Rising Artists: Honor By August
D.C.’s Honor By August has enjoyed some enviably big moments in the five years they’ve been together—playing shows with the likes of Switchfoot, Third Eye Blind, even Bon Jovi. The quartet, comprised of Michael Pearsall on vocals and guitar, Evan Field on lead guitar, Brian Shanley on drums, and Chris Rafetto on bass, released their newest album, Monuments To Progress, this past April and will be kicking off a national tour with Tony Lucca at the end of this month—the last leg of that tour will bring the band back to the east coast in August. D.C. Music Download had a chance to speak with Pearsall exclusively about the band’s recent success and where they’re headed for the rest of the year.
D.C. Music Download: For those who haven’t heard Honor By August’s music, how would you describe your sound?
Michael Pearsall: We are a four-piece rock band that likes to employ a lot of soaring, affected guitars, blended with harmonies and choruses that are easy to sing along with, in the same style of bands like Snow Patrol, Kings of Leon, and U2.
DMD: How did the band get its start? Did you guys know each other before the band?
MP: We all started in the D.C. area—I was at Georgetown, Evan had recently graduated, and our original bass player was a graduate student there. He worked at a bar, where he met Evan. We started as a three-piece outfit but didn’t officially become Honor By August until Brian, who we found on Craigslist, joined the band. And it all really came together after our present bassist, Chris, joined.
DMD: Is writing songs a collaborative activity?
MP: I was originally the primary songwriter; certainly on first record, at least. I wrote most of the lyrics and melody, then Evan and Chris, who have stronger music theory backgrounds, would come in and edit. We worked this way for most of the first two albums. But over the last two years, I’ve really expanded my songwriting process to include more people, including my band mates. This record was an evolution for us in that Evan wrote the entirety of a couple songs, Chris did the same for a couple others, a few we all wrote together, and everyone definitely made lyrical contributions. I need to know that I actually believe what I’m singing, and I really feel that way with everything we did on this album. We’ve produced some of our best music to date, and the collaborative songwriting enabled that.
DMD: Who are your biggest musical influences?
MP: U2, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Coldplay are very influential in terms of their sound and how we’d like our careers to look.
DMD: Monuments To Progress was fan-funded through Kickstarter. Was that the band’s idea or the fans’ idea?
MP: Using Kickstarter was our idea—we had seen a couple other bands use it with successful results. We needed to be in the D.C. area at that time because Evan’s wife was about to give birth, so we decided to be productive and start the recording process. We had all the material but not the funds, so figured we’d try Kickstarter. The amount of support we received was completely humbling and mind-blowing; not only did we make enough to record the album, but the donations actually surpassed what we needed.
DMD: “Last Chance,” the album’s first single, deals with themes of having faith in yourself and turning negative situations around. Was this inspired by something personal, or just a meditation on life and people in general?
MP: I think it was both, but it wasn’t like something specific happened in my life and the song was born from that. “Last Chance” was written at a time when the band was sort of struggling to figure out how long we could last; it isn’t easy to be an independent band and make a living. Sacrifices have to be made and you start to wonder “How am I here?” and “Why am I doing this?” But I realized I wasn’t ready to give it up and that we still had the chance to make great music and be successful pursuing these dreams we’ve had for so long. This was also one of the first songs that was co-written (by Garen Gueyikian, who founded the Kill the Alarm project), so it’s fitting that the song is about working through things and having an opportunity to turn things around, because that’s exactly what he helped us do.
DMD: A song like “Last Chance” could certainly be taken from a religious point of view as well. Do you try to appeal to that aspect?
MP: Well, we’re definitely not a religious band. Each member has his own beliefs, we all believe in something—whether it’s yourself, religion, the band, love, or whatever motivates and inspires you. For us, it’s a theme that constantly comes up because it’s hard to have faith in a lot of things, i.e. in this band, doing what we love to make a living—it’s really tough to be a successful working band. So we aren’t coming at it from a religious point of view, but we also acknowledge that a lot of people do interpret positive music in that way. It’s great that people can interpret music however they like. If a song hits you in a certain way that helps, we’re all for it. We’re just trying to make the best music we can that we believe in. If along the way it inspires others to believe, that’s great.
DMD: You’ve got a show with Hanson coming up. (Not your first, either: Honor By August first shared the stage with Hanson seven years ago at the 9:30 Club.) Are you a fan? What made you want to play with them again?
MP: We actually hadn’t really listened to Hanson prior to entering the contest to open for them; we really just entered because it was a chance to play a significant show at the 9:30 Club. But then when we opened for them and heard their sound check, they were absolutely phenomenal. It was a fantastic experience. Their fans are such great music fans in general; many of them who were at that show are still big supporters of ours today—we have a lot of respect for them and Hanson. We really appreciate that 94.7 FreshFM invited us to this show and we’re looking forward to playing with both Hanson and the band Parachute, who we’ve known for years.
DMD: You have a tour coming up in July. What are you looking forward to most?
MP: We’ll be going to a lot of new markets, places we haven’t been or played before. We’re definitely excited to be playing with our friend Tony Lucca and very lucky to open for him. I’m looking forward to getting out there and sharing our music with new people each night.
DMD: You’ve played with quite a few big-name acts. Which performance has been most memorable?
MP: Honestly, all of them, for different reasons. Bon Jovi was a huge deal obviously because it’s the biggest show we’ve done, but also because I was born and raised in New Jersey. Opening for Third Eye Blind was great too, and playing with Switchfoot was a wonderful experience—I love those guys. I had heard a couple of their songs before the show, but once I saw them play I became a huge fan; they put on such an amazing show. They really showed us that a band who’s had several huge hits can still be humble and gracious. Also, about a year ago, Imagine Dragons actually opened for us; they put on a great show too and now, a short while later, they’re signed to Interscope and one of the biggest bands in the world. Hopefully someday we can share the stage with them again.
DMD: What are the band’s future plans?
MP: We’re continuing to push the single on radio and have been visiting different radio stations across the country. As an independent band, we’ve been doing a lot of radio interviews and performing acoustically, hoping they’ll be moved enough to play our record. Also, after this tour with Tony Lucca we want to do a fall tour. We’re not sure with who yet, but we really just want to get our music out there.
DMD: Where would you like Honor By August to be in five years?
MP: Still making music. I’d love to have another two records out and still be touring, maybe headlining shows. I’d be thrilled if we could be supporting ourselves and our families and be selling out shows, whatever size the venue.