Every seat on the open front patio of McGeary’s in Albany was full. Waitresses were flitting around taking drink orders and delivering Irish pub food, but all eyes (and ears) were on the night’s headlining band: Dark Honey.
Led by the slender and angel-voiced Jimi Woodul, the Albany-based alt rock band played smoothly through a three-hour set, transitioning seamlessly between covers of old James Taylor songs and stripped-down, grooved-up renditions of their own originals. Their ability to specifically tailor their performance to their audience – who, that hot summer night, were the type of folks who might be less inclined to rock out and more comfortable with something delectably funky – is part of what makes Dark Honey such an exceptional band.
For the four members of Dark Honey – formerly One Red Martian, and before that, The Blind Pilots – there is no limit to how much they can learn, both as musicians and as a family. The band was conceived 15 years ago by Jimi and his childhood friend, Daniel DeKalb, both 28 – the two have been best friends since first grade. By the time they hit middle school, their mutual love of music and creation found them playing the piano in their school’s music room side by side. “We thought we were the shit,” Jimi says. “We thought we were hip, it was gonna happen.”
Once they realized that two people playing one piano at the same time wasn’t going to get them anywhere, they decided to add a few more band members: two of their classmates hopped on guitar and drums, Dan stayed on keys, and Jimi’s older brother, Ben, now 29, took up the bass, and The Blind Pilots were born.
As it happens with typical high schoolers (though the Woodul brothers and Dan are far from being “typical” anything), some of the band members’ motivations to practice were lacking – after a few shows, the guitarist and drummer left The Blind Pilots. Jimi took up the guitar – reluctantly at first – and his and Ben’s youngest brother Joe, now 26, stepped in as the band’s new drummer when he was 15. “I went to all their shows,” Joe says. “I was their biggest fan.”
After Jimi and Dan graduated high school, the band – who at that point had changed their name to One Red Martian – decided to pack up and move to Dallas, TX where they were all born and where the brothers’ father had moved after their parents’ divorce. At the time, Jimi and Dan were 18, Ben was 19, and Joe was 16.
“Moving to Dallas was good in its own way, to expand our world,” Joe says. But while the band was learning how to catapult themselves into the somewhat lacking music industry in a city known for its metal and jazz scenes and being really, really flat, their lives outside of the music lacked structure and stability.
“You think you know so much when you’re so young,” Ben says. “You want to go out and have fun and experience the world, but really, you don’t know what’s good for you.”
While Jimi, Ben, and Dan were waiting tables and Joe was finishing high school, One Red Martian started to develop a decent following in Dallas. The four of them, all of whom were under 20 at the time, reveled in the absence of structure, playing shows at bars and partying. A lot.
“If I had known any better, I would have been more aware of Joe being that young,” Jimi reflects. “It was just kind of a toxic situation.” On top of the constant partying (“Did I mention that we were partying a lot?” Jimi asks, laughing), Jimi says the ambitious drive he felt to be truly successful added another layer of toxicity to what One Red Martian was doing. “I think that creative people who pursue rock music are particularly stunted individuals,” he says with a smile. “I wouldn’t trade it though. We were learning a lot of things.”
Of all the lessons they learned, one of which found them playing at a mostly empty bicycle bar (no, not a biker bar…a bicycle bar) in San Antonio where a fan took a hit from his crack pipe, told them they were great, and rode away, perhaps the most important was learned when they recorded their first album, Spit My Brain.
The band was still operating under the assumption that in order to succeed, you had to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for studio time, engineering, and mixing. “It was a really unforgiving process to be that young and putting up that much money for what you think you’re supposed to do,” Jimi says. One song off the record, “Sly Dreamer,” was sent to someone at the record branch of Universal Studios – they loved it. “It was like, ‘We’re going to get a fucking record deal!’” Jimi remembers.
The label asked the band to send them the rest of the record – which was 13 tracks long, something Jimi regrets (“Pick five, man!” he laughs.). Where “Sly Dreamer” excelled in being more radio-friendly, the other 12 songs did not. At the time, the band was exploring a prog rock music space, something that, upon reflection, held them back, both musically and professionally. Universal had wanted ten more poppy “Sly Dreamer’s,” not the experimental alt rock tracks One Red Martian had spent $12,000 to record and master.
“I think in our early 20s, it was single-minded,” Dan says. “It was like the band or nothing.”
Ben, who, as the oldest, seems like the most practical of the four, agrees. “We thought of creating music as this very one-sided thing, like we were going to create this thing that was very personal to us, with no real consideration of who this was for,” he says. “Some people did like it, but as we got older, we started to realize that if you’re really trying to be a good artist, part of that is like, some consideration and respect for the audience.”
