The Wild Honey Collective deeply explores countryside tales of the past and present on Volume 2.
The Lansing-Grand Rapids, Michigan Americana-folk quintet of Tommy McCord (vocals, acoustic guitar), Danielle Gyger (vocals, fiddle, acoustic guitar), Timmy Rodriguez (vocals, electric and upright bass), Dan O’Brien (vocals, electric and upright bass) and Adam Aymor (pedal steel) ventures through life’s peaks and valleys on their latest anecdotal album.
“One of the big differences between [2021’s] Volume 1 and Volume 2 is that on Volume 2 all of the original written songs were brand new when we did them,” said McCord, who also produced and released the album via GTG Records.
“That’s very much reflected in the material because that’s what was going on in our lives; some of us were getting married, and Timmy and Dan both had kids in 2020. It wasn’t on purpose, but that very much is true.”
Alongside Volume 2’s storied lyrics and bucolic setting, The Wild Honey Collective beautifully weaves timeless acoustic instrumentation with rootsy sensibilities. It’s a refreshing listen while spending time with family and friends at a lakeside cabin or trekking through hilly, sprawling landscapes.
“By Volume 2, we were a gigging band when we made the album, and I think that really shows,” McCord said. “It feels more like a band than a studio project. We’re just kind of driving forward with that now.”
The band also drives Volume 2 forward with invigorating renditions of traditional folk songs and unreleased tracks by other songwriters, including Mark Vella’s “Ode to Thor,” “Dark Hollow,” Buck Owens’ “There Goes My Love,” “Rocky Mountain Belle,” “Katie Cruel” and the Irish instrumental “Red Haired Boy.”
“When you play in punk bands, the idea of recording cover songs is very taboo unless if you’re making fun of it or something. But in the world of traditional and folk music, that’s kind of part of it … interpreting other people’s songs and the Great American Songbook,” said McCord, who also plays in Drinking Mercury and The Plurals.
“That’s something I’ve learned more as I’ve played is this idea of respecting and learning from other songwriters … it’s really important. It’s less about my ego and more about what are good songs.”
The Landscape of Volume 2
Volume 2’s rustic narrative starts with the lively “up-north” opener, “Blue Lake,” which pays tribute to McCord’s namesake family cabin in Bitely, Michigan, and celebrates McCord and Gyger as newlyweds.
A spirited ensemble of acoustic guitar, electric guitar, accordion, mandolin, bass and drums relish the family’s growth as Gyger sings, “You do me good, and I’ll treat you right / We won’t let each other go without a fight / I love you more than the lake is wet / We’ll outlast all the Styrofoam, I’ll bet.”
“Danielle and I have done the bulk of our lead vocals and a lot of our instrumental solos … up at the cabin on both of the Wild Honey records. My grandpa helped build in the cabin in the ‘50s, and I’ve been going there my whole life, and my dad’s been going there his whole life,” said McCord, who wed Gyger in June.
“We actually had our joint bachelor and bachelorette parties up there for our wedding. It’s just a fixture for us, a home-away-from-home. Danielle kind of immortalized it in song directly.”
Next, The Wild Honey Collective heads south on “Flint or Toledo,” a wistful ballad that honors two valuable, but often overlooked Midwestern cities.
Contemplative acoustic guitar and forlorn pedal steel echo Gyger and McCord’s melancholic mood as they sing, “Flint or Toledo, could I ever make up my mind? / Steel and sand and machine in hand / Clenched from the earth’s insides / The snow is gray when you look both ways / People just survive / Just two names on 275.”
“That one started in early 2020 right before lockdown. My brother moved to Canton, and when I helped him move, it was a really gray, gross winter day, like you get in February in the Great Lakes. I was driving along there to get on 275 to get back to Lansing, and I saw the road signs, ‘Flint and Toledo,’ which are the two ways you can go,” McCord said.
“I thought, ‘I love those towns.’ I’ve met so many great people in those towns and played some great shows. I only have positive associations with those towns, but the rest of the world doesn’t think much of both of those places.”
After exploring the 275 corridor, the band yearns for a western adventure on the fiery traditional, “Rocky Mountain Belle,” which recounts a groom-to-be’s reluctance to marry his longtime betrothed.
