Turn It Down

Wild Honey returns with more cosmic folk rock

Q&A: Tommy McCord talks new album, touring


Over the last four years, the Wild Honey Collective has masterfully melded Americana music with rock ‘n’ roll and a dreamy dose of psychedelia. The local outfit has kept busy touring across the country but still managed to record a new album, “Volume 3,” streaming now and on vinyl via GTG Records. The band comprises six multi-instrumentalists: Tommy McCord, Timmy Rodriguez, Danielle Gyger, Dan O’Brien, Adam Aymor and Joel Kuiper. McCord, 37, chatted with City Pulse about the record and his 20-plus years in the music scene.
If people only know you from the more punk sounds of The Plurals, are they surprised to hear Wild Honey Collective?
Tommy McCord: Every band I’ve been a core creative part of has been focused on vocal harmony, be it the more ragged Hüsker Dü or Meat Puppets approach of some of The Plurals’ stuff or the three- and four-part vocal arrangements of Wild Honey, which gets into more country and bluegrass territory. At a glance, it can seem pretty diverse, but for me, everything I’ve done creatively has had a starting point of ‘60s pop — the oldies radio I grew up on as a kid. Wild Honey combines the country-rock thread of The Byrds, The Band, Buffalo Springfield, Buck Owens and The Dillards with traditional American folk music elements and some of our classic-rock and punk-rock backgrounds.

Did you approach “Volume 3” differently from the last two Wild Honey records?
The main difference has been the band growing and becoming a more solid unit. The first album was made as a quarantine recording project, so there are multiple drummers and additional instrumentalists. With “Volume 3,” we finally solidified a core band with Joel Kuiper on drums, so most of the songs were tracked as a band. We recorded some of these songs multiple times because we were constantly gigging together and changing arrangements. The album was still recorded in makeshift studio environments in our houses and some family cabins.

What instrumentation is utilized on this new LP? It’s layered with a lot of sounds.
There’s a basic bed of acoustic guitar, mandolin and pedal steel that every song is built around, with a fair amount of fiddle and acoustic and electric 12-string guitar. There’s also a sprinkling of harmonica, banjo, accordion and various keyboards — mostly organ sounds. While we have a fairly set instrumental lineup for our shows, we all try different things in the studio, and at some point, Dan adds autoharp, baritone guitar and whatever he finds around his house. Shortly after we started putting the record together, Joel joined the band full-time, so there’s more full drum kit on this album than the first two.

“Sideways Headless” has co-writer credits from Michael Boyes of Drinking Mercury and Aaron Bales of Flatfoot. I understand this started as a virtual, quarantine-era songwriting exercise spearheaded by Boyes, correct?

Yes, Michael initiated some virtual collaboration by starting a chord pattern and sending it to musician friends he picked randomly. He and I came up with the initial chords that way before he sent it to Aaron. Aaron took this vaguely Neil Young/Grateful Dead chord structure and wrote lyrics, the vocal melody and the bridge, and it completely blew Michael and me away. I’ve been a big fan of Flatfoot for the 20 years I’ve been kicking around the Lansing music scene.

Beyond that, this LP has many credited writers. How was it collaborating with so many creatives on one album?
I had a sort of epiphany a few years ago, as I was exploring more folk music, that I didn’t need to be so focused on being a songwriter, and could grow a lot by learning other peoples’ songs, be they famous writers or unknown people. This took the pressure off me creatively, led to some great cowrites and wildly improved our skills as arrangers. The Byrds are basically my ultimate influence, and so much of what they did was interpreting other writers, most prominently Bob Dylan. Still, they also had incredible original songs and a remarkable ability to make songs their own. So, I’m following that philosophy pretty closely. I still write songs, but I also like to point out that I’ve only written seven songs that Wild Honey does. Influence, collaboration and interpretation are key creative skills that some musicians ignore.

How do you dig around for traditional songs to cover?
When we made the first album, we were working with a few folk songs that Timmy and I had been playing around with at some of our Drinking Mercury shows, and Danielle grew up in the Wheatland music community, so she had a lot of tunes just swimming in her brain that we learned together. When it settled into place, we had Carter Family standards, things we picked up from Jerry Garcia’s “Pizza Tapes,” instrumental old-time tunes and stuff that appears on every other country-rock record made in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. With just these few parameters, there’s endless material. Dan has a huge library of music, so he’ll find some Ramblin’ Jack Elliott demo of an Appalachian tune, and we’ll bang out an arrangement and start playing it live.

Beyond recording, how has touring been going?
We just finished our fourth tour of the East Coast and are looking forward to a run of shows in the Upper Peninsula in July. The live show is my favorite part of this whole thing, and in just under three years, we’ve managed to rack up more than 150 shows in our various lineups. Sometimes, Adam and I will also do duo gigs around town as Wilderhoney. With our full-band shows, we still bring different people to sub in if a member can’t make it, so it’s always interesting, and no two shows are the same.
Listen to “Volume 3” at gtgrecords.bandcamp.com or buy the vinyl at your local record store.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Connect with us