This Sunday, August 20, ArtRat Gallery welcomes The Wild Honey Collective to Americana Sundays, ArtRat’s monthly concert series. The show runs 3-5pm at 46 Division Ave. S in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. (Admission $20; tickets available on Eventbrite.)
The Wild Honey Collective formed in the summer of 2020 to perform original songs and traditional American folk music. Singers and songwriters Tommy McCord, Danielle Gyger, Timmy Rodriguez and Dan O’Brien — joined shortly thereafter by pedal steel guitarist Adam Aymor — launched the project in rural Michigan as a back-porch acoustic gathering.
Ever-evolving, The Wild Honey Collective encompasses sounds of traditional string band music, rowdy country rock, psychedelia, classic pop and more to preserve and nurture the lineage of Cosmic American Music.
Ahead of Sunday’s show, ArtRat checked in with Tommy McCord about the band’s origins and future plans.
You got the band together in 2020. How did COVID-19 influence The Wild Honey Collective's development, and what was it like working during the pandemic?
The Wild Honey Collective truly wouldn't exist if it weren't for the pandemic — which feels kind of odd to put so bluntly!
I had been thinking for a couple years about starting a folk- and country rock-oriented project that would have a rotating case of collaborators, and Danielle and I had been slowly working on learning some traditional songs together, but with all the live shows in the world suddenly canceled we unceremoniously had an opportunity to focus on these things.
Timmy and I had been gigging together (in our psychedelic rock band Drinking Mercury), and we really took a hit when the shows all got canceled. So once the weather warmed up, we started meeting up for outdoor acoustic jams, where Dan joined us. With our original songs, traditional songs, songs written by friends that we liked playing and choice covers, we basically instantly had a catalog of songs. We did a lot of livestream shows and taped some videos in the first year of the band but the lack of gigging activity meant that we could immediately focus on recording so we had an album out before we ever played a proper show. Without the limitations of the pandemic it certainly wouldn't have happened the way it did.
You've been called a “Lansing supergroup” ... Can you talk a bit about the members' musical bona fides and how they've shaped your sound and creative process?
This isn't necessarily a conventional band, as we play in both smaller and larger combos and work with different collaborators, all of which is possible because of the amazing network of musicians we've cultivated along the way.
The many connections I made touring hard with the The Plurals has been integral: While that band has largely worked in the punk and indie rock circuit, we all always individually played and worked in all sorts of genres. Combined with Danielle's background in the Wheatland family, this gave us an assortment of collaborators (including, among others, the great Drew Howard plus the other Plurals, Nich and Hattie) to help realize our first album.
Once we had to figure out a live band — a year into the band existing — we were honored to have Adam Aymor join on pedal steel. Adam has toured the world and is known as a great lead guitar player in the Midwestern powerpop mold but (much like the rest of us) The Wild Honey Collective offered him a long-awaited opportunity to engage in the rootsier side of things.
The fact that we all have a love for the rougher side of music (with years of touring to back that up) as well as the traditional brings a unique punk energy to folk, old time and country without remotely touching on the ubiquitous folk punk/rockabilly sort of sounds that are so prevalent when people fuse the genres. We really make what Gram Parsons called Cosmic American Music, and it just happened organically. It's what we sounded like when we picked up string band instruments.
You toured the Northeast this spring. What's it like taking the Lansing scene on the road to places like Buffalo and Brattleboro?
This was our third time touring New England, and it's better every time. It's such beautiful country, and we get opportunities to play a wide range of venues — breweries large and small, art galleries, converted taxi garages, old churches, house venues and the odd dive bar for good measure.
I've really been struck that music fans in Maine are very tough. On the last tour we were on a covered stage on an outdoor patio, so we were protected when it started raining — but the audience was not. Not a single one of them budged, and they happily watched us as their pizza got rained on, which is a level of appreciation you can't take for granted!
Danielle, Adam and I are the main touring contingent of the band, and we've added Joel Kuiper on as our drummer for the full band shows. But since Timmy and Dan have honest-to-goodness day jobs, we've worked with a colorful cast of friends to fill out the sound on the road, with our regular collaborator and Drinking Mercury bandmate Michael Boyes handling the bass duties on this last tour. So it's fun and different every time.
You put out albums in 2021 and 2022 (The Wild Honey Collective Volume 1 and The Wild Honey Collective Volume 2, respectively). Can we look forward to Volume 3 any time soon?
We had hoped to continue the streak and get The Wild Honey Collective Volume 3 out by the end of 2023, and it's certainly in progress, but with the full performing calendar of the last year we haven't been able to finish it up just yet. We will be putting out a release soon, though: a sort of mini-album/EP called "Chicory Wind" which features some original instrumental compositions plus four songs written by an assortment of favorite songwriters of the band, both well-known and of the local-should-be-well-known variety. If all goes as planned, it will be streaming by the end of the month.
The Wild Honey Collective has tallied up performances all over Michigan. What do you like about playing in Grand Rapids?
Well, Dan and Timmy live in/near Grand Rapids, so they appreciate the short drive! We all have lots of West Michigan friends and family (I hail from Ionia originally), so it's always great to see the people. We've played Founders and Speciation a number of times with our full band lineup, so we're really looking forward to doing an acoustic performance at ArtRat to show that side of the band.