Honeyblood on forming and breaking through
Stina Tweeddale sought musicians to form a band but found it just takes two when she met Shona McVicar, she tells David Pollock
Economic and social history’s loss was the Scottish music industry’s gain when Stina Tweeddale decided she would form a band instead of pursuing a career in the subject she had moved from Edinburgh to Glasgow to study. “At the time when I was actually at uni, it didn’t feel like my course was taking second place,” she says, “but I guess it was. I told myself I was going to Glasgow to study, but it was always to form a band. I couldn’t have done what I’m doing now anywhere else in Scotland.”
What she’s doing now is approaching the crest of a wave with her current group Honeyblood, the collaboration between Tweeddale (guitarist, singer, songwriter) and Shona McVicar (drummer), another Glasgow émigré who moved there from her home town of Cumbernauld. Signed to Brighton label FatCat, who were instrumental in launching the careers of fellow Scots the Twilight Sad, We Were Promised Jetpacks and Frightened Rabbit, Honeyblood’s recent self-titled debut album mixes the careening indie pop melodies of the Breeders with dashes of PJ Harvey’s icy cool and L7’s couldn’t-care-less Riot Grrrl attitude.
Tweeddale is the band’s main songwriter, and much of her early work for Honeyblood was inspired by her father Sandy, guitarist with Edinburgh’s Blues ’n’ Trouble.
“Not that the guitar was ever pushed on me,” she says. “It was more encouragement, and he still encourages me. I started when I was 13 and I guess I play guitar because of him.”
Her earliest public foray into music came when she was the singer and only female member of Edinburgh group Boycotts, who she was with for a couple of years until changing musical ideas pushed them apart. Essentially, she wanted to play guitar and write her own music.
“I had a vision for Honeyblood and how I knew it was going to turn out,” she says, “and then I met Shona and we started playing some gigs. I had an idea of what sound would be the best representation of myself, and of who the right people would be to create that. But as it turns out, I just found one person who was right and then stopped looking.”
Tweeddale’s first meeting with McVicar came on a kind of musical blind date. She had been asking around about good musicians to play with and a friend suggested she check out the drummer of local group PartWindPartWolf at a gig in Bloc. She did, the pair arranged to go for a drink and then agreed to work together.
“Then we started getting shows prematurely, I guess,” says Tweeddale. “We weren’t looking for any but people asked us to play, and once we started we realised we weren’t missing anything musically. Being a duo just makes us work harder to fill the space.”
Honeyblood’s sound is remarkably fully developed, and Tweeddale describes it as the perfect fusion of everything she ever listened to from the age of 13 onwards, although “it’s completely honest and natural, there’s nothing pre-planned or contrived about it. It’s just a natural representation of the music I always wanted to make.”
She confirms the Breeders are in there, as well as PJ Harvey and the general Riot Grrrl sound (the word “honeyblood” comes from a lyric on a song by Courtney Love’s Hole).
“I love hearing female voices,” she says. “Kim Deal [of the Breeders] has the perfect voice. I love the idea of having a really gritty guitar sound and then the sweetness of the vocal, it sounds so good. I love their attitude too. The Breeders didn’t care, Kim would walk on stage in a baseball top and just play the songs, and that’s the way it should be. I mean, people can do what they want but natural is best, and when you can tell someone’s showing their natural personality you know they don’t have anyone telling them how they should act or dress. Definitely not PJ Harvey.”
The Smiths are in there too. “No-one ever picks up on them,” says Tweeddale, “but they were a huge influence on me lyrically. Morrissey’s reputation precedes his music now, but I love him still.”
As it turned out, their earlier groups would be the equivalent of an apprenticeship for Tweeddale and McVicar, both in their early twenties, because from their second live date on they would find themselves on FatCat’s radar with a proper career beckoning. “It all happened at our second date,” says the singer. “It was at the Wide Days music conference in Edinburgh. We were first on the bill, but just being there was such a big deal because we hadn’t played any shows yet.
“We played five songs, they were all we had, and Alex Knight [head of FatCat] was there.
“Afterwards I was packing up and Shona went to do the merch stand. We were optimistic, we had our own merch to sell even though we only had five songs. We had tapes and tote bags, and I think Alex liked the DIY ethos of that. He bought everything we had – and Shona made him buy it, she charged him full price. I came over and said, ‘Don’t you know who that is? You just made him buy a bag!’”
Tweeddale still managed to pluck up the courage to go and talk to Knight, and his words of advice led to an email exchange, then a slot on a bill he was putting on in Brighton once the duo had developed, and from there they were in.
The debut album was recorded in Bridgeport, Connecticut, by Peter Katis, long-standing producer of indie icons The National and much of FatCat’s catalogue.
“It’s pretty suburban,” says Tweeddale of the experience. “He lives in a massive, 100-year-old house. We stayed there for two weeks with his family while we recorded. He definitely got what we were about. I didn’t want it to sound too produced, it was very live.”
Tweeddale and McVicar are still young and playing their own headline dates is a novelty. “We got a taste of that when we played in America,” says Tweeddale. “Already, the people knew all the lyrics and were singing them back to us. That’s weird after being the support band for so long. You make a record and you never actually think about people liking it, but we’ve had an amazing reaction.”
She speaks of the pair’s album launch party in Glasgow in July as the highlight of their career so far, a “proper sweaty punk show” at the Old Hairdressers which was so heavily subscribed that people were queuing on the stairs to catch a glimpse of them.
It’s a reaction that suggests the duo’s adopted home city has fallen for them, and that it won’t be the last place to do so.
Honeyblood play the Tolbooth, Stirling, 11 September; PJ Molloy’s, Dunfermline, 12 September; CCA, Glasgow, Saturday 13 September; and the NME New Blood Tour at King Tut’s, Glasgow, 1 November. The album Honeyblood is out now on FatCat. www.facebook.com/honeybloodeatitup