What do you do next after travelling around the world for five years? When you’ve been playing sold-out shows across the globe, where does that take you? It’s those questions that dwelled in the mind of HONNE, four years on from the release of debut album ‘Warm On A Cold Night’ in 2016, their story since has been nothing short of remarkable. Click onto Spotify, and you’ll see monthly listeners in the millions, a go-to for 21st-century romantics – whether it’s heartbreak or falling arse over tit in love, HONNE have it nailed. Confidence must be flying, right? Singer Andy Clutterbuck laughs. “I don’t know whether it’s the fact that we have no self-belief, but every time it comes around to release new music, I feel like we’re just going to put something online and there’s going to be this big echo of like space, and nobody’s there to receive it!”
“It’s like, everyone gets the fear,” continues producer James Hatcher. “It’s been a year and a half on from touring so we think it should be fine, but we haven’t released any music in nearly two years… so there’s no reason why anyone should give a shit.”
Put those fears to bed, chaps. HONNE’s return has been met with quite the opposite – jumping right back into the new world they’ve created. But after two albums crammed with their signature style, stepping up on their second LP, 2018’s ‘Love Me / Love Me Not’, with a record full of depth and hypnotic hooks, what would come next was wide open. The road to new mixtape ‘no song without you’ certainly wasn’t clear as they stepped off stage on the final night of tour. “I remember Brixton Academy was one of the final nights, and we’d just come off stage after it went really, really well,” recalls Andy, “but it felt like, and I can’t really explain it, but it felt like loads of stress just left my body all at the same time. After that, we had no idea what would come next. I think that was part of our problem. We just carried on writing music and y’ know…”
“I’m sure we’ve written some good songs over the past couple of years,” he continues, “but it just felt like a repetition of what we were doing with ‘Love Me / Love Me Not’ and nobody had really said anything. We kinda just thought, let’s carry on and see what happens.”
That search for something else, what comes next, raised its head again. Decamping to LA together, Andy and James found themselves drawn to something new. Writing and bouncing ideas off each other in the same room (something they’d never done before, preferring to stick to forming ideas individually and passing tracks between themselves to work together), a new sound began to emerge. Sun-kissed, warm and packed with melodies – it laid the basis for what was to come. What was next was suddenly now. “We wrote ‘no song without you’,” remembers Andy, “and that sort of set the precedent for the rest of the music we wrote in LA. It wasn’t really planned; it just happened that way.”
After chatting with collaborators, HONNE were clear in the direction they wanted to take. The result is a self-described mixtape, both earnest and wholesome, whilst glistening with a subtle warmth; like a collection of songs that sits together like a homemade cassette tape that you’d post to the person you love. Cute, personal and tender, the result is a record that nestles up under the stars, with HONNE’s unshakeable knack for golden pop melodies rising to the top.
“It’s something that’s kinda always been there through our lives,” explains Andy, pointing to the album’s rich sounds and warm approach. “I grew up on bands like The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin and all that, so it’s always been there in the background. Me and James both grew up playing guitar, and there’s a lot more of that on this album. People like Tame Impala, Whitney, Rex Orange County, Rich Brian – those were the sounds and artists we were listening to and drawn towards. It all came together with something we were really excited by.”
Writing away in the studio together (before returning to the UK when lockdown truly kicked in) proved to be a refreshing experience for both, something that can be heard ringing across ‘no song without you’. Bonded and intimate, but boasting those huge singalongs that’ll ring louder once back in front of crowds, there couldn’t have been a better way for this mixtape to fall into place. “There was quite a big difference compared to how we worked before,” notes James. “When we write apart, it can be faster in one sense, but when we’re together, we can just pop our heads out of where we are and chat about everything. It wasn’t working around each other, but together. I think the songs, as a result, are a lot more fluid.”
From the flicking ‘free love’, the rising gospel of ‘by my side’ and the bright’n’breezy ‘loving you is so easy’, to the almost nursery-rhyme ease of the lovestruck ‘la la la that’s how it goes’, the submerged pleas of ‘one way to tokyo’ and the blanket-wrapped ‘gone gone gone’ – ‘no song without you’ is a smooth collection of a band effortlessly flexing their songwriting muscles. Positivity (even when staring at the worst) rings true, none more so than the call to arms of closing track ‘smile more smile more smile more’, a spoken-word breakdown of hope covering body-positivity, self-care and love to brighten anyone’s day. Choose Love? Well, do that – but also smile more, smile more, smile more is the message. “It is part of the HONNE sound,” points out Andy when thinking of the positivity heard across the record. “We find it easy, and it comes naturally to write about positive things; it wasn’t anything we really talked about, it just happened naturally. It’s a good time for a bit of positivity.”
It feeds into that mixtape feel, born from a time of joy in their own lives. “Andy had just gotten married, and with ‘no song without you’ a lot of the words he said as a part of his speech on the day. Like, there would be no songs because she’s inspired so many. He wouldn’t be in HONNE without her…” James pauses and smiles “… or me!”
“That mixtape feel, it just works so well for us here,” says Andy. “It can be whatever you want it to be, but those little bits we add in throughout bring it together with this certain feel. We love Frank Ocean for example, and with ‘Channel Orange’, there are loads of those little interludes and moments, and they became some of our favourite parts, so we always wanted to make a body of work that had that bit of fun in it really.”
It all welcomes HONNE into an exciting new chapter, both redefined and refreshed with countless paths open for them to head down. Not so much a departure, but a natural evolution – that swooning pop centre remains bold, if not bolder than ever before. It all fits into James’ goal for where HONNE continues to grow. “I’d like to be an artist where the next thing you release is the most popular, and I hope we can carry on doing that. I like that we’re not one-hit wonders, we’re an album artist that people dive into which is a really positive thing for us and makes us want to continue to create albums rather than standalone singles.”
Buoyed, and unlike HONNE, there’s even talk of what comes next already. “It’s a strange position to be in,” elaborates James, “but we’ve got two or three songs ready already for the next album. It’s strange to have a starting point for what we’re going to do next because we’ve never really had that before… we’ll let those songs guide the direction we continue in.”
The millions of streams. The sold-out shows around the globe. The adoring fans who sing along to every word. HONNE are there, slipping through your letterbox with songs of hope and love in a time of sorely needed dreaming.
Taken from the August issue of Dork. HONNE’s mixtape ‘no song without you’ is out now.
Words: Jamie Muir