.The California Honeydrops

Every night is a party for Oakland’s favorite dance band

Lech Wierzynski, the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who leads The California Honeydrops, said he’s still getting his footing back, after dealing with the pandemic for the last couple of years. “The band survived, but we all got COVID. Right now, I’m on a brief vacation, living the good life in a hotel room in Truckee,” he confessed.

During the early days of the pandemic, the Honeydrops got together to play sessions every Friday night. They put them up on their Facebook page and donated 25% of everything their fans contributed to various charities. “We pretended we were all quarantined together, so people wouldn’t shame us online,” Wierzynski said. 

“The set up depended on who was available. Sometimes it was a duo or trio, sometimes the full band. We donated part of the money people sent us to various non-profit organizations through our Spreadin’ Honey Project. There were all kinds of calamities going on during the lockdown: fires in California, people who needed a place to sleep, or food to eat,” he continued.

When the music world began to cautiously open up, The Honeydrops headed back into the studio to make their new album, Soft Spot. As usual, the songs cover a wide range of styles, allowing them to explore every aspect of American musical history. They’re even adding world music to the mix, with arrangements referencing West African highlife and kwela and mbaqanga from South Africa. 

Since he couldn’t leave home, Wierzynski got a tape deck and rigged up a recording station in his living room. “Recording was all there was to do, but I hate recording on a computer and looking at a screen,” he said. ”So my friend,Tony Owen, helped me find a Tascam 388 tape machine. I rigged up a little recording situation in my living room. I started noodling around on guitar, listening to dance and folk music from all over the world and dabbling a bit.

“There are a lot of love songs on this album, because so many people were staying home and couples were breaking up from anxiety and isolation,” said Wierzynski. ”Our song, ‘Little Bit of Love,’ is like a survival guide. When the world’s going crazy around you, why not make love instead?”

The band is known for the party atmosphere they generate on stage. As they worked on Soft Spot, they brought that energy into the recording studio. “We rented a bouncy castle, one of those big blow-up things you get for your kids. We set it up outside the studio and between takes, we’d go out and bounce around.” 

Everything on Soft Spot has that same spontaneous energy. “Honey and Butter” blends a bouncy New Orleans second line strut with guitar accents borrowed from Ghanaian highlife and an R&B horn line. Wierzynski sings in a high tenor to describe the treats his grandmother used to bring him when he was sick. There’s a funky feel to “Tumblin’,” a love song that sounds like a forgotten Motown hit, with its call-and-response vocal and a joyous counter rhythm supplied by clapping hands. 

Wierzynski borrows a bit of Al Green’s style for “In Your Arms,” a simmering ode to good loving, highlighted by the Stax/Volt accents supplied by Johnny Bones and the other horn players. The record closes with “The Unicorn,” an instrumental track featuring Wierzynski’s Congolese guitar lines, dancing around a mbaqanga rhythm while Bones plays melodic sax lines that slide around the melody.

“I’ve always  been big into all the highlife, all the South African music, kwela jazz, all that kinda stuff,” he said. “We all love all kinds of music, so you never know what might make it onto a record, what kind of influence you might hear.” 

“We want to inspire you to dance and help you get through another day in the best way you can,” Wierzynski said. “Music is what I always used to get me through the hard times. It helps me remember what’s important in life. If you’ve lost your way, music can give you a bit of clarity and create some joy. That’s what we’re hoping to do on New Year’s Eve at the UC Theater (in Berkeley). We don’t make setlists; we just play whatever feels right in the moment. We’re bound to have some singers from the record and maybe a burlesque dancer too, if you’re lucky.”

The California Honeydrops will be playing their Third Annual Honeyball NYE at the UC Theater, 2036 University Ave., Berkeley on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31. Opening act is The Steady 45’s. Show at 9pm. theuctheater.org.

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