“We get labeled as a retro band, and though we draw a lot of influence from older music, I feel like the way we put things together is very different,” says Lech Wierzynski, frontman for soulful rhythm and blues-y collective The California Honeydrops.
The golden-voiced Wierzynski, who also plays guitar and trumpet, was born in Poland and brought to the States at a young age by his parents. “I was raised in a very Polish household—there was no English spoken at home. My parents trusted that I would learn it at school, and I did, for better or for worse,” he says with a laugh. Wierzynski’s musical roots, however, come straight from New Orleans. “My dad, who is almost 80 years old, is a huge fan of old school New Orleans music, I got it from him. Right after World War II ended and the Communists took control of the Polish government, American music was banned. It would be radioed in through Voice of America or Radio Free Europe, and people would tune into it at a low volume in their homes. It was a seriously punishable offense if your neighbor ratted you out for hearing music on your radio. In the early days after the War, you could get sent away and never seen again. That was the environment that my dad grew up in, he has very strong memories of that,” he explains. “He passed his love for music on to me.”
The Honeydrops have been on tour supporting their latest record, A River’s Invitation, released last September. “On A River’s Invitation, we tried to make it sound like a party. We recorded only the songs we felt like playing. There was no crowd to egg us on, so we played what we wanted, and we were just chilling,” Wierzynski recalls. “It was the most ‘live’ recording we’ve ever done too; the songs were mostly recorded in single takes with us all together in my living room, it’s very organic, like we were just sitting at home playing music together.” As stellar as their recorded work is, nothing beats experiencing The California Honeydrops in person. The group got its start a decade ago, busking on the streets of Oakland, California. “We busked for a long time; I busked pretty consistently for about four years, that’s how I paid my rent, which is no longer possible in the Bay Area,” he says with a laugh. “Sometimes after gigs, we’ll go out and play on the street if we feel like we haven’t had enough. We love getting off of the amplification and playing raw.”
Currently providing opening support for the legendary Bonnie Raitt on a string of tour dates, the band will perform at the Ryman Auditorium on May 4th and 5th; for a band that does not like to be elevated above or separated from their audience, and instead prefers to play amongst and in the midst of the crowd, The Honeydrops’ first time on Nashville’s most historical stage will be a slight departure from their usual venues. “We’ve enjoyed playing for Bonnie’s fans, even though it’s very different than what we’re used to, we’ve gotten nothing but love from them. It’s a different crowd, but that’s not a bad thing; I feel like it might be an older crowd, but when older folks go out to hear music, it’s because they really love music, not because they want to be a part of a scene,” says Wierzynski. “We’ll get them to do something silly that they weren’t expecting to do. We’ll surprise them a little. Who knows, by their standards, it might be a raging party!”