Los Angeles band The Honeysticks are working on a new EP after reuniting after a brief break and playing shows around California—including opening for Greer at the Observatory. We had the chance to chat with Ricky and Ben about their inspiration for writing music, EP season, and Ricky’s favorite vines.
ALTANGELES: How did you meet your bandmates?
RICKY: I’ve known Ben here since I was in Kindergarten, We went to JCC, Jewish Community Center in Silverlake together as kids. We met Ryan through Craigslist actually, he’s our drummer. Those are the members of the band. We play with a guy named Larry right now and he’s our guitar player and he’s in a band called Nova Darlings. That’s a band I saw once with one of our other members, Caleb, who is no longer in the band who I met as a viner. And I saw him play live and I was like ‘damn, I want him to play with me at some point,’ and now he is. Manifestation.
When did you know you wanted to pursue music as a career?
RICKY: Oh my gosh. I mean, I never until very recently thought of it as a viable career option. I thought it was just gonna be something that I would just hit as hard as I could and then whatever happened was what it was. I think career wasn’t a word that was in my mind. When I was 14, I started playing music. Then I sort of drifted in and out of levels of commitment to it until I was in college. And then I started making vines when I was 19 and I got a following there and that’s when I was like ‘Oh wow, I’m seeing like a mathematical response to my effort here.’ so I would justify it because I saw the numbers on the screen validating me.
BEN: I would say maybe a year into the Honeysticks was when it seemed like it could be a viable possibility. I work in a micropropagation lab in a cannabis warehouse, so I’ve been doing things in the cannabis industry for the past four years and that’s kind of been what pays the rent.
RICKY: Ben’s a weed scientist.
BEN: I would love to do music full time. I was gonna be a science teacher in Oregon before Ricky asked me if I wanted to join the band and I sort of just said ‘Fuck it’ and turned the job down and stayed in LA. I guess that was three and a half, four years ago now?
RICKY: And the rest is history.
What is your songwriting process like?
BEN: Ricky gets an idea and he records usually some vocals, it can be a guitar part or maybe a synth part, maybe there’s some drums in there, and he shows us what he’s been working on. I usually throw a bass line over it to fit the general structure. Ryan comes in with rhythmic ideas of his own, which are usually extremely good. Ryan is a fantastic drummer. It usually takes a while and is transformative.
RICKY: Prior to that, when I’m working, I’ll just be like canoodling around and then eventually I’ll come to something and think it’s catchy and I won’t wanna stop writing it. I’ve learned that once I get that inclination to pursue something, that I should just try to finish it there in the same sitting as much as I can. Otherwise I’ll just push it off and it’ll never happen. I like experimenting with a lot of different styles. We like bossanova a lot so sometimes we’ll try to recreate a bossanova type rhythm or we’ll try to emulate some electronic DJ we like, like Nicolas Jaar or someone.
BEN: And if we like some elements of the song but it’s feeling stale, we’ll try things like swapping the rhythm out or plugging a different flavor or something.
RICKY: It’s constant revision. We’ll have a song that’s recorded and we’ll say ‘we can’t listen to this for at least a week,’ and then later we’ll come back to it with new ideas. We generally try to throw all sorts of samples over songs and make sure to have it change hands sometimes. Just because I think you can’t have it right in your own bubble if you want it to be truly good or to improve at all.
How does how you approach writing music differ when writing music for Ricky Montgomery vs. The Honeysticks?
