Great music begins with great songs, and great songs are what the Honey Island Swamp Band is all about. The band came together when Aaron Wilkinson (acoustic guitar, mandolin, vocals) and Chris Mulé (electric guitar, vocals) were marooned in San Francisco after the levee breaches following Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. After a chance encounter with fellow New Orleans evacuees Sam Price (bass, vocals) and Garland Paul (drums, vocals), and with no prospects of getting home any time soon, they figured they’d better cook up something new, and quick!
Honey Island Swamp Band’s music has been described as “Bayou Americana”, with timeless songs from Wilkinson & Mulé, highlighted by Mulé’s searing guitar, Wilkinson’s sure-handed mandolin, and 4-part vocal harmonies, all anchored by the powerful groove of Price & Paul’s Louisiana stomp rhythm section. The addition of Trevor Brooks on Hammond B-3 organ to the HISB family in 2010 has rounded out the band’s sound, which draws from a variety of influences in the world of roots music, including artists such as Lowell George & Little Feat, The Band, Taj Mahal, Gram Parsons, Jerry Garcia, Johnny Cash, Jimmy Reed, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and New Orleans’ own Earl King and Dr. John.
With the new album Cane Sugar out now, and an awesome tour under way, we couldn’t wait to catch up with the guys! We talked to Chris Mulé about the new album, the band’s most memorable gig and their biggest fans! Check it out!
Congratulations on the new album! What was the recording process like this time around?
The recording process for this one was a little different because we hired a wonderful producer. His name is John Porter. He’s worked with so many great artists like Taj Mahal, Eric Clapton, Los Lonely Boys, which was more recently and they won some Grammys for that record. He came to a show and introduced himself and told us if we were interested in working with him to call him. He was really helpful at developing our songwriting and just developing us as a band in general. It is a more collaborative record than any other record. John played a big part in the arrangement and sound of this record.
For someone who hasn’t been to a live show before, what can they expect?
Our live shows are usually pretty high energy. They can expect some boogyin’ (laughs). We have a lot of songs on our record, ya know, that are country, we have some straight rock stuff, a little psychedelic. In general I’d say we try to represent the song first before trying to put anyone’s ego in there and start playing solos all over the place (laughs). We just want to play our songs and let people appreciate that.
What has been your most memorable show?
We’ve played Jazz Fest for five or six years in a row and one very memorable performance was at the Jazz Fest the year before last when we played the Acura stage. There’s been quite a few memorable show for different reasons. Some of them are memorable because they are bad (laughs) and some are memorable because they are good. It’s always a big thrill to play the Jazz Festival in New Orleans, though.
What other artist(s) or band(s) would you love to play a show with?
Oh, there’s many, many! Probably speaking for most of the members of the band, we’re big fans of the Allman Brothers, so that would be an honor to even share the stage with them. I’m a big fan of Eric Clapton. If we’re going to go into a fictional type of scenario, then ya know, I’m a huge fan of Jimi Hendrix. All in all, I’d say opening for the Allman Brothers would be amazing!
What are 3 things you absolutely have to bring with you on the road?
Including the tools I need (laughs)? I need my luggage, which includes a toothbrush, and my guitar. Honestly, I try to travel light, but usually, I’ll bring some CDs that I really like, too.
What is one of the funniest memories that you guys have shared as a band?
Oh man, there’s a lot! One of them was when we played Krewe du Vieux, a parade during Mardi Gras, we played at the ball, a big party they have after the parade. We decided to dress up and we just got way too drunk. The band that played right before us played 40 minutes over their set time and we just kept drinking. By the time we got on stage, we were way too drunk to be there. It’s not professional at all and we don’t usually get on stage like that. We got caught up in the moment there.
What is the strangest thing a fan has done for you at a show?
We’ve got two super fans from Chicago and their names are Wes and Lauren Schneider. They showed up at a gig three years ago on the Fourth of July at Fitzgerald’s in Chicago. They showed up with a whole crew wearing T-shirts and this was three years ago, we hadn’t even made T-shirts. The girls’ shirts said “#1 Honey, #2 Honey and so on…” We had never seen them before! Since that day they have been heading up our merchandise and have been a big help to us. That was probably the neatest thing anyone has ever done for us. I want to give a shout out to them!
What’s the next plan for you guys? Any new songs in the works?
What I dig most about playing music and being in a band is writing the songs. We plan on doing quite a bit more touring for the next six to ten months to support this record. Our next big move is going to Brazil and doing an East Coast tour all the way up to New York. We’re off to Brazil for the Bourbon Street festival that they have there.
Don’t miss Honey Island Swamp Band play with the Cris Jacobs Band at the State Theatre in DC on August 15th!