Bay Area party band the California Honeydrops brought its sweet sound to a Sunday night shindig at Crystal Bay Casino’s Crown Room.
“We love the Crystal Bay Club, it’s awesome playing there,” front man Lech Wierzynski said. “It’s just a beautiful spot, a beautiful place.”
The California Honeydrops are Wierzynski (guitar, trumpet, vocals), Ben Malament (drums, washboard), Johnny Bones (saxophone), Lorenzo Loera (keys) and Beau Bradbury (bass). The group will add guest star Warren Jones on percussion for the Tahoe show.
The Honeydrops formed out of the Bay Area street music scene in 2007 and 2008, Wierzynski said.
“We came together as a street, like a busking band; so just a bunch of years ago we kind of took a little break off of our regular gigs and wanted to get back into our busking thing, because we had all been buskers at some point, you know, full time,” he said.
“As we started playing on stages more, we were like ‘let’s get back to the busking thing, that was fun,’ so we put this band together just for that purpose, just kind of to have fun and get back to that feeling, and then it started getting big; people liked that, so we just stuck with it. Different people have come and gone since then, but a few of the originals still remain.”
Incorporating a wild blend of R&B, soul, funk music and more into its sound, California Honeydrops shows are always a rollicking good time.
“The performances are super interactive, that’s what our thing is, getting the crowd to sing along,” Wierzynski said.
“Sometimes we jump offstage and play in the crowd; kind of getting back to the whole busking mentality is still alive and well with us.
“No matter how big the place is, we try to create as intimate of an environment as we can and as participatory environment as we can, and as surprising of an environment as we can. We try to keep it spontaneous for us as well as the crowd.”
The band has come into its own with growing national success in the last few years, with appearances at Monterey Jazz Festival, High Sierra Music Festival and New Orleans Jazz Fest, among many others.
The group’s initial success came overseas, however.
“We toured Europe and played mostly locally for a really long time, for about the first three years and then we slowly started going into more national touring,” Wierzynski said.
Outside of the Bay Area, the California Honeydrops’ first ardent fans were in Spain, Germany, Netherlands, and Wierzynski’s home country of Poland.
“When you’re unknown in the U.S., nobody’s going to come see you; but if you’re unknown in the U.S. and you’re in Europe, they just kind of have a better infrastructure for small gigs out there and more people will just come and check stuff out,” Wierzynksi said. “Here, if you go from city to city playing, you will literally be playing for nobody, but while we were relatively unknown in the United States you could actually tour in Europe and make a little dough.”
Now, the band’s sights are fixed firmly stateside, where it is about to embark on a set of tours in support of its fourth studio album, “A River’s Invitation.”
The record is something of a departure from the group’s previous efforts. For one, it was recorded entirely at Wierzynski’s home in Oakland, creating an atmosphere distinctly different from that of a professional recording studio.
“A lot of the other albums I think we were trying to capture the live experience in the studio, and on this album we were just like ‘hey let’s just play the stuff that we feel like playing when we’re alone and not playing in front of people,’ just kind of us in our natural environment at home, playing for one another and having fun.
“It enabled us to be more spontaneous because we just made stuff up. We weren’t trying to pretend like we were in front of a thousand screaming fans.”
While the group’s albums often feature a variety of guest stars, “A River’s Invitation” is primarily limited to the Honeydrops.
“This latest album is mostly just us and it’s actually a lot more stripped down instrumentally, too,” Wierzynski said. “The arrangements are a lot more stripped down than they were on the other stuff.”
Limitations on available instruments and gear led the group to create some styles of sound that they hadn’t explored previously.
“The other big difference I would say is that some of the tracks have some different types of influences in them that we haven’t experimented with before,” Wierzynski said. “There’s some more funky type sounds and something of a Caribbean type sound.
“There’s more keyboards. Essentially we were limited to the situation at my house, so we used more keyboards and less piano; we had more wah-wahs and clavinets, that kind of sound. I played guitar through a wah-wah for the first time in my life, actually the first take on one song, and we just kept it. We just kind of experimented with stuff at home and had fun with different sounds.”
For Wierzynski, this most recent album is the most true to the band’s identity to date.
“I think we’ve really come into our own as far as an original sound,” he said. “I think the sound on this one is all our own, it doesn’t sound like we’re trying to be anything in particular other than us, and I also think the way that we have grown as performers in the studio really delivered.
“We’ve come to the point in our performing abilities where we can really just let it roll and have something fun come out. I think it adds a lot of life to the music.”
The upcoming release tour(s) will keep the California Honeydrops busy over the coming months, with appearances throughout California and Colorado, including Burning Man and the Fillmore, before a swing down under to Australia.
For their part, the band members are keyed in on doing what they do best: making spontaneous, up-beat music for fans and newcomers alike.
“If it’s fun, it will be good, even if it’s not perfect,” Wierzynski said. “That’s a big part of the street thing … you can really lose that playing on big stages a lot. You can over-rehearse or you can go for having a perfect show, but that’s not what we strive for, that’s not what gives us our kicks.
“It’s ever changing, it’s really based on who’s there and how people are responding to the music, so that keeps every show different.”
That said, the California Honeydrops know how to keep it professional while keeping it fun.
“Oh man, that’s a key man, sobriety and punctuality, it’s funny,” Wierzynksi said with a chuckle. “You never think of it, but these days if you can’t get that stuff together, ain’t nobody gonna’ drag you along.”