Ten years is a long time for an indie band to sustain themselves and flourish on their own terms. One of the longest-lasting DIY Jersey acts to survive the oxymoron that is the music industry are Trenton’s beloved Honah Lee, who take their name from the cherished imaginary land of childhood in the classic “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Their fun, heartfelt sound is a mix between the foundational punk of The Ramones and the party anthems of The Replacements with a touch of Weezer thrown in, like a cherry on top of a rock ‘n’ roll sundae.
Honah Lee’s latest song, “You Never Know,” is featured in the documentary “The Bill Murray Stories (Lessons Learned From a Mythical Man)” and will be captured as a video in the afternoon on Aug. 18 right before their 10th anniversary party at Mill Hill Basement in their hometown of Trenton. Sharing the bill will be supportive and influential friends The Cryptkeeper Five, also from Trenton; New York City’s Statues of Liberty, and The Plurals, the Lansing, Mich.-based founders of GTG Records, home to Honah Lee since 2010.
During the past decade, the hard-drinkin’, hard-workin’ Honah Lee have thrown many a wild party and released several albums, EPs, singles, compilation tracks and videos. Their creative output includes the self-released 2009 debut EP, I Want It All; the 2010 digital anthology, Left Off the Dial; the 2010 Lick It split EP with The Plurals on GTG, and the follow-up LPs, 2011’s Life Won’t Let Me and 2015’s 33 on 45 (a reference to the breakneck speed at which they play tunes live) and the 2015 companion DVD, “Music to Look At,” featuring 12 videos made by drummer and graphic designer Tony Goggles.
On behalf of Goggles — also an accomplished independent filmmaker — as well as lead guitarist/vocalist Joseph “Dim” Wolstenholme and bass/vocalist Jim Graz, vocalist/guitarist Tim Hoh had the following chat with me about Honah Lee history, side projects and upcoming plans, including what will be a raucous anniversary party.
Q: When you started Honah Lee, did you think you’d still be together after 10 years?
A: We were partying too hard to think about the future back then! We just started plugging away at writing and playing. We are a band that came from the end of several other bands and just wanted to keep going and do more.
Q: How many of you are original members?
A: Jim, Tony and I had been in a band together that ended and we just jumped right into writing songs and trying to come up with something new. We started out with Justin Pellecchia on our first EP, I Want It All. Justin was great but he wanted to pursue his own band.
Tony was in another band at the time with Dim. We jammed and that was it. Fit like a glove! That’s when we really started writing a lot and touring.
Q: What have been the greatest contributing factors in the band’s longevity and sustainability?
A: We’ve all been through a lot of shit and have always been there for each other. Ups and downs, good times, bad times and belligerent fights. We became a family! In the end, we are always able to put our egos aside and move on.
Q: Honah Lee have several side projects, including Alpha Rabbit and Pissed. What are all the current side projects, who’s in them, and what do you play?
A: Dim’s doing Alpha Rabbit, singing, playing bass, drums and guitar, as well as going on tour to Japan with Doc Rotten in September. Tony sings in Pissed and is ready to start shooting a new movie this fall. He just finished his latest feature length, “Teenage Bloodsuckin’ Bimbos,” earlier this year. Jim helps organize local events like Art All Night and the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market, and I have delved into children’s music as Tim Hoh’s Music for Kids, trying to share what I do with the next generation.
Q: Have the creativity and freedom involved in pursuing those other projects helped keep Honah Lee fun and vital?
A: It gives us a break! Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?
Q: Have Honah Lee accomplished as much as you wanted to when you first started out?
A: We’ve accomplished way more than I think we ever set out to do! “Boldly going nowhere, following a dream!”
Q: What do you think Honah Lee’s greatest accomplishment has been?
A: Not killing each other yet!
Q: What advice would you give to bands who get discouraged by having to remain DIY or indie, rather than becoming rock stars?
A: Wait … We’re not rock stars?
Just don’t give up! You really need to love the little things you get from this if you’re gonna last!
Q: Tell me about your 10th anniversary party, including your anticipation and expectation of it, how and why you chose the lineup, and why it’s going to be a rad time.
A: Aug. 18, Mill Hill Basement! Let’s party! Cryptkeeper Five, Statues of Liberty and the Plurals!
Honah Lee wouldn’t exist without the influence and support of all three bands on the bill and especially the venue. The Mill Hill Basement has been our home base since day one. Our relationships with the bands go way further back then our existence. We learned a lot about how to be a band from these bands. Three of our absolute favorite rock ‘n‘ roll bands ever. Don’t miss this one!
Q: With what Jersey bands do you most like to play and why?
A: Too many to list. We’re lucky to play with a lot of talented people. They say it’s the water. TCK5 is on the bill, just sayin’!
Q: What is else going on with Honah Lee, as well as Alpha Rabbit, Pissed and other projects, as far as shows, touring, videos, recording and record release plans, and anything else you want to let folks know is coming up over the next few months?
A: Our next show is at Championship Bar (Trenton) with A Wilhelm Scream and Digger on Sept. 19 with a very special surprise fill-in since Dim will be in Japan. Pissed is playing with Pears at Mill Hill Basement on Sept. 24.
Q: Which band has had a bigger influence on Honah Lee, why and how: The Ramones or The Replacements?
A: Answering this question is like telling one of your kids you love the other one more. Could write a f’n book trying to figure that one out, but as a whole, I’d probably say Ramones.
Q: Collectively, do the band have a bigger influence than either one of them, how and why?
A: Weezer is a big one! We all come from different places musically, and I think that’s what makes us what we are. We all hear each song differently in the beginning, but it always ends up a Honah Lee song.
Q: What is the most fun or craziest thing that’s ever happened to Honah Lee on the road?
A: The story that always comes up with this question is the guns story. We needed a place to stay for the night and ended up with the drummer of one of the bands we played with. We were drinking beers, watching “Ren & Stimpy.” I laid out my sleeping bag, out of the way, and fell asleep. I woke up to this kid standing above me, pulling out a handgun, pluggin’ in the magazine, and pointing it at the rest of the guys yelling, “Give me my shotgun back!” He was hammered and apparently wanted to show off his shotgun. Our friend Jim, that was with us, took it away from him ’cause he was waving it around at everyone. We were mostly just pissed that we didn’t get any sleep. He bought us shots the next time we came through so I guess we’re cool now.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And like Makin Waves at .facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.