The Honorable South combine rock, soul, folk, hip-hop, funk and a little more rock. Singer MS. (Charm Taylor) and guitarist Matthew Rosenbeck bristle slightly when I admit that, from listening to their music, I can tell they are not from New Orleans. The band does make hybridized, Black, American music, and as almost all Black American music traditions were forged in New Orleans, The Honorable South fit snugly into the cityscape. But they are not beholden to tradition. They’re more Janelle Monae than Etta James, though they don’t jump genres so much as naturally represent the varied tastes of younger generations. Their funk is also more bent than the straight-forward, crowd-pleasing funk currently dominating New Orleans. They do please crowds at their monthly AllWays Lounge gig, but they retain an edge, and about the same ratio of “it’s about you” vs. “it’s about us” as Erykah Badhu — with whom Charm also shares some vocal tone. But then Charm, a big Modest Mouse fan, sound as much like Meg Roussel from N.O. electropop band Big History. So it’s a refreshing mix. Something New Orleans has needed.
The band is rounded out by New Orleans percussionist Jamal Batiste, bassist Jarred Savwoir (Black Star Bangas and Liberated Soul Collective), and the band’s producer and second guitarist Danny Kartel, whose production credits include tracks with Soulja Slim, Juvenile and Mystikal. While waiting for their bandmates to arrive for practice, Taylor and Rosenbeck were filming a sparse, live video for the single “Valentine’s Day” (to be released on Valentine’s Day) where Charm sings while writhing on the floor behind her dreadlocks. They took a break to sit down with AntiGravity and discuss their unique place in the local music scene, The Honorable South’s 2011 album, “I Love My Tribe,” and how honest women disagree.
So I feel like when I first heard your music I could tell you weren’t from here. In what ways do you notice that you stand out here in the city?
Matthew: Well, I don’t know if I’d say we don’t sound like we’re from here. I moved here from Connecticut in ‘95 but the rhythm section and the other guitarist are from here. I hear what you’re saying though; it’s definitely different than what people are used to hearing in the bars. People are excited to hear something that doesn’t fit into that mold of New Orleans music. I don’t have a New Orleans musical background – I grew up more with rock and country.
Charm: I hear what you’re saying too. I grew up in St. Louis and then moved to L.A. for a while and then came here after Katrina. But I do think there’s a story for people who have moved here, people who are transplants but we are experiencing and telling of our experiences. I like the idea with the band of: we are coming into a space, and I have been completely welcomed here. Though I don’t feel like a spokesperson for New Orleans, we have been very inspired by our experience here. Also, there are some drum kicks that could only come from New Orleans, from a person like Jamal Batiste.
Matt: Yeah, there isn’t a better place for us to make this music in terms of having access to all these musicians. It’s just amazing, the access.
Charm: The experience we’ve had, vibing with our sound, this hodgepodge, that couldn’t have happened anywhere but New Orleans. It could only grow from here.
So what do you write about if you’re not writing about the city like almost everyone else?
Charm: Well I wrote all of (the first Honorable South EP) Dirty in the Light on my original drive from L.A. to New Orleans and back. Then I drove back to New Orleans, then back to St Louis and back to New Orleans. I did that a couple times and while I was driving I was writing about: sure St Louis is my home town, but am I going to go back there? No. A lot of Dirty in the Light was about what you encounter when you’re letting something go, having decided that something else works for you. To come to a city and inherit such…what New Orleans gave me was like, “It’s OK, we got you. What’s your name?” New Orleans met me and allowed me to meet it. That first EP was definitely about that relationship. It’s also definitely about people. People and the world and yourself and indecisiveness and close calls. On that EP it was just Matthew and I, we had just met and we dropped that in 2009. I Love My Tribe is a couple years later, grounded, more reflective, less reactionary. I firmly believe that you can’t look out until you have your own locus of control stable – only then you can start to look around you and make judgements and make sense. I Love My Tribe is more like that; we are in control as a band, and looking outward.
[At this point the rest of the band arrive, introduce themselves, and start setting up for an acoustic band practice]
So then does I Love My Tribe have a different lyrical bent?
