The Rhythm within the Rhythm

Singer Erika Jane relies musically and emotionally on the “tribal” ties of her band.                  Photos by Megan Marascalco.

Erika Jane loves the communal aspect of making music — it’s a vibe that resonates within her surf-punk-country-rock group Red Honey, and to the group’s fans. “It connects us,” she says of music. “It’s a language that everyone speaks, whether they know it or not. Everyone.”

You might think you’re in San Francisco in the 1960s, or London in the ’80s, when listening to Red Honey. “Influences come from lots of places,” the singer admits. “But I remember reading the Janis [Joplin] biographies, one written by her sister, and definitely being influenced by that. Also like, Olivia Newton-John, Billie Holiday … influences from all over the place. Led Zeppelin.”

Add the diverse musical influences of guitarist Brad Pope, bassist Sam Steele,  and drummer Colin Townsend, and Red Honey’s blend gets real interesting. “There’s some intention, but at the same time it’s just what everyone’s bringing to the table,” Erika Jane explains. “You know, like The Ramones, and The Queers, we all have a lot of that in our hearts, but at the same time we’ve got a lot of Creedence Clearwater Revival and Johnny Cash in there too. So it’s all what it is, I guess.”

Whether the singer is belting it out or slyly rhyming, channeling Grace Slick or Chrissie Hynde, she’s being moved by the beat. “It’s using rhythm as a base, as a starting point,” she says. “For me it’s just finding that rhythm within the rhythm.”

Though being a frontperson in a band is a relatively new career path for Erika Jane, she began singing as a child in Wisconsin. “My parents would take us to church, so we’d sing every weekend,” she recalls. “But my grandmother — I have two cousins that were like sisters to me growing up. We’d go over to grandma’s house all the time. And she would say, ‘We’re not going to watch TV, I want you girls to come over around the piano, and you’re all going to harmonize with each other.’ So some of my sweetest memories are harmonizing with my cousins.

“I had a lovely childhood, playing in the woods and catching turtles. My grandparents had a dairy farm, so we spent a lot of time out there amongst the cows. Wisconsin was a really sweet, very grounded place to grow up.”

She never played in bands during high school. “At that point, I was more like the girlfriend of the drummer,” she laughs. It was while attending college for industrial design in Seattle, and trying to make sense of the events of 9/11, that she first picked up a guitar in earnest. “I sat out on my front porch for three days straight, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, and I just started writing. My first band wasn’t until a few years after that.

“It’s been a long journey for me. I guess it is for everybody,” she continues. “But I’m so grateful to be playing with the boys that I play with now, Brad and Sam and Colin. You know, your band is like your very own tribe. It’s a bond that is something really special. We have a little tribe of hoodlums, and we drive around with our trailer, and play the rock-n-roll.”

“I’m so grateful to be playing with these boys,” says Erika Jane, referring to bassist Sam Steele (in tie) and guitarist Brad Pope. (Not pictured: drummer Colin Townsend.)

Erika Jane moved from Vail, Colorado, to Asheville ten years ago and started the group Erika Jane and Remember The Bees. Five years ago the band morphed into Red Honey, and debuted its eclectic sound on their 2013 album Red Honey and The Pleasure Chest. “Backs to the Wind” has a Doors-ish psychedelia, “Bang Bang” sounds like Emmylou Harris, and “Muhammad Ali” is fists-up rockabilly. “It’s important to me to have lyrics that make you think, that resonate and come back,” the singer says. “I like a strong chorus. There also has to be some ear candy, that makes you go, ‘What was that?’”

Erika Jane enjoys working in management and product development for High Cotton, a popular online store known for novelty doormats and other gifts. “I call it ‘the dark side of Amazon Prime,’” she quips. But if her day job ever gets to be too intense, she finds her therapy onstage with a four-foot bullwhip and crash cymbal. “I get to feel like a five-year-old again,” she laughs. “I highly recommend it.”   

Red Honey is building up an out-of-town following, along with a strong local profile, which excites the singer. “I had grown up playing the piano, and had kind of gotten out of touch with music in high school and at the beginning of college.

“Because I had gotten out of touch with it, when I got back in touch … it really filled up this hole in my heart. I realized that I need it, you know — I need to play music, to make music, to write music, to feel like a whole human.”

Erika Jane and Red Honey play The Purple Onion in Saluda (16 Main St.) on Saturday, April 30. For more information, see purpleonionsaluda.com or call 828-749-1179.

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