Photos by Kiki Vassilakis
Coming off the high of recording their first full-length album, playing seemingly nonstop shows in New York and beyond, releasing one of their dreamiest singles to date (“The Moon”) and overseeing the musical direction of Synergia Dance Project’s debut season, “Dark Blue Sea,” Troy alt-rock band Dark Honey is exhausted but primed for an even more successful 2020.
“We’re ready for a respite from the chaos of the summer,” jokes Jimi Woodul, lead singer, guitarist and co-founder of Dark Honey.
But for the four members of Dark Honey—who devotees of the band may remember by one of their former names, One Red Martian—no amount of chaos will limit their continued growth as musicians, brothers and friends.
The band was founded 16 years ago by Woodul and his childhood friend, Daniel Dekalb, both 29. The two have been friends since first grade; by the time they hit middle school, their mutual love of music brought them closer. They played the piano in their school’s music room side by side. By high school, Woodul and Dekalb had retired their creative but impractical practice of sharing one piano, leaving Dekalb on the keys and Woodul teaching himself guitar. Eventually, the two convinced Jimi’s older brother Ben, now 30, to play bass. Soon the youngest Woodul brother, Joe, now 27, signed on as the band’s drummer.
Once Woodul and Dekalb graduated from high school, the four moved to Dallas to pursue their dreams of catapulting the band into stardom.
“You want to be like rock stars, and you’re coming up off the wave of 2000s emo punk music. That’s all you knew in high school,” Jimi remembers. “You think that that’s the thing that’s happening. Little do you know, you’re on the end of that trend.”
The band stayed together in Dallas for four years, until the chance of a life-changing record deal for One Red Martian fell through, leaving them questioning everything they’d been working toward. Woodul, then 22, moved back to their hometown of Newport, just outside Utica, leaving the rest of the group in Dallas for nearly a year and a half.
When the band reunited in Newport at the end of their hiatus, they knew it was time for a change. So they did what anybody looking to start over in an unassuming but geographically central location would do: They moved to Albany. Their change in location also inspired the group to reconsider the band’s identity: Did they even want to be One Red Martian anymore? To a bunch of kids living through their fantasies of being rock stars in Texas, going by a name dreamt up by an online band name generator was good enough, but by the time they moved to the Capital Region, they knew it was time to grow up. Dark Honey was born.
Four years, three singles and the ever-looming quest to release a full-length record later, Dark Honey knows there’s still some growing to do. Shortly after their last single was released, Joe left the band. Jimi Woodul reached out to Josh Morris, 22—a prodigious drummer, member of local band Hasty Page and current senior at the College of Saint Rose—inviting him to fill in. Morris, who, along with his Hasty Page bandmates, had been a self-proclaimed fanboy of Dark Honey since he saw them at one of their first shows, jumped at the opportunity.
“One of the first things I thought [at that first show] was, ‘I would love to play drums with these guys at some point,’” Morris recalls. “It’s kind of a dream come true.”
That feeling is mutual. “He’s just so great,” Woodul says. “Musically, he brings a really, really good thing to the band. Intensity and power.”
“He makes us sound better, too,” Dekalb adds.
This radical transformation of Dark Honey’s sound could not have come at a more opportune moment. The band is juggling the daunting task of recording their album at Just Pretend Records—Dekalb and Woodul’s recording studio—with continuing to collaborate with the Capital Region art and music community they’ve helped build and maintain in the four years they’ve lived here.
Enter “Dark Blue Sea”
At the beginning of 2019, Nadine Medina, local choreographer and owner and founder of Troy Dance Factory, approached Woodul about Dark Honey helping her with a new venture: Synergia Dance Project. Medina’s vision of putting on the project’s debut show, “Dark Blue Sea,” that would explore the intricate complications of love, loss, and healing through dance, live music, and multimedia visuals was intimidating, to say the least. But she says Dark Honey was up for the challenge.
“They didn’t even ask what they could do to make it easier,” Medina remembers. “They were just like, ‘Here’s what we can do to make this easier for everybody.”
What started out as an idea of mixing three beloved local bands—Dark Honey, Girl Blue and The Sea The Sea—with Medina’s meticulous and heartbreaking choreography quickly turned into a massive undertaking. Especially so for Dark Honey, who volunteered to play for the entire performance, not just the three unreleased songs Medina had asked them to play.
“They were like, ‘We can learn their songs,’ which is a pretty big undertaking when you’re making your own album,” Medina says. When she had asked them to sign on to the project, they were still in their studio laying tracks for the new album.
Despite their wild schedules—in addition to recording the album and playing regularly, they also had to contend with Morris finishing his junior year at Saint Rose—the band found the time to lay backing tracks for the entire show, as well as learn all the songs the other musicians were performing. “They’re just, honestly, absolute professionals,” Medina gushes. “Zero egos. It was incredible.”
“The older I get, the more it becomes important to let people be good at what they do, and you can be good at what you do, and everyone can coexist and enhance each other,” Woodul says. [pull quote]
This idea of pure and honest collaboration for the sake of the performance stood out in particular for Morris, who, despite being absolutely terrified by the pressure to pull off Synergia’s first show (especially as the newest member of Dark Honey), delivered an incredible performance at its debut at Proctors. “Everyone has their own thing that they’re doing and it’s nice to see how all of those individual projects come together,” he says. “I think ‘Dark Blue Sea’ is a great showcase of that culmination of art and passion and motivation.”
While they’re keeping the name and track list of their first, 13-track full-length album under wraps until its release next spring, the preview of the songs in ‘Dark Blue Sea’ showed just how strong their sound has become in the past year.
“It’s the thing we’ve been trying to do since we were 15, and we finally did it,” Woodul says.
The band has finally found the groove they’ve been chasing since they were a gaggle of music-obsessed kids caught up in the emo punk dream of the late 2000s. “A lot of the songs are almost six years old at this point,” Woodul notes. “It’s really like…the catharsis of [being] 18 to being, really, a young adult.”
But Woodul says that they’re putting the theme of youthful naivete to bed with this album. “There is that feeling—at least for me—that [the] feeling that we’ve been trying to capture…we did that now.”
Although the majority of the songs on the new album are from an entirely different part of each member’s lives, they still feel fresh.
“It’s been nice to do something that’s really squarely focused on being more lean, presentable pop, than like…out-there, ‘let’s-see-how-many-notes-we-can-fit-into-something’ kind of music,” Ben Woodul says about the new album, laughing. “I think the thing that we’re most excited about is being in a position where [we’re] able to actually have something that we really want to stand behind. It’s nice to have that quantifiable thing that you can try and sell to people.”
Jimi Woodul, lying on the floor of Just Pretend Records’ recording studio—located in the basement of Dekalb’s Mechanicville home—takes a moment to reflect after listening to the final master of what will likely become the album’s second single. It’s a dreamy, vibe-heavy number with a bridge that’s meant to be sung along to on a long summer drive and a Beatles-esque chord progression that makes your nose wrinkle in the best way possible as it hits the second verse.
After 15 years, the band has finally found a way to take the strongest elements of their first three singles—the gentle boppiness of “Stinging Nettle,” the sexy grit of “Harlequin Blue” and the vibey experimentation of “The Moon”—and combine them into one cohesive product they can genuinely believe in.
“We’re very proud of it,” Woodul says.
Then, after a moment: “We’re terrified of it, too.”