A California Honeydrops concert is a fully immersive, dance-crazy musical experience. “We want to play with you, not at you”, explains California Honeydrops drummer Ben Malament. Combining the contagious rhythms of Bay Area R&B in communion with the vibrant energy of Southern soul and Delta blues, The California Honeydrops have captivated audiences across the US with their off-the-cuff style of performing. With instrumentation spanning from trumpets, drums, and keyboards, to the washboard and bass, The California Honeydrops produce an organic, gritty sound that stays true to the group’s street-level, busking origins.
We spoke to drummer Ben Malament of The California Honeydrops to discuss how the band has evolved since their inception, their various inspirations, and their love for a live audience.
Buy tickets ($15 advance / $18 day of show) for The California Honey Drops with Hustle Rose on Sunday, July 23rd here.
Q: You began playing music as a duo, busking on the streets and subway stations of Oakland, California. How has your sound changed since then?
A (Ben Malament): It was actually a trio. And then a quatro. And then a trio. And then a quatro. Now it’s a cinco. Sometimes a sexto. From a soul tub (tub bass), trumpet, and washboard, to two horns, keys and electric bass and a broken down drum kit. The sound is more electric but we try to keep it downhome and rootsy at the same time. The crowd still dances with us and the tips have gotten better!
Q: A big part of the California Honeydrops show experience is that you don’t create set lists, instead encouraging requests from the crowd. What do you think this adds to your shows?
A: We try to make our shows about the moment. We don’t want to force a repetitive act down anyone’s throat. We might make you get up and dance, but it’s all about the full experience, incorporating the energy of the crowd, not just the musicians on stage. We want to play with you, not at you.
Q: Your music has been described as a mixture of R&B, smooth Delta blues, and high-energy danceable rhythms. Who would you say are your biggest influences?
A: There are so many. The party-makin, booty-shakin brass bands of New Orleans like Rebirth and Hot 8 come to mind. R&B artists like Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Sly and The Family Stone, Johnny Guitar Watson. Old School Blues like Jimmy Liggins, Lowell Fulsom, Champion Jack Dupree. And an array of gospel music. I’m only getting started…
Q: You’ve recently been touring with legendary blues guitarist Bonnie Raitt. What did you learn from that experience?
A: That you can have great success, international respect and recognition, play all over the world with the biggest names in music, continue doing your thing for many decades, stand up and be out spoken about the causes you believe in, and STILL be a completely wonderful, down to earth, beautiful human being. Bonnie Raitt is a true role model.
Q: You’ve visited Minnesota a few times now, performing at the 2014 State Fair as well as on Prairie Home Companion. What are you most excited for this time around?
A: Fried sticks of Butter! And buckets of cookies. Annnnnnnd getting to play in a city with wonderful people and wonderful fans who we don’t get to see that often!
Q: What’s inspiring you lately?
A: As I am writing this I am looking out a large window, on a farm, to an untouched green hill, from a living room in a house full of friends and family. The band is here, we just got in from swimming in the river, and we are being hosted by good people who feed us fresh food from the farm, and the children are running around playing, making up games with numbers and colors and painting signs for the show tomorrow, using their fully painted hands AND feet! It feels like the world is sitting still for a moment, that, in this moment, in this place, we are all looking out for each other, making sure everybody has got what they need to feel alright today, to get up and go strong with what they love to do, when that time comes. No pressure. Just love. That love, that warmth from the sun in the window, is inspiring.