The Honey Straws released their self-titled debut album on Aug. 5, and will play songs from it for a national audience, Sept. 3 at 8 p.m., when the free, streaming concert series “Alive in the Pinebox” premieres on the website, nugs.tv.
“It’s almost more effective than if we were in a van or bus, touring the country, playing every little club,” says singer-songwriter and keyboardist Damian Calcagne. “Through Nugs, they have a built-in national audience that watches every night, no matter who’s on. So it’s like we’re touring the U.S. without leaving our house. It’s pretty remarkable, in a way that you could never imagine happening a year ago.”
Calcagne — whose credits include work with Jersey-based bands such as From Good Homes, Railroad Earth and Swampadelica — is joined in The Honey Straws (originally known as The Pinebox Boyz) with guitarist Mick Buckman (of the John Ginty Band), bassist Paul Kuzik and drummer Dan Fadel. The Pinebox is the pine-paneled studio behind Calcagne’s Northwestern New Jersey home, where funk pioneer George Clinton happened to live in the ’60s and ’70s. (Calcagne bought the house in 2006, and built the studio himself).
The Sept. 3 edition of “Alive in the Pinebox” will also feature keyboardist John Ginty, who has toured with The Dixie Chicks and currently plays with The Allman Betts Band; and singer-songwriter-guitarist Elliott Peck and drummer Nathan Graham, who are both members of Midnight North and Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Family Band. No other shows are definite, but Calcagne is talking to a variety of other artists and hopes it will become a weekly or bi-weekly series.
“There’s nothing like live music; it’s the best thing,” says Calcagne. “But in lieu of that, to give people a room that’s warm and wooden and looks like somebody’s home, as opposed to a venue that’s vacant … a lot of the streams that have been happening are in vacant venues and, to me, the vacancy is the main character. It’s hard to watch, in a way. And Nugs is in full agreement with that. They’re like, ‘We love that it feels like a barn.’ … It just has a homey vibe.”
Fittingly, Honey Straws’ songs have an earthy, funky feel, plus occasional eccentric touches in both the lyrics and the instrumentation. The music’s life-affirming quality makes it perfect for the grim times we’re now living through.
The band could have put the record on hold, until the pandemic was over. But they decided to release it last month, anyway. “Our thinking was, people could use new music right now, and it’s just such an upbeat and lively record,” says Calcagne. “Every time you go on Facebook or turn on Google, it’s really hard, and it really gets taxing, and a little bit of relief for people, we thought, is a good thing. The record was done, and as far as the creative process for me, it’s like, ‘It’s done, let’s get it out there, let’s keep creating new stuff.’ So it’s also partially, like, making way for the new to begin.”
Calcagne says he built the studio at a difficult time in his life, 10 years ago. “Swampadelica was breaking up. I was no longer playing with From Good Homes. And I was trying to think … ‘What am I going to do? Is it over? Do I keep pursuing music?’ ”
He built it primarily for his own use. But other musicians have used it as well, and he’s even presented some private shows there.
“Ever since I built this room, it’s been the greatest creative period of my life,” he says. “Not only for myself — like, I’ve written more music, and music that I’m the happiest with — but it’s also brought all these people into my life. All these musicians have come through here, and recorded on my albums, and asked me to record on other people’s albums, and it keeps unfolding.”
For more on the band, visit thehoneystraws.com.
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