The California Honeydrops have had some fun with covers this past year. They recorded a low-key, three-piece acoustic rendition of the Drifters classic doo-wop song “Under The Boardwalk” that went viral. In the song, you can hear singer Lech Wierzynski hit those unbelievable, soulful high notes with impressive confidence and grace.
They also did a cover of Sam Cooke’s “That’s Where It’s At” that’s been transformed with a gentle rock-steady beat. This one was a particular favorite for drummer Ben Malament, who got his start in the traditional ska and reggae scene in L.A. as a founding member of the Expanders.
“It was just something fun we could do with a trio,” Malament says. “We’re always messing around with rock-steady beats because we love that music from Jamaica.”
When the pandemic hit, they had several tour dates booked—some of the biggest rooms they’d ever been scheduled to headline, including a big hometown show at the Fox Theater in Oakland. When everything was canceled, like everyone else, they leaned on livestreaming to stay connected with their fan base.
“When you’re doing those livestreams, you don’t know who the hell is watching. You’re playing for a phone or a computer,” Malament says. “But we get messages from fans telling us how much those meant to them. That honestly feels really good. We weren’t just doing it to stay sane. It was keeping the connection with our fans, which is the most important thing for us as a band.”
The livestreams also inspired the group to dive into covers because they needed the material to keep them fresh and interesting. They normally played as a pared-down version of the group, due to the pandemic, so anything that could give life to their set was welcome. They sometimes leaned into the smallness of the band by playing quietly and letting Wierzynski’s voice take center stage.
“It wasn’t even a full five-piece. In Santa Cruz, we’ll probably have a seven- or eight-piece band with extra horns and percussion,” Malament says. “We were sometimes down to a trio of me, Lech, and Lorenzo. But luckily those guys could play hella instruments. We were finding fun new things to do with that setup.”
The cover videos inspired the group to record a covers album called Covers From The Cave. Several singles from the Covers From The Cave album are up on Spotify, like the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” and Don Williams’ “Tulsa Time,” but there isn’t an official date yet for the full record. Now that restrictions have eased, the group has also worked on new original music and played shows. They anticipate that Covers From The Cave will get released before a new originals record.
Fortunately for the band, everything they did to occupy their time during lockdown has helped maintain their fanbase. In late September, they played the Fox Theatre after all, and everything went great. And they’re also starting to get around the country and play these bigger rooms they intended to a year and a half ago.
“It’s the next chapter. We’re building it back again,” Malament says. “I’m going to speak on behalf of all musicians and artists to just ask for a little grace. Touring and everyone being together again, it’s a big deal. I think we’re all still recovering, even though we’re happy and can be joyful and sweat it out at the shows. We’re still recuperating and in the recovery period. It’s going to take a little while, I think, before it’s all real. The music business is still upside down right now. Ask any venue. Ask any artist. It’s still pretty weird.”
California Honeydrops perform at 8pm on Wednesday, Dec. 29 and Thursday, Dec. 30 at Felton Music Hall, 6275 Highway 9, Felton, $44. 831-704-7113.