young millennial lads of today about wooing a lady?
A: It’s difficult because I’ve been in a relationship for going on eight years. It’s a long time. That was a long time ago when I was wooing any ladies. What would I say?
J: What about some nice long-term relationship advice?
A: How can I put this in the nicest way possible? I think everyone can expect to go through hard times, and I don’t think that you should give up on something too easily. I think people nowadays can be like “Ah, something’s not quite right, so let’s just ditch it” and they go on to the next thing, go on Tinder or whatever.
J: Short attention span.
A: Exactly. I’m a bit more traditional I guess and go back to my parents and stuff. They’ve been together for a long, long time. I think I have the same values. They’ve been together for 30 years or something, which is pretty crazy.
J: I think you’ve just got to stick with it, and even though there will be hard times, just plow on through and come out the other side.
A: Think of the bigger picture.
J: Exactly. I guess don’t stay with someone if they don’t treat you right. If you break up with someone, it’s probably for a pretty good reason and you shouldn’t keep trying to go back to it. I think lots of people do that. It’s often the case that someone is really bad to someone in a relationship, and when you’re really besotted with them it’s hard to see objectively when something’s really wrong.
A: And people sometimes get caught up in, if they’re in a relationship and it’s not going too well, they’re like, “Ah, if I’m not with this person I’m never going to find someone else. I’m going to be alone forever.” But it’s not like that because there is someone else.
J: Now there is Tinder.
What for you guys is an ideal romantic night out? I know you’ve been with your ladies for a while, but what do you do to make things special?
J: I like going out for dinner.
A: Yeah, same. We’ve started going bowling. I was winning and now Phoebe has won twice against me. She’s nailing it.
J: You’ve got to stop bowling.
A: Bowling’s fun. What else? Just interesting things. You’ve got to keep things fresh.
J: My ideal night out is my girlfriend cooking for me. She loves cooking. She makes amazing Asian food, so I’m way into that. She probably won’t agree, but that is an ideal night out.