“I want your sound around me all the time” “Honey”
Vakili Band is a fiery five-piece rock band with a trio of albums under their belt, fronted by Lily Vakili, a savvy street poet who finds the sweet spot in the nexus formed by Patti Smith’s loose-limbed punk swagger, Grace Slick’s inviting psychedelia and the throaty blues-belting of a Janis Joplin, not to mention the full-throated howl of a Grace Potter or Brittany Howard.
Honey is Vakili Band’s follow-up to 2018’s Oh Alright and 2021’s Walking Sideways (along with a pair of previous Lily Vakili solo efforts, making five releases over the last decade). Produced for the first time by Vakili herself, the album exemplifies the collaborative bacchanalia of lead guitarist Ben St. Jack, harmonica player extraordinaire Joel Dorow, and the four-on-the-floor rhythm section of bassist Matt Jovanis and drummer Gordon Kuba, having honed their distinctive sound in the studio as well as on tour up and down the East Coast. Recorded at Mozart Studio in Little Falls, NJ, Honey comes across like the band is playing together live in the same room.
“That’s it – the whole objective was to capture my feel of how the band sounds live,” Vakili, who also sat in on the mastering sessions at Sterling Sound with the renowned Greg Calbi, explains. “We set the bar for ourselves. It’s what I’ve worked for these last 10 years, and the direction I wanted to go in. We’re taking responsibility for our sound and not leaving it to anyone else.”
“Typically, most recording is done in isolation booths and then mixed. We tried a combo approach — getting as many of us together in the main room as possible, but placing the drums in a glass-doored room so we could see Gordon and he could see us.”
Vakili called the album Honey “because the songs essentially make up a long love letter… referencing certain parts of my own life from the perspective of intense yearning and desire, as well as nostalgia. It’s an incantatory chant about a state of being.”
“The album is about the centrality of desire in all its forms. It’s our ability as humans to experience intense joy, through sex, music, poetry and art. That shouldn’t be denied; it should be embraced. We need to acknowledge it and connect to the sublime.”
With roots firmly planted in the late-’70s “Ford to New York drop dead” headlines era, Vakili pays tribute to those seminal punk influences on “Mapplethorpe,” her ode to the love affair between the provocative photographer and Patti Smith depicted in her book Just Kids, with a lyrical nod to the “broken boys and torn-up men/tough as licorice dribbling down my chin.”
“That’s a memory of a certain time,” explains Vakili. “I was really attracted to that non-gender-based idea of obsession, companionship and artistic rapture.”
The New York Dolls bump-and-grind meets the deadpan nihilism of the Velvet Underground in “Yves Calls Her Betty,” which is based on an interview with designer Yves Saint-Laurent about his blonde “female double,” Betty Catroux, a sly look at the artist-muse relationship buttressed by the kick-ass bottom of Jovanis and Kuba (“Ah, we live a decadent life/All drugs and drink and sex all night/Making fun of everyone…seduce them”).
“I love the rhythm section of Matt and Gordon on this,” said Vakili, who described it as the sound of a drum kit falling down the stairs. “I wanted to give them that one… The bass and drum line tell the story.”
“Sad Eyes” takes on the pain of a broken relationship (“Remember what you said/Love is all that matters”), while “To the Park” is reminiscent of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” offering a post-pandemic perspective on being shut in and denied human contact. Vakili leaves the keys to the car on our windowsill insisting we take her for a drive, soundtracked by a guitar hovering like a helicopter with a crackling “Down by the River” solo that evokes both “crash and burn” Neil Young and a Hendrix-ian “wah-wah.”
The title track offers earthy sensuality by way of Ten Wheel Drive’s similarly hellbent artist/producer Genya Ravan (“Take me to your hive”) amidst a rubbery guitar, which segues into the chunka-chunka riffs and wailing elastic harp on “Smeck.” It marks Vakili Band’s affinity for the blues, a satisfyingly grinding reprise of the original “Mr. Smeck,” originally from Vakili’s second solo album, Meadowlands. Both pay homage to the original “magician of the strings,” a ukulele player named Roy Smeck, who had a model guitar named after him that she first wrote the “jangly” song on. “Why Can’t You Say” offers grunge guitars and a “whisper-to-a-scream” Vakili vocal that doesn’t ask for the moon, just three simple words that everyone wants to hear.
“Pyro Luv Attack” cycles through Def Leppard, Greek mythology, Small Faces-style bonhomie and a wide-screen comic book vision that promises, “The world will spin loose from its axis/All because I’m loving you,” going from the cosmos to the personal in the beat of a heart, as Ben’s majestic final guitar solo reigns o’er the cathartic climax.
“Someone once told me, just keep on, keep improving your art, keep performing. Don’t isolate yourself, stay open and say YES. If you want to create something collaboratively, you need to be super-intentional about it. We’ve stayed focused.”
Honey is the sweet result of all that time in the hive for VakiliBand. Now it’s time to share that buzz with the rest of us