RICKY: Right now I am working on solo songs, so it’s hard for me to say like ‘Oh yeah, when I do solo songs I do it like this’ because I’m not putting those out right now because I wanna focus my efforts on the Honeysticks. It’s different in the way that when I make solo stuff there’s nobody there until I have something to present. There’s nobody there to say ‘Don’t do that, that’s wack’ or ‘Don’t do that that’s annoying.’ There’s no back and forth so I just have to believe myself that I like the product. And so it’s an ego battle more when it’s solo, like I don’t have my boys to like root for the song and riff off of it. I guess it’s harder to do it alone and I’ve always preferred band settings which is why I ended up wanting to pursue The Honeysticks as a core project. I just like the collaborative aspect of it. And I think whenever you’re a solo artist too, you have that collaborative aspect that’s a little bit more vague what the boundaries are and what you’re allowed to do and what other people are allowed to do with your stuff. I guess writing solo songs is more of a lonely process, and I don’t prefer that. I like to be able to have a song and to show it to people and have them add onto the song and I believe whenever I do that in a group setting it’s easier to have a good song because there’s more hands in the pot, so to speak.
Was it hard to jump back into making music after taking a break?
RICKY: For me it was a lot easier actually.
BEN: And none of us really stopped making music.
RICKY: I did for a little while, for like a couple months solid—no music. But even then I was playing guitar and stuff. Whenever you’re in EP mode or you’re trying to build a project and you have momentum, it’s hard to avoid getting in ruts I think because you have the same songs playing and stuff. Like I wasn’t able to break out of the little rhythms because I was also tasked with writing songs and stuff so I was like ‘Uhhh I don’t have time to improve because I have to have my jobs and make my rent and do all these things.’ So I guess having the time to breathe and to learn to enjoy the process again was really important and probably why we’re able to do it again right now, I think. I think in a way, quitting allowed us to make music that I was excited about again.
What inspires you to create music?
BEN: That’s kind of tough to answer. It’s honestly, for me, something in my gut that I have to get out. I’m inspired by nature and day to day life more than anything else, just living forms. Which perhaps is a one dimensional answer. Throughout the day I’ll be working and a melody comes in my head and it’s just like you have to get it out there, you just have to. Otherwise it’s gonna torment you, like if I lose that melody I’m gonna think ‘oh I should have written that down.’ It’s really just a gut thing for me.
RICKY: Yeah, for me too. I think also, when I first started playing music I did it because I wanted some form of rebellion I think in my life. I lived here, I grew up in Los Angeles and then I moved to very rural, suburban Missouri when I was 12. So I was just not cool, I was specifically disliked by a lot of people to the point that I was told that I was. And so I think having some internal need to be anti-’everybody around me.’ I think I used music as a catalyst for a lot of catharsis when I was younger. Then I think I used that for a long period after that whenever I had trouble at home or something that was always the emotional mechanism that I would follow to work through problems. As I’ve gotten older it’s been harder to not just get inspiration from those negative spaces and I have to like intentionally get better at writing songs about just daily activities—anything that I just want to spend my time thinking about. I try to use that energy to write songs. It started out as an emotional resolution and has evolved to a desire to express myself or to artistically see what I can do. So I guess now the challenge is a part of the inspiration.
Do you think that the past has a big effect on the music you’re making now?
RICKY: I think for all of us the past informs the present, you know. There are some songs that are very specifically about family things that are going on in my life. And then there are others that are just about why I had to quit music or like dealing with internet followings and having that sort of a lifestyle for a while. I don’t think it’s the same thing though, I think as we get older we find new reasons to write songs, so it’s not about trying to look a certain way or contribute to a certain trend—it’s about ‘We’re 26 now, why are we writing songs? What do we have to write about?’ That’s at least how I feel.
BEN: I totally agree. I think it’s a luxury that we can write about things and write melodies without worrying about the public perception of them. It’s an authentic expression of what we want to make. But the past informs the present and predicts the future.
What is your favorite lyric you’ve ever written?
BEN: Honestly the first one that comes to mind is Caleb’s lyric from Get To You. “I cried more leaving you than leaving God.”
RICKY: Yeah, that was a lyric that I encouraged Caleb a lot to dig into himself and pull out something truly personal and that was a really vulnerable line.
BEN: I like the lyrics in general in Out Like a Light a ton. There’s a lot you can project onto them.
