For Honey Monsoon, the sweet sounds of jazz-inspired indie rock, neo soul and funk are dripping heavily throughout metro Detroit’s music scene.
The Detroit-based quintet are spreading the nectar of the Motor City’s burgeoning jazz indie rock scene at clubs like The Blind Pig and Om of Medicine in Ann Arbor, The Loving Touch in Ferndale, the Plymouth Roc in Plymouth, the Tangent Gallery in Detroit and The Loft in Lansing.
Together, Ana Gomulka (music, lyrics, vocals, guitar and keys), Taylor Greenshields (drums and percussion), Ian Griffiths (bass and vocals), Andrea Holther-Cruz (keys and vocals) and Leo James Willer (live painting) are introducing their talents to a growing Motor City audience.
Gomulka attributes the band’s smooth sound to their longtime love of past and present jazz, soul and funk singers and musicians, including Esperanza Spalding, Sharon Jones, Kneebody and Hiatus Kaiyote.
“When we first started this band, I don’t think any of us were like let’s make jazzy music. When I was young, I grew up listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan because that’s what my parents played,” she said. “So when I sang people would be like, ‘Oh you sound like Sarah Vaughan or something like that.’ I was like, ‘Oh, I wasn’t even trying to sound like her.’ I think that’s where our jazzy sound comes from. It’s just what comes out.”
Honey Monsoon’s natural inclination for playing jazz-inspired indie rock is weaved throughout its debut album, “Rose Gold,” which dropped in November. The album features eight sensuous tracks that layer jazzy, soulful sonic textures against a rock-infused backdrop on “Daybreak,” “Surface Tension,” “Muddy Banks,” “Life Laughs” and other gems.
The band quickly recorded “Rose Gold” live in September and partnered with Plymouth Rock Recording Company in Plymouth to master the album while Greenshields mixed it.
Gomulka said recording “Rose Gold” was a memorable experience for the band. With the exception of Griffiths and Greenshields, it was the first time Gomulka and Holther-Cruz had recorded tracks for an album.
“It was a very, very fast process,” Gomulka said. “It was definitely very high pressure. We had CDs with no music on them, and we had to burn them all in one day. It was intense, but it was an awesome process.”
Greenshields agreed. “We learned not to have a release date before we have the album,” he said. Initially, the band decided to release the album on Nov. 11 before finishing the recording process in September.
Even though “Rose Gold” served as their first foray in the studio, Honey Monsoon’s members have been cutting their teeth for years on stage.
“Live is cool because in the studio you’re trying hard to make it perfect and when you’re live it’s all with the attitude,” Gomulka said. “It’s like whatever happens happens, and we’re all here together, and we’re feeding off the crowd. Sharon Jones said something really amazing that it’s something similar that it’s two-way street, right? It’s like we’re completely feeding off the energy of the people who are listening to us, and we’re doing the same.”
Like Gomulka, Griffiths prefers to play live and develop a close connection with the audience. The band’s Jan. 20 show at The Blind Pig with Adventures with Vultures, Brother Elsey and Great Expectations served as one of Griffiths’ favorites.
“That show was especially cool I think because it was like a hybrid with Detroit and Ypsi – east and west. I don’t think that’s ever happened … I mean maybe it happened but in like a bigger mesh, and everyone kinda gets lost in the mix, but to have that hybrid was cool,” he said. “I think Ypsi’s cool because the scene over here is really small, and you can see all the same people at the shows. It’s smaller, but it’s got more room to grow.”
A burgeoning jazz indie rock scene also brings more Honey Monsoon live shows to the metro Detroit area, including April 14 at The Club Above in Ann Arbor with The Bees Trees and Act Casual and May 3 for the Spring Fling at The Loving Touch in Ferndale with Summer Like The Season, Honeybabe and Legume. They also played Ann Arbor’s infamous Hash Bash on April 7.
“It’s going to be like a showcase of the Ann Arbor-Ypsi scene,” Greenshields said.
During their live performances, Honey Monsoon offers a unique experience for fans – live painting by Willer. Together, the two art forms immerse fans in a colorful, jazzy and soulful world that’s filled with creativity and rhythm.
“I’ve really discovered and even just like painting while music is happening, like how percussive painting can be if you can tap into the music itself,” said Willer, who’s currently in Paris for a month-long residency. “I definitely like to keep and kinda reflect on the ones that happen at live shows, but then at the same time, I’m lucky enough to have someone at a live show who’s like, ‘I want this in my life.’”
Willer met Gomulka and Greenshields while painting at a mutual friend’s show and decided to team up with Honey Monsoon to package their musical and artistic talents together.
“Yeah, we definitely feed off that. Two kinds of art that like merge,” Gomulka said. “We definitely feed off Leo. He definitely feeds off us. I think music and art are like the same thing.”
That artistic partnership will continue to grow as Honey Monsoon plays more live shows and returns to the studio to record more music. Honey Monsoon also recently submitted a video performance of “Life Laughs” as an entry for NPR’s Tiny Desk contest.
“Hopefully, a single by the spring,” Greenshields said.
Gomulka nodded in unison. “We’ll keep that on the down low,” she said. “A spring single.”