The Legend Of Honeychild Coleman
Photo By: Ed Marshall
Discovering the personification of true art can be like digging in the crates at the record store. Once we find that rare artist that is mint condition it is imperative that we take care of them and give them their flowers. The mainstream is not the only stream that is overflowing with creative genius.
Honeychild Coleman is an underground Rock Queen that sprinkles majestic guitar energy, visual words and ancient vocal charms worldwide. She encompasses a sterling punk, yet abstract genre blending musical experience like nothing you’ve ever heard. This sister’s career is what legends are made of.
Samantha Hollins: I first learned about you in James Spooner’s Afro-Punk. When it was released how did it impact you and your career?
Honeychild Coleman: First of all it was life-affirming to hear how similar the path to being Black and loving Rock-n-Roll was for many of us; how we had all felt so alone for so long. Even though many of us in the Black Rock and Punk scenes here in New York had found each other long before James’ film, it was wonderful to feel recognized as legitimate in my lifestyle and choices. I did receive a bit of press and some interviews as the film gained momentum with awards and film festivals…and thanks to the iconic portrait taken by my then roommate, stylist Karen LeVitt, my image was featured in nearly every interview and review of the film.
Photo By: Ed Marshall
Samantha Hollins: You are the epitome of a true artist. I would like know what is the core of your inspiration?
Honeychild Coleman: I stand on the shoulders of some strong creative forces in my family. My mother, Doris Martin Coleman was a writer. My father, Alfis Coleman SR, managed bands, including the band of my cousin Doug Miller (Third World Edition). My grandfather, Joe Coleman, played banjo and mandolin. My grandmother, Henrietta Bell, painted. My cousin, Michael Morrow, exposed me to his amazing music collection and singing at an early age…and my uncle William Martin was a bit of a psychedelic artist. I grew up taking it for granted that people had multiple creative outlets and interests….and I gravitated towards making a life on that path.
Samantha Hollins: When was the first time you fell in love with Rock ‘n’ Roll?
Honeychild Coleman: I was definitely young…before I was even old enough to attend grade school…the first rock I remember hearing was the Beatles, Jan and Dean, The Kinks, The Animals, Jimi Hendrix, and The Monkees, which I watched DAILY. My mom and my aunt were serving you Mod and Supremes (who i was obsessed with) vibes in their musical tastes and fashions so there was plenty of Motown in rotation on the record player. Then I saw Chuck Berry, Tina Turner and my hero Bo Diddley on television and that sealed the deal.
Photo By: C. P. Krenkler
Samantha Hollins: How did the guitar land in your hands? And do you play any other instruments?
Honeychild Coleman: I think my dad really wanted us to be a family band like The Jackson 5. He came home one day with amplifiers and guitars for my brothers. My brother Don was already playing upright bass in jazz band but otherwise I was playing clarinet and my brother Al was playing trumpet. Al and Antonio both picked up the electric guitar and when they were out with their friends down the block I would shyly ask if they minded if I played them (they never did!). I thought nothing of it, plucking away at The Go-Go’s and Devo tunes and carried on with my life as a visual artist. I went off to art school and many years later started to seriously consider guitar.
Samantha Hollins: When you moved to New York what was your cultural transformation? Did you bring a piece of Kentucky amidst your creative offering?
Honeychild Coleman: It was a BIG change! I moved to Manhattan from an all White (at that time) suburb in Louisville, KY called Okolona that had no public transportation or even sidewalks outside of the neighborhood. I already loved walking but here everything was faster; walking…talking…creative ideas. By Christmas break I was beginning to lose a bit of my Southern accent because folks in New York couldn’t understand my fast-mumble, ha ha! I thought I would move here and just blend into the shadows because the city is just full of cool and fabulous people. One day on the way to Parsons I was standing on 14th street with my hair spiked and gelled to the high heavens and someone yelled at me from a passing car that I looked like Nona Hendryx. That’s when I knew I was in the right city.
Samantha Hollins: You are extremely diverse with the projects you’re evolved with. Can you please tell the Culture Rock audience about the bands you are in?
BACHSLIDER (Feminist and Women’s Issues focused heavy post Punk/Psych-Rock trio ) with Annu Lilja(Lionel Rocks) and Ramsey Jones (Funkface/RZA/MAAFA/Rebelmatic) – Independent
DEM (solo Electronic/Dub project) – 8RM Brooklyn USA
GKA (politically driven Electro-Punk duo) with my partner Crito Thornton (Crit3rion/2MAD/Brooklyn Beats)
HEAVENSBEE (Spooky Reggae/2-tone project) by Marco Wasserman and Roger Apollon (Bigger Thomas/Rude Boy George), with Dunia Best (Agent 99/Dubistry), Olivier Rhee (The Boilers), and various guest vocalists – Independent
HONEYCHILD COLEMAN (solo Dream-Pop and Punk) Invisiblegirl Records (UK) and Matteite Records (Italy)
THE 1865 (Blues-Punk quartet) with Musician/Filmmaker Sacha Jenkins (Fresh Dressed /Of Mics and Men), Flora Lucini (MAAFA) and Jason “Biz” Lucas (Dragonz of Zynth)-Mass Appeal Records
Photo By: Thomas Appel
Samantha Hollins: Out of all the stages you’ve performed on, what venues intrigued you the most sonically?