RICKY: I don’t know that I think about lyrics that way. I don’t know that I have in my head a lyric that’s like ‘This is my opus, this is oh my gosh, it doesn’t get any better than this line.’ I like the lyrics in I Don’t Love You Anymore the most for me because that song is like the most clear conveyance of what I was trying to write about at the time. I remember there was a comment on the video when I put the video out that was like ‘What a nice plain-spoken song’ and I was like ‘That means a lot to me. That criticism or comment.’ I guess that’s always been my attempt in writing is to have almost a conversational tone but still be able to talk about personal or very internally relevant things. I liked being able to write a song about waking up an having an epiphany that you weren’t into your girlfriend anymore. And like how does that scenario play out in like your fantasy scenario. You sit down and a table and say ‘This is how I feel, if you wanna stay you can. If not, it’s not a big deal.’ But then also dealing with the internal struggle of like ‘But still hang out with me though. Give me another day of your time, please. Because I’m human and I’m terrible.’ That’s the answer for me I think.
You guys have been posting a lot about how it’s “EP season” now, Is there anything specifically that you’d like to tell the readers?
BEN: New music!
RICKY: EP season is a concept really. EP season is a state of mind.
BEN: It’s a lifestyle.
RICKY: It’s a lifestyle, it’s a choice. It is something we should all enter into at some point in our lives—an EP season. Whatever that means for you.
BEN: EP season gives us all a chance for new music and new life.
RICKY: EP season gives us all a chance to have a new and better life. That’s the quote. We’re working on our EP and we’re trying to get it done as quickly as we can and it’s very hard, but we have more ability now to do it both just in capacity personally and getting better at making music. Also we have more fans now than ever and more people donate to our Patreon than ever before.
BEN: We appreciate all of them, more than we could ever express.
RICKY: Yeah, shout out to the Patreon. We’re gonna try to get it out as soon as possible, in the meantime we’ll be posting about EP season for the foreseeable future.
How was it to open for Greer on the Observatory stage?
BEN: It was a really fun night.
RICKY: The last show I had seen at the Observatory before that was Vampire Weekend and I’ve always been a big fan of theirs so to see them play there and then the next time I’m at the venue I’m playing and my friends are playing. It was just a really weird kind of simulation moment where I was like ‘what?’. Because in my head I’m still 14 and stupid. But to be on stage and playing that show that was sold out was really special. So that was cool. It was sort of a cool return to an internet audience at the same time too because Vine was my last experience with that really and that was 2016. That was really the last time I really felt like that type of an influencer. Backstage there were all these other internet people like Josh Kennedy and Enjajaja and all these other people. So that was cool, it was kind of a cool way to revisit The Honeysticks’ roots in a sense. The roots being Internet people.
Are you planning on playing more shows soon?
RICKY: We have another show September 20th in Garden Grove. We’re headlining the Locker Room with Psychic Barber, Melt Mars, and Emily TV. That should be fun! It’ll be our first headlining gig since like last March. We’ve been trying to get opening spots so we can get other people’s fans. But this time they’re our fans. We’re also getting ready to go on a tour, I’ve been going back and forth with this agency about that and we’re trying to schedule the dates right now. We keep trying to push it back because of logistical reasons. But because of the situation we’re in with this agency, we have to plan it before the end of the year. 100% we need to do that or else we lost the opportunity to work with this particular agent because they have another thing going on. So I can say, confirmed, we will announce a tour in the next couple months, absolutely. So we have plenty coming up.
What have you been listening to lately?
RICKY: JPEGMAFIA is a big one. We love Peggy here in this house. What else?
BEN: I’ve been listening to a lot of Ariel Pink, Nicolas Jaar as you mentioned before.
RICKY: AAL, Against All Logic.
BEN: Tierra Whack.
RICKY: Tierra Whack is a huge one. We love Tierra Whack right now.
BEN: I love the new Lizzo album.
RICKY: I was listening to the Velvet Underground before this interview —‘Femme Fatale,’ watching a live verson of that. A lot of 70s stuff too actually. A lot of like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young because my girlfriend’s really into them. Also a lot of Fleetwood Mac. I’m trying to get the organic sound more into our music.
