If Honeychain ever make it big — a not unlikely possibility considering how catchy their pop-punk songs are — critics will inevitably describe their popularity as an overnight success.
The L.A. trio have drawn increasing attention in the past two years following the recent release of several energetic singles and their 2017 debut album, Crushed, produced by The Muffs’ Kim Shattuck. But the group's roots actually extend back to early 2013, when Honeychain's first recording, the Futura EP, was released. At the time, Honeychain was a one-woman project, with Hillary Burton singing and playing guitar, drums, bass and piano.
"When Kim heard my EP, she's the one who said, 'You should put together a live band to play these songs,' " Burton recalls by phone from her home in Valencia. "We were friends. She was my producer, my mentor, somebody I'd bounce ideas off of. She was at our first show and then became the producer for Crushed."
Like The Muffs, Honeychain slams together power-pop hooks and harmonies with a relentless punk-rock attack. Burton doesn’t necessarily mind when her group is compared to The Muffs. "First and foremost, I think of Kim as a songwriter. Her breadth of songwriting is immense," Burton says. "I think we have similar influences. We both have melodic-pop sensibilities against aggressive-sounding guitars."
The two hit it off so well musically that Burton was invited to join Shattuck's ongoing revival of the late Paula Pierce's riotous '80s garage-rock band The Pandoras. "They needed a drummer for a tour of Europe in fall 2015," Burton says. "I said, 'I love you guys, so this will be a lot of fun.' I learned a ton of songs." Last year, the duo combined forces as The Grumblers and released "I'm a Sweet Girl," a fuzzed-out pop-rock tune in which they chimed in with sugary harmonies and sarcastic lyrics: "I'm a sweet girl, but I wanna kill all the plastic pop stars."
Honeychain's first show was in May 2013 at the old Chinatown club Roberto's, but the group went through a couple changes before Burton found her ideal lineup with bassist/backup vocalist Andre Tusques (ex–Silver Needle) and drummer Loye Aubrey Jr. (Meka Leka Hi’s). While the band’s Ramones-style pop-punk might seem straightforward on the recent singles "Great Big World" and "289," Aubrey Jr. and Tusques play Burton's deceptively simple songs with finesse and intensity, making Honeychain a true power trio.
Given Burton's own musical prowess and dexterity on several instruments, was it difficult for her to adapt when Honeychain evolved from an autonomous, one-person project into a full band? "There are things I'm super-particular about. I am pretty selfish when I have an idea," Burton admits. "But the level of musicianship of Andre and Loye inspires me in a different way. Because I’m a drummer too, I can communicate what I’m looking for. Loye will make these drum rolls that stop me in my tracks. Now this opens up new things for me when I’m thinking about song structures. When I'm playing guitar, I’m thinking a lot about the drums as well. We all collaborate together on the final structure. It gives the guys the freedom to really add on their unique take on the song."
Although Burton writes most of the band's originals, Honeychain occasionally remake such unexpected songs as Siouxsie & the Banshees' "Happy House," which they released with a guitar-heavy arrangement as a single in May last year. "I've loved that song forever," she says. In the summer, Spanish label Jarama 45RPM Recs. will put out a new Honeychain song, "Go Away," backed with their version of Material Issue's “Goin' Through Your Purse," which was played by Rodney Bingenheimer on his final broadcast of the Rodney on the Roq show. "We wanted to do justice to it," Burton says about the Material Issue cover. "We wanted two completely different covers that we could put our stamp on."
Burton says that the band are in the midst of working on their next album at Honeychain Studios, which is where the "Great Big World" single was recorded. "It's basically just a room in my house," she admits. "I'm kind of a control freak. I learned how to master and mix. I got a little mad scientist about it. I don't watch television; I don't have these things that suck my time. I found that my limitation is being able to describe a sound to producers and engineers. I don't know the terminology, but I know what I want to hear."
She ultimately found that it was easier to build her own studio from scratch and teach herself how to work the recording equipment than it was to learn the jargon of studio engineers. "Doing it myself kind of makes up for my lack of knowledge," Burton says. "I'm learning how as I go."
Her father is a guitarist who taught her how to play, but she started as a drummer. "I was literally listening to Gina Schock on headphones and playing along," says Burton, who was born in Anaheim and raised in Long Beach. "I love The Go-Go’s, Blondie, Patsy Cline. A lot of my musical influences were formed by radio, like all the bands I would sneak under my pillow when listening to Rodney on the Roq. I love honky-tonk to punk rock." While still in high school, Burton was part of The Mozells, a garage-rock band who used to play at the Cavern Club in Hollywood. "It was the era when you could take a cassette tape to Rodney," she says.
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Burton stopped playing publicly for a long time — "I was more bedroom writing," she remembers — until she performed with Lisa Mychols in the power-pop band Nushu from 2007 to 2010. "Lisa was my best friend in high school. We put out a couple records. We had some stuff on 90210, The Real World and Rock Band for Xbox 360." Her experience with Nushu emboldened her to start recording her own music as Honeychain. While many of Burton’s songs delve into the universal themes of love and jealousy, she took a different perspective in "Violet," from Crushed. "There are parts that are autobiographical, but I tried to put myself in someone else's head. Violet is a beaten-down character. We can all see people around us who are broken down. There are a lot of things we can relate to."
In "Bombs Away," Burton issues a less-than-subtle warning to somebody bothering her: "My left hook, your glass chin, if you keep coming around again." "There's certainly strong imagery that comes through in my songs," she says. "I wanted to convey 'Don’t mess with me.' " She's just as hard on herself as she is on an errant lover in "Great Big World." "It was sort of self-deprecating," she says about the relatively contemplative midtempo song. "You're so dumb and desperate that you're enamored with somebody, but you realize you screwed up."
Burton reverses typical rock & roll gender roles on the 2018 single "289." Instead of waiting by the side of the road for a man to give her a ride, Burton prefers to be in the driver’s seat. "I do love riding motorcycles. I love having a Ducati and the adrenaline rush," she explains. "I used to have a 1965 Ford Falcon Futura convertible, red on red; it had a 289 V8 engine. There's nothing sexier than saying, 'Hey, come into my convertible.' "
Honeychain play with Vicky & the Vengents at Corbin Bowl, 19616 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana; Sun., June 30, 9 p.m.; free. (818) 996-2695, corbinbowl.net.