When Honey Ryder started sketching ideas for their second album, Marley’s Chains, they had no idea they were about to embark on a journey that would take them to a five star recording studio in Thailand and to Nashville to write with a host of Grammy Award-winning musicians. Were it not for the sumptuous, country and folk-fused pop songs they brought back to London, the trio would have to pinch themselves to be sure the past two years truly happened.
Formed by singer Lindsay O’Mahony and initially a duo, Honey Ryder self-released a debut album ‘Rising Up’ in 2009. A rock record with folk influences, Rising Up received widespread critical acclaim and led to the band supporting Will Young on a 19 date theatre tour and Michael Bolton in UK arenas. The album spawned two Top 40 UK singles and saw the band flown to Austin, Texas and the south of France for performances at South By South West and Midem, respectively.
At Midem, playing a Brits showcase alongside Paolo Nutini and Jamie Cullum, Honey Ryder found a fan in ex Sony executive Chris Craker, who invited them to be the first act to record at his newly-built, state of the-art, residential recording complex south of Bangkok. First, the band – which includes guitarists Jason Huxley and Matt Bishop – spent a month writing songs in Phuket.
“We left with lots of hooks, riffs and lyrics, and as soon as we arrived, our surroundings inspired us,” explains Lindsay. Having the sun beating down on the balcony, being opposite a beach, in a completely different culture, gave our songs a sunnier, more upbeat feel. We were watching elephants and swimming in the afternoons. It couldn’t have been more different to working in London.
“Jason joining changed our sound naturally too. Jason is into the finger-picking style of Glenn Campbell and Mark Knopfler and he’s a huge Simon & Garfunkel fan, which pushed us in a folk-pop direction. This album was never going to sound like our first because we weren’t the same band.”
While playing support tours, Honey Ryder had reworked songs from Rising Up to be performed acoustically. Writing in Thailand, they stuck with the same stripped down, acoustic structure that forced their melodies to the fore. After a month of recording in spectacular surroundings, for the first time as a live band rather than relying on overdubs, the trio came home assuming their second album was almost complete.
After tinkering with the dozen tracks in their West London studio, however, Honey Ryder had an idea. They sent the song You Can’t Say That to Paul Worley, the man who signed and produced The Dixie Chicks and Lady Antebellum.
“The man is a Nashville legend,” says Jason. “None of us knew him personally – we found his email address online – but listening to the country influence in You Can’t Say That, we realised he would be perfect for the project. We asked if he’d take a listen and he mailed back immediately to say he’d love to. For a month we heard nothing. Suddenly, he called to say he loved the song so much he wanted to fly us all out to Nashville to play it to Lady Antebellum. By the time we arrived, he had set up sessions with a real Who’s Who of top Nashville writers. We were supposed to stay a few days, but it went so well we were there for weeks.”
Never having co-written with such esteemed company before, Honey Ryder took song concepts, hooks and melodies to the sessions, determined to stick with the sound of the Thailand sessions.
“They have a very methodical way of writing in Nashville,” explains Jason. “A verse and a chorus have to be complete before lunch, the entire song finished in a day. We really worked out there, sometimes with writers that were more pure country or bluegrass than pop, but we learnt a lot from everyone.”
Among Honey Ryder’s collaborators were Tom Douglas (Lady Antebellum’s I Run To You, Tim McGraw, Martina McBride), Blair Daly (Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, Faith Hill) and Rivers Rutherford (who has written US No.1s for Dolly Parton, Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw).
Marley’s Chains, the first single from the album, Lindsay co-wrote with Emerson Hart, the frontman of multi-platinum selling, post-grunge group Tonic. Months ahead of its release, Marley’s Chains was snapped up for the soundtrack US TV series Body Of Proof – the episode airs in April.
“I went out to a ranch to write that song with Emerson,” recalls Lindsay. “I had read a quote in a book about the ghost of Marley and discovered it was a reference from Scrooge. I based the lyrics on the idea of regret weighing you down and stopping you from moving on with your life. We came up with the hook and first verse straight away, then got stuck, but knew the song was so good we had to complete it. We squeezed in another session at the end of the trip and it was finished in a flash.”
Before Honey Ryder left Nashville, they recorded six songs at Ocean Way, a studio used by the likes of Dolly Parton and Kings Of Leon, including the brooding World’s Away and Fleetwood Mac-like You Won’t Find Me.
“The standard of musicianship out there is incredible,” says Lindsay. “In a day, we had assembled a band that included a Russian banjo player who records with Lady Antebellum and Taylor Swift, Mark Knopfler’s bass player, Stevie Nick’s keyboardist and the best drummer I have ever heard. After listening to the songs twice on a dictaphone, we recorded most of them in one take.”
Marley’s Chains is a pop album with its feet in folk and country that sounds both classic and contemporary and fits to the current trend for a return to real music.
“Mumford & Sons have broken the mould for folk music in Britain, but we’re not trying to sound like any other artists and I don’t think we do,” says Lindsay. “We’re not trying to be groundbreaking or trendy. We want to write classic songs that will stand the test of time and I hope that’s what we’ve achieved with this album.”