- CBGB’s for the legendary history AND sound, hands down
- The Cooler NYC (also, sadly, no longer open) – too many great shows to list – wonderful sound
- Meow MIx NYC – it was our LES paradise, all women run, great sound – recorded my 1st solo CD there
- Coney Island High – had everything from Punk and Glam Rock to Drum and Bass nights
- Arlene’s Grocery – impeccable sound and local feeling – easy to pack the room
- Max Fish – The 1865 has a monthly there called The Rock House (with MAAFA, Rebelmatic and a special guest band) – Super Punk, great staff and fun walk in crowd
- The Wetlands – I did a weekly open mic there run by Christo “Gonzo” Gonzales (R.I.P.) first saw Toshi Reagon among many other great talents -Koncrete Jungle was also there for a spell
Samantha Hollins: When you take flights how do you prefer your guitar to be handled?
Honeychild Coleman: FRAGILE! Carry on and gate-check only. Ideally stored in front of plane if not overhead. If I fly with a soft case I stuff it with clothing to cushion my guitar (usually merch shirts ). I am a bit of an instrument packing novice. On my last solo tour in Europe I picked up an amplifier in Ireland which I had bubble wrapped then shrink wrapped to my suitcase to save on the baggage fees.
Photo By: C. P. Krenkler
Samantha Hollins: DJ Sugar Free is another side of your artistry that I think is so awesome. What made you start spinning? What genres do you play?
Honeychild Coleman: I began spinning as DJ SugarfreeBK because aside from my fellow Sistagrrl Maya, AKA Mother Goddess, at that time no one else was really spinning Rock-n-Roll in the East Village. I also wanted to spin the music of my friends to turn people onto it. I had the good fortune of falling in with a women-run DJ crew called Table Manners lead by my friend Petal. They were spinning strictly Drum and Bass and got tired of always being the special guest or treated like a novelty. So at this party the men would be the guest DJs. I was singing with their sets doing freestyle vocals and asked if they would let me spin during happy hour to warm up so I could learn how to use the mixer and turntables. It worked in my favor because if anyone was running late I had extra time to hone my craft. And so it began. Soon I was introduced to SupaJen by our mutual friend Joshua Lorr, who had been designing these awesome DJ bags for us all at Yak Pak. He and Jen had a party going on St. Mark’s Place at Open Air Bar. Once we met and talked about records they invited me to do a guest tag team set. Jen and I hit it off and started our own party. Then DJ Shakey heard we were looking for a permanent spot and invited us to try a few nights at Botanica Bar. We spun everything from Metal to Electro to Grunge to New Wave and Punk. So much fun! I mainly focus on Rock and Ska now and Indie Rock but still have a soft spot for Electro Funk and Freestyle.
Photo By: The late great Mike Brodie aka Laidback Mike Photography
Samantha Hollins: What’s a day in the life of your writing process? What instrument do you create with? Do you write sheet music?
Honeychild Coleman: I played clarinet from 5th to 7th grade, then eventually I stopped reading music. My varied approaches to writing include keeping several lyric books going at all times, rough recordings of ideas on the fly, free flow writing and playing. I write basic guitar and bass tabs, which helped immensely when I picked up the Baritone guitar, but mainly still play by ear. Sometimes I sit down with a concept in mind and write from there, as was the case with writing the album with Sacha and The 1865, and also our process in my band GKA.
Samantha Hollins: Since you have such a brilliant way of making a song sound visual, it seems that it was such a natural progression for your music to transcend to film. What is the story behind your song “Echelon” featured in the Sundance award winning film “Pariah”?
Honeychild Coleman: Perhaps coming from a visual background helps in my writing. I dream songs as well so having music in film has been thrilling. “Echelon” was written before “Pariah”, and in the scene where the song plays out, I was overcome at how well it fit. I wrote that song about feeling out of social class access to someone…entering uncharted territory emotionally and understanding what those barriers are. I had a similar reaction in the scene featuring another song I wrote, “Parallel”, with my old band Audio Dyslexia. To witness the protagonist go through the emotions on screen gave the music a new life and energy. This soundtrack was the only real release of any music Audio Dyslexia had ever recorded.
Samantha Hollins: How does an acoustic set conduct your energy versus an electric set? What’s the difference? What’s similar?
Honeychild Coleman: Acoustic sets for me are more emotionally bare. You can really tug at the audience dynamically as they can hear and process the lyrics as well as direct all of the focus towards you. Playing acoustically can feel more personal and sometimes fragile. The rawness of emoting sound alone can be powerful. When I was on tour with Apollo Heights and we had a residency in Paris, we played at this wine bar called Les Rendezvous des Amis. We sat around on wine barrels as there was no real stage…no microphones…no amps. It was very intimate and relaxed. Otherwise I tend to play semi-unplugged; guitar is electric but no other sounds – and some effects, but rarely fully clean or acoustic. Even stripped down I like the guitar or mountain dulcimer to have a little growl – a little twang.
Samantha Hollins: What is the overall mission you would like to set in stone as an artist?
Honeychild Coleman: My parents not-so-secretly raised me to be an activist and involved in my community. I like the idea of utilizing art and creative expression as a way to reach people and connect while also sharing information; having a message. My creative mentor Hank Shocklee gave me a valuable piece of advice. He said people need to feel hope. So I try to do all of these things while also having fun. To be authentic, fearless and yet also allow myself to be human because the standards often put on us as Black women can feel impossibly inescapable. Music and art help rise above it.
Samantha Hollins: Are there any projects that we should check out past, present or future that will let us dig more into the legacy of Honeychild Coleman?
APOLLO HEIGHTS (THE VELDT)
DEATH COMET CREW
we(tm) (this is the proper spelling)
BLACK ROCK COALITION
LOUISVILLE GIRLS ROCK
UNDERGROUND PRODUCERS ALLIANCE
Photo By: Ed Marshall Photography NYC