With all the divisive bellowing clogging up our television screens, perhaps nothing could be more welcome and illuminating than a…”choir of angels.” Which is arguably the best description of Claire McKeown’s celestial Los Angeles musical collective Honey Child.
Having launched her musical career on the operatic stage – and, naturally, with the voice to match – McKeown searched her soul for the inspiration to write her own…”pop” songs. Though the result was as much “pop” as Amadeus was just a “movie.” Indeed, Honey Child are in fact a collective of seven ethereal women, who together make self-described “heroine folk.” And in fact it might just blur all those boring old musical genre codifications. (We like to call it “chamber punk.”)
“I was performing scenes from Wagner’s ‘Tannhäuser,’ ‘Lohengrin,’ and ‘Die Walküre’ for the patrons of the Orange County Performing Arts Center,” Mckeown recalls, “in anticipation of the mounting of The Ring Cycle the following season. But I wanted an audience of freaks like me.”
New single “…and so goodnight…” is like some magical cross between Doris Day and Klaus Nomi, with a flamboyantly pastel video to match. As ever, however, it is the harmonic magnificence of McKeown and her curious and glorious choristers that induces the greatest chills and thrills.
As Honey Child have just released their self-titled debut album on February 9, we caught up with McKeown to discuss opera, sonic intoxication and a perfect day in the life of her inspirational home of Los Angeles, where she resides in Silver Lake.
What made you decide to make the transition from opera to operatic pop?
I made the tough decision to not pursue a career in traditional opera. This set off a mental meltdown complete with a conversation with the Devil. I had never written music before that, and haven’t stopped since. No matter the style of music I may write, the years of training in opera will always be present in my sound and aesthetic.
How was Honey Child formed? Is it a set lineup?
Honey Child was formed when I was dealing with a slaughtered heart. I got caught in the classic and predictable affair with a bandmate of a former project. It didn’t end well. He was a huge part of my day to day life. Besides having to deal with the heartbreak, I also had to relearn how to live life with out my best friend. It was incredibly difficult, but I started writing these heartbreaking songs and arranging tons of vocal harmonies – I asked friends to sing with me in a makeshift choir to cover all these parts. For the first two years of Honey Child there was a revolving roster of choir members; but now we are a set group of seven.
What are the live shows like?
I try to go above and beyond for live shows, I want you to have an experience unlike any you have ever had. My favorite thing is to play to for people who have never seen us before. They see a group of seven women dressed all in white, like some sort of cult, and they know they are in for something out of the ordinary. Then when we sing our goal is to transfix, silence and intoxicate you with our sound.
What can we expect musically from the album? What are some of the influences, including lyrically?
Expect passionate honest music filled with ethereal voices. Also, expect to hear an almost live album – this was a celebration of musicians sharing time and space with each other and some of the songs are recorded completely live. My influences on this album for instrumentation and choral arrangements run from The Beatles to Bach, and vocally from Dusty Springfield to Maria Callas. The lyrics are influenced by the Jack Kerouac idea of “first thought, best thought.”
What inspires you about Silver Lake?
I’m surrounded by dreamers.
Clare McKeown’s LA Day in the Life
It is rare for me to brave the traffic and head to the west side of Los Angeles, but I will to go here. This is my happy place. My place to meditate, be silent, and wash myself of anything plaguing me. It is a flower filled wonderland all around a lake with ducks, turtles and swans. The minute you enter you can feel the peace and serenity made here by Paramahansa Yogananda and the years and years of humans meditating. I stroll around the lake and marvel at the beauty of the world we live in.
This glam rock shop in Echo Park is filled with tons of eclectic gifts. Michelle Rose, who runs the shop, has set up a space for local artists (including her own couture) to sell their paintings, ceramics, candles, clothes, cards, bags, soaps, jewelry, books. The last thing I bought here was a David Bowie religious candle.
I’ll wake up early and stroll over here before the brunch crowds fill it up. I love the avocado toast and a side of bacon. Or, the soft scramble and prosciutto on sourdough. Their coffee is from the Intelligentsia next door, which is a big reason I come here.
The happy hour lunch menu here is wondrous. They have this delicious spicy tuna on crispy rice, and I adore their chirashi bowls. The ambience is typical for a sushi bar except they may be projecting John Waters’ Cry Baby or Roger Vadim’s Barbarella on the wall.
I come here to pretend I am in Paris. I can admit this nerdy behavior since I know I am not the only one who does this. Their pastries are so good and almost too beautiful to eat – the almond croissant is the best I have ever had. That with a latte and a book to read and I’ll stay for hours.
This is the first place I always suggest when meeting friends for drinks. I recently heard it described as “the punk rock senior center,” which make me smile because it is so true. I always order an Old Fashioned when I am here, because their’s may be the best in town.
This is a contemporary Israeli restaurant. I come here with friends and we order everything on the menu. The highlights for me are the lamb ragoo, the ribeye, hummus and bread, and the braised cabbage. So basically the whole menu.
This place steals my breath and I feel lucky every time I walk through its grand doors. I was there last Halloween for the newest Philip Glass opera La Belle et la bête and was elated for days due to the ingenious show and the opulence of the venue.