Should female drummers have alternative drum setups

Gear chat and interview with Honne

Interview about equipment and favorite synthesizer Prophet 08

With “Someone that Loves You” (featuring Izzi Bizu) as a single, Honne are releasing their debut album “Warm on a Cold Night”. The electronic soul duo from Great Britain has been working on their career for two years. With over 1 million plays on Soundcloud just for their EP “Coastal Love”, one can be curious what their major release, marketed by Warner, will bring. You can already look back on 20 million streams on Spotify. They also have several sold out tours in their sacks. Stylistically, they bring back music that has not been heard in a long time: Somehow an updated sound from the early 80s. With programmed, groovy 808-like beats, relaxed mid-tempo and classic, warm synth sounds with soulful vocals. You can literally feel a cocktail materializing in your hand. A colleague spontaneously called the songs "Klarmach-Mucke", the sound also seems to appeal to women in particular.

Multi-instrumentalist James Hatcher and singer Andy Clutterbuck are both producing and songwriting. In the smallest setup, James plays the stage piano and synthesizer, while Andy sings and operates the drum machine. In the meantime, however, they mostly tour with a full band line-up with a drummer, bassist and background singer. Since they are unmistakably real gear nerds (take a look at their Instagram), we asked them for a gear chat as part of their promotional tour.

Vintage drum machines - your heart will open. Photo: © Ralf / bonedo.de

You have a pretty unusual mix of synths and those old school beats. How did you come to this sound?

Andy: James and I have known each other for quite a while, 6 or 7 years. But a few years ago we decided to give music a serious try, because that was always our dream. We wrote a bunch of songs and experimented with sounds, with sound palettes that have their own and don't fit into a drawer.
James:
Where we ended up was a Dave Smith Prophet 08 - our main source for sounds and 808 drum machine samples, as we don't have any real ones. I still dream of being able to get hold of one cheaply on the used market. And samples from a Simmons snare mixed with the 808 beats. Andy still has a Mopho, we both have NORD Stage Pianos - and I have an old Moog Prodigy. Then we have a DSI Tempest drum machine and an old Roland TR-77 that I inherited from my great-uncle.

Did you also use the TR-77 on the album?

James: More when it comes to song writing, as it is already very "crusty-sounding". (Laughter)

Home Studio Happiness: Moog Prodigy, Nord Stage and Prophet 08, plus some recording equipment. Photo: © provided by Honne

Andy: Our recording setup is actually pretty modest, but it works well for our needs. We have 500 series lunchboxes with some nice modules - preamps, EQs, and compressors.

So you both have these home recording setups that you use to develop the songs?

Both: Exactly.

I read that James knits the playbacks and beats and Andy does the top lines?

James: Yes - that's how it was at the beginning. But now we both do it. Whoever starts the music sends it around, Andy then does the lyrics, and then we meet and produce it.

... and then you both play the Funky 80s guitars on it?

(Laughter)
James:
That's probably me, I'm a big Michael Jackson fan. That probably seeped into my music.

In another interview you said you had to learn the hard way to keep it simple live. What happened? Do you have some wisdom for us?

Andy: Live we have a band with us. Actually Honne is just James and I, but live we have a fantastic drummer, bass player and a backing singer. We wanted to have it live differently than on the album, to offer the audience a different experience live. We also wanted to give it a “human element”. When we started out, our goal was never two guys with their laptops. Even if there are of course great acts that do it that way. But we wanted to offer more show. Of course we have electronics on stage, but the right musicians help to give the music a little more of the “soul element”.
James:
I think we realized it had to be like this because at our first gig in a cafe in East London - where we didn't tell anyone but a few friends about it before - we were still playing everything ourselves ... and it was kind of like StarTrek, with all these gizmos around us. Insane ... Andy and I sang parts of the songs while we ... (demonstrates how he taps on devices) ....

... works for disclosure!

(General exhilaration)

James: Yeah
Andy: ... and Jack Garrett does it great too.
James: We wanted all the nice instruments and elements, but that Andy still has the opportunity to perform as a singer - and not be too restricted by triggering samples and so on.

Live, Honne complement the line-up with drums, bass and backing vocals.

If you play in pairs, I saw a video on Youtube from SXSW, does Andy operate the drum machine and James does the rest? So that's how you started?

Andy: ...exactly. And the first gig was even more ...
James:
... Andy also played bass ...
Andy:
... and a keyboard ... (Laughter) ... was good too. I wouldn't mind a few more gigs like that, because it's interesting sometimes. But with the live band we just enjoy it. It's never the same. From gig to gig it's always a little different. That keeps it alive for us - which is important for our soul's salvation.
(laugh)

Do you play along with the click track, or does the drummer play over the drum tracks?

Andy: We play to the click track. We use Ableton to trigger samples and do a few things that would be just impossible live. Ableton is such a powerful tool, it's great what you can do with it. So reliable too. A gift from heaven for us.
James: The drummer has a real kit, but then triggers the 808 and Simmons sounds to do so.

Honore at SXSW: Two men and their machines

Do you also write the songs in Ableton Live?

Andy: No.
James:
... we're just getting started, but we usually use Logic for that.
Andy:
Yes, it's our main tool, but from past experience we just didn't find it reliable enough for Live.

Did you use the Dave Smith Tempest for all the beats on the album?

James: We programmed them into it, but sometimes there are 808 samples. I've had them for about a year and a half.