BEN: Father John Misty.
RICKY: We can rattle off so many more.
BEN: We spend a lot of time listening to music.
RICKY: And thinking about music. I guess those are some of the biggest ones. We’ve been talking about MGMT a lot on this EP as well. Just kind of their whole personality and their approach to music I love alot.
BEN: Their last album in particular has so many interesting ideas and feels so fresh.
RICKY: Steely Dan, I love Steely Dan. And one more, what’s one more?
BEN: Johnny Cash, we need a little country in there.
RICKY: We’re a country band now so make sure that’s in the article.
If you were a cover band, what band would you cover and what would you call yourselves?
BEN: Carlos Santana.
RICKY: Yes, and we’d call ourselves… The Santanasticks.
If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be?
RICKY: It would probably be Carlos Santana.
BEN: Yeah, there’s no one else that comes to mind. Maybe Rob Thomas but mostly just Santana.
RICKY: Maybe Rob Thomas if we’re doing the song ‘Smooth’ by Carlos Santana featuring Rob Thomas. But yeah, that’s all we can think of. We could give you a real answer but…
BEN: Oh no, that’s my real answer.
RICKY: Yeah that’s real.
Anything else you want to add?
RICKY: We got our merch site launching soon on the 2nd of September. We’re gonna try a lot of stuff with these next few releases. We have a lot of new sounding songs. I think it’s our best stuff we’ve made before but I think it’ll be a lot different and I’m sure that’ll make people go ‘Whoa.’ So I don’t know, we’re just going to enter into a little experimental period and hopefully people embrace it, we’ll see. We’re excited.
Bonus question, what’s your favorite vine?
RICKY: Oh my God, do you have a favorite vine?
BEN: I literally didn’t know what Vine was until Ricky asked me to be in his band. I really missed the boat on a lot of cultural things like that so Ricky had to bring me up to speed. I didn’t even have an Instagram until a year into The Honeysticks. Ricky at one point was like ‘You gotta have an Instagram.” So I honestly cannot answer that question.
RICKY: I got millions… First of all, best viner— you may think you know who it is, you don’t—the answer is it’s Keelay Jams is the best viner who was ever around. Best viner of all time. Super weird dude, his name is Kyle. I’m gonna say all his vines are my favorite vine. And then Gabriel Gundacker, my boy, there’s one particular vine of his that never escapes my mind and it’s this one where he’s sitting at a table… I’ve referenced this vine before on a radio show and it just bombed so I’ll do it again now. He’s sitting at a table and he’s pretending he’s in a restaurant and he’s like ‘Hey sir, I don’t mean to bother you but I asked for no mustard’ and the camera pans over to his plate and he’s like ‘And you just gave me a bottle of mustard on a plate.’ And it’s just a bottle of mustard sitting on his plate and I thought that was just really great. And it’s never left my mind. The best vine that occurred late stage vine was I think called ‘Kicked too much.’ And it’s this guy walking around and he’s just kicking and his friend is like Zach stop, you’re gonna get in trouble.’ And then the last shot there’s just a bunch of cops around him. And it’s the most confusing and fucking insane vine, that’s my favorite vine that came later. But also Keelay Jams because the thing I miss the most about vine was not like particular viners who were good at vine, some other ones that I loved a lot: Victor Pope Jr., Drew Gooden, and there are many more. But like in 2013 and 2014 was the part I cherished the most. It was more just about like visuals and art and less about straight comedy. It was basically YouTube 2. That was good, the pinnacle of that period for me was Keelay Jams. And just anything he’s done with Shia LaBeouf you gotta check out. That’s my long answer to the bonus question. Vine was a big part of my life I cherish it very much. Shoutout to Nick Gallow, my old Vine boss who is now Creative Director at the Citizen app instead of HQ Trivia where he was before. I could list a lot of viners for the rest of my life, I know I could.