Charm: I love my tribe is about community, kinship, friendship, people who work hard, disaster, and social justice. It is about people who know what it feels like to lose someone to addiction or violence. Like the song “Dirtiest” is about the BP oil spill, and I finished that song after attending the funeral of a young man here who was shot and killed. I saw the very young friends of this very young man, and their t-shirts were tragic. And he has a family, and he has a child, but at the same time, they’re all our children. When you think of New Orleans as a tribe, we are all saddened and hurt to see such a young life ended unjustly, or young people taking lives, and the news is full of these stories. But the songs don’t miss life’s most beautiful stories about celebration or hope: the parade route, brass bands, anthems, and finding love. I feel very lucky to live here among such resilient spirits.
What does the name mean, The Honorable South?
Charm: I wanted it to be called Honest Women Disagree.
Matt: But there was no way I would be in that band.
Charm: I did like that idea of honesty in the music. But then there was this captcha – you know, the scrambled letters and numbers they make you type to make sure you’re not robo. I had done this four or five times already; I’d forgotten my student loan password. And I got a captcha that said, “The Honorable West,” and here I was trying to come from Los Angeles to New Orleans and my train of thought went to the south, like, that’s the reason I’m on this bitch right now tryna sign up! And I just thought, ‘No, fuck the west! The honorable south, is what it is!’ [pounds her fist]. And Matthew liked it.
Matthew: Well it was either that or Honest Women Disagree.
Jarred: See, if you always first put forward a totally unacceptable option…
Then you’ll get whatever else you ask for! Right. So Jarred, I have seen a lot of live hip-hop bands around town and you often seem to be the musical director.
Jarred: I wish I was in more. I play with the rapper Chuck “Lyrikill” Jones and I used to play bass for a lot of bands at open mics around town. Now I work with Liberated Soul Collective, BlackStar Bangas, Nate “Suave” Cameron, Elliot Luv, Sybil Shanell, Tarriona Tank Ball — that’s my other main band, we went on tour last summer to New York, Philly, Houston, Austin. I do a lot of gigs with Tanya Boyd Cannon who calls herself TBC. I played bass with K Gates at JazzFest the year the Saints won the Super Bowl. We had Saints players running all over the stage.
Wow, whoa, you got to play the song on the year at JazzFest?
Jarrod: Yeah, “Black and Gold.” That was a good look. I’ve also been in reggae bands, neo-soul, and now I get to rock out with this rock band. Everyone in this band has varied tastes and so there is a lot of nuance. The music is like, blended and remixed. I appreciate the diversity of influences in this band.
[The band’s second guitarist walks into the room]
Jarrod: Like this man here, Daniel Kartel, who produced I Love My Tribe. He has quite a resume. And he is best known for…
Daniel: My rap song, “Slow Motion.” I produced the song for Juvenile and did all the music. Started it with the guitar.
I noticed some rap, around the edges, in The Honorable South’s music.
Charm: Yes, I am 26 now but in St. Louis I grew up listening to all rap, shit that I should not have been listening to. Being in St Louis we got everything from around the country, but what you heard on the streets? That was all southern rap. I grew up hard, listening to like, 8-Ball and MJG, UGK, Master P, Juvenile. I loved it and am totally nostalgic about it.
Jarrod: I grew up in New Orleans but in a very musically restrictive environment. I’d come home from school and there’d be one of my cassette tapes – I remember a mixtape my cousin made me of East Coast hiphop — smashed up in a bag on the refrigerator with a note: “This will not be allowed in our house.” Red Hot Chili Peppers I got that confiscated at school, “Blood Sugar Sex Magik.” I didn’t know why, or what any of it meant, I was just listening to the music. It took me till I was like 27 to realize what De La Soul meant by, “It might blow up but it won’t go pop!”
Charm: Then my granny listened to a bunch of All Greene, a bunch of Nina Simone. A few years ago I burned granny a CD with a bunch of Nina Simone on it that I wanted her to hear and she reminded me, “Girl, you got that from me.” By 15, I was into rock, indy rock and a buncha soul.