Do you actually know the Roland TR-8? Have you ever played around with her?

Andy: Yes! And I think they're great.
James:.
..and we get some! We did a session for Roland and they send us drum machines.
Andy:
I love how light it is.

... and it has all the classic sounds from 808, 909 and 707 - and for a few weeks now also 606.

James: Oh, can you load them in?

Yes, but only the four Roland machines.

Andy: ... and it has this cool side-chain feature for external audio.

So you mainly produced your album with Nord Stage, Prophet 08 and Tempest?

Andy: Exactly. And when it's in the computer, we replace and add samples to some sounds and so on.

Do you record singing at home?

Andy: Yes. I use a Shure SM7 for this.
James: ... is just great.
Andy: Probably completely "unprofessional", but I just sit on a chair, hold it in my hand, sing in - into a nice preamp. That’s it. Is working.
James: I think if you research WHAT you need carefully ... people probably worry way too much that they need an expensive studio with all that equipment - when all you really need is a decent channel strip to record vocals.

... and a person who can sing.

(Laughter)
James: Yes, this is a good start! I think we have a really humble setup but we chose everything carefully. And it works.

So when you got it all together, do you go to a studio to mix? Do you do it yourself or do you have a mixing engineer?

Andy: Yes exactly. Some people were involved in the mixing. Most of the mix was done by a Wez Clarke who has a studio in London.

Mix session at the SSL with Mixmaster Wez Clarke. Photo: © provided by Honne

Andy: A few years ago I said to James: I know what to do. We just produce our album ourselves and then let someone who knows what they're doing mix it. And that's what we did. The funny thing is, because we're just so interested in gear, we used to ask people, oh wow, how did you do that? How did you get that so loud? And over time, over the past two years, we've been able to mix it ourselves in such a way that it sounds good.
James: Yes, on the next album we'll probably be able to get it to such a high standard that we don't have to mix it up. But we'll probably do it anyway, because it's just good to let a couple of external ears over it before going out. Now when we listen to our first demos it's always like this: Oh my god, this is so shit! (Laughter) But now mixes we get back don't sound sooo drastically much better. Still a little, but not too far away.

How do you arrange the sound of your songs, how do you choose the right ones? It struck me that you have a kind of “standard configuration”: ever deeper bass, 808-like beats, pads and organ- or piano-like sounds above them. Was that a conscious decision to give space to the voice, or did it just happen?

Andy: Yes, it was. I think we wanted the voice to prevail. Of course it's just my opinion, but especially with music that moves in the pop environment, the voice has to be present. You know, the main thing people hook into is the lyrics and they sing along to the melody. So we wanted to make sure the element was always there. But we're also musicians and geeks who value little subtleties, like a certain riff. But they are usually supposed to fill in the gaps between the vocals.
James: We spent a long time finding an optimal “bed” for the vocals and forging an interesting and new sound for it. There isn't much pop music in my opinion right now that uses a Prophet synthesizer as the basis for its sound. James Blake maybe still, he does a lot in that direction - and is also a great influence for us. But we wanted ... it's kind of like James Blake with ... songs ... (general laughter) ... eh - not meant in a bad way now. He's more electronic experimental for me, that's where I would classify him. It's unbelievable there - but we wanted to combine more traditional songs with sounds like that.

Since we're running out of time, I'd like to talk a little more about GEAR. Has anything come out this year that you would like to have - synthesizers or other equipment?

(laugh)
Andy: I think it's been around for a while: But the Teenage Engineering OP-1!
James: ... oh my god - yes. I really want to have it. I'm just remembering - I'll probably order online on the way to the airport.
Andy: I just bought a Korg Minilogue. It's 'wicked'!
James: Yes, it's great - every single patch is great. We also do remixes. Every sound can actually be used immediately.

Do you then use the presets as a starting point and tweak it?

James: Exactly. Andy is such a real screwdriver, he then sits there for an hour and does so ... (pretending to be a semi-autistic person tinkering with the buttons of a synth).

So the minilogue is your new kid on the block. No prophet 6 for you?

James: Nah, I need 8 votes. I use so many voices that I think I would be annoyed if voices were "stolen" when using the sustain pedal.

What are you doing with the Prophet 12 module that you also have?

James: Yes, yes, yes - you know everything about us. We didn't even know ... (both laugh).
Andy: That might sound a little extravagant, but it's actually just a backup for the tour ...

... that sounds extravagant.

(laugh)
James: Well, we didn't want to drag around another Prophet 8 with us. So when we go somewhere we just rent a keyboard. And we used it in the studio every now and then.

Finally, a crucial question - what would you recommend to musicians who are just starting out in order to get as far as you?

James: I would say, get equipment that no one has used before, or use gear in a new way. Try to come up with something that sounds different. Because the only way to break through is to be different - there are probably millions of bands in the world. And the easiest way to be heard is to sound different than what others are doing.
Andy: ... and never forget not to complicate things.
James: Exactly - find your sound and keep it! Don't write a song and say: Great! The next one must now sound like a completely different band.
Andy: Exactly - consistency!

© copyright Ralf / bonedo

Then came the fun for the guys: They extended by 5 minutes so that they could screw a little more on the old analog BOSS DR-55, DR-110 and KORG KPR-77 drum machines, which I included as a starting point for our conversation would have. And then it was off to the airport at high speed ...

The album "Warm on a Cold Night" is on July 22nd. published by Warner. In the following the Amazon link: