Honeywagen – Halfdog (Q&A)

‘For Love’ is such a beautiful song that you may forget to listen to the rest of ‘Half Dog‘ as well. Don’t, there is a lot to discover.
Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Mike Penner.

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

Haha, when a couple of nice-looking older girls came up and talked to me afterward. This was when I was in my first band in 8th grade 🙂
We were called “Blastwagon” — so you can tell I have progressed 🙂

Honeywagen – a little sweeter and more refined – or if I can quote what Rick Nielsen said about us “Honeywagen — what’s that? — like a Volkswagen with honey poured on it or something?”

How did this record come together?

I wanted to write a “live set” of songs sequentially from beginning to end that I thought would work well in front of a crowd.
So I approached it that way as part of a big picture plan. Start strong, show some versatility with the songs as the set moved along, and finish strong.

I wrote and recorded the songs in the same sequence they appear on the record. I think part of this thinking comes from putting together setlists for live shows over the years.

I made a record like I was putting together a setlist for a show. I also didn’t want anybody to listen to it and say “every song they play kind of sounds the same” haha, so I hope that didn’t happen with this record.

When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?

That’s an interesting question because I love it when a record is done and you get an opportunity to really get it “out there” to a wider audience. By that I mean your friends and family will always say good things about the songs and record “back home”, but you don’t really know what you’ve got until people you don’t know hear it and start saying (hopefully good) things about it.

As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?

I tend to not explain my songs and what I was writing about specifically to people because maybe they take on their own thoughts about it. If I would explain “well, this next song is about how I met my wife” that might kind of ruin it for them haha.

Any ideas about how to turn this one into a million-seller?

Oh man, well — opening up for Paul McCartney and/or the Stones on their next tours might help things out a lot!! That is a whole another level above “hey guys, we just gotta get out there and play!”

You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?

John Lennon – because nobody has inspired me to write, sing, and play as he has done from the first time I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. (I know, so many have said that was “the moment” for them, but it is true with me too)

Alex Chilton – Alex, when he wrote Big Star songs — even up to “In Space” which I love –, had an uncanny knack of putting something really cool and unexpected together that made you go WOW!. chords, melody, words. But the other side of him that is so cool are the things Alex did outside of Big Star. His solo records, playing in a cover band for a time, recording bass tracks on somebody else’s record …

Matthew Sweet – I played 4 or 5 shows with Matthew back in Lincoln NE back when he was 16 yrs old. It has been amazing to follow his career since those days. And the times I have been able to talk to him over the years — he is still that same amazing soul I got to know briefly a long time back. It would be so fun to write and record a song or two with him now.

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

I’m lucky to have some good stories and to have shared the stage with some great bands, but the one I’ll never forget was a time I was subbing on bass for a country band in a club in Lincoln NE.

The dance floor was packed and this one little guy with boots and a cowboy hat had a real pretty blonde girlfriend he was picking up and twirling around out there. It was going great until her head caught a rotating ceiling fan (she was ok!!) but as you know a head cut can bleed pretty good.

Words and language soon followed that event and guys were really mad he didn’t take better care of her and before you knew it a huge fight broke out roadhouse style.

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

It’s kind of funny because I don’t always think I’m the best judge of some of my songs. You work on them until you think they work and feel right and yes you hope somebody else will like them too.

Sometimes they come relatively quickly, other times they take me a while — and they might even change a bit after they’ve been played out a few times.

I seem to kick into a different gear when playing with the band vs. maybe first coming up with a song on an acoustic guitar. Each song you write seems kind of like one of your kids in a way.

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

Yes, I think so most definitely. First I think you want to have a record that you really thought about and believe in, otherwise, you are selling yourself and others that you hope listen to it short. Making a record is one thing. Getting it out there is the second thing.

Help from others in getting it heard is the third thing. It takes a lot of help from good people to get it heard and my songs wouldn’t be anywhere without that.

Lastly, you hope that people that heard it want to listen to it again and will tell their friends they want to hear it too.

Which 5 records would you bring with you for your stay on Mars?

Haha, I love the Beatles early stuff so much — I guess if I have to pick it would be Beatles ’65 – as I think I’ve bought that one about 4 times because it always seems to have disappeared … Ain’t nobody going to take my Beatles ’65 up on Mars!

Big Star – Columbia: Live at Missouri University (Jim Rondinelli recorded this live – the beginning of a new version of Big Star – so spontaneous and so good!)

Cheap Trick – In Color (not fair and so hard to pick out just one especially from the first three records)

Rolling Stones – Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out (love the guitars up to 11 through those Ampeg amps so much on this record!)

The Beat – Paul Collins first record out in ’79 (such a perfect 2 guitar, bass, and drums record every song so great – made such an impact on me!)

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

Technically: Back when the internet was fairly new, I was not shy about reaching out for answers. Being a huge fan of the sound of Brendan OBrien records, I reached out to Southern Tracks in Atlanta specifically asking about how they were getting their drum sounds.

To make a long story short I received invaluable info from the engineers that worked with Brendan to get sounds that I still use today. And studying the records you love the sound of and using those techniques to make a record how you want it to sound. The other thing fun about recording music is writing songs and making records.

I love the entire process of recording, mixing, and mastering.

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

For me, it is first the challenge of entertaining people. Working a crowd to show them a good time, and get them to forget about stuff. It is even more fun having success with the crowd playing your own songs. Some think the only way you can please a crowd is to play covers. I found out you don’t have to do that.

Always proud to answer ‘I am a musician’ to the question ‘what are you doing?’?

Sure, I’ve learned to just be who I am. Everybody is not going to understand why I like to write songs, sing, and play guitar. Music has always been a big
part of my life. When others are home watching TV, I’m probably down in “the lab” playing my guitar.

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