Individually and collectively, Christina Bailey, Sara Bollwinkel, and Lauren Shera have a long history of writing and recording beautiful music, and bringing their genre-bending and melodic sounds to new audiences across the nation. In 2010, the three ladies (with a little help from band husbands Matt Bailey and Matt Bollwinkel) joined forces to create their band honeymoon, unleashed their self-described “folk-acana” sound via their debut EP “After the Flood”, and embarked upon a rigorous touring schedule. Last fall, as the ladies were in between honeymoon gigs and various solo projects, they assembled at Gadgetbox Recording Studios in Santa Cruz with their longtime producer Andy Zenczak to record much of the musical score for the documentary Otter 501. Otter 501, an innovative look at the lives and struggles of otters in Monterey Bay, opens on Friday, May 11th in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Monterey, before expanding to a number of cities throughout the West Coast. Visit www.otter501.com for full listings and more information.
In anticipation of the Otter 501 release, the honeymoon ladies recently took a break from rehearsing for a handful of upcoming gigs to give me the scoop on their current and future projects. Here’s what honeymoon shared with me about their process of writing and recording music, what to expect from their plethora of upcoming musical endeavors, and crafting the music they contributed to Otter 501.
Jackson Truax: How did the three of you originally come to form honeymoon?
Christina Bailey: We were all singer-songwriters performing in different arrangements around the Monterey area.
Lauren Shera: We were fans of each other’s music. Sara and Christina were in a band together [Big American Family] that I was in love with. We all played at the same small club in the same small town. It just worked out that we were running in the same circles. Christina proposed to us one day that we should get together and try writing a song as an experiment. That’s what we did.
Christina: That was “Find Me.”
Jackson: Lauren, you have a really strong voice and perspective as a writer, and a strong point-of-view that’s emerged in your writing. How has you voice as a writer evolved, particularly going the sessions of your upcoming third album?
Lauren: That’s an interesting question. I’ve been working a lot recently to try and evolve my writing style. Because I got pretty sick of writing sad songs about myself, which is what I had been doing for quite sometime. Recently, I’ve been playing around a little bit more with writing about other people or making up stories or, if I need to write a sad song, I’ll try and write a sad song about somebody else… Writing sad songs about yourself constantly gets old. So that’s where I’ve been trying to evolve my perspective and my style, with a little bit of distance between me and the story I’m trying to tell. Somehow, I feel like I can express myself a little clearer that way.
Jackson: Sara, you said during a show last fall that your parents had gotten you playing violin at an early age and you didn’t fully appreciate it until later. When did you come to fully appreciate it, and how do you think your playing has evolved since?
Sara: I started, actually fully appreciating it – I still don’t think I fully do, to be honest.
Christina: And you don’t.
Sara: I really don’t.
Lauren: I fully appreciate it.
Christina: I think in Big American Family when you started to really realize that –
Sara: I just realized that I needed to not suck.
Christina: You were like Second Chair when you were playing it often.
Sara: I was.
Christina: You just hadn’t been playing it often, so you had to catch up a little bit.
Sara: Violin’s one of those things that you lose if you stop playing. So I lost it completely. Big American Family was basically an experiment to get me better.
Christina: It seems like in honeymoon was when you started to realize your true talent.
Sara: I’ve grown a lot in honeymoon. But I would still say I don’t fully understand or appreciate my instrument as much as I should. I work at it pretty hard though.
Lauren: Yeah, like when you had to play a whole show with three strings.
Sara: I did have to play a show recently on three strings. I think I had championship success.
Lauren: She had to write all of her parts on the spot, while she was playing them.
Sara: It was awful.
Lauren: It was awesome.
Sara: That’s pretty much where I am with the instrument. I’m learning everyday.
Jackson: Christina, this spring you were unveiling your new band, taking Christina Bailey and the Civil Men out on the road. The sound and stage show of that band is so different from honeymoon. Since both bands are on-going in their recording and touring, once an idea for a song presents itself, do you immediately know if it’s a honeymoon song or Civil Men song? How is the process of making records or rehearsing shows different with the two bands?
