The Honey Dewdrops Navigate 'Tangled Country'
** Editor's note: What follows is a transcript of an interview Kagey Parrish of the Baltimore-based duo Honey Dewdrops.
Ed Malchowski: For those who aren't familiar with your story, Kagey, tell us a bit about how the Honey Dewdrops came together.
Kagey Parrish: Laura Wortman and I met in college back in 2003, when we were playing in a rock band with friends. That band didn't last very long. At that time, Laura and I were getting into acoustic music. We were listening to bluegrass, singer-songwriter, old- time music ... that type of music. The rock band broke up quickly but we stayed togethher and ended up playing a lot of music and singing together. It just progressed through college and up until now. We're married now as well.
Well, looking at your tour itinerary, it looks like Merlefest in Wilkesboro, NC, is in your spring plans. Is this your first time playing there?
This will be the first time playing at the festival. We've both been to the festival a few times over the years and we're really honored to be part of the lineup this year. We're pumped and excited. It's definately like a "bucket list" opportunity. The lineup is a nice mix of older standard bluegrass musicians but they do a great job of bringing in new folks like Laura and I. There are a lot of younger bands there like us which I think is great.
You'll be playing material from your latest release, Tangled Country, on this tour. Tell us a little about your fourth effort which is released in May.
We got started writing songs for Tangled Country early last Winter 2014. I had an injury to my left hand. I broke a small bone in the palm of my hand which kept us at home for a little while longer than we planned to be. However, because of that we ended up having a lot more time to write and demo new material. So we finished up the writing this past Fall. We started recording in November/December here, in a little studio [Clean Cuts Studio] in Baltimore.
The time spent writing seems worth it. The songs come across as well-connected thematically and hold together as an album. Tell us about the themes of Tangled Country.
The collection of songs all go together under the name Tangled Country because they are all about navigating difficult times in life. Some of them have to do with personal relationships, some of them have to do with getting a little older and the passage of time. There all based on this same set of themes. We're totally excited to tour with this new material. I can't wait to get these songs out there. We've been sitting on it since January. We've expanded our sound for the first time in this record. We love the duo setting, however. We think that making music between two people; harmony singing with just a couple of instruments is a great way to make music. But, on this release, we've added a pedal steel, a bass player, some piano and one cut with drums!. I love the addition of pedal steel with our friend, Dave Hadley. It's been fun to expand things. We got started playing mostly bluegrass and old-time country music. I certainly love that stuff. As time has gone on, we've developed our songwriting, our craft, a little bit more as the years progress. We're sort of finding our way into territory that is a little more personal and a little more authentically us. Sometimes, as a result, it's fun to add some piano tones or maybe a Telecaster here and there.
You make yourself sound like an old man but, in fact, you're pretty young still, for an "old soul." One of the new tunes on Tangled Country -- "Young" -- reminds me of this theme. It's a beautifully written song about the times we're in. It's clear that these days we have so much input, so much communications we can access but it's also a time when people find themselves so isolated and lonely. It seems that, despite all this, people are not communicating very well or very deeply. Could you speak to the writing of this song?
A big catalyst for that song was listening to a "Fresh Air" broadcast interviewing a psychiatrist who's just written a book about technology and it's effects specifically on the millenial generation which I guess includes me. I'm in my early 30's. We're talking about people who've had the internet around for most of their lives, they've had smart phones most of their youth and the impact of that technology on our interpersonal relationships with family and friends. One of the things she talked about is that we're spending most of our lives in front of our screens. We're connected to various devices, through websites, through social media. Her research has shown that these kind of things haven't made people feel like they're actually connected more. It seems to show that people are a little more lonely. We don't have that face to face contact. Even a phone conversation is becoming rarer and rarer. That song, "Young," got started thinking about these issues. It's also about watching friends our age enter the home-buying age. College friends are settling down with families. As time passes, we grow and process things a bit differently. I don't want it to seem like this is just a sad song about the state of things because I feel like opening up to realizing how you're feeling is a great big step in the right direction.
Going back a bit chronologically, I was really fascinated by the role of A Prairie Home Companion's talent show in the development of your career. I read you applied to the show just for fun without expectations?
At that time in 2008, we had just started writing our own music for the first time. I felt really called to do that. So we had a few songs written and the deal was you sent them a link to your MySpace site. So we did that and promptly forgot all about it. A few weeks later, we got a call and the caller ID said it was Prairie Home Companion, St Paul Mn. And we said, "Isn't that nice of them to take the time to let us know we did not get into the competition." Instead they said, "We'd love to have you guys come out." The talent show has been going on for years with a different theme each year. The theme this year was "Talented 20-somethings." We somehow ended up winning the whole contest.
Your band name, The Honey Dewdrops, evokes sweetness yet many of these songs are full of sorrow, loneliness and struggle. I wanted to ask you about the tune "Loneliest Song."
I'm glad you asked about that one! We joked around that for a long time about how sad songs make us happy! They make us feel better. I feel like this is a true statement. I get so much out of listening to what we might typically classify as a sad song. Maybe the word, sad, isn't the right word. Maybe it's just an introspective song, maybe it's a song that's trying to get to the heart of the matter. I feel like when we watch film, we read novels, we view or we take in any kind of art, what is good about these experiences is there's some kind of conflict, there's some kind of grasping for what's happening and trying to make sense of those things. Let's face it. If we're watching a film where there is no conflict, there's nothing to resolve, well it's not much of an experience. There's not much to take out of that. There needs to be a sort of change that happens; a resolution that comes at the end. For that to happen, you do have to address the fact that "We don't always feel happy, not always in the most comfortable place in our life.' But, I feel that trying to turn that corner, figure out how we can get better...is what it's all about. So that song, "Loneliest Song" is a reaction to that statement that sad songs make us feel better. The idea is that every song, like every piece of art, has a sort of loneliness in it. It's lonely to be in this world. The song is about owning up to that; figuring out how can feel a little better. I've really enjoyed sharing that one with folks this year while on tour.