A defiant battalion of acoustic guitar, banjo, bass and mandolin support O’Brien as he sings, “Never thought my prairie queen would be causing such a scene / And the poor old sheriff can’t hold back the mob / I’ll admit we would have wed, but she went ahead and said / When we married she was gonna quit her job.”
“Dan’s a big part of our live shows, and he really brings a ton of energy and spirit to it. I really wanted to have a song that he sang on there. He had a bunch of songs that were kind of half-written, but not done yet that are going to be on the next record,” McCord said.
“I asked if he could come up with a traditional song, and then he found that one. I believe he borrowed largely from a Ramblin’ Jack Elliott recording of it, but it’s a fairly obscure one. And then he came over to our house, and I set up a mic in the living room, and he sang it live, and that’s what’s on the record.”
For one of their final Volume 2 adventures, The Wild Honey Collective returns to Michigan for the family-themed, “Carolyna,” which spotlights the joys and challenges of a newborn.
Proud acoustic guitar, caring fiddle and glistening pedal steel comfort Rodriguez as he sings, “Everything is such a noise, dresser drawers and your brother’s toys / I just look to find my socks, but I’m stuck on your sleepy locks / I’m pretty sure if I look away, I’ll never see you in that state / Like your brothers before you, already boys, who stand tall with such a grin.”
“She’s the third kid for Timmy, and this is about celebrating her when she was a newborn. Now, he’s a little more frustrated with her as a 2-year-old,” said McCord with a laugh. “We get to play a lot of more family friendly events with this band, and the titular Carolyna gets to come out front and dance when we play sometimes.”
The Formation of Volume 2
The band recorded Volume 2’s 12 tracks from summer 2021 to spring 2022 at a hodgepodge of Michigan-based locations, including Lansing’s GTG House, Mike’s Garage, and Horrocks Beer Garden; Holiday Drive in Ionia; the Bitely Blue Lake cabin and O’Brien’s basement in Grand Rapids.
“I really have made it my business to have a good portable recording setup, so that I can go over to someone’s house with a laptop and some microphones and turn any space into a studio really fast,” said McCord, who formed the band in 2020 and named it after The Beach Boys’ 1967 album, Wild Honey.
“It just comes down to being able to play well, just capturing a good performance and not overthinking it.”
The Wild Honey Collective also included a cast of talented collaborators to add more breadth and depth to Volume 2’s acoustic, multi-instrumental sound.
Drummer Kevin Adams, percussionist-vocalist Hattie Danby, drummer Dave Shilakes, accordionist-pianist Mike Lynch, bassist Jerry Wenger, vocalist Alyson Rodriguez and vocalist Nicholas Richard brought and solidified their talents.
“It’s just in the spirit of the original idea, which is a way to continue collaborating with all the great people that we’ve known over the years and liked to play with in a relaxed environment,” McCord said.
“We’ll work on a song and think, ‘Who should we get to play drums on this?’ A lot of what we do in the band is recognizing, ‘OK, I have my skills … it’s OK for me to admit that I’m not the [person] for that specific thing.’”
The band also will share selections from Volume 2 tonight along with Harborcoat and Drinking Mercury tracks at GTG Fest in Lansing. Curated by GTG Records and hosted at The Avenue Café, the two-night music festival will feature She/Her/Hers, The Stick Arounds, The Hunky Newcomers, Ladyship Warship, The Plurals, The Jackpine Snag and more.
“Our slot is going to be kind of a review format a little bit,” McCord said. “We’re going to spotlight two of our collaborators within the set, and then we’re gonna do some acoustic material, and then we’re gonna end it with a barrage of rowdy country rock.”
That rowdy country rock will continue with The Wild Honey Collective’s next album, Volume 3, which will drop in 2023. In the meantime, they’re anticipating the vinyl release of Volume 2.
“We’re still actively writing, but I have two songs that are ready to go. I’m like, ‘Well, let’s get started. Why overthink it?’ That’s one of my philosophies. We’re gonna really see what sticks,” McCord said.
“We definitely have some folk songs to sift through and see what we want to record. That’s going to be the winter; learning and recording in short order is also what we do just to try to capture that energy of a performance.”
The Wild Honey Collective featuring Harborcoat and Drinking Mercury
GTG Fest |8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday, Oct. 21 and 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 22
The Avenue Café, 2021 E. Michigan Ave. in Lansing
$5 cover each night