So I Love My Tribe was self-released, but you do have a relationship with the 25 Hour Convenience record label?
Charm: 25 Hour Convenience is owned by Gary Powell of the Libertines, who was introduced to our music by his pal Pogues founder Spyder Stacy, another rock boss, who now lives in New Orleans. Both have been huge supporters of our music and there have been plans for 25 Hour Convenience Store Records to distribute our music in the U.K., where the label is based, and to other audiences abroad.
Until then, I read that the Dirty Soles running club featured your single “Beast” on one of their running compilations. That seems fitting, as it’s a pretty high-energy number.
Charm: Yeah that really put a smile on my face, them reaching out. And y’all reaching out put a smile on my face too. Cause we been goin at this for a long time, four years or so, and there’s so much going on in the city that is so identifiable, and we’re this sort of of obscure rock band genreless, where every song is gonna sound different.
That song “Beast” in particular reminds me a lot of Janelle Monae. How many people who have heard y’all have mentioned her?
Charm: None, actually.
Y’all share a similar Black, art-rock aesthetic with her, I think, and a real genre fluidity…
Matt: I think she’s great but our music is a lot more edgy. I was thinking more like Nirvana meets Lauren Hill type energy, like, political but definitely rock. Our music has a message.
Charm: We’ve gotten Cee Lo crossed with White Stripes. But then I’ll sing a country song. We’ve gotten rap-rock, like OutKast. We’ve gotten Modest Mouse, which, I loved that because I love Isaac Brock. He really gets it, writing wise. A lot of our stuff, rhythmically, comes from listening to someone like him whose rhythm is just so completely off kilter, you wonder how he came up with these phrasings.
So even though you add a lot of soul and funk, you would say The Honorable South is going for something more off-kilter rather than a smooth sound?
Charm: Oh off kilter, definitely. Not smooth; people just don’t live their lives that way!
Then to me that would be another difference between you and many other local bands: most New Orleans funk bands go right for the pocket every time. They never get weird.
Matt: The majority of bigger names locally, probably so.
Charm: They’re sort of uptight sounding.
Jarred: Sound like a Chip Forestall commercial.
Matt: People feel comfortable with that party music and they don’t like to think too much when they have a good time. It is harder to play for a crowd when you are trying to tell them something. I like for music to be imperfect, to have raw elements. We want our funk to have more dirt to it. A lot of the stuff I’d done before was experimental noise projects, so we definitely want to add more sounds into our music. At first The Honorable South was just Charm and I and some drum machines and electronics. We would have a drummer sometimes come in and try to play along with the beats but it just sounded chaotic.
Charm: In that version of the band I was just spending a lot of time just letting shit rock like (mimics repetitive keyboard bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum). Like on “Bullets,” striking that key forever and it works perfectly with that guitar, because that’s all we’ve got (laughs).
So what are your shows like? What can people expect from your Lundi Gras show at the Big Top?
Charm: The Big Top venue is great and right off the parade route. We’ve got some burlesque dancers that I have do burlesque for a few songs. We gonna make a magic, electric soul, rock-n-roll party. We gone get loud. At our AllWays monthly we always do a contest, mostly costume contests. We have retro sweet hairdos contest, a badass boot contest. People like comin out and showing us something about them. The theme for February 4th at AllWays is “retro hairdos and sweet tattoos,” meaning tattoos of cherries, dripping strawberry, cupcakes.
It sounds like you’re bringing something a little more feminine to the rock scene.
I think the media floods us with images of women who are self-conscious, insecure, and ultra concerned with the wants of men or other gender constructs. And the women in my music are more like the women I’ve known: powerful, sassy, outright, humble, compassionate, dynamic. They’re heroines. And so my music is sort of a toast to that. A lot of women, young and old, could stand to hear from a woman who is less “catty” and more like “I’ve got your back.” I Love My Tribe is just our debut album; I’ve had a lot to say for a long time now, and I’m glad to see the city is listening and that their ears are open to it.