Six months ago, Natalie and Ryan Houck were still incubating the atmospheric, country-noir music of Honeylark, trying to chart their next steps as musical collaborators, when Natalie took their two children to the park and found inspiration for the band's name in an unexpected place.
“I love birds — I really love owls, but I'm crazy about all kinds of birds,” she said. “My kids and I found a dead bird in the park, and it upset them. They didn't understand it, and I was trying to explain to them that death is just a part of life and it can even be beautiful.”
In an effort to capture that sad beauty, Natalie Houck took a photograph of the bird. Over the course of the next week, her children kept asking to see the picture.
And I thought, ‘What am I doing? I'm macabre-ing out my little children,'” the singer said, laughing. That image proved difficult to shake for all of them, and soon Natalie and guitarist-producer Ryan were free associating, trying to pair the image of the bird with something that sounded sweet.
And I thought, ‘Sugarbird!'” she said. “And Ryan was like, ‘No...'”
Molasses did not work, either, and less said about sorghum, the better.
“Then he said, ‘What about Honeylark?'” she said. “I just knew that was it.”
In retrospect, it made sense that the band's name came after having to explain change and mortality, since Honeylark marks a shift in the Houcks' musical career. In April, following a successful performance by Green Corn Revival at Austin's South By Southwest, the husband-and-wife musicians parted ways with the Weatherford-based cowpunk/countrypolitan band they formed with singer-songwriter Jared Deck in 2009. They relocated to Oklahoma City, and began concentrating on the swooning ballads and haunting imagery of Honeylark, finding inspiration in Nick Cave's murder ballads and the hazy, humid production style of T Bone Burnett.
The three-plus years the Houcks spent with Green Corn Revival resulted in the 2010 debut album “Say You're a Sinner,” a collection of timeless “big sky” country crossed with the energy of classic cowpunk groups such as the True Believers, X and Lone Justice. The band debuted strong new material at its South By Southwest performance, which made the Houcks' departure more surprising.
And yet, many of the songs posted as rough mixes on Honeylark's Facebook page, including “Love is Red,” “Chlorophyll” and “Bones,” date back nearly half a decade.
“It had been coming for quite a while,” said Ryan Houck. “We had been getting more and more excited about doing our material that we had been working on and had tried to work on integrating it into CGR, but it was just not really happening. We had been trying to fit a square peg into a round hole with that.”
Honeylark, featuring the Houcks and fellow flock members Kenny Holloway, Caleb Creed, Justin Ransford and Wally Tarkington, makes its live debut at 10 p.m. Friday at VZD's, 4200 N Western. While the band is working on an album, Natalie Houck said they are only committing to a release date “sometime in 2013.”
“The majority of what will make it onto this first album is newer, and it's been morphing into what you hear now for awhile,” Natalie Houck said.
That wide berth for Honeylark's recording debut is due, in part, to the rhythms of the band's creative process. Some songs gestate for months as the Houcks try to find the right mood and final melodic and thematic direction.
“And sometimes, we'll write it on the porch, record it on my phone and bring it to practice two days later,” Ryan Houck said.
Honeylark plans to maintain a busy performance schedule, including an Aug. 18 date at the Blue Note Lounge, while the group continues to write and record new music.
Natalie Houck said she has a concept for how these live performances will go: sweet but mysterious, like the group's name.
“You know, this is all in my head and I hope it works out this way,” she said. “But I think my fantasy for it is the perfect marriage between a folk performer who talks to you and connects with the audience on a really human, friendly level, and a dark rock show, where you're kind of mesmerized.”