After missing out on the record deal they thought would jump start their career, One Red Martian gigged around Texas and toured upstate New York for a while, but something wasn’t right. Everyone was still partying too much, and there was no upward trajectory for the band anymore, just active pipe dreams. After Jimi turned 22, he moved back to their hometown of Newport, just outside of Utica, NY. Ben, Joe, and Dan stayed in Dallas.
“It was a shit period,” Jimi says. “It was a very dark, fucking shitty period.” The time the band spent apart was the longest they’d been without each other since they were kids. “I probably hadn’t spent more than two weeks away from my brothers since I was nine,” he says. “That’s the kind of bond that we had.”
For most of the year and a half that the band was separated, Jimi didn’t write any music. Instead, he worked as a janitor at a bakery in Utica. While he was hauling enormous bags of flour and mopping floors, the other three stayed relatively stagnant in Dallas, just taking things day by day.
“It was a sad time,” says Joe, who worked as a contracted cable guy during the band’s break. “All we knew, all I knew, was the band, and that was all that kind of mattered.”
The separation, while painful, ultimately led to a sort of cathartic reckoning, forcing all four guys to grow individually before they could come back together. “It sort of broke up this thing that had always been going on, which leads to a…kind of like a codependency,” Ben says. “I think it needed to happen, because it allowed everybody to have more of a defined sense of what they were trying to do.”
Their individual and collective realizations are what brought them to where, and who, they are now, fifteen years after Dan and Jimi first started to play together in their high school music room: Dark Honey. “It’s funny how much being in a band isn’t even music related,” Dan says. “It’s finding meaning, taking care of yourself.”
After a year and a half, the rest of the band left Dallas, moving back to New York to be with Jimi again. But they knew they couldn’t sustain their music in their small hometown (Ben joked that there was a strong “Whatchu readin’ for?” kind of vibe to the town), which is what’s brought them to where they are now. “I started looking at the map, and there was Albany,” Jimi says. While Dallas was isolated, Albany was central. “There was the city, and there’s Boston, and there’s Pittsburgh, and there’s Syracuse and Rochester and Ithaca.”
Their move to Albany also inspired the band to reconsider their identity – who, and if they were being being honest with themselves, what was One Red Martian, anyway? Jimi says the One Red Martian story has been told a few different ways, but that the crux of it is that he went onto an online band name generator and One Red Martian is what popped up. To a bunch of stoned teenagers living it up in Texas, that was good enough, but to the men they’d become by the time they moved to the Capital Region and released a second album as One Red Martian, it was time to grow up.
“It was a good example of, ‘It means something to us, so it doesn’t matter if no one else likes it,’” Ben says.
But where did “Dark Honey” come from? As it turns out, it’s one of their unreleased songs, and one of Jimi’s favorites that he’s written. “Somebody thought, ‘Well, what if we were just Dark Honey?’” he remembers.
There’s no denying that Dark Honey fits the band’s personality better than One Red Martian did. “We’re shedding the past and moving into a place where we can be artistic and appeal to people enough so that they can give us a career,” Jimi says. Whether it was intentional or not, their new music sounds a lot like dark honey; Jimi’s lyrics are introspective, poetic, and sometimes sadly ruminating, but they’re also sweet, complementing his tender and raw vocals.
And now, after fifteen years, Dark Honey is finally on track to fulfill all the raw potential they possess as artists. Since they moved to Albany in 2014 and rebranded in 2017, they’ve released three singles (one of which, “The Moon,” a trippy, synthy reflection on growing up, was just released last week), Jimi and Dan have started their own recording company, Just Pretend Records, and they’ve helped cultivate an ever-growing DIY community of artists in the Capital Region, like the indie pop dream Girl Blue (who’s EP I Am Not A Star and upcoming full-length album were recorded with Just Pretend), the cinematography trio Chromoscope Pictures, and photographer Kiki Vassilakis.
At the release show for “The Moon” last Friday, Dark Honey shared the stage with Girl Blue, Viewpoints, and Summer Legs. Before the band ripped into an absolutely electric rendition of their second single, “Harlequin Blue,” Jimi looked out at the crowd and, before he thanked them all for coming out, he stood in awe seeing the community he and his brothers had helped to build, all there to support their dream.
“You think all these things are gonna happen,” he’d said a few weeks prior, explaining the inspiration behind “The Moon.” “You think of the wonderful ways your life is going to unfold, the ways in which everything is a sure thing, and then you come to, and it’s 13 years later, and you could not be farther from where you thought you were going to be.” He pauses. “I love that idea.” And then, after a bit, “You have to learn to let go.”