Ken Maiuri’s Clubland: New band, Beach Honey, passes the whistle test
Annie Regan Purchase photo reprints »
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Mike McClellan Purchase photo reprints »
There was a BBC TV live music show called “The Old Grey Whistle Test,” so named because in the Tin Pan Alley days, if a songwriter played his new tune for the doorman (who wore a grey suit) and the doorman could still whistle the song later in the day, they knew they had a hit.
I have no grey suit but I have some grey hairs, and new local band Beach Honey definitely passes my whistle test. I saw the quartet for the first time last month, heard their song “I’m Not Talking To You,” and then hummed it all night long. It’s part bubblegum, part Velvet Underground and totally catchy. The chorus hook hit like sunshine at the show and has shone in my head ever since.
The quartet brings its catchy pop to the Montague Bookmill Friday at 8 p.m., sharing the bill with fellow Northampton music-makers The True Jacqueline and Beth & Brian.
Beach Honey is keyboardist/vocalist Annie Regan, guitarist/vocalist Jason Mazzotta, drummer Josh Sitron and bassist/vocalist Mike McClellan, who wrote and sings “I’m Not Talking To You.”
In an interview earlier this week, McClellan said he often starts a new song by writing a catchy chorus first. “I think we all love songs with the ‘pop hook.’ I’m a sucker for that.”
As an example, he mentioned “Mr. Shoemaker’s Daughter,” a rarity recorded by the Kinks’ Dave Davies in 1969 and unreleased until 1998. “I’ve been humming that all day, that chorus, that horn part. Fantastic.”
It’s an utterly obscure tune but Mazzotta knew it, too, and agreed immediately. That mutual love of really specific pop culture was the initial spark that got the band together.
Mazzotta and Regan, both employees at the Forbes Library in Northampton, began working together at the Arts & Music desk and putting on music late in their shift. When Regan suggested listening to Nilsson one night, Mazzotta, who considers Nilsson his favorite singer, was glad to learn they were both big fans.
They soon hatched the idea to start a band. Regan had played saxophone with Lux Deluxe and long ago took piano lessons, but this would be her first project that involved singing in front of people.
One of the friends’ early attempts at music-making at home was opening up a Beach Boys songbook. “We tried to play things that were out of our talent range,” Mazzotta said. Regan confirmed that they first tried “Heroes and Villains,” the multi-movement, oddball tune from the “Smile” days that would be challenging for most any musician.
The twosome decided they needed someone else in the band, so they asked longtime Mazzotta cohort Mike McClellan (The Novels, Paper Piano) to join and be another singer/songwriter.
The Beach Boys love continued: The threesome originally wanted to name themselves Wild Honey, after one of that band’s underappreciated ’60s LPs, but a number of groups had already grabbed that idea. So they went with their own variation: Beach Honey.
“It’s the one combination with the word ‘beach’ that’s not already taken,” Mazzotta said.
Josh Sitron is the group’s most recent addition. Though he’s known as a multi-instrumentalist who specializes in keyboards, when meeting the Beach Honey gang he described himself as a “frustrated drummer.” So he’s behind the skins.
The band rehearses in Sitron’s basement, where “we spend a lot of time repeating things from TV,” McClellan said.
“In the hours we practice,” Mazzotta said, “we probably play three songs. Most of it’s just improv [banter].”
That loose and friendly band vibe is also apparent on their brand-new four-song cassette, “Roll On, Beach Honey,” recorded by the band mostly in Mazzotta’s spare room that’s crammed with instruments, books and records.
The cobalt blue cassette comes in a clear fluorescent green case, with a honeycomb pattern on the hand-numbered card inside. Mazzotta dubbed each one himself on his old stereo, one copy at a time.
The lead-off track is McClellan’s “I’m Not Talking To You,” which starts with conversational singing and then opens up with three-part harmonies, tambourine and even a horn section at the end, with Regan on sax and Sitron on trumpet.
“I Wanna Take a Ride With You” has Regan singing sweetly over a groove that goes from a Sesame Street swing to a breezy drive down the highway. “We / we can take our time / we’re still pretty young / at least we are today,” she sings at the end, with multiple harmonies blossoming out on the last word.
“If I Can’t Take You Home” started out as a just-for-fun project by Mazzotta, who wrote and recorded all the parts in an hour last Christmas Eve. His bandmates added their vocals and they decided to throw it on the tape.
Beach Honey’s raggedy vibe is something the members enjoy about the band’s current state, full of collaborative spirit and camaraderie.
“It’s easy to get a song going,” Mazzotta said. “We just do it.” Sounds like more catchy hits are on the way.