Honey & Rust
Photo by Toni van Eeden.
Before she learned to talk Johanne Beattie was sharing songs. She’d sit in her bike-seat humming gibberish melodies as her mother rode through town. At seven she was reluctantly enrolled in piano lessons. As it was with her singing, her mother saw a natural gift in her daughter and knew, even if the youngster had her doubts, that she could be a great musician one day, somebody like her grandfather. With her mother’s encouragement, she began writing her own songs in her early teens and once she started she couldn’t stop. It seemed inevitable that one day there would be more. Johanne Beattie didn’t stop dreaming.
Like Beattie, Cristy Williams had little say in beginning her musical path at a young age. Her family was a very musical one and despite the popular tunes of the time, Williams spent much of her youth listening to classical. While most families would discuss sports or town gossip when gathering together, hers would cart over instruments and sing in four-part harmony. Her father, in need of a drummer to go along with his bass playing, suggested she take up the drums. Once she sat behind the kit and shed the attitude of it being a boy’s instrument, Williams was all in. It wasn’t clear what direction this would all go in but, for the moment, she was just happy jamming with her family.
The duo that now form Ottawa’s Honey & Rust are fine examples of what early reassurance, gentle family nudging and the occasional push can do to a child. Both now look back on their families as major influences in their lives and fuel to their musical flames.
“My grandfather was very musical. Coming from a poor farming family in Saskatchewan, he did not have formal music lessons, but would come over to my house and play piano and harmonica with ease,” says Beattie, adding that her mother valued music so much that she’d let her young daughter get out of chores if she would practice the piano.
As early influences, Williams and Beattie were both drawn to female singers, a lot of them Canadian. They tried to emulate to vocal styles Alanis Morissette, Sarah McLachlan, Shania Twain and Celine Dion, to name a few.
“My sister and I would constantly be learning new songs to perform in our church, at parties, or in festival competitions. But even for fun, we’d be making up dances to music for any captive audience we could find! I’ve always loved connecting with people through music. That’s never changed!” says Williams.
“In my young teenage years, I found the divas and would try to vocally ascend to sing like Celine. It made for loud a shower, that’s for sure!”
Though they don’t quite agree on how they first met –one says in church and the other says a house concert– both took to each other quickly in a mutual admiration for each other’s talents. The two would occasionally jam together and Beattie would share songs she had been writing but it wasn’t apparent at first that they would form a group and start taking their music more seriously together.
“We really liked each other and had a synergy I’d not experienced before with someone else. But to form Honey & Rust, it wasn’t on our minds,” explains Beattie. “It wasn’t until about 2 years or so of knowing each other that I proposed the idea to Cristy. She originally refused because she wanted to focus her time on fine arts.”
Then Music Night at Lisgar happened.
At first it was just a regular jam session for the two, something they’d done before, but when Williams sat behind a full drum kit and Beattie placed her hands on the piano keys something different happened this time, a kind of musical magic where all the pieces just fit. The energy between them was electric and Beattie felt for the first time that Williams was made to play the songs she’d been writing all these years. It was the click she was waiting to hear and the moment didn’t go unnoticed by others gathered at 315 Lisgar Street that night. The two were emphatically urged to form a band. They agreed.
Each would bring a unique aspect to Honey & Rust, named after their interesting sound, a mix of sweet and grit. Williams had strong networking skills to along with her musical talents. Beattie had the songs and a deep-seeded dream to become a musician that had now honed abilities that have become natural to her. You can hear it on their self-titled debut, an album that is an accumulation of dreams and possibly futures, highs and lows, hardships and hope. “This record has taken the long way around,” you can read in the liner notes. “No shortcuts here. Enjoy the ride.”
“The album is about not compromising, not giving up, and choosing hope even in the most delicate, heart-wrenching, hopeless of times,” explains Beattie. “It was created out of the best material we had from the course of about one and a half years or so. We went through the material and just asked if it fit or not. A theme emerged that seemed to tie it altogether organically.”
“It was a very new experience for me to make an album. I had to face some personal fears around my abilities as a drummer and vocalist, but when we got into the studio, I had a blast!” adds Williams.
Speaking of blasts, the album rockets out of the gate like a racehorse on the appropriately named Hold Me Down, an energetic track that dares you to stop it. There’s this beautiful snarl in Beattie’s voice that makes you wonder what might have happened if Joplin did Bluegrass. On the haunting Delicate, the moments of tender smoothness and fragility are spiked with this growl, like silk wrapped around gravel.
There are various styles and influences at work here, for sure. Wild Horse has a riff Johnny Cash would be proud of while Love Intertwining would be comfortably sung in a smoky lounge clutching a class of bourbon. Album standout Dangerous But Beautiful is a gut-punch of a song that starts with a few drops of warm rain that quickly turns into a thunderstorm of emotion. As though a perfect bookend with Hold Me Down, the release concludes with Slow Down but you get the sense that these two women have no intent on doing that. Nor should they because if this is their debut release the mind reels at what wonderful roads Honey & Rust will take us down next.
“I long to be as simply honest as I can be,” says Beattie. “That may be through stories, thoughts on this or that, imagery and pictures, that kind of thing. I never want to simply spell something out for the listener, but my hope is to create multi-layered music that causes one to think, wrestle with, and consider something outside of what they already know.”
“We, together, want to offer hope, even if hope is that at least we are alive, breathing and able to feel something. I never want to shy away from difficulty, pain, betrayal, but also never want to discount joy, love and peace that can be found and that I’ve experienced and lived.”
Honey and Rust’s next gig is at Irene’s on September 3.