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The Honey Brothers  

The Honey Brothers like to tell people they formed one dog year ago at ukulele fantasy camp, then took to the streets of New York City.

The Honey Brothers like to tell people they formed one dog year ago at ukulele fantasy camp, then took to the streets of New York City, serenading street people and pretzel vendors with their whimsical new-wave folk tunes. This anecdote might tell you something about the spirit in which The Honey Brothers were conceived, way back in 2001 in the wake of 9/11. "The band began as a way to find joy in life," says Ari Gold, who, with his college friends Andrew Vladeck and DS Posner, formed the group's original nucleus.

"It was a time when people sought comfort and healing with their friends," recalls Andrew, "and we rekindled our spirits with ukuleles. We'd get together and make dinner, drink booze, and learn old folk songs. Then we'd wander outside and sing for people on street corners."

That familial, communal vibe was cemented even further when Adrian Grenier joined shortly after the band's first public gig in 2002, followed by Ari's twin brother Ethan Gold in September 2005. "We have solidified as real brothers," Adrian says. "At first it was sort of a symbolic thing, but now I think our DNA has merged on a molecular level." Indeed it is the band's DNA, the distinct personalities of all five members, and what they bring to the table, that makes this group the exuberant band of brothers that they are. So let's meet them, shall we?

"Ethan and I both started playing the piano in the house at age 12," Ari Gold says. "But when we were 14, Ethan asked me to stop playing piano because I was encroaching on his identity, so I ended up playing drums." Cut to 2001: Ari is a filmmaker who has just finished a short film and was planning on touring the world with it when he runs into Columbia University pal Andrew Vladeck in Manhattan's Tompkins Square Park. Andrew is carrying a ukulele and insists that Ari learn it to facilitate flirting with girls during his trip. "I immediately bought one, along with a songbook - it was easier to carry than drums," Ari says. "Ari is someone who is unafraid to tackle new things," Andrew says. "He doesn't find the unknown intimidating." Adds Ethan: "Ari keeps the band's spirit light. He always makes sure there's something worth smiling about happening in the music and lyrics. Without this spirit, it wouldn't be The Honey Brothers."

Andrew Vladeck was raised by parents obsessed with doo-wop and Motown in a house with three vintage jukeboxes. "I didn't have a clue about any other substantial music, because I was stuck listening to oldies or to Casey Kasem," he says. Then one day, Andrew's mother returned home from a garage sale with a bunch of Bob Dylan records. "I started listening to Dylan and Woody Guthrie - guys who wrote such completely honest lyrics and communicated so directly," he says. "It changed everything for me." He delved into music of the 1920s and 30s, and began playing guitar and writing folk songs. In college, he learned to play the banjo. "Andrew's folk music roots are essential to the character of the band," Ethan says. "His banjo and distinctive voice keep the old-time spirit alive even as we evolve into something more modern and cosmopolitan sounding." Adds Daniel: "He's also a great drunk dancer."

Though he insists he's not the "Ringo" of the band, DS Posner's sense of humor is admired by all of the Brothers. "Definitely the funniest member," Ari says. "He has an ironic take on the world that is both entertaining and a good reality check." As his Honey Brothers moniker suggests, DS actually is the band's psychiatrist, and that's all he'll say about that. He describes himself as a former acolyte of indie rock, a current fan of West African soukous music, a proponent of harmony, and a devotee of meditation. "I am also responsible for the worst band T-shirt ever, based on a Venn diagram depiction of French psychiatrist Jacques Lacan's theory of mind," he admits. All humor aside, Daniel is a key writer and vocalist for the band, penning many of the catchy hooks and melodies that define The Honey Brothers' sound. Ethan praises Daniel for his "versatile voice, broad enthusiasm, and fresh ideas that keep everyone on their toes," while Ari puts it more simply: "Daniel keeps us from sounding like wimps."

At age 16, Adrian Grenier discovered his mother's old guitar from her flower-child days and taught himself to play by reading Beatles' songbook tablatures. Growing up in New York City, he studied drama at the "Fame" school, LaGuardia Arts, but doesn't recall dancing on any cars in the street. "I do remember skipping class to go play music in the hallways," he says. "It just felt like a much more immediately gratifying artistic endeavor than acting." Adrian met Ari while working on a documentary, and when he spotted a ukulele sticking out Ari's knapsack, he was intrigued and decided to attend The Honey Brothers' first show. "I noticed right away that they had all these great indie-rock hooks," Adrian says. "In an attempt to extort money from them, and because I genuinely liked their music, I invited them to record at my dank basement studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard." Adrian's one stipulation was that they were required to put drums, bass, and distortion on the songs - essentially writing a role for himself as the band's drummer. "For Adrian, music is about free-flowing creativity," Ari says. "He always wants to explore the idea within the idea." Adds Daniel: "He never gets tired. Beautiful, sweet voice. Can play - and insists on playing - all instruments. Looks good with or without a beard."

Ethan Gold has been writing music since long before he could play an instrument. Inspired by film scores, violent classical music like Stravinsky and Wagner, and melancholic English New Wave bands like New Order and Depeche Mode, Ethan taught himself to play guitar, piano, synths, drums, and bass to manifest the ideas in his head. "Ethan is a major songcraft wonk," Daniel says. "He's the one mostly like to use the term 'pre-chorus.' He can also hum large swaths of The Rite of Spring. He has a flawless ear, a big voice, and plays truly groovy bass." Adds Andrew: "Ethan is the one to tame the jam-band bronco and turn it into something we can work with. He has a razor-keen aesthetic."

When Ethan joined The Honey Brothers in September of 2005, the guys were still mourning the accidental death of their bass-playing Brother, Pierre Michel, who had joined the band along with Adrian. They hadn't written a new song in some time, but as an homage to Pierre, they decided to independently release an album, 2006's Songs for Your Sister, which garnered considerable acclaim. The Village Voice opined that Sister "manages to reference the country-tinged sensitivity of the Silver Jews, the summery harmonies of the Beach Boys, and the zany weirdness of Ween." Ethan brought fresh energy, along with his considerable songwriting and production experience, and the band collectively developed a tighter, dance-oriented sound.

"When I joined, the band's songs were eclectic, with some folk, some alternative-rock, and some country," Ethan says. "We decided to preserve the folk element - the banjo, uke and big harmonies - as well as the sense of humor, but brought in strong dance and afro-pop rhythms to gel the sound." Recently, the guys have come up with such driving New Wave dance-rock gems as "City," "Demonstration," "Inches From Wrong," and "Won't Last Long," none of which would sound out of place on a late-'70s post-punk album thanks to their joyful melodies, angular bass-lines, group-sung choruses, and twitchy grooves.

"What I've noticed with our new songs is a feeling of searching for community," Ari says. "I think the band coming together when we did, and the way we did, made us want to make music that helps us all live in the present. Music can have longing, humor, and joy. I think our music is trying to find the utopia of love in a world that might be going to shit."

But, Adrian says, "people find our show really uplifting. It's not shoegaze. You'll have a smile on your face by the end."


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