Christina: I don’t really know… In honeymoon, we’ve been trying to focus a lot recently on our new direction being a lot more collaboration with one another, trying to write more together. So I come up with ideas for honeymoon, but…I don’t really listen to one of my songs as much I used to anymore and [say] “That belongs in the set right now.” But [the two bands], they’re very different, and very cool, and unique… Rehearsals are pretty similar…we come together and we make music… I have felt really lucky, these last few months in particular, to get the best of both worlds. The ability to exhaust some solo material and step up to the front. Then, the ability to step alongside some really powerful women and continue to write and make music in front of people. It’s really an awesome balance of estrogen and testosterone.
Jackson: How did honeymoon end up being involved in the Otter 501 documentary, and having several new and old songs being used as a large part of the score?
Sara: It really came out of nowhere. Someone contacted our manager and asked if we’d be interested in it.
Lauren: They’d seen that we’d won Best Local Band [in a Monterey County Weekly reader’s poll]. Since this was a local film, I think they had just been doing research on local bands.
Christina: We found out later, after we had already booked the gig when the crew of the movie came to our show in Big Sur and said…“We saw you in the paper and listened to your music and reached out to you.” So it was a really cool thing.
Lauren: We [ended] up writing a couple of original songs for the film as well, and it…produced a couple of interesting songs.
Jackson: One of the honeymoon songs that appears in the film is “The Tide” which has been played a lot at your shows throughout the past year. Was that originally written for Otter 501?
Christina: Totally coincidental. They asked us for a “pensive moment” piece. That song was the most pensive thing we’d had up to that point.
Lauren: And it happened to be about water.
Christina: It did happen to be about water. Thus, the name “The Tide.”
Jackson: Are you planning to include it on the next honeymoon release?
Lauren: Totally, yes.
Jackson: You wrote and played a musical theme for the movie that’s very distinctly honeymoon, and fits the film perfectly. How was it different writing or recording music, knowing it was intended to be used as instrumental score?
Christina: It was fun. It was easier than I thought it would be. We had the right instrumentation for the things they wanted us to do. So we just did what was natural.
Sara: That’s a lot of the time how we write other songs, too. We just start with a simple melody, instrumentally. Then, all we did was not write any lyrics for it this time.
Lauren: Sara got to play more of what would have been a vocal line, with her violin, which was cool.
Jackson: The main theme you wrote for the movie first appears at the beginning of the film, over a lot of establishing shots while Katie, the main character, is reading her journal entry. The music fits the poetry of the voiceover and the images so perfectly. Had you seen that scene in movie? Were you writing and recording to footage?
Sara: They did send us some footage… They had a voiceover, but they hadn’t recorded Katie’s voice yet. So it was [a guy] talking for Katie. So it was like Katie had this big, booming man voice.
Lauren: And it was that scene where she was writing in her journal.
Sara: So that was what our frame of reference was… We live here. We live across the street. So we [could] get a good feel of at least what the footage was going to look like, because we see it everyday. So it’s easy to write a theme for your hometown.
Jackson: Producer Andy Zenczak has a wonderful history of taking your songs and musicianship and helping craft these incredible records, and elevating them into really powerful and immersive experiences. What’s the process of working with him in general, and on the songs that made up the Otter 501 score?
Christina: Andy is amazing… More people need to know about what he does at [Gadgetbox] studio in Santa Cruz. He’s just a really wonderful producer and lover of music.
Lauren: The man’s brilliant. We always have so much fun working with him. He’s one of our best friends. He’s been one of honeymoon’s biggest supporters from the beginning. It’s always an honor to get to work with him in the studio. He always brings incredible ideas to the table, and inspires us and pushes us in directions that we may not have thought about exploring. He’s great to worth with. He’s the best.
Sara: I think he, more than us even, knows what we’re capable of. It’s kind of freaky. But it’s great. Because he knows pretty much what we’re going to do. Then he knows what he’s going to suggest prior to us even doing it… When we tracked out the songs for the film, we did about 6-8 songs in one day, because Andy had an idea of where he wanted to go with it.
