Honeybrowne has made its mark on the Texas music scene and beyond by going song by song, gig by gig, album by album and Mile By Mile, as the title of the band's latest CD declares. Singer, songwriter and group leader Fred Andrews and his musical compadres come by their sound and success honestly, drawing from a rich palette of inspirations and then going out and road-testing the music they create to ensure that it makes a genuine connection with music-loving listeners. Combining good ole hard work with a vibrant love for the magic of music, Honeybrowne keep their eyes on the prize of being better and better each time out.
So how does the band follow "this year's first must-hear," as Entertainment News & Views said of their last release, the aptly titled Something To Believe In? Answer: With a new album that enriches and expands the Honeybrowne sound on a set of even stronger songs that are bound to travel with you Mile By Mile for years to come.
Co-produced by Andrews and Austin recording whiz Mark Addison (who produced Something To Believe In), the album is Honeybrowne's most vital and varied yet. It boasts everything from expansive country-rock anthems like the title song and "Love Wanted" to the twangy trot of "Bowling Green" and the bluegrass-flavored "Line Sinker and Hook." Andrews and drummer Stephen Bres celebrate their recent new fatherhood on the CD's most touching number, "Personal Lullaby," which they co-wrote. But happy family man Andrews also shows that he hardly forgets how heartache feels on "Yesterday's News," "Left Me A Mess" and "Trouble's Got a Thing For Me." From the opening plea of "Help Me Find My Way" to the closing two-step romp "Put That Ring Back On Your Finger," Mile By Mile lands right within the musical sweet spot where country, rock and pop meet.
Mile By Mile brings a studio sound richness and live show presence and immediacy to the listener's living room - or car, truck, iPod or MP3 player, anywhere you play it - because it was actually recorded in Andrews's living room. As the band recorded song demos there, he so loved the sound they got that he suggested to Addison that they track the album with the band at his house. "We went at it for four days and came out with a wonderful sounding record with a great vibe," enthuses Andrews. "I don't think we could have made it sound that good in the studio. It's the best sounding record we've done."
It's also the most collaborative, with Honeybrowne guitarist Josh Owen and drummer Bres - since departed to attend law school - contribute to the songwriting and longtime bassist Jake Blackwell carries on in his band role as MVP on the sessions as well as the road. Andrews continues his fruitful song collaborations with Addison and David Neuhauser and also pens a number with Nashville country-rock rabble-rouser Trent Summar. "I don't wanna write a song that could be great and have it be anything less than it should," says Andrews of his enjoyment of co-writing songs.
To get to the core of Fred Andrews and his songwriting, Texas is indeed where to begin, in the town of Victoria, to be exact, where Andrews was born and spent his early years. In the Lone Star tradition, music was loved and played around the home: His father plays guitar and piano, his mother is also a pianist and plays violin, and his grandfather was handy with the mandolin, violin and banjo. Andrews played drums from age three, later took a few piano lessons and finally settled on the guitar.
Andrews was raised square within the Texas musical tradition, but his Chicago bred father also instilled in his son his love of respected pop masters like Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Billy Joel and others. Then Fred later found his own favorites like The Replacements, R.E.M and U2. "I think my songwriting reflects a combination of my Texas music heroes and all the other stuff I listen to," he explains.
Teen years in Charleston, West Virginia also expended Andrews's musical horizons, in good part thanks to the syndicated NPR concert show "Mountain Stage" based there, which exposed Andrews at its tapings to the crème de la crème of singer-songwriters as well the coolest alterative acts of the day.
"I always liked music a lot more than anyone else I knew," says Andrews, who finally took up the guitar in his early college years at West Virginia University and started getting serious about playing, singing and writing songs while finishing school at Southwest Texas State University (now known as Texas State University). "I really didn't know how to play other people's music so much, so I made up my own. I thought songwriting was really fun."
A gathering of friends onstage at a local bar started out as "just playing, drinking, having a good time and singing all the songs we knew and ones we made up as we went along," Andrews recalls. "Then all our friends showed up and then all of their friends showed up. We would draw 500 to 600 people every Tuesday and packed the place for a year."
When the ad hoc group landed the opening slot at a campus concert by then Texas favorites Jackopierce, they needed a band name and grabbed Honeybrowne from a beer coaster as their handle. By the time Andrews graduated he gathered his first serious core of players - including his college pal, bassist Shade Deggs, now with Columbia recording artists Cole Deggs & The Lonesome - and stepped out into the thriving Texas live music scene.
Debuting on CD in 2001 with Finding Shade, produced by former Loggins & Messina drummer Merel Bregante, Honeybrowne picked up airplay out of the box with "Texas Angel" and "Deeper Shade of Blue" on Houston's KIKK and other Texas stations. A live album tracked at the famed Satellite Lounge in Houston followed and then another studio disc, 2003's Good For Nuthin', consolidated the band's stature as rising stars with their own sound within the booming Texas music movement.
"I've been making my living with music since about 2001," Andrews notes. "I may not be driving a Porsche, but I sure am enjoying it. It's a great day job and night job.
"I think a lot of bands do their learning in garages or the rehearsal hall," he continues. "I've done a lot mine by getting out there and playing for people."
The wisdom of his chosen path paid off when Andrews hooked up with noted Austin producer, songwriter and artist-in-his-own-right Mark Addison and came up with the band's most definitive statement yet in 2006 on Something To Believe In. Harp magazine noted how "their tunes sport more hooks than a fisherman's hat" and praised Andrews as "a master of witty wordplay and pithy turns of phrase, with a winning ability to wring real emotion out of a lyric." All Music Guide invoked names like The Mavericks and Steve Earle in its review of the CD, also likening Andrews's vocals to masterful singer Chris Isaak. Now on Mile By Mile, Honeybrowne and Addison take the music to yet another higher and more engaging level.
Although Andrews earned himself a pole vault scholarship to college, as a musician he has shifted strides to become a long-distance runner. "I feel like I have a long way to go and that I'm making progress, and I love it," he explains. "I feel like I'm learning so much with every song I write and every album I make, and that I'm singing better and playing guitar better.
"We're not trying to get a record deal from Nashville, we're not trying to have a big entourage and big bus, though those are neat things. I never wanted to be major label act playing arenas with a 10-piece band. I'd love to instead have something like John Hiatt's career. If that were ever bestowed on me, I would feel like I'd lived 100 lives," Andrews says.
"We're just trying to keep it real and all about what we got into it for," he adds. "The whole theme is to keep it real, keep it basic, keep it on the road. And to keep improving and perfecting what we do. I've done it my way, the only way I can and know how. No one gave me a book. I've learned so much more doing it this way than having someone steer me."
And ultimately, Andrews admits, "I'm a lifer. I'm now 12 years into it and I'm still into it, step by step." And Mile By Mile, making music that travels the distance from Texas to the rest of the world.