by David Anthony (@DBAnthony)
Austin, Texas’ Honey And Salt has existed for nearly a decade but they don’t have a ton of music to their name. That’s due, in large part, to them only recently finding a stable lineup. Formed in 2009 by guitarist and vocalist Wade Allen, he eventually linked up with bassist Austin Sears, working on the material that would populate the band’s debut Seams of Value along with drummer Daniel Mee. But Mee left before the album was even released, and Benjamin Sams took up his spot, even playing the release show for Seams of Value without even playing on the record.
On April 6, Spartan Records will release Honey And Salt, the band’s first album with a lineup that’s now fully congealed. The record is full of dazzling math-rock workmanship, but it mains a pop spirit underneath it all, turning songs of technical wizardry into something you can hum along with. Post-Trash is premiering “A Nihilist Takes Up Knitting” below, the album’s opener that shows just how energetic and nimble Honey And Salt has become. We also talked to the band about their history together, the album, and their philosophical approach to lyrics.
David Anthony: I know the band has changed a lot over the years. Can you bring me up to speed on the band’s history?
Wade: Honey And Salt has been a project for eight or nine years—something like that. I started originally with one friend when I moved to Austin. I moved from Houston and we started jamming, then we found our buddy Jacob on Craigslist and we played for like a year. There was then a two-year hiatus and then, in 2013, we found Austin on Craigslist, so he’s been with us for four or five years. Our other drummer Danny moved on to other projects, then we found Ben through a mutual friend in 2016. He didn’t play on the last record, Seams of Value, but he played the release show. This is my personal take, but for the self-titled record, having Ben in the band provided Austin and I with a lot more energy. It just felt like the pinnacle of this band. It’s the final, and best, iteration.
DA: Ben, how was it jumping into a band that had just finished making an album and you immediately had to get up to speed?
Ben: When I joined the band, I didn’t even know what math-rock was. I am being fully serious. I listened to metal and a lot of progressive music, so when I first joined the band it was kind of nice not knowing what that style of music was, because I didn’t just jump to it. I could approach it and be kind of separated from it. Honestly, it was a challenge, but it doesn’t feel like that now. We put everything into it, and everything just felt organic and natural. It wasn’t like we were like, “Okay, we’re gonna do this song in 4/4 time.” We just play the songs and see what feels right.
DA: You all come from different musical backgrounds. How important was it to feel that on the record? Do you think it gives the album its own kind of energy that’s less tied to the math-rock thing?
Austin: That energy definitely came from Ben. I also come from playing in hardcore bands, so I’m used to that kind of speed, and when Ben came in with that energy, I knew exactly what to do. We’d hear Wade’s songs and push them in that direction.
Wade: We all have different backgrounds, and there aren’t huge differences in age, but we all listened to stuff differently when we were kids. I’m coming more from a ‘90s punk background, listening to a lot of Dischord stuff; Fugazi and At The Drive-In were my favorite bands when I was 17. I think for this, we all like mathy bands, but we were like, “Let’s try not to be a predictable math-rock band anymore.” We could all noodle and be technical just for the sake of it, but we all find that a little played out. We were all trying to write actual songs that are technical and dense, but we had more of a plan. We weren’t just going to create a part in 7/8 just for the sake of it.
Ben: It was nice not to write like that. Like I said earlier, it came together pretty naturally. The riffs would come in and I would just play the first thing in my brain, and it was pretty close to what the final product is. It was just finding what sounded good together.
DA: That seems to be a bit of a trend in math-rock now, with bands bringing choruses and melodies to the front. Do you feel like math-rock allows for this more than other genres in terms of expanding outside of whatever the accepted mold is?
Wade: Going back to the math-rock thing, I don’t want to say we have a distaste for that.
Austin: We all love a lot of math-rock bands.
Wade: Totally, we love a lot of math-rock. But to be called a math-rock band, we accept it and are cool with it. I just think it’s good to show that we’re not trying to rip off Hella or Tera Melos or something like that—even though we love those bands a lot. Going back to the Fugazi reference, there was an interview with Guy Picciotto where he was talking about punk and hardcore and how a lot of the stuff in the ‘80s and ‘90s was so ritualized. At an early age, I didn’t want to write music like that where everyone knows when the breakdown is happening.I think even in math-rock certain things have become ritualized, and we’re just trying not to do that.
Austin: A lot of my interpretation of what math-rock means is that it’s a term for modern progressive music. Ben and I come from progressive music, that was the first kind of music that really grabbed me when I was in early high school. I heard The Mars Volta for the first time and it just blew open the door for that style of music. But I was also a superfan of the pop music at that time, and even since the early-’90s, that’s what I grew up listening to. And that’s why I think you can make a pop song that’s progressive and kind of extend the genre.
DA: “A Nihilist Takes Up Knitting” seems to encapsulate that. Is that why you made it the first song on the album?
Wade: I think I came in with maybe the first two riffs, and that first riff really has a country twang to it, but I thought it was really catchy and poppy. Ben was asking me what kind of drums I was thinking about and I said something more straightforward. Right when he started playing, it felt like a first song on an album. The first practice where we wrote those riffs, I told the guys this should be the first song. When Austin came in with that super catchy bass line, it just wrote itself.
Ben: I remember, very specifically with this song just running out of ideas. So yeah, print that up. [Laughs] I just ran out of ideas and couldn’t figure out a cool intro so I just did a simple 4/4 thing. I love it now, but at the time it was just like, whatever. But I think that’s what gives it that driving, pop thing, because everything’s hitting on one. It just feels like a poppy Tera Melos song to me.
DA: On the lyrical side, people have talked about Wade’ philosophy background. Could you tell me about what fascinated you with that subject matter and how it made its way into “A Nihilist Takes Up Knitting”?
Wade: I think Austin and I got together and we had half of the record demoed, but a lot of the lyrics were really up in the air. Austin does a good job of reining me in, as I can write a lot of dense, philosophical lyrics that doesn’t sound pretentious to me, but it can sound pretentious to other people. I’m trying to be better about writing lyrics that still have meaning to me but, at the same time, don’t sound like I’m speaking French or something. As far as “A Nihilist Takes Up Knitting,” not only was the music the most driving, energetic song, we talked about having a theme for the whole record of being positive, almost as a necessity for my own personal state, just so I can survive and cope with the world. Everything is pretty fucked and bleak at the moment, so Austin and I got together and we were both just tired of having friends just be too nihilistic.
Austin: And just defeatist. Austin can be a bubble in Texas in its own way, but that just seems really prevalent everywhere. We saw it in a lot of our friends and coworkers, and I think we tried to drive the lyrics toward something that’s not just despair.
Wade: My philosophy background, I’ve been dealing with these kind of nihilistic backgrounds for a long time. The election and other world events have gotten a lot of us down in the last year or two, and the title “A Nihilist Takes Up Knitting” was kind of tongue-in-cheek. If someone doesn’t think anything matters, they’re still going to find value in something, even if it’s as simple as knitting.
Honey And Salt's self-titled album is out April 6th via Spartan Records.