Jackson: Of those 6-8 songs, how many were written specifically for Otter 501?
Lauren: “The Tide” wasn’t written for the movie. “Hymn” wasn’t written for the movie.
Sara: We probably wrote 5 or 6 songs or themes for the film.
Lauren: Short clips, here and there. In addition to the full-length songs we wrote, we wrote a bunch of little themes.
Jackson: Or is there any potential for a soundtrack release?
Lauren: I don’t know about [the film’s] plans for releasing the soundtrack.
Sara: It kind of depends on how well the film does. We’ll have to see how many theaters it hits, and if there’s any demand for [a soundtrack]… They’d mentioned wanting to do some sort of live [show] before. Perhaps a soundtrack is in our future.
Jackson: Speaking of the future, there’s been a great deal said and written as of late in regard to you all, individually and collectively, writing, recording and touring with a whole spectrum of projects. What’s the current status of everyone’s records, and what are your immediate plans for recording and touring?
Lauren: I’m working on an album that will probably wind up getting released early next year… I plan on touring to support that. My plans with honeymoon are to just keep having fun with my friends, and writing and playing as much as we can. I’d love to do some more recording with these girls at some point… We’ve had a lot of fun lately… I’m going on an East Coast tour in June. Then, I’ve actually got a West Coast tour that might be in the works for August. But the one that I can talk about now is the one that’s in June, which is [scheduled] around a festival that I’ll be playing in New York called Mountain Jam. I’ll be going all over the East Coast as well as Chicago. I’ll be doing ten dates with David Ramirez. All of those dates are on my website [laurenshrea.com] now.
Jackson: Is it going to be like the Communion tour, where it’s a collaborative night of music between the acts involved?
Lauren: Yeah, definitely. That’s the idea.
Jackson: Sara, it was announced a few weeks back and you’re writing your first solo record. What’s the status of that, and what can fans expect from your first solo outing?
Sara: I’m still writing it. It’s going well, though.
Lauren: I just heard her record an idea when I walked into her apartment earlier.
Sara: It’s funny. Because I’m a businesswoman primarily, I have to sneak into the bathroom at work and record memos into my iPhone of me singing very quietly if I have an idea. I did that today. Then I come home. Matt [Bollwinkel], my husband, he has actually been recording bass on Lauren’s record. So anytime he leaves, it’s like a free-for-all for me to be as loud as I want. So I’ve been getting my ideas down lately. I don’t anticipate the record actually coming out until early next year. But [the release] will definitely not be normal, is all I have to say… It’s going to be strange. I haven’t figured it out yet.
Jackson: Christina, what’s going on with your record, and your recording and touring with the Civil Men?
Christina: We’re almost done with the [“Money Down”] video. It’s taken me a little while to put together. Because I’ve been trying to figure out what my plan is. I’m pretty sure I’m going to do a big single of “Money Down,” a vinyl-type issue… Then a live record that will be a digital download with it… So you’ll get to hear a little bit of the Civil Men, then a really produced version of “Money Down.”
[Editor’s note: Since this interview was conducted, Christina Bailey and the Civil Men scheduled a show on Thursday, May 10th at Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz. Check out the event’s facebook page for more information.]
Jackson: Amidst all of these solo projects in various stages of development, what’s the status of the next honeymoon release and any plans to tour?
Sara: We’re playing…in Mill Valley [on Tuesday]… Our other plans are kind of [to be decided], based on all of our crazy solo stuff that we have going on. It’s kind of hard to juggle essentially four different acts… Have we been writing for a record? Yes. Have we been recording? Not quite yet.
Christina: We’ll do that all in one bunch, when we have a full idea ready to go.
Lauren: We’ve really just been focusing on trying to get our live act together, and rearranging some of our old songs and just kind of freshening up our live sets, and really enjoying that aspect of it.
Filed